Abhay/Aalavandhan (2001): Twenty years of Kamal Haasan’s Magic Realism

There are some films which you miss, despite they hype and your eagerness to watch it. I remember Abhay/Aalavandhan was one of the most awaited films but it meet with mixed reactions when released. But it is a film which always comes up in discussion with cinephiles.Continue reading “Abhay/Aalavandhan (2001): Twenty years of Kamal Haasan’s Magic Realism”

Bombay (1995): Mani Ratnam’s ode to the city that never sleeps

Bombay now Mumbai, was a city considered to be a cosmopolitan city, a city which was only concerned about making money and not interested in knowing from where you have come from or who were you.  Post ’92, the fault line has run deeply with ghettos that are now an integral part of my city.  For a city which is the epicenter of Bollywood, there are hardly any movies based on ’92 riots. The one which comes to my mind are Bombay and Black Friday, both coincidentally directed by people by non natives. Continue reading “Bombay (1995): Mani Ratnam’s ode to the city that never sleeps”

18 Years on, Dil Se Lives on: A True Classic in Every Sense

What do you say about a film where the very first scene teaches you something new? Despite being good with geography I had no clue of a place called Haflong, but thanks to Dil Se I know that it is a hill station in Assam. What do you say about a film where the hero and the heroine hardly communicate the first time that they meet, so much so that the hero actually remarks at the end of it saying this must be the World’s shortest love story. And what can you actually say when that is followed by a song which is not just a personal favourite, but a song that shook the entire Nation and is popular to this day Internationally as well, the brilliantly choreographed, composed and executed number, “Chaiyya Chaiyya”. Even if the film had nosedived after that I would perhaps have still not really complained, but then there was no need to as it turned out to be a film for which there is everything and more going in its favour.Continue reading “18 Years on, Dil Se Lives on: A True Classic in Every Sense”

20 Years of Indian: When Shankar and Kamal Haasan Created History

Let’s go 20 years back, to the day, May 9th, 1996, when the epic masterpiece Indian released and how it has stayed strong in the history of cinema.

Just like how today cinema lovers are in frenzy with the excitement of waiting to see how a young director Pa. Ranjith is going to direct Superstar Rajinikanth in Kabali, back then after the announcement of Indian with Shankar going to direct Kamal Haasan should have created the same excitement. As after all Shankar was the happening director in Tamil Cinema with two back to back blockbusters Gentleman and Kadhalan, who had arrived in cinema with a bang! Another notable coincidence between Shankar and Pa. Ranjith is that their third film is with Kamal Haasan and Rajinkanth respectively !!!Continue reading “20 Years of Indian: When Shankar and Kamal Haasan Created History”

Aamir Khan Aur Remakes Ki Dastan – part 2 of 2

I thought I would assimilate the entire thing into a single post, but I was unable to do so. It has taken me 2 weeks to complete this because I was not able to dedicate myself totally to it. Anyways, here’s the next part, continuing with the number series.You can read the first part of Aamir Khan Aur Remakes Ki Dastan here

6. Jab Jab Phool Khile – 1965 : One of the earlier movies of Shashi Kapoor where he plays Raja, a houseboat owner-cum-guide. Rita, played by Nanda, visits Kashmir and she falls in love with the valleys. Not just the valleys, she falls in love with the charming boatman Raja too. She  promises Raja that she will convince her dad and get back to marry him. But Raja is shattered when Rita does not return for a very long time. Meanwhile Rita is being introduced to suitors as her dad presses for marriage. Rita returns to Kashmir and explains the situation to Raja, and they together hatch a plan to showcase Raja as a wellbred citizen who is prim and proper in his habit and mannerism. That is when Raja notices the difference in cultures and the superficiality of the city dwellers. What happens next and how Raja copes with this and finally gets Rita, forms the rest.

