By Kapil Arambam
Delhi Mellei, which is meant to be a film of social relevance, has been reduced to a korfu of craps by its own lame, male chauvinistic narrative that has no real social or cinematic values.
“If you are a man of note, (find) for yourself a household, and love your wife at home, as it beseems. Fill her belly, clothe her back…but hold her back from getting the mastery. Remember that her eye is her storm wind, and her genitals and mouth are her strength.”
— Ptahhotep, written around 25th–24th century BC in Egypt
You do not ‘fine’ a police report; you ‘file’ it.
What do you say about a film that you watch it entirely because you do not want to waste the half-an-hour you already spent watching it? You will start seeing faults in every scene but in Delhi Mellei, it was more than a fault and reeked of a Ptahhotepian declaration. It is grave and equally ridiculous that you become a grammar Nazi and end up watching it twice. And yes, in the film, it was not a single character, who used the expression, but a hundred of them who wanted or suggested to ‘fine’ a police report, when Mellei (Bala) went missing with Tomthin (Bonny).
The boy is studious; the girl is crazy. The boy attends class regularly; the girl bunks and gets molested while she is drunk. The boy is loyal; the girl is, to use a local expression, like the ever-changing cloud. The boy makes breakfast though Manipuri men are not supposed to do such effeminate tasks; the girl loses her mind like a true mean and temperamental girl. The girl fell into a pit she digs herself; the boy saves the girl. The boy is going to bring glory to Manipur; the girl insults the boy and the whole Manipur by taking sides with the locals. The boy becomes a professor; the girl just waits for the boy, doing nothing even if her parents are searching for a suitable groom for her. The film ends on a positive note; the audience is left with a royal pain in the ass.
Despite Tomthin’s patriarchal insistence, Mellei is not only annoyed but breaks all ties with him. This has convoluted Erica Jong’s statement about smart guys going out with dumb women but hardly a smart woman with a dumb guy. Perhaps in this prejudicial story, Tomthin is confused whether he is smart or dumb to bark at Mellei about the role and the place of women in a society. Earlier Mellei had admitted she belongs to a kitchen.
One of its loglines screams that the story is based on the life of people from the Northeast in New Delhi, but the film is more torturous than the daily name callings and frequent abuses these people face in the hands of the North Indians. At one point, one of the characters, Pankaj, an ‘outsider’ who is in love with Mellei, becomes an object of reverse racism. Note: In another poster, the logline changes to “It’s the time to recall our childhood dreams once again”. It is it’s not its. I have no idea how the second logline is related to the film.
Many researchers consider that films are no different from other representational art in documenting the socio-cultural and political lives of a society. From ordinary daily existence to social mores, both fiction and non-fiction films capture them succinctly. Films are an excellent medium of communication and a custodian of an era’s way of life. This is why many filmmakers are obsessed with documentaries to capture life in its fullest. In this context, Delhi Mellei is supposed to be a socially relevant film. Yet it has been reduced to a farce by its double standards, stereotypes and parochial outlook on gender, racism and morality.
We make stereotypes about others and it is quite a natural process. Others do the same for us as well. However, it is abnormal when we start making stereotypes about ourselves. Each year, nearly 50,000 students, professionals and job seekers arrive in the metros from Manipur, thanks to the existing armed conflicts and the utter lack of educational and job prospects in the province. Delhi Mellei revolves around one group, the student community in the Indian capital. They mostly put up around North Delhi’s university areas. The film is a stereotypical story about this community.
Now I understand why Dr Akhu of Imphal Talkies & the Howlers once told me that he had turned down an offer to sing a song or two for this film. The biases were glaring from the start. Mellei’s parents, living in Manipur, were watching a television news about a Manipuri girl in shorts, who was molested in New Delhi. The responsible father preached that the girls should not wear revealing dress and those attires will only invite more crimes. He should be awarded with a Father of the Year trophy. So were the members of a student organisation who passed the same decision in the film—all of them should get gold medals for the deeply sexist remarks and resolutions that have been passed off as a social message.
Their view is no different from those of the village councils around the NCR, which publicly declare that eating chowmein is the main cause of rape.
Tomthin stays with Gunanu (Ratan Lai), who is a typical elder or a guardian. Our hero’s roommate lingers around the university and is unable to graduate even after six–seven years. He was the force behind a drive against drug abuse in the capital too. He is the kind of guy who could make any vigilante group in Manipur as proud as a Miss World winner. He is apparently a Tarzan in the town when it comes to his study but a master in preaching how the girls should live in a place like Delhi, what they should wear and how they should be the ideal Manipuri woman. All the ‘shoulds’ reflect the mentality of a misogynist, and the film’s severely flawed premise of a socially relevant film.
