Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon: Reality check on subaltern history of Old Delhi, tinged with humour

Film not only breaks stereotypical image of old Delhi but also breaks free of the typical framework of a feature film, revealing the life of those faceless many who you have seen but never noticed

Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon: Reality check on subaltern history of Old Delhi, tinged with humour

Rana Siddiqui Zaman

Ghode ko jalebi khilane le ja riya hoon, is all about purani Dilli, the old Delhi we always saw, but never wanted to know. But the film forces it down your throat, like a bitter medicine you never wanted to gulp but you must, for it will sensitise you about the struggles of the lots that crowds it – the loaders, rickshw pullers, street vendors, street baffoons, band baja walahs, local artistes, pickpockets, rag picker women and kids who pick food from the rags, warm and eat one roti for five days to keep alive, a mentally-challenged teenage playing with rats of the garbage challenging their worth and power upon him, drug addicts, fooling roadside talismen, meekly or unemployed migrants, daily wagers, long praying, ill-fated but hoping hands to the shrine of sufi saint Sarmad, NGO workers, the abusive lalas, dirty, stinking, lanes and by lanes, gutters, garbage dumps making inroads into people’s broken kachcha houses.

Love-lorn long unemployed activists and youth who are struggling to find the women and family they loved and wanted to live happy with, now in their middle ages, the dead on the roadside, et al. It’s also a story of some concerned social workers who tried changing the lives of the now growing children.

It is an effort to sanitise you of the dream-stricken heritage walks to the glory Chandni Chowk or Shahjahanabaad of the old emperors’ it was. It’s a slap on the face of the successive governments which let it die in struggle post-Independence till date. It exposes ‘seva kutir’ a free, government bus service to the poor, which would leave them in the jungles of Bawana (industrial area in the Delhi outskirts) to thin down the ‘waste crowd’ of new Shahjahanbaad, and much more.

It is a film that questions the conscience of the filmmakers who chose to ignore this side of purani Dilli. It exposes the escapist guides who feed the viewers/tourists dreamy stories, with a walk in the poetic world fused with Ghalib ki Haveli, delicious food and desert and imagine themselves flying on the magic carpet with a skilled narrator who lives these stories through excellently-penned book. It is also tinged with typical Delhi-6 humour that comes as a breather at places.

And obviously for showing the truth, the producer must have a budget. In the shortage of which the film, lacks that approach to it, where we look for a ‘story’-, a beginning, a middle and an end. However, to a sensitive, saner mind it is a penetrating truth of an Old Delhi where the story is true, characters are true, locations are true even some of the actors having lived or seen that life with close quarters is true. It is replicated through the actors from the theatre and films than vice-versa, for instance, Raghubir Yadav and Ravindera Sahu as daily street vendors, largely happy-go-lucky hopefuls who keeps on changing their professions for lack of a permanent employment, Lokesh Jain as Akash Jain, an amazingly believable guide to heritage walks for the tourists who takes them to the romantic and dreamy world of ancient glorious Shahjahanabaad through the current streets, locales and food,and is a believer of Ganga-Jamni tehzeeb, K. Gopalan who plays Lalbihari, a Leftist Keralite loader, in Delhi for decades as he can’t go back home empty handed. He tries to unite the unorganised labourers, vendors and is sent to jail.

So, the story, if you may please, is the “subaltern history” of the purani DIlli; the reveries of the street strugglers, what if they found Rs. one crore and what they dream as they sleep. These three were the questions they were asked by the research team of the film producer and financier Ms Anamika Haksar, an ex-National School of Drama (NSD) teacher and famous playwright. The answers to these questions largely constitute the content of the film, amalgamated with complexities the locals on road live with.

The local and migrated strugglers, children, young girls and women amid their daily tussles to survive, fall prey to far-fetched dreams of a good life, even if it is right on the road, such as a daily loader (Gopalan) while profusely sweating and too exhausted to lift the cart anymore, falls on load of sacks in the heady heat. But, on falling, all he always visualises is, green fields and his small kids waiting and crying for him, or a handsome young Shah Rukh Khan lookalike dream of a mickey mouse and showers of toffees from the sky.

The treatment to the film opens into a new genre of storytelling on big screen. It is part a fantasy, part a play in the theatre, part a docu-drama and part real people and real locations, their interviews/tales fused with digital techniques of animation and sync sound.

Four hours of film has been condensed to two hours of reality check on the current lives of Shahjahanabad’s people on street, and hope of a good future amid all chaos. It hints at the stink of communalism slowly creeping in the Dilli that always swore by India’s Ganga-Jamni tehzeeb. It mocks subtly at the vikas or the development agenda of the government that barely reached them. It is a film that challenges your mind to accept the alternate reality of old Delhi, and find the stories within stories thanks to Cinematographer - Saumyananda Sahi’s excellent shots.

Being from the theatre background Rabindera Sahu, Raghubir Yadav, Lokesh Jain and K. Gopalan never look like they are acting. Yadav as Chhadmi, the kachori seller to a jaljeera walah to a talisman, and an occasional singer in reverie makes every role a believable character you meet in old Delhi. Sahu, as Paltru, the pickpocket, is an effortless performer. His body language and dialogue delivery to expressions when he changes gears from a band baja walah to a light carrier to a tourist guide to a pick-pocket to a love-lorn middle age man, astonishes and one wonders why our film world hasn’t explored him yet.

Lokesh Jain who has also penned the dialogues of the film, lived in purani Dilli and researched for 3 years, plays Akash Jain, a tourist guide, lost in his own world of the ancient Shahjahanabad, its tehzeeb, poetry and aristocratic life style, narrates the glory to the tourists on ‘heritage walk’ while himself facing a daily struggle to keep his work going. Jain’s introduction to Urdu vocabulary and old-world tehzeeb adds to the shrewd yet sweet-tongue, sensitive guide he plays. K. Gopalan, with lisp in his speech and inadequate Hindi, is every inch a believable performer.

The title of the film has to do with an old-world story of élite going to Mehrauli for a picnic on a horse cart, and upon return with money, the horse-cart owner would treat their horses to the luxurious feast of milk mixed with jalebi (an Indian juicy sweet dish) – a horse’s dream food. With time, it became synonymous with luxury food that can come only when you are rich, hence can afford to feed your horse with.

The phrase, in connection with the film is an aspiration of the strugglers on the road who might meet you often, jokingly or sarcastically telling their fellow strugglers, “Ghode ko jalebi khilane le ja riya hoon”, in a typical purani Dilli Urdu accent, while going to their daily fight for food and dignity.

With the film, I am sure, the phrase will get a new lease of life and I hope to its real meaning. A hope, the film hints at.

It’s a complex film of seven years of research and documentation, intentionally edited by Paresh Kamdar to reinforce the pain of struggle. With hardly any known silver screen actor except Yadav, the film invites viewers to crack their egos, romanticism and existence into water and accept the subaltern history the film exposes.

Having travelled across the globe in multiple festivals and earning prestigious awards, the film is releasing in several parts of India today, June 10/2022.

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