Saturday 2 June 2007

Dil Se (1998)

Yes, Dil Se. We had heard a lot about this film. First, a friend came back from India with tales of people dancing on trains, and having to watch these people in every single public space where a television played. Then, it was recommended by the U-Iowa Indian cinema people. And then, of course, there was Chaiyya Chaiyya...

Gulzar's lyrics translated very decently.

Suffice to say, Dil Se was a long time coming. And it's a good thing it's warm enough for sandals, because had we been wearing socks they would have been BLOWN RIGHT OFF.

In Ladakh.

Dil Se is the best Indian movie we've ever seen (serious this time). And perhaps one of the best movies on a world scale too. It's definitely up there in the top ten now (Empire Strikes Back is number one, and Shakespeare in Love floats around the middle bit). But the sheer audacity of Dil Se, its surreal presentation, its hard-edged and disturbing romance (if we can even call it that), and, of course, the infamous dennouement had us glued to screen, absolutely fascinated and not a little troubled.

Deceptively peaceful!


Like Droh Kaal, Dil Se is a movie about terrorism. It was made seven years after the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a female suicide bomber, and it follows the story of an idealistic and naive young pup of a journalist, Amar (Shah Rukh Khan), who unknowingly falls head-over-heels obsessed with a gloomy and mysterious woman, Meghna (Manisha Koirala). Can you guess what the woman is?



The first half of the film takes place in the far northern reaches of India, where the people are disgruntled with the Indian government and Amar walks around with a beaming smile on his face, asking loudly if he can interview the local terrorist leader. He's a bit Marty McFly, except way over his head this time. You cringe for him. He pursues Meghna with zest and zeal, and doesn't leave even after being told she doesn't like him and is married, and even after her henchmen break his face in. Oh, he's a happy-go-lucky guy.

He follows her to Ladakh, and we get some fascinating scenes of Little Tibet. Meghna seems to warm to Amar after their bus crashes in the desert, and we see a brief, frightening moment of vulnerability. Clearly, something is very wrong with Meghna, and Amar's willingness to stay with her and heal her with the power of love (and blue steel, but not too much this time), is almost enough to crack Meghna's armor. Nonetheless Amar wakes up one morning to find her gone. He rages in the sand and returns to Delhi. Intermission. In Delhi, life goes slowly on. Amar's parents arrange a marriage for him with the pretty and likably zesty Preity (Preity Zinta - Veer-Zaara all over again!). Amar can't help but like her a little, even though Meghna is still on his mind. Then, surprise, Meghna and a similarly glum woman show up, asking for work and a place to stay. Amar obliges.

Obliging was a bad idea.


You may have figured out by now that Meghna is a terrorist, and Amar is sadly very misinformed. The dennouement, when Amar finds out, when the terrorist plot starts coming together, and when the police catch on, must be seen.

Video killed the radio star.

Preity is somewhat troubled.

Apart from a clearly very unorthodox love story, Dil Se also employs several innovative and admittedly bizarre cinematic techniques. Sometimes non-Indian viewers complain of Bollywood songs seeming disjointed and "pasted into" the main storyline. The genius of Dil Se is that the songs are disconnected to the extreme - rather than being remotely believable, they sing and dance to the themes, feelings, and thoughts of the characters. The best we can describe it is that it's as if the songs are the character's fantasies, colorful juxtapositions to the ambiguities and greyness of reality; a brilliant touch. The visuals were also incredible, and a big treat for anyone keen on photography and film. It looks like they used a very wide aperture, so that things went from stark lines to a haze in quick focus shots. The colors were brilliant, we still haven't figured out how it looked like that. Very Ridley Scott.

Amar's fantasies about Meghna.

Preity's fantasies about Amar.

Shah Rukh Khan delivers a powerful performance, completely unlike anything we've seen by him. For us, who were so used to Blue Steel and the other four Shah Rukh Looks of the 2000s, we were absolutely surprised; who is this guy? And what has he done with Shah Rukh? Maybe everyone's right when they say he's stuck in a box now.

What? This is not in the repertoire of Shah Rukh's Five Looks!

It really is something to be seen. We mark this as Required Viewing for anyone who loves movies.

Spike Lee used Chaiyya Chaiyya in his film, Inside Man, after a film student recommended it to him as a good Bollywood movie to see.


~^~*~ k!r@n ~*~^~ said...

ok, i found this blog 20 minutes ago and now im in love. dil se is definitely one of the most poweful and beautiful movies of indian cinema. and one of shahrukh and manisha's best. alas, once again, the audience was to too sensitive/stubborn/dumb to the topic, so it ddnt get the praise it deservd. howevr, nowadays the movie has quite a large following. the use of the 7 stages of love from arabic poetry in it is quite fascinating as well. in english they r: attraction, infatuation, love, reverance, worship, obsession, and death (which explains why srk supoosedly dies at the end of the song "satrangi re," which was meant to show the 7 phases).

Ami said...

Hi! New visitor here. Am going thru yr SRK movies review one-by-one.

Just want to say that if SRK had made these movies in this era of "let's rain Shah Rukh with controversies no matter what he does/says/approves of", hed be in big trouble for sure. Just giving a general comment (that merely echoed the public opinions previously voiced by quite a number of high profile people) about cricket has branded him a 'traitor' to India in certain quarters. SRK.. a traitor to his nation?? I shudder to think what kind of controversy the portrayal of a lover to a terrorist would have brought him now.. ^^;

Benjamin said...

Manirathnam has this unique way of showing known landscape. Ive travelled via Blue Mountain express several times, but never did it seem so ethereal. Been to Ladakh many times, but never did it seem so utopian. Anyway, have a look at the locations of Dil Se in the website Filmapia

tanay said...

Dil se has inspired me to visit Ladakh and the north east india .....and those locations do seem as magical as Mani ratnam has shown them....I put on the tune that comes at the opening credits of the movie....the children singing the ladakhi song....while I.look at the khardungla mountain peak from stok Kangri base camp....its difficult to fight my tears from coming out.

Q Leo Rahman said...

A Mani Ratnam/AR Rahman classic musical. And Preity was adorable in her debut.