In 1996 Dharmesh Darshan along with Robin Bhat rehashed this movie and titled it Raja Hindustani. Aamir Khan played Raja, the cab driver-cum-guide and Karishma Kapoor played Arti Sehgal who visits the small town of Palankhet. The only thing that they added was the newborn child for whom Raja fights it out with Arti. The highlight of the movie, apart from the wonderful songs, was the drunk-scene of Aamir. Legend has it  hat Aamir being a method-actor actually got drunk so that it would look natural. Aamir won the Filmfare for Best Actor, but as usual he did not  turn-up and quite justifiably so, because it was a mediocre performance. Karishma looked amazingly beautiful and she walked away with Filmfare Best Actress. The movie also won the Fimlfare for Best Film, Best Music Director and Udit Narayan won the Best Singer for the Pardesi song. But this song was not as good as the original Pardesiyon Se Na Akhiyan Milana song.

7. On The Waterfront – 1954 : A story about corruption and total control of a dockyard was made starring Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy. Johnny Friendly rules the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey and Terry’s brother Charley is his lawyer who does all the cover-up job. Terry moves around as an aimless guy so johnny asks him to pry over the gathering of the dissenting voices against him and report him the events. Very innocently Terry reports Johnny about certain dock workers who want to lodge a complaint to the crime commission against him. Johnny is also involved in other illegal activities like betting on boxing matches and in one such match he wants Terry to lose the match since the odds against the opponent is high. Terry is disappointed by this but what actually turns him against Johnny is the incident where Johnny’s men throw over a dock worker into the railway track of an incoming train. But Terry lives with the guilt that he has been made use like a bait and the only way to find peace within himself is to depose against Johnny. The deceased’s younger sister Edie and Father Barry. When Terry becomes a threat to him, Johnny decides to get him eliminated. Terry and Johnny have a final confrontation where Terry testifies against Johnny and then fights him in front of all dock workers and decimates him.

This movie has been a source of inspiration for quite a few Bollywood movies. Let me start with Yash Chopra’s Deewar, which was supposedly
lifted from this. But the only thing common was the dockyard. In fact, Mukul Anand’s Hum was more of this movie than Deewar. Hum had the docks, the martinet Danny Dengzongpa as Bhaktavar, Gonsalves who dies fighting for the cause and his sister Jumma played by Kimi Katkar who wants Tiger aka Amitabh Bachchan to stand against the tyranny of Bhaktavar. So, Mukul Anand almost had the entire plot covered but he took it to a different logical conclusion with the reform of Tiger as Shekhar and how Bhaktavar returns 20 years later to haunt him.

In 1988, a lesser known movie called Kabzaa directed by Mahesh Bhat, was released. The movie starred Sanjay Dutt as Ravi and Raj Babbar as
Ranjit. Ranjit is a lawyer who works for Veljibhai[Paresh Rawal] who is a small time ‘dada’. Ravi is sent on small assignment to forcibly vacate the house of an idealist gandhain Ali Mohammaed [Alok Nath]. Ali reforms Ravi and Ravi turns against Veljibhai, and to avert a face-off between the two, Ranjit requests Ravi to flee from the scene as Veljibhai’s men are looking for him; he also hands Ravi a gun for his protection. All this was taken from OTW, but the backdrop had been changed from dockyard to Mumbai streets and from small time corruption to big time dadagiri.

Finally, 10 years later in 1998, Ghulam was made. The writer Anjum Rajabali, maintained the same setting of Mumbai and laid out the entire screenplay of OTW. He avoided the twists and turns that Kabzaa had taken, thereby remaining faithful to the original. Aamir Khan as Sidharth Marathe struck a chord with the audience. They related to him and sympathised with him in his pain and guilt of having been used as a pawn to eliminate Alisha’s [Rani Mukerjee] elder brother. Sidhu’s elder brother, played by Rajit Kapoor, advises Sidhu not to testify against Raunak  Singh[Sharat Saxena] and when he is not able to convince Sidhu he gives him a gun for protection. The same scenes were played out as in the original, and the audience cheered for Sidhu as he beat up Raunak Singh in the end. Aamir playing tapori for the 2nd time [1st being Rangeela] was amazing. He played it so differently, his mannerism and dialogue delivery and the Khandala song, which became the anthem of the nation, just added to the movie viewing experience. The 10-10 ka daud was shot brilliantly in Shanpada junction. Aamir gave it his all, the conviction in his performance was evident. He did total justice to the character and was almost there when compared to Marlon Brando’s performance.

