Delhi in a Day (DIAD) captures two Indias – its rich, glossy, affable self and its grotty, sweaty, desperate self, the first represented by the wealthy Bhatias, Mukund (Kharbanda), Kalpana (Dubey) and their spoilt brats, the second by the Bhatias’ domestic army, maid Rohini (Patil), cook Udai (Singh), caretaker Raghu and others. Young British traveler Jasper (Williams) lands between both sides when, staying with the Bhatias, he loses lakhs from his luggage. The Bhatias blame their servants but the help hasn’t done it and scrambles desperately to raise the money and avoid the police.
DIAD depicts how, despite its farmhouses, glittering cars and beautiful socialites, Delhi is a city that’s merciless to its poor, the rich sleeping in air-conditioned mansions, their servants in holes in the wall, struggling to derive some comfort from the drudgery of their lives. DIAD features strong performances from Williams, Kharbanda and Dubey, the desi duo a perfect portrait of a nouveau-riche Punjabi pair for whom ‘Continental cuisine’ is ‘macaroni ya pizza’, cook Udai (eye-catching Singh) comparing them bitterly to his coq-au-vin-preferring previous sahib.
The domestic help presents a compelling, if not always convincing picture, poignant but prone, Patil particularly, to overdoing the wretchedness. And while the film has little gems – Mukund calling Kalpana ‘seeti’, offering ‘rosy wine’ – it also suffers problems. Like a Monsoon Wedding hangover, causing characters to hop from Mehrauli to Old Delhi in a snap, just so we can enjoy yet another shot of the Jama Masjid. The hangover holds DIAD – otherwise featuring fun little sequences including Jasper discovering no toilet paper – from developing with full confidence.
Yet, it captures the awful quality of life Delhi’s domestics have, leaving you afraid to ask what Rohini undergoes at a moneylender’s one night. That tension even distracts from the mystery of why Banerjee’s wasted in a compressed role or where the dog from the film’s start vanishes thereon. With few tracks, more music could’ve helped DIAD come into its own, instead of repetitive shots of labourers erecting a shamiana, over which my puzzled neighbour in the hall finally asked, “Par ye lagaya kyun tha?” Still, DIAD has small problems but works as a big-hearted story, Jasper eventually leaving Delhi suffering a loss – but Rohini regaining something. It’s hard to depict a world where jharus and jazz co-exist. DIAD does that, hesitant but sensitive all the way.
Jasper’s in Delhi to discover India but his money vanishes while he’s staying with the rich Bhatias – who blame their servants. Whodunnit?