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Dilli Kaand, Review: Those that rape and those that gape

When a film is delayed six years in its release, its fate is more or less sealed. Dilli Kaand was launched in August 2015 and sees the light of day on 24 September 2021. Of course, the delay of the last 18 months can be attributed to the Covid 19 Coronavirus pandemic, when cinema-halls remained shut, but the six-year delay cannot be explained by Covid. Even now, cinema halls have only opened in some states of India, with conditions imposed. Having a cast of unknown, or relatively unknown, actors, works in the film’s favour, for, seeing them, you do not get the feeling that it is dated. Had there been stars in the film, it would make the film look noticeably old.

New Delhi (or, colloquially, Dilli) has had more than its share of rapes and murders in recent years. But two cases rocked the country’s capital: the 2008 Aarushi case and the 2012 Nirbhaya (meaning ‘fearless’, real name concealed) case. Director Meghna Gulzar made a very successful film on the Aarushi case, titled Talvar (her surname was Talwar). That was in 2015, the year writer-producer-director Kritik Kumar launched Dilli Kaand, with the hope of releasing the film on the 16th of December, the day Nirbhaya was raped. (‘Kaand’ translates approximately as criminal conspiracy).

The film begins with long disclaimer, which includes the phrase, “…this is a light-hearted film”. There is, nor can there be, anything light-hearted, about a most brutal gang-rape, which is the centre-piece of the film. It is obvious that the disclaimer has been inserted at the behest of the Central Board of Film Certification, which has quite evidently, imposed drastic cuts and muted several lines of ‘objectionable’ dialogue.

Alishka, the only child of doting parents, joins a college that is far away from home. Eve-teasing is common in the college, and some lumpen elements try to victimise her. A smart, brave, co-student, Sameer, stands by her, and in a jiffy, falls in love with her. She has similar feelings, but does not express them as quickly as Sameer. In an unconnected scene, a bunch of young boys offer to take a foreign woman to the Greater Kailash (GK) area, when the auto auto-rickshaws she stops refuse to head in that direction. They hail a cab, and rape the woman along the way. Afterwards, we see her coming out of the car in shorts and a skimpy top.

In a slightly similar scenario, Alishka and Sameer are waiting for public transport to head back home after college, when a passing bus stops, and they are offered a ride. Initially hesitant, they give in and board the bus. What they do not know is that this will prove to be the biggest mistake of their life. The six men on board, including the driver, are hardened criminals, and Alishka is easy prey. They first beat-up Sameer and then take turns at her. Not content with violent rape, their leader takes great joy in mutilating her with an iron rod.

To those who were around in 2012, this “bus from hell” is nothing more than stale news. As is the police investigation, the role of the media and the stand taken by the elected local leader. Perhaps the writer-director wanted filmgoers to relive that horror, in the hope that greater awareness would be generated, particularly among the general public that often gapes at the victims, and carries on, regardless.

Going by the current number of violent crimes in the country, including violent rape, the Nirbhaya incident has had little, or no, effect on the psyche of sick minds. Unless a highly competent writer, and an equally talented director, took-up the subject, such a subject was bound to fail, in informing, educating or entertaining. Entertaining it could not be, by its very nature, but viewers should not have been denied some refreshing cinematic treatment. Again, by choice, the subject, ab initio, lands the makers in a Catch 22 situation. If they show the gory details, which could trigger both revulsion and titillation, the censors will cut all that out. If they don’t, the film fails to impress as a hard-hitting take on a true incident. On viewing the 1 hour 52 min. film, it is obvious that the censors have claimed their pound of flesh.

We have a Kritik Kumar credited with writing, directing and producing the film. A host of co-producers is also credited, including, hold your breath, Fashion Parade Films. All credits appear at least twice, once before the film begins and once after it ends. I am going with the theory that this is Kritik’s first film. As writer, he gives stock phrases to his characters, which are unnecessarily repeated. Two side-tracks muddle up the scenario: one that features the foreign woman and another that involves a builder. Their link to the subject is, at best, tenuous. To suggest that a segment is occurring in Singapore, he uses what look like cut-outs of broad skyscrapers, followed by all indoor shots. On some occasions, hordes of protesting crowds appear to be stock footage. As a personality trait of the hard-nosed TV anchor, he gets her to light a cigarette, twice, and pull up her male colleague. He even has her deliver a threat to the minister/legislator, in front of a posse of media-persons and the police, that she will get him off his seat, if he fails to settle the case. Though Sam is found alongside Alishka, in a severely injured state, and is being treated in the same hospital as Alishka, nothing is seen of him till somebody realises that he exists, and is right there.

It is ironical that in a film about gang-rape, the actors playing the parents make the most convincing impact: Virendra Saxena and Reem Khan. Kaashvi Kanchan (I am Vrinda) as Alishka is bubbly and goody-goody, but looks a little too old to be a college student. Sam Sundesa, playing Sameer, is natural in the lighter moments, but hams in the emotion-charged sequences. Preetika Chauhan as Riya Batra, the TV anchor, frowns and appears hard-nosed, with little else to do. Either she has replaced the earlier choice for the role, or has changed beyond recognition in the six years since the ‘muhurt’ (launch) of the film. Shahbaz Baweja is good as the remorseless gang-leader to whom rape and murder are second nature. Also in the cast are Shashank Sethi, Amit Shukla, Mona Mathew and Rajesh Singh.

Technical and production values are passable. Shashank Ranjan’s music sounds pleasing inside the auditorium. ‘Pehlee baarish, pehla pyaar’, sung by Javed Ali, lingers. It goes without saying that the film has been certified for exhibition to adults only. And, on the ending note, this was the first press screening that I got to attend in 18 months. Sadly, I cannot say that it was worth the wait.

Rating: * ½