The film opens in a wintry Delhi. It’s Republic Day and as is tradition, five inmates will be released from the Central prison for good conduct. One of the inmates excitedly runs towards a man painting a signboard. He seems to be in his mid-40s, his hair and beard are greying, framed on a face fitted with a pair of thick black spectacles with cracked lenses. He moves with the aid of a wooden stick and his right hand is immobile. That was an unconventional introduction of a hero in Malayalam cinema back then—G Krishnamurthy (Mammootty), the once fiery young journalist and cartoonist who finds himself deceitfully shut in jail with broken limbs for taking on two politicians.
Written by Dennis Joseph, easily one of the best mainstream screenplays in Malayalam cinema (borrows the basic plotline from Irving Wallace’s The Almighty), directed by Joshiy (one of his best-directed films), New Delhi is a revenge drama/thriller set in the backdrop of the newspaper industry in New Delhi.
The narrative quickly cuts to the chase from the word go. At the prison ground, we are already introduced to the film's antagonists—Home Minister Shankar (Devan) and Democratic Party’s Kerala President Panicker (Jagannatha Varma). As the camera pans the prisoners lined up on the ground, the two politicians pointedly glance at the downcast face of GK. When the sweets are distributed, one of the two cruelly wrenches his paralysed arm and places a sweet on it, even as GK writhes in pain. “How many cartoons have you drawn with this hand? How many fiery articles,” they smirk, clearly enjoying his agony.
Rapidly the other characters emerge, patching the story together. Maria Fernandes (Sumalatha) remains a searing memory for GK— “someone who still awaits his release on every Republic day for the last 5 years.” The woman who persistently courted the talented and elusive G Krishnamurthy and ironically ended up as a catalyst for his downfall and an enabler in his path to glory.
There is an element of empowerment in how Maria (a dignified Sumalatha) despite being a survivor of sexual assault doesn’t let that override her life. Not only does she come out of the trauma but also aids GK to recover and succeed. G Krishnamurthy while working at Navbharath Times was this no-nonsense reporter and cartoonist who never thought beyond honest reporting. And was clearly lacking in ambition till circumstances made him think otherwise.
What makes GK such a fascinating character sketch is that there is nothing heroic about him. All he does is draw out a faultlessly laid out revenge plan and uses people to put them in action. His meteoric rise to power eventually surges from his own blinding desire to extract revenge and his path to revenge is unscrupulous and manipulative. That’s perhaps a common thread that binds some of the most popular heroes created by Dennis Joseph—they are all flawed men with insecurities, defects, and vulnerabilities.
Watch: New Delhi on YouTube
One of the high points of the film has to be GK’s transition from an honest, righteous journalist to a tyrannical media baron. GK mostly wears Nehru jackets and Western suits. His salt and pepper hair is smoothly combed back to frame an unsmiling face fitted with a pair of gold-rimmed glasses with a chain. He walks with the aid of an elegant wooden stick. That's the appearance taking care of the bulwark. Except during the first occasion when he evades Maria’s knowing glance after “staging a sensational news story,” he largely remains ruthless, conspiring and planning the murders with a strange deliriousness.The intoxication of power has long taken primacy over his desire for vengeance.
There is also a touchingly muted love story between GK and Maria, a love spawned from guilt and tragedy. If Maria’s love remained unconditional, GK’s seems borne more out of loneliness and helplessness. That’s why Maria silently stands by him despite knowing too well that he has drifted into someone she is not familiar with. When she gently reminds him, he smiles— “Yes, I am God. Media God. I can make and break people’s lives. Yesterday I dreamt that I had conquered the media world.” A reminder of the despot he has turned into.
You need an actor with a terrific screen presence for the role of GK (a reason why Jeetendra was a failure in the Hindi remake), who is innately larger-than-life. And Mammootty has it in plenty. The actor’s shift is pitch perfect catching accurately the nuances in the voice modulation and body language. Even something as simple as “Mariaykku pokaam” spoken in his deep baritone has an arresting quality to it. Also look out for that lovely scene in jail when Maria visits him, and Mammootty’s face reflects gratitude and warmth.
GK’s sister Uma’s (Urvashi) lover Suresh (Suresh Gopi) is that earnest, eager-to-please young journalist, a younger GK. That’s why when the elusive Viswanath keeps producing “breaking stories” he feels envious and is determined to prove his worth in front of GK— “We get these scraps and Viswanathan gets all the sensational stories” smartly underlines the rivalry among news reporters.
The slippery Viswanath (Thiagarajan was amazing casting) is also intriguing—the man who kills a family of six for a reward of five lakhs, who feels an affinity towards GK enough to agree to his mad plans. The same goes for his co-inmates in jail and their odd kinship with GK.
The journalist isn’t just a sluggish kurta-pajama wearing celluloid stereotype. The undercurrents of dissent between an investigative journalist and a rising politician are there in how GK summarises his equation with Home Minister Shankar— “He was a mere MP and had a clean image among the youth. He was against alcohol consumption, was a righteous and clean socialist. But when I wrote an article calling out his nefarious deals, we became enemies.” But even their enmity is quickly forgotten once the power equation between GK and Shankar turns level which in turn hints at the uneasy nexus between media and the politicians.
Similarly, the workings of a journalist despite sliding towards the fiery, honest scribe are accurately documented. Be it the punishing working hours, the economics, and challenges of launching a new newspaper, the sensationalist nature of news stories, the behind-the-scenes of an editorial and the mechanism of newspaper circulation. In fact, GK gravely sums up the newspaper industry when he says— “The public doesn’t need a new newspaper. There are enough newspapers in the market. We are the ones who require a new paper. Our newspaper should have something unique. We need sensational news.”
When GK manipulates and creates “breaking stories” for his newspaper, it seems like a precursor to the sensationalist news media industry today. That’s why the media politics of New Delhi might come across as a scathing comedy today.
Neelima Menon has worked in the newspaper industry for more than a decade. She has covered Hindi and Malayalam cinema for The New Indian Express and has worked briefly with Silverscreen.in. She now writes exclusively about Malayalam cinema, contributing to Fullpicture.in and thenewsminute.com. She is known for her detailed and insightful features on misogyny and the lack of representation of women in Malayalam cinema.