Delhi in a Day
Synopsis: The relationship between the members of an affluent Indian family and their household staff is irreparably damaged when a British house guest disrupts the order of things.
Effortlessly warm and engaging.
REVELATION FILM FESTIVAL: An understated but memorable drama that portrays with deceptive simplicity the chasm between the wealthy and the poor in a modern Indian metropolis, Prashant Nair’s Delhi in a Day can rightly stake a claim as being at the forefront of a new wave of contemporary Indian cinema.
One of the most bracing international debut features in some time, the young writer/director tackles the inequalities of Indian society within the microcosm of well-to-do Delhi household. There are nods to the India that is usually portrayed with stereotypical abandon in cinematic snapshots of the country, but the joy of Delhi in a Day exists in beautifully-crafted smaller moments that carry with them universal appeal and recognition.
The household at the centre of story belongs to Mukund (Kulbushan Kharbanda), a self-made success, and his wife, Kalpana (Lillette Dubey), who adorns herself with the accoutrements of wealth in subtle, but deliberate ways. With their brattish late-teen children, they share the home with their long-time staff – a cook (Dinesh Yadav), two servants (Arun Mallick Kumar and Vidya Bhushan) and the beautiful young maid, Rohini (Anjali Patil).
Jasper (Lee Williams), the laddish son of British friends, stops in at the home at the commencement of his sub-continental ‘tour of enlightenment’, and he is afforded all the luxury and graciousness the estate can muster.
All goes bad though, when the young man’s life savings go missing from his room and the suspicion immediately lands on the help, despite years of trusted, incident-free servitude.
Nair lets the mystery of the missing money hang over his film, refusing to let what is essentially a classic ‘McGuffin’ dictate the narrative. Instead, he uses the tension to reveal the true nature of the two classes of people within the household; with their reputations on the line, Mukund and Kalpana are revealed as ruthless and heartless, whereas the family of helpers close ranks around each other as accusations fly and the threat of jail becomes very real.
With wide-eyed naiveté, Williams’ very proper Jasper, is oblivious to how much his presence has altered the dynamic of the long-established household structure. His obvious attraction to Rohini, and the fact that they are never able to reconcile their feelings adds to the complexity of Nair’s ensemble, and to the film’s wider themes.
The director does not entirely forego the clichés; Jasper is swindled by a dodgy cab driver upon his arrival, and the teenage children are the most one-note stereotypes imaginable. But Delhi in a Day is, in most other regards, a very modern work from an industry that is often accused of being mired in tradition. It is a small film but one that is effortlessly warm and engaging; it will travel well, its themes and characters recognisable to international audiences gripped by the greedy few and anxious to reconnect with what is truly valuable.
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