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By Phil Hall | April 8, 2004

“Delhi House” is a 12-minute documentary on a non-profit clinic/rehabilitation center/orphanage serving the destitute in one of India’s poorest urban centers. The images captured in this film are not for the weak-hearted, as filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar’s camera captures scenes ranging from physical therapy for a man whose legs were severed in an accident to a skin graft for a recovering drug addict whose arm became acutely infected from dirty needles. There is also a brief glimpse at a hospital where some Delhi House patients came from: a nightmarish state-run health care facility where dogs run through the hallway and floor-level toilets overflow. If this is not tragic enough, there are also heartbreaking introductions to the physically disabled children for whom Delhi House is the only place which would provide them with shelter and care.
Unfortunately, “Delhi House” is curiously absent of some basic facts. The audience is left without any clue regarding the names or backgrounds of the European medical staff who run the organization (and whose commentary guide the film through its course), or how this institution is financed when all medical care is provided for free, or even how long it has been in existence and who created it. There is also the curious habit of providing English subtitles for sequences when English is spoken with accented yet crisp clarity, and filmmaker Zagar further confuses matters when he turns his film into a home movie by zooming into extreme and comic close-ups of the Delhi House patients (these poor souls stare back into the lens with a mix of confusion and annoyance).
Perhaps the film could provide some much needed details if “Delhi House” had more than 12 minutes to cover its subject. One question not answered here would certainly be welcome, especially in view of recent events: how is it that the government of India has money to build nuclear weapons and amass a military presence against neighboring Pakistan but is unable to provide one iota of proper medical care for the poorest of its people? The greatness of a nation is not measured in the muscle of its bully-boy strength but in the depth of its compassion, and the Indian government rulers could use a good smack on the turban and a week at Delhi House to get its priorities in order.

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