So the male room-mates, putting up at around a ghetto in Patel Chest, are role models. They excel individually as well in groups. However, Mellei shares her accommodation in Vijay Nagar with Sanatombi, a Jenny-Khurai lookalike, who smokes weeds, fucks around and influences Mellei to try drugs and go to clubs. She would say a woman is like a liquid that takes its form according to the container, echoing the film’s concept of an ideal woman. But it is too much for a stoner who has a Bob Marley’s poster up her wall.
Their part is accentuated by Sanathoi, Mellei’s boyfriend, who further introduces her to drinks and pubs. He is also a sexist and going by the mood of the film, he plays the role superbly. At one point, he gave his sermon on the concept of ideal woman. The fact that he persuaded Mellei to drink, bunk class and do all the nitty-gritty is seemingly irrelevant. Some of us are okay with the propagation of sexism as a form of violence and are happily living, dreaming our life is still in a hunting-and-gathering society in which the male members go out for food and the females manage the household chores.
In Gunanu’s word, men are magnet; while women are the nails that sway around it. The only condition is to possess some degrees of power.
Both the bold female protagonists have no world to exist but to give in to the traditional concept of graciousness, or rather to become conventional women of elegance as defined by Manipuri male chauvinists in their patriarchal society. To Tomthin, they are just shameless. Sanatombi do become a gracious Meitei ningol/chanura when she sets ablaze her western attires and dons a phanek.
The cinematography is splendid even if the amateurish editing is way below the average. There are repeating dialogues and the music can be best described as a fusion of Hindustani, reggae and international western pop that lends nothing extra to the ambience.
For the last fifteen years in the Manipuri digital film industry, audience have been experiencing only one issue. They will appreciate the movies more without motion interpolation or popularly, the soap-opera effect. It is known by different names such as ‘motion smoothing’, ‘motion/frame interpolation’ or simply as ‘ME/MC’. The filmmakers should try repeating the frames or inserting black frames that can help reduce the motion blur as well as dim the picture to produce a movie effect.
To quote the video experts, it becomes so real that it turns impracticable. To overcome this hindrance, Samsung has initiated its interpolation technology called Auto Motion Plus; Sony has developed Motion Flow and for LG, it is TruMotion. Besides, Philips is drawn on Digital Natural Motion and Perfect Motion Rate, Sharp has AquoMotion, Toshiba utilises ClearFrame or ClearScan, Panasonic features Cinema Smooth, Vizio uses Smooth Motion, Bose has an untitled VideoWave III, Hitachi works with its Reel120 and Mitsubishi applies its Smooth 102 Hz.
For television, the technology is always on a developing-mode to offer the best to a brand that its competitors cannot, even if these technologies have made television footages fluid and advanced, while digital films lose their authenticity. The latest television sets in the markets provide options to change the setting but it is just too meagre to allow the audience enjoy a film, so to say, in a proper movie environment. Some people do like it. Their complaints have compelled plasma television manufacturers to add a smoothing mode to their TV sets even if plasma has never had the motion blur issue.
Finally in Delhi Mellei, it was hilarious to watch the swimming pool scene. We have seen many modest women wearing long pants and t-shirts because they are a traditional and domestic animal. In our society, many women are too elegant and polished to wear swimsuits. Some of them blame other women for bringing them down by wearing skimpy outfits and indulging in immoral activities and so on. I would say they have heeded too much to Coco Chanel, when she said that a girl should be two things: classy and fabulous. Well, in the film, the two of them have set a new benchmark by dolling up in party wear and swimming. They should try a burqa and a poncho next time.
If we talk about reality, this film is quite right on the target. We talk about Nupi Lan, Meira Paibi and Irom Sarmila, but we are the same assholes, who would relegate women, with their permission though, to second-class citizens.
Delhi Mellei is a commercial melodrama and it might interest the sexists, bigots and orthodox morons. It would put Pat Robertson, the American media mogul, to shame. This guy professes that feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians. Father Ptahhotep would become literally archaic too!
If you want to learn about morality, ethics, racism and crime faced by the people from the Northeast in New Delhi, you should be doing other things—anything other than watching this film, which is simply not fine.