Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon movie cast: Raghubir Yadav, Ravindra Sahu, Lokesh Jain, K Gopalan
Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon movie director: Anamika Haksar
Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon movie rating: 2.5 stars
Like many experimental films, ‘Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon’ is hard to reduce to a single descriptive. Anamika Haksar’s nearly two-hour tour of Shahjahanabad is a mix of documentary, ethnography, magical realism, surrealism, fantasy, folk tale, animation, with a bit of burlesque thrown in.
The film takes you deep inside old Delhi, and lets you wander, sometimes leading you by the hand down its crazily crowded ‘gallis’, sometimes pausing, leaving you to observe. And sometimes you feel the characters want to turn around and look at you, looking at them.
It comes off as an interesting choice, designed to expand our vision. But I wasn’t riveted all the way, simply because not all the film’s moving parts exert equal power. ‘Ghode Ko Jalebi..’ stretches and flattens its conceits as it goes along, and the wandering turns into meandering.
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Meet the quartet, the minstrels of Dilli Chhe – a pickpocket (Ravindra Sahu) who doubles up as a trumpeter in a local band, a sweetmeat seller (Raghubir Yadav), a labour leader (K Gopalan), and a tourist guide (Lokesh Jain) who organises heritage walks. Of the four, we may have conceivably met or bumped into the spotless-white-chikan-kurta-clad walk organiser, who can lead you down the sanitised parts of Chandni Chowk, Parathe Wali Gali, and tourist-friendly eateries.
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The ‘jeb-katra’, in stark contrast, can show you parts of the same place which you do not want to see, or find hard to handle — a hole in the wall ‘thali’ place that gives you a plate for ten rupees, people who share shattering personal stories with such matter-of factness that leaves your average white tourist uncomfortable (and that includes us, the average Indian city dweller, as deracinated and as unaware of these histories as that foreigner), dead bodies lying by the side of the road — the living sniff glue to get by, the dead wait for the municipal cart to take their bodies away.
These sights of squalor and sadness do not feel designed, and that is where the film has weight. You can smell and see the filth. In these parts, the film is cocking a snook at those who romanticize the grunge, or try to get an ‘experience’ out of the miseries of the people who live and work in this part of the national capital which seems sometimes to exist only in memory. I’d rather save polar bears, says a member of the group being shown the sights. I don’t want to hear these stories, says the foreign tourist. Haksar wants us to both see and hear, and bear witness. These are actual subaltern histories, and they are not put up for a show: the character who tosses off the term ‘subaltern’ in the movie is also one of us, deaf and blind to reality. You wait for the line to land, but it dissipates, just like the character.
It took Haksar seven years of documenting conversations with pickpockets, beggars, street vendors, daily wage labourers, sanitation workers, folk singers, to be able to capture old Delhi from the inside. There is occasional use of animation– a flag flapping against the face of a goddess, snakes crawling across a landscape, an abusive employer reduced to a midget, captured in a glass jar. At one point, the screen splits laterally into two, reminding you of that other experimentalist Kamal Swaroop’s films.
The most intriguing thing about the film is its title. If you smile with pleasure at the very specific wry, dry humour that used to be prevalent in the Hindustani-Urdu speaking North, not just Purani Dilli, it will immediately brand you as someone who either belongs to, or understands the many religious and cultural identities jostling amongst the residents who share their ‘chhats’ (terraces) and walls, the fruits of their kitchens, their comings and goings. ‘Kahaan mini-Pakistan mein ghoomte rehte ho’, asks a bystander of the walking tour guide nastily, and you know how far we have left that syncretic India behind.
A ghoda (horse) eats ghaas (grass), not jalebi, and anyone who says that they are taking their horse to feed it ‘jalebis’ is having you on, basically telling you he doesn’t have the time of day for you. Maybe on the way back, once the horse and his master are done with their business, they may stop, listen to your ‘qissa’, give you a ride, share a moment. The title is droll, celebrating a ‘tehzeeb’ which has nearly vanished. You wish there was more of it in the film—the sort of sharp drollery that doesn’t mask or hide anything the filmmaker wishes to show, but buttresses it.