8. Love Affair – 1939 : One of the most romantic movies to adorn the silver screen was released. It was about a French painter Michael Marnet, played by Charles Boyer, who meets Terry McKay[Irene Dunne] while they are on a cruise across Atlantic Ocean. They both are already engaged to other people but that does not prevent them from falling in love. The ship has a minor stop-over in a beautiful island where Michael’s grandmom stays; she finds Terry really charming and wishes the newfound couple all the luck. At the end of the cruise, Michael and Terry decide to meet on top of Empire State Building exactly after 6 months. While both are gearing up for the big day, Terry gets hit by a car and she is unable to make it. When she finds out that she cannot walk anymore she does not want to spoil Michael’s life and so she does not get in touch with him. But destiny brings them together again during a stage-play, where she successfully hides her handicap. After this meet, Michael wants to see her one last time and visits her apartment where he gets to know the truth. But her handicap cannot come in the way of true love and the two lovers unite.

So brilliant was the story-screenplay that this movie was remade in 1957 and titled An Affair To Remember based on the same screenplay,
without any changes. Cary Grant played the painter Nickie Ferrante and his love interest was played by Deborah Kerr who retained the same name Terry McKay. This movie did much better than its original and people remember this version and have almost forgotten the original one. Cary Grant and Deborah were perfectly cast and they did a wonderful job. The romance was so believable and so heart-warming that the American Film Institute considered this this as one of the most romantic movies of all time.

So timeless is the romance that Sleepless in Seattle, made in 1993, revolved around this movie. The character Annie Reed [Meg Ryan] and
her friend make references to AFTR and there are clips and dialogues from AFTR which appear all over the movie.

Anything as famous as AFTR had to come to Bollywood, sooner or later. So, in 1965 Ramanand Sagar re-wrote this with a role reversal of the two main leads in the movie titled Arzoo. Rajender Kumar as Gopal plays a doctor who meets Usha[Sadhna] in Kashmir during one of those yearly skiing events. They fall in love and decide to marry, but tragedy strikes as Gopal meets with an accident and loses his legs. He voluntarily walks out of Usha’s life so as to give her a better life. Finally, in the end sequence Usha sees him again, with the crutches, in a similar skiing  contest, and accepts him despite his handicap. All this happens after a whole lot of tear-jerking moments and sacrifices from Feroz Khan who plays Gopal’s friend.

Anyways, Inder Kumar anad Ashok Thakeria took it up to themselves to remake this movie again, retaining the original plot of a playboy painter. In 1999 they came-up with Mann, starring Aamir Khan as the painter Dev, and Manisha Koirala as his love quotient Priya. When the first few sequences were being shot in a ship a rumour spread that Titanic was being remade. But Mann was a blot in the name of AFTR. It did not retain the spirit of the original and the screenplay was tampered with the induction of unnecessary characters like Neeraj Vora[Nattu, Dev’s side-kick], Rani Mukherjee and Anil Kappor in guest appearance. The comic sequences of Dev and Nattu marred the movie, and the romance came undone due to some sleepwalk acting by Manisha. The music by Sanjeev-Darshan was the only saving grace of the movie. The grandmom sequence with Sharmila Tagore lacked sensitivity and warmth, it seemed like a gimmick. All in all, it was crass.

9. Memento – 2000 : A movie about anterograde amnesia [short-term-memory-loss] was made by Nolan brothers. The movie starred Guy Pearce who played an insurance fraud investigator. During a burglary his wife is killed and he is hit hard by severe psychological trauma where-in he is incapable of making new memory and his memory lapses every 15 minutes. He devices a method to recall things, he walks around with a polaroid camera and shoots every image and makes detailed notes about the person/place which can help him in recognizing them later. He is on a search for the killer of his wife. How he finds the killer with all the various clues forms the rest of the movie.

AR Murugadoss picked up the idea and the original plot of this movie, added the usual Indian tadka with songs, romance, violence, revenge
and came out with Ghajini in 2005, in Tamil. Surya essayed the role of the STML patient who was out there looking for a man named Ghajini, to avenge the death of his love Kalpana[Asin]. I dont think there is need to write anything else.

