By Rohan Seth:
‘Cinema’ and ‘the city’ have had an inextricable relationship; films have represented monumental and distinctive spaces with impressing conviction and complexity. In popular Hindi films, the city has been portrayed as a place of corrupt and degenerate elements as well as a centre of hope and progress. It has stood for a highly industrialized space underpinned by market values and capitalist systems; driven by ambition and deception.
“In Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man films like ‘Deewaar’ and ‘Trishul, the city becomes the place where innocents from a small town or village come to be corrupted, to be drawn into a world of shady deal-makings and cold concrete skyscrapers.”- Mihir Pandya
New Delhi’s relationship with cinema has been a long drawn one from “Ab Dilli Dur Nahin’ (1957) to the much recent ‘Fukrey’ (2013). Films have reflected the change and evolution in the landscape and social realities of New Delhi; yet the iconic representations of the ‘cultural heritage’ and power institutions have painted a ‘touristy’ picture. Contemporary films like Delhi Belly and Dev D have attempted to break away from the heritage commoditization and rendered to audiences- the multifarious contours of the capital city- often capturing the spatial disparateness, plurality and social themes through unconventional and experimental lighting, cinematography and filming.
Set against the backdrop of the Indian Emergency and the Naxalite Movement, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi caricatures the organic evolution of New Delhi and the underlying ironies, idiosyncrasies of its spaces and the diverse populace that inhabited them.
“Through the disparate but crisscrossing lives of two men and a woman, Mishra tells you the collective story of a restless generation with a thousand desires and one desperate dream. And he asks why the finest young men and women in the best of urban colleges got obsessed with the idea of changing the world. And, why even in that season of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Bob Dylan, some preferred to join Youth Congress”- Avijit Ghosh
The opening quarter of the film traverses through the greens of North Campus and the historical lanes of the old city-frequented by students of Delhi University, and departs from the boy-meets-girl trope in its depiction of the college environment. The main characters are situated in the much celebrated St. Stephens College and it becomes a metaphor for the city of New Delhi for its heterogeneity of individuals and distinctness in geographical lines. Vikram, one of the three main characters in the film, originates from a low income household and goes on to become a property magnate and wheedler and hobnobs with the power circuit of New Delhi. His office is an archetypical babu-barrister quarter with a congested space and a bottleneck opening; a kind that you still might find in government buildings or the long standing commercial quarters in Nehru Place or Connaught Place.
Geeta, the female protagonist, and Vikram often meet in coffee houses- were traditionally socializing centres for first class officers and the intellectual elite, and have stood ground till date. Many of them continue to function, again in Connaught Place.
Geeta, her husband Arun and Vikram meet each other at a social gathering teeming with bureaucrats, politicians, civil servants, lawyers and the congregation is at a Aurangzeb Road/ Akbar Road/ Race Course-esque bungalow.Â The touristy representations include shots of the Parliament House, the Connaught Place outer circle, the spiralling roads around India Gate; yet the theme and narrative of the film propel you to look at the monument in a different light.
“Hazaaron is far from a dry political treatise. Mishra and his co-writers Ruchi Narain and Shiv Kumar Subramaniam create a profoundly moving and engaging story of three people’s journey through this devastated landscape”- Anupama Chopra
Revolution and Marxism is spewed out by students and the college landscape is brimming with idealism and novelty. This is contrasted with the Delhi elite, makingÂ the most of fiefdom, amassing wealth; and living comfortably in expansive homes and bungalows.
Dil Dosti Etc, another movie set in Delhi University explores the oddments of the ‘dazed and confused’ college going youth in the backdrop of the student union elections.Â The protagonist of the movie, Apurv, wants to explore the unexplored.
“I do not want to face those facets of life that were in front of me, but those that were hidden in dark alleys and narrow lanes”- Apurv, Dil Dosti Etc.
So he travels to quaint places in Delhi, recesses at mundane bus stops, watches C-grade Hindi films in freckled, ram shackled single theatre halls in the old city. In other words, he wants to explore his conception of the ‘underbelly’. He makes frequent visits to GB Road, a red light area in Delhi and it is recreated in the movie. GB Road is a hush hush word in Delhi and the common populace does not go over there.
An underbelly is the usual result of the lopsided development in a city. GB Road in Delhi becomes an ‘underbelly’ within the ‘underbelly’.
“The nexus cinema—city, then, provides a rich avenue for investigation and discussion of key issues which ought to be of common interest in the study of society (in this case, the city) and in the study of culture (in this case, the cinema) and in the study of their thematic, formal and historical relationship historically and today”- Mark Shiel
Sanjay Mishra and his acolytes crusade North Campus and canvass for his election candidature; North Campus has changed and evolved from the one in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi and has descended into an era of a vibrant transport system and technological innovation. Again, Delhi University becomes a metaphor for Delhi, having the highest number of migrants and people from all sprawls and communities.
Dil Dosti EtcÂ and Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi provide you a no nonsense look into the developed, developing and underdeveloped forms and shapes of Delhi and how they contribute and connect to the multiplicity of sub plots that run in the capital.