The A.R. Rahman-Prasoon Joshi composition, Rehna Tu, would perhaps be one of those rare songs in Hindi cinema that wallows in all-consuming love even while talking prosaically of accepting the lover with all their flaws. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra uses its overwhelming romance at an atypical juncture in Delhi-6 in the background, to underline the long-standing friendship between Rajan and Ali Baig. This moment stood out for me when I saw the film again, almost a decade after its release in 2009.
The song can stand for both the union of lovers as well as the co-existence of two communities. A single line captures the acceptance of differences and the desired synchronicity and mutuality: Haath thaam chalna ho to dono ke daayein haath sang kaise; Ek daayaan hoga, ek baayaan hoga; Thaam, haath ye thaam, chalna hai sang thaam le (How can we hold only our right hands when we walk hand in hand? One will be right, the other left. Take my hand, let us walk, hand in hand).
Not just this song, theres more to go back to and admire in Delhi-6. In the midst of its stream of consciousness narrative, exotic vignettes of Old Delhi seen through NRI eyes and the seeming chaos, there is also a larger design that, in retrospect, eerily pre-empts the contemporary strife and atmosphere of fear, hate and anger in the country. Delhi-6 has aged well, and resonates way more today than perhaps it did back then.
Like the larger idea of a unifying, syncretic culture that Mehra establishes in the microcosm of the Old Delhi pin code 110006. Kaun paraya hai? (Who is the other) asks the old grandmother, Annapoorna Devi, rhetorically. Jai Gopal accepts prasad from Haji Suleman without batting an eyelid.
The social fabric is most evident in the soundtrack itself from the aching sufi strains of Arziyan shot against the majesty of Jama Masjid to the fervour of the bhajan Tumhare Bhavan Mein.
Yet this life, built on and around religion, also comes with its inherent faultlines. Amid all the bonhomie lurks the politics of religion that can make a simpleton, Mamdu, who believes in both Mecca Madina and Hanuman, go astray; that can incite Jai Gopal to destroy Mamdus mithai shop where he had spent almost half his life.
There is a kala bandar (black monkey) running amok in this world, balancing on the extremes of superstitions and stock market, caste divides and space programmes, arranged marriages and Indian Idol ambitions. Its the key metaphor. Everybody might be looking for the destructive monkey out there but is it actually within us?
Soul mirror
There are other standout moments. Moorkh ko moorkh banaane mein koi harz na hai (Theres nothing wrong in making a fool of fools), says the sweeper Jalebi, anticipating the post-truth, WhatsApp-validated knowledge and wisdom of today.
Mainstream Hindi cinema has a way of simplifying and sentimentalising our essential complexities. However, that also makes it more accessible and effective in its messaging. There are easy resolutions here, be it fixing a broken radio, mending familial differences or making society suddenly see reason. Even while questioning the NRI nostalgia for home, it reasserts the longing for it; while showing the deep fissures, it holds the promise of repair.
As the recitation Noor, in the beginning, middle and end of Delhi-6 goes, all we need to do is peep into the mirror of our souls: Zarre zarre mein usi ka noor hai; Jhaank khud mein wo na tujh se door hai; Ishq hai us se to sab se ishq kar; Is ibadat ka yahi dastooor hai (His divine light shines in every speck; Look within, he is not far from you; If you love him, love everyone; This is the meaning of worship). Even today this almost naive sense of hope and healing feels worth holding on to.
Namrata Joshi is Associate Editor-Cinema with The Hindu in Mumbai.