Inspired by the success of this movie, Murugadoss wished to remake this movie in Hindi. He roped in Aamir Khan, tweaked his screenplay to
remove some of the glitches like the double-role of Ghajini etc, asked Aamir to work-out and develop 8 packs to make the action sequences look believable. In 2008, the movie was released by the same name Ghajini. The rest is history, the movie raked in 200 crores in 2 weeks. By the way, I thought Aamir was brilliant in the movie. He brought out the angst of the character very well. The romance between him and Asin was  refreshing, and Rahman’s music gave a flair to the movie.

Let me end this by saying that Aamir Khan has made quite a few movies based on literary works. His famed debut with QSQT was straight out of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, 1947-Earth was the movie adaptation of Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel ‘Ice-candy Man’. And his next movie ‘3 Idiots’ is based on Chetan Bhagat’s ‘Five Point Someone’. I hope they expand the horizon of that movie to include the educational system machinery and expose the flaws.

Aamir Khan Aur Remakes Ki Dastan – part 1 of 2

Today, 14th March, is Aamir Khan’s birthday. I wish him a very Happy Birthday.

I have wanted to write this article from a long time, to be precise after the release of Mann. Eventually, after the release and the super-success of Ghajini I have got down to writing it. There is something with Aamir and movie remakes, he has consistently been a part of movies which are remakes. Its definitely not his fault that he has featured in them, its the writer-director who were looking for a quick and ready-made storylines  and of course the producer for easy money. And let me also say that he is not the only star to feature in remakes, as we all know, but the quality of the remakes is what differentiates him from the rest. Why I have analysed him is because, out of the 40 odd movies that he has made, nearly 10 of them have been remakes which is like 25%. Let me go ahead and write down about these movies in a chronological manner of their release wrt Aamir’s filmography.

1. It Happened One Night – 1934 : Clark Gable played the male lead Peter, he even went on to win the Oscar for the Best Actor. It was a
heart-warming movie with a simple storyline. A small time reporter Peter is looking for a big story and he meets a highbrowed lady Ellie
[Claudette Colbert] who has escaped from the clutches of her dad and is on the run to meet her beau. How they both make the journey from
Florida to NY, the small squabbles that they have and how they eventually fall in love with each other is what the movie is about.The
movie went on to win 5 Oscars; apart from Clark Gable, Claudette won the Best Actress, Frank Capra won the Best Director, it was awarded
the Best Movie and Best Writing/Adaptation.

The formula was a sure-shot success, and so in 1956 a movie named ‘Chori Chori’ starring Raj Kapoor and Nargis was released. Raj Kapoor
played the struggling reporter named Sagar while Nargis was Kammo. The highlight of this movie was the songs and especially the puppet-act of
Raj and Nargis. The movie had some brilliant compositions from Shankar-Jaikishan like ‘Panchhi Banoo Udti Phiroon’, ‘Aaja Sanam Madhur Chandni Mei Hum’, ‘Jahan Mai Jaati Hoon Wahin Chale Aate Ho’ and ‘Rasik Balma’. SJ won the Filmfare for Best Music Director.

If you watch Mehmood’s Bombay To Goa, you can see the same theme where Aruna Irani is trying to escape to meet her lover Shatrughan Sinha and is guided all the way by Amitabh Bachchan. But it was dished out in a different way, they changed the screenplay totally and added the comedy angle to it. This occured to me just now, wonder why I did not think of it earlier.

Anyways, the person who did not deviate from the original screenplay was the Robin Bhat-Mahesh Bhat duo. They stayed faithful to IHON and
in 1991 came Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin starring Aamir Khan as Raghu Jaitley and Pooja Bhatt as Pooja. Aamir exuded the same kind of charm
as Clark Gable. In fact, he went a few notches up in the emotional sequences where he could neither stop Pooja from meeting her lover nor
could he tell her that he has fallen for her. Aamir played the role with gusto beginning with the telephone-booth sequence, then the
request-for-lift scene and ending it with the elopement. The entire journey was fantastic, but the magical moment has to be the one where
he starts humming ‘Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke’ with a cigarette between his lips and Pooja in his arms. Only after this does he realise that he
has started liking Pooja. The movie received 4 Filmfare nominations, for Best Actor, Best Director, Best Comedian [Anupam Kher playing
Pooja’s father] and Best Female Singer. Anuradha Paudwal took home the award for the title track, while the rest just remained nominated.

