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Dilli Dark

A black man from a former British colony experiences prejudice in a film that tips its hat at Indian mythology - from the the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

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This is a sprawling comedy that paints a complicated picture of New Delhi, a city polluted by inherent racism and British imperialism.

Michael is a Nigerian man who loves and hates the city he now calls home. He’s determined to make something of himself, but his struggles are palpable, and spends his nights selling cocaine to up-market customers who make jokes about his other “package.” Aching to be recognised for who he truly is, he takes refuge in an ashram, where he engages with the spiritual practices that are available to him. He grows more and more attracted to his spiritual guru (who is played by Geetika Vidya Ohlyan), but when he realises that she wants him for his “powder”, he grows more dubious, and returns to the streets.

No, Dilli Dark is not a subtle film: Much of the film is about centred on the differences between “white powder” and “black skies”. Michael (played rather effectively by Samuel Abiola Robinson) is a man of contrasting identities: By day, he’s a precocious student who enjoys studying for his bright future – he’s even recorded saying that on camera. By night, by contrast, he’s a criminal who is subject to racial prejudice, although he’s danger – not forgetting his exotic nature – draws him to single women in search of a lay. It’s on this odyssey (yes, yes), he realises that he will always be a stranger, despite the myriad African people who populate the street.

But it’s not a ponderous watch. The film has many comedic moments, and although everyone gets to utter a gag or two, Ohlyan is the one with the best comic timing. She flits between spiritual Queen and fashion Queen, selling her mantras on a television, enjoying the arched eyebrows as she does so. In one hilarious setpiece, she starts a fight with a burly man in the hope of picking up the cocaine that will help her sell her “guidance”.

It helps that Ohlyan is a woman of rare beauty, and you could believe why a young man could fall so heavily for her. In another interesting comparison to Ulysses, Michael spends much of the time deep in thought, fantasising about another realm where he has influence far beyond the tawdry. Drawn to an Indian myth, Michael sees his betrothed as Razia Sultan, a Queen who enjoyed a sexual relationship with a black man before he was killed by the jealous villagers.

Dilli Dark is an impressively inventive work, one that reveres and chastises India in equal measure. It just premiered at the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.


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