The many tales of a city

April 03, 2017 12:00 am | Updated 03:36 am IST

A guide on Delhi’s relationship with Bombay cinema

Delhi’s Regal Cinema, a favourite of the film cognoscenti, the political elite, industry insiders as well as the hoi polloi, signified the national capital’s relationship with Bombay cinema. The 85-year-old theatre’s closure could act as a trigger for cinephiles connected to Delhi to understand the city’s import for Hindi cinema. Mihir Pandya’s Shahar aur Cinema: Via Dilli is a significant study. Looking at 16 films that have Delhi as a live character, and by giving a list of nearly 90 more, Pandya sees Delhi through different protagonists who form part of its cinema.

The categorisation he uses — seeing Delhi either as a power centre, or as a city of struggles and the aspirations of the common man — is not watertight. Journalist Vikas Pandey of New Delhi Times , for instance, is as much a chronicler of the subaltern as he is a powerless witness to the powermongering among politicians. It is not far-fetched to consider the idealistic Pandey as a grown-up version of Rattan from Ab Dilli Dur Nahin , a Raj Kapoor-produced idealistic paean to Nehruvian India; it is a country where the poor believe they have access to justice. The disillusioned hippies of Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi are as much a part of Delhi as the indifferent yuppies of Rang De Basanti .

The Delhi of the first part of Pandya’s book represents a microcosm of post-Independence India, with all its imperfections; the ideas of Nehru loom large in a lot of these films. Aadhi Haqeeqat, Aadha Fasana , a tribute to Raj Kapoor’s cinema, which Pandya references, provides another useful tool to connect the idealism in Kapoor’s cinema to Delhi’s, and Nehru’s role in the nation-building project.

Pandya then moves to places inhabited by the masses. Filmmakers like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Dibakar Banerjee, with strong Delhi connections, show the happiness derived by the middle class and the subaltern amid their daily struggles. The wannabe social climbers in the Karol Bagh of Banerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and the content inhabitants of Chandni Chowk in Mehra’s Delhi-6 inhabit the two ends of the spectrum here. The happy-go-lucky Delhi University students of Chashme Buddoor make up the middle.

Pandya is authoritative in his referencing, taking help from books like Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India , Ranjani Mazumdar’s Bombay Cinema and Ranjana Sengupta’s Delhi Metropolitan . In doing so, he creates a connect between an average cinephile and her city and also inspires her to look at it through a more empathetic lens.

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