With Vicky Donor, Piku, and October, writer Juhi Chaturvedi demonstrated how many cities reside in one Delhi

“There is a Lajpat Nagar for every Khan Market, a Daryaganj for every Vasant Kunj. But all of them know their 'place.' They are judged, but are fully aware that they judge others too. They do not hesitate to show off who they are,' says Juhi Chaturvedi.

Devansh Sharma January 08, 2022 08:33:26 IST
With Vicky Donor, Piku, and October, writer Juhi Chaturvedi demonstrated how many cities reside in one Delhi

Varun Dhawan in October

In the limited series #DilliDelhi, Devansh Sharma talks to scriptwriters and filmmakers who have explored the city of Delhi, in all its eccentricities, intricacies, and complexities, through their films.

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Juhi Chaturvedi has lived in Delhi for only three years, though her work suggests otherwise. She has explored three different sides to Delhi in the films she has written for Shoojit Sircar so far. While Vicky Donor (2012) was set in the heart of a bustling refugee colony inhabited mostly by Punjabis, Piku (2015) briefly visited the Bengali-dominated Chittaranjan Park area, and October (2018) intermittently strolled through the lush green Hauz Khas, Vasant Kunj colonies.

Clearly, she knows Delhi inside out. She claims she loves the city with all its ostentatious glory, wintry lethargy and political unreservedness. These factors, along with the fact that Delhi was her first tryst with 'freedom', make it the organic choice for her characters' home in all her films. "I moved from my hometown Lucknow to Delhi for my first job. Delhi provided me the freedom that Lucknow didn't. The freedom, economic or otherwise, allowed me to restart as a person. In 1996, I joined Lintas. Irrespective of the gender, we were working late hours on a regular basis. There were my colleagues — women — who were far more liberal in the way they dressed up or the language they used, without being apologetic about it. The city did not judge them. But I was coming from a place that was lot more conservative, expecting women to be coy and demure with no rough edges. It took me a while to absorb that when a city emits such strong masculine energy, women, perhaps in their defense, chose a rather aggressive demeanor in public places."

She’s lived in Mumbai far longer — two decades — but hasn’t set a film here (“I think I was in a different frame of mind when I came here; trying to find my feet in the advertising industry here," Juhi says). She thinks the ‘Maximum City’ is a leveler — with its slums crowding right up against its palatial high-rises. In Delhi, on the other hand, Juhi says these lines are “finer”. “Not so much on the basis of economics but more so in terms of geographic backgrounds…” she explains

“The eternal war of supremacy between South Delhi and West Delhi is well known.

As an outsider, one may judge them too soon as show offs but if one cares to understand their psychology, their ostentatious dressing, and larger-than-life persona is just a way to erase the dark memories of the hardships and misery of the partition.

When their businesses finally started doing well, the refugees made sure that they let the word know. I would like to believe that applying lipstick even before brushing their teeth is nothing but a small act to colour that past!" says Juhi.

Another Delhi trait that interests Juhi is that the city does not bother about too many formalities as compared to Bombay. She illustrates this with a small anecdote: "I was planning a small get together for my birthday in Mumbai, but for some reason, the plan got canned. And as expected, nobody turned up. Had it been Delhi, few of my friends there would have definitely landed up. Because a cancelled birthday celebration is no reason to stop them from bringing you flowers and hugs, irrespective."

With Vicky Donor Piku and October writer Juhi Chaturvedi demonstrated how many cities reside in one Delhi

Juhi Chaturvedi

She fondly recollects the memories of the time when she lived in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, especially of the prying ‘neighbour aunties’ who were apparently concerned about her as they might be for their own daughters. "When I would return from work at 7 pm or later, this one aunty would make sure to ask me, 'Vaddi der kardi tune?...ajj fir der?'. Eventually, instead of giving her lengthy explanation, I started telling her things like, ‘Aunty, you are looking lovely. Fit lag rahe ho!', and her tone would change and she’d say, 'Andar aaja bacche, chai pee le!'." “The idea of personal space may not be top of the charts there but it certainly makes for more vigilant neighbors” says Juhi.

The memorable characters of Dolly and Beeji (Ayushmann Khurrana’s mother and grandmother respectively, in Vicky Donor), were among the various brazen, outspoken aunties Juhi came across in Lajpat Nagar. "These women were always unapologetic about their thoughts and words — whether in the bazaar during the day, or when drinking late at night behind closed doors.”

With Vicky Donor Piku and October writer Juhi Chaturvedi demonstrated how many cities reside in one Delhi

Kamlesh Gill and Dolly Ahluwalia in Vicky Donor

Juhi recounts the endless nights that she spent overhearing (or rather, was forced to listen to) the haddippas and the burrahs that accompanied deafening Punjabi music. "Most of the men had their own businesses. They would come home late, dinner would be served late and the children would go to sleep late, even though they had school at seven the next morning. I think this tendency to live life on their own terms, and in the moment, also comes from the fact that they were refugees back in the day. They have already suffered a lot during Partition, and have left behind a considerable chunk of what was their own," she muses.

Contrast the migrants' community of Delhi shown in Vicky Donor to that in Piku. The 70-year-old Bhashkor Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan) and his 30-year-old daughter Piku (Deepika Padukone) lived in Chittaranjan Park, a few kilometers away from Lajpat Nagar, but miles away in terms of lifestyle. Like the Punjabis, the Bengalis were also verbose and argumentative, but they also boasted an intellectual streak that they think distinguished them from the Lajpat Nagars and the Chandni Chowks. "For example, Piku is basically an embodiment of the Delhi girls that I've seen around. They are smart, competitive, and confident. You cannot take them for a ride. They are politically more aware, clear-headed and can argue with anyone, whether it's a JNU intellectual or a Haryanavi cop. They have this certain fearless Durga-ness about them," Juhi points out.

With Vicky Donor Piku and October writer Juhi Chaturvedi demonstrated how many cities reside in one Delhi

Deepika Padukone and Amitabh Bachchan in Piku

From the voluble Punjabis in Vicky Donor to the loquacious Bengalis in Piku, Juhi's filmography finally settles in the silences of Sircar’s autumnal tale October. "The script demanded a sense of poetry, a hint of melancholy in nature. Unlike Mumbai, where the weather is almost the same round the year, Delhi has various seasons. I wanted to show a time lapse in October to depict the exhausting period that Shiuli's family and Dan (Varun Dhawan) live through, hoping she will recover from the coma. Also, the shiuli flowers… the green expanses… they could only come alive in a city like Delhi," she says.

That doesn’t mean Juhi is unaware of how grim those empty, green expanses can be, come nightfall. "There are so many dark patches in Delhi. When you are passing through such a patch in an auto-rickshaw, your body language changes. You become more conscious as there's always a fear, lurking somewhere," she says. Her grave mood passes as she switches to a more amusing recollection; she hesitates for a few seconds before sharing amid some chuckles: “You know, in my advertising days, we used to call these men Pinchu Kapoors. Their arms are even longer than kanoon ke haath! There is no place they can't reach!"

Juhi’s humororus outlook has allowed her to depict ‘taboo’ issues like infertility, and topics like constipation and death in brighter colours. The Punjabis who won’t be bogged down by the past, the Bengalis who make peace after heated arguments, and a lost soul who only knows how to love — all these characters are a part of Juhi. She is aware that just like the city she often goes back to through her stories, her craft too cannot be confined.

Read more from the Dilli-Delhi series here.

With Vicky Donor Piku and October writer Juhi Chaturvedi demonstrated how many cities reside in one Delhi

Dilli-Delhi. Illustration by Poorti Purohit

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