Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Delhi in a Day: Review

When Jasper (Lee Williams) arrives in Delhi bursting with enthusiasm and going on about discovering the real India, one gets the sinking feeling that this will turn out to be that kind of film. But Delhi in a Day is hardly enamoured of the country or the city it’s set in. Jasper’s wanderings are interrupted when he finds out that all his money has been stolen. (What sort of traveller keeps his entire life savings in his suitcase?) As his classist, crass hosts, the Bhatias, accuse their domestic help of the crime, Delhi’s upper class gets the full blast of debutant director Prashant Nair’s disapproval.

It would be foolish to deny the problematic attitudes of many in this city (and country) towards their domestic help. Yet Nair, who lives but has visited Delhi several times in the past, is so eager to show the injustice done that he reduces the Bhatia family to caricatures and the help to virtuous victims. Kalpana (Lillete Dubey) and Mukund (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) are the mismatched couple at the film’s centre; they have two bratty kids, one of whom should come with the label “only furthers plot”. The only decent member is the grandfather played by Victor Banerjee (placing a Bengali aesthete among so many uncultured Punjabis adds its own little wrinkle of criticism to proceedings). The help are shown as loyal, helpless and scared – especially when their employers threaten to involve the police. Despite some nice location shooting (it was just a matter of time before a feature film crew wandered in Kathputli colony) and an assured debut by Anjali Patil as the housemaid who Jasper falls for, this film reminded us of being called up in front of a classroom. You know you’ve done something wrong, but it’s not a pleasant experience.

This review appeared in Time Out Delhi.

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