There are only a few times in one’s life when they find themselves completely baffled and mesmerized at the same time by something they experienced at that moment. Anamika Haksar’s directorial debut is one such example.
From scene one it pulls you in and never lets you go. It’s a dream-walk into the reality that makes you question your perspective and opens doorways to a whole new world that lives in the underbelly of our modern human civilization.
For the most part, the movie follows four central characters in the setting of subaltern Old Delhi. These are Chhadaami (Raghuvir Yadav), Patru (Ravindra Sahu), Lal Bihari (Gopalan), & Akash Jain (Lokesh Jain). At more than a few unexpected moments, it bleeds into the seemingly infinite dreamland of various beggars, daily wage workers, troubled men & women of underprivileged society. This dreamland contains both fantasies and nightmares of these unsettled minds.
This movie is the result of years of documentation of the lives of Old Delhi’s street people. If you haven’t seen this movie, we urge you to watch it. If you have seen it, then let’s explore what we think this indie art film means. (Spoilers Ahead)
Patru – The Pickpocket
Patru is the central protagonist of this story who brings together every other protagonist or character in this film. He is an ordinary pickpocket who moonlights as a musician for wedding bands. He is happy sneaking away money and other belongings from unaware people all day round, but whenever he gets time to think about his life we see that he’s no thief at heart.
In a particular scene, we see him imagining himself as a member of a Professional Music Band that plays extraordinary orchestral music. It shows that he doesn’t want to be a pickpocket but to be something else, something bigger with more pride & dignity in his life. It’s just that he never gets the chance to realize this dream of his.
Whenever he tries to think of being a better person in practice, life’s hardships push him in the other direction. Like when he starts taking people on the tour of old Delhi to earn his living, the police will lock him up. It goes to show that there are a lot of factors that influence a person to become who they are. Nobody is simply good or bad.
Chhadaami – The Street Food Vendor
Though somewhat underused in the film, Raghuvir Yadav played his role phenomenally. Chhadaami is a street food vendor who sells Kachori and some other Indian snacks but loses his business because some builder decides to make a building at the spot he places his stall.
Chhadaami dreams of getting rich, hence the presence of Goddess Laxmi in his thoughts, but is also plagued by nightmares warning him of imminent death. This forces him to earn money through other means such as becoming a Bogus Healer who suggests nonsensical remedies to the problems of the needy. That’s how one person’s misery outstretches itself into the suffering of others.
Like Patru he too tries to show people what his world looks like and ended up with the same fate of being behind iron bars for his insolence to try to grow out of his subaltern purgatory.
Lal Bihari – The Daily Wage Laborer
Lal Bihari is the one who starts this 2-hour-long journey. In the very first scene, he can be seen waving a red flag, which is the symbol of the Socialist Revolution, setting him up as an aspiring activist.
Like Patru & Chhadaami, he too is subjected to similar hardships of life, but unlike them, he not only wishes for a change but also wants to stand up against his oppressors even if it is for the benefit of others.
At first, he tries to defend an old laborer from the verbal abuses of his employer. Later on, when he loses his job, he tries to empower all his fellow laborers to rise against the oppression they face on daily basis, but his voice is silenced and he was put into jail for his insubordination.
Akash Jain – The Tour Guide
Akash Jain is probably the closest link between the audience and the characters on the screen. He takes people on a tour of Old Delhi but only shows them the bright side of it while ignoring the uncomfortable underbelly of it because ‘No One Wants To Hear The Story of the Poor. No One will sanction the help necessary and would rather save the polar bears’
He does feel what is going on in the shadows of the night and sneakily introduce the agony of Delhi’s people between his poetry & songs. He too gets genuinely emotional when he realizes that he’s only an observer. For his sympathy alone, he’s criticized by his own people, like he’s a traitor.
The animation in itself is a separate character in this film. It tells a story of its own while never coming in the way of other characters & their stories. It also serves as a portal into the dreams & nightmares of every character in the film.
We see Chhadaami dreaming about money, Lal Bihari about being pampered by his mother after getting beaten up by cops, and several other characters manifesting their dreams. None of it is real & that is why the animation never blends in with the visuals of the rest of the film.
What’s The Point
We see glimpses of random strangers trapped in their hellish loop but we get no time to explore their world as we did with the four protagonists. This is to tell us that whatever we have experienced in these two hours is just the tip of the iceberg and we have not a shred of an idea how many of these people are out there in the real world who are struggling to survive right now.
This film warns us of our ignorance towards these people and makes us aware of our privilege so that we can be kind towards those who are facing unjust life conditions. That’s why Chhadaami warns us by saying
“Tamaasha Khud Na Ban Jaana, Tamaasha Dekhne Walon”…