Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s film pays homage to the Old Delhi neighbourhood of Chandni Chowk, where the director grew up, taking its name from the area’s postal code. The narrative follows a young Indian man raised in America returning to his ancestral home with his grandmother, whose dying wish is to return to India—a homecoming that sees a relative outsider navigate life in the jalebi-sizzling cacophony of the walled city. While the majority of the film was shot on set in Rajasthan’s Sambhar village—which won Samir Chanda a national award for skillful production design—Mehra did shoot several seminal scenes in the nation’s capital, intertwined into the film so deftly it’s hard to believe the crew ever left Purani Dilli. The most impressive clips are the actual morning Eid rituals shot in and around Jama Masjid, where over a minute of the song “Maula Maula” is dedicated to capturing the celebration without the involvement of any of the film’s major actors. The famed number “Masakali” offers sequences shot along the Delhi Metro. Other iconic snippets include Old Delhi havelis, the 108-foot Hanuman statue in Karol Bagh, Lal Qila, and Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib.
Made in 2019 by debutante director Prateek Vats, Eeb Allay Ooo, is a film set in the national capital’s beating political heart of Raisina Hill. The narrative follows a migrant worker in Delhi, who struggles at his new job which involves chasing away the city’s hordes of rhesus macaque monkeys and keeping them from damaging public property. From the broad, tree-lined streets of the nation’s seat of power dotted with vigilant security forces to the chaotic lanes of working-class colonies, the film provides an intricate glimpse at the varied cross section of Delhi’s cityscape as well as various significant occasions such as the famed Republic Day parade. And while the film does a good job of providing an ordinary citizen’s perspective of what life in Delhi looks like, perhaps what it does best is present an authentic portrayal of the cultural and socio-economic realities of the city’s people, including its millions of migrant workers.
This cult flick with a high rewatch value and a killer soundtrack is all about Delhi—its cars and kothis and crooks and cops, from Sarai Rohilla and Vasant Kunj to Amar Colony and Rohini. The film follows the career of Lovinder Singh, aka Lucky (Abhay Deol), who specialises in stealing luxury cars, music systems, jewellery sets, suiting and gadgets, and even plush toys and fluffy doggos—with the nonchalance of a friendly DDA apartment neighbour stopping to pick up your newspaper on their way down to the DMS booth. From jat-wary stolen-goods suppliers moonlighting as wedding performers and slippery scammers of the “gentry” class, to nightclub-thronging power players and suburban, middle-class vacationing in Manali—director Dibakar Banerjee, known for the equally sharp Khosla Ka Ghosla (another movie about the National Capital Region), gets the Delhi ethos right.
Much before the dozen-a-dime 21st-century comedies about three broke young men living under the same roof and vying for the affections of the same woman, there was Chashme Buddoor, Sai Paranjpye’s sophomore Delhi outing. Farooq Shaikh, Ravi Baswani and Rakesh Bedi play three smoker types from Delhi University, sharing a barsaati in Defence Colony, and their shenanigans in and around easy-on-the-eye South Delhi sum up this classic comedy, a movie that most film-loving millennials use to picture the Capital of the ’80s. A number of prominent landmarks in the proceedings, from now-defunct bookstores in Safdarjung and path labs in Khan Market, to sunny Talkatora Gardens, where Neha (Deepti Naval) and (Siddharth) Farooq Shaikh often hang out, and the posh, amaltas-lined precincts of Mathura Road, where Lallan Mian (Saeed Jaffrey) has his refreshment stall.
Another Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra-directorial on this list, Rang De Basanti hit the big screens 15 years ago, but the movie penetrates the country’s socio-political fabric with a searing sense of urgency that is relevant even in contemporary times. The plot revolves around a British documentary filmmaker whose quest to recreate snippets of the Indian freedom movement and document the heroes who propelled the struggle to fruition, brings her to Delhi. It is here that she meets her star cast—a boisterous group of college kids, each on their own course to make a difference in society. In doing so, past soon merges with the present, fiction paves way to reality and patriotism takes centre stage. Although the movie was shot partly in Rajasthan and Punjab, Delhi holds fort for most bit. Throw into the mix an A. R. Rahman soundtrack with iconic locations such as India Gate framing the screen, and you have a slice of cinema that ages like fine wine.
It’s not often you come across books that encapsulate the history, glory and daily charm of a city without seeming too wordy. William Dalrymple’s chronicle and travelogue of Delhi is interspersed with his discoveries from his first year in the capital that go beyond witnessing the city superficially. Sure, there’s an unmissable dose of history lessons from Shajahanabad and Mehrauli, but the witty writing doesn’t shy away from moving beyond the romanticised picture of mystics at Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s Dargah and kabootarbaaz from the Old City. The novel paints a lively picture of Delhi, laced with his wife Olivia Fraser’s illustrations, while seamlessly traversing through themes of religion, changing face of urban development, colonial heritage and stories of partition that has lent the city a peculiar complexity. A detailed read, Dalrymple’s personal love letter may as well be a travel guide for a life-long Delhi resident or a visitor who wishes to travel the city in 300 pages.
Sarnath Banerjee’s debut graphic novel is an all-too-familiar representation of Delhi’s ethos for the sensibilities of an urban millennial. Set from the eyes of Jehangir Rangoonwalla, an enlightened bookseller who sits in the heart of Delhi, the non-linear storyline loops the case of three middle-class consumerists. One Bengali Ibn Batuta is on a hunt for obscure books and music, the other seeks his H1-B visa contemplating his Marxist leanings, the third searches an aphrodisiac from a hakim in Old Delhi. A series of clever one-liners, genius visual montage and intrinsically detailed caricatures and illustrations from Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk and Connaught Place, creates a humorous portrait of the city chaos.