Dilli Dark


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Dilli Dark
"Das Roy has a way with words, and when the dialogue gets going it has plenty of zip." | Photo: Courtesy of POFF

“Life is unfair, you have to be fair”, proclaims the packaging on a box of Fair & Awesome powder - a face whitening product that Nigerian migre to Delhi Michael Okeke (Samuel Abiola Robinson) has been tempted to buy. He realises it’s ludicrous, of course, his skin is never going to lighten to the point where he doesn’t face everyday racism on the streets of the Indian city.

Dibakar Das Roy’s debut feature wraps this issue up within a boisterous, if unruly, comedy as Michael tries to make it as best he can. Studying for an MBA, he’s an industrious sort but he’s also dealing drugs in his off-hours to make ends meet. There’s barely a dull moment in Das Roy’s film as Michael finds himself unexpectedly courted to be a “disciple” of local spiritual leader Mansi (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan), whose most impressive ability seems to be to spirit away cash from the desperate and desperately rich.

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The writer/director’s satire - which screened in the First Features Competition at Tallinn - circles around satirising the racism Michael faces and consumerism more generally, as Michael’s life becomes increasingly twisted by fate. Some of the situations Michael faces may seem absurd - such as being accused of cannabalism - but these are genuine prejudices that exist, as news stories used towards the end of the film show. Das Roy’s observations on the “colonial complex” about the colour of a person’s complexion also have plenty of edge. Abiola Robinson is a likeable lead although sometimes his delivery is less snappy than the dialogue he is presented with. Ohlyan, meanwhile, has plenty of fun as the dodgy guru who might, in fact, give people enlightenment by accident. There’s also strong support offered by Shantanu Anam as Michael’s meat-loving friend Debu.

Das Roy has a way with words, and when the dialogue gets going it has plenty of zip. He also neatly skewers the double-edged sword represented by internet fame. Large chunks of voice-over, however, make the film feel ungainly in places and streamlining the plot would have helped to keep the pace from flagging. The director’s attempts to weave in a segment of India’s history, while ambitious, also don’t help with the flow. There’s a lot to be said for Das Roy’s use of comedy to address these serious issues, however, with the director asking the audience not only to laugh at themselves but to have a good look at their attitudes.

Reviewed on: 28 Nov 2023
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A Nigerian student tries to make it while fighting racism in Delhi.

Director: Dibakar Das Roy

Writer: Dibakar Das Roy

Starring: Samuel Abiola Robinson, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Shantanu Anam

Year: 2023

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: India


Black Nights 2023

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