2. Breaking Away – 1979 : This was a really nice movie about a good-for-nothing dude Dave Stoller [Dennis Christopher] who has no aim
or ambition and leads a nonchalant life. His parents keep reminding him about his responsibilities but he just loves spending time with
his friends and riding the bicycle. He has a chance meeting with a beautiful girl Katherine [Robyn Douglass] and to make friends with her he fakes his identity to be a guitar playing Italian exchange student. While he is dating Katherine an entourage of Italian bikers happen to come to his town for a Little500 race. He loves watching them practise and shows his talent with the bicycle. He hopes to get close to them by showing that he can keep up to their pace, but he beats them in a friendly dash; but instead of lauding his effort they just push him into a ditch. That really breaks Dave’s heart and he loses all respect for the Italian cyclists. He decides to take part in the Little500 race wearing the ‘Cutters’ jersey; referring to the lesser privileged people who are not able to complete their education but take pride in hard work. He of course goes on to win the race and create history. The movie won the Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay; but it lost in the 4 other categories Best Director, Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Music.

https://i2.wp.com/www.musichouseltd.co.uk/shop/images/JO%20JEETA%20WOHI%20SIKANDAR%20DVD.JPGIn 1992, Mansoor Khan took a lot of inspiration from this movie and made Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. I have used the word ‘inspiration’ because the movie was not a scene-to-scene remake. Lots of new things were introduced, but the plot, storyline and the spirit of the original was kept intact. Mansoor wrote a brilliant screenplay and dialogues by Nasir Hussain were really good, they breathed a life into the Sanjaylal character played by Aamir Khan. They retained the sub-plot of Aamir faking his identity and calling himself a Xavier student so he can go around with Devika[Pooja Bedi] and ultimately she gets to know the truth. The friendship of Sanjaylal and Anjali[Ayesha Jhulka] was handled with maturity and utmost honesty. Mansoor Khan introduced an emotional quotient attaching a prestige to the Annual Cycle Race and added the nostalgia of Sanjaylal’s dad[Kulbhushan Kharbanda] having won the race once upon a time. And the burden of bringing home the cup rested on Ratanlal [Mamik], Sanjay’s elder brother. But when Ratanlal is severely injured from an accident inflicted upon by the Rajput College boys, Sanjaylal takes it upon himself to bring home the coveted honor and take revenge against the Rajput College boys. The movie won the Filmfare for Best Film. Aamir was excellent in the movie, to say the least.

3. Houseboat – 1958 : This movie starred Carry Grant as Tom Winters, who works in the state department of Washington and Sophia Loren as
Cinzia who is the daughter of an Italian conductor. The movie is about Tom whose estranged wife dies in a car crash and he decides to raise the 3 kids, but the kids despise him. In his effort to befriend the kids he takes them to a concert, but the youngest kids get bored and goes out to have some fresh air and play his harmonica. The kid runs into Cinzia who has runaway from home after a small squabble with her dad. Cinzia is able to strike a chord with the kids and since she has nowhere to go, she accepts Tom’s offer of being their housemaid/nanny. After some wandering around and having seen their traveling house [home on wheels] getting destroyed due to a speeding train; they finally move into a houseboat. Tom’s sister-in-law who has a crush on him tries to woo, but slowly and surely Tom finds himself falling for Cinzia. How they get married and how the kids finally accept their dad and new mom is what the rest of the movie is about.

In 1993 a movie titled after a popular Dev Anand song released, the movie was Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke. It was again the combination of Robin Bhat-Mahesh Bhat who systematically copied the movie scene-by-scene. The only thing that they changed was that, the kids were Aamir Khan’s nephews and nieces and not his own. And Aamir becomes the caretaker of the kids after the sad demise of his sister and brother-in-law in a car crash. They also introduced the character Mishraji [Mushtaq Khan] who had returned from Japan after getting trained in assembly-line production; and they made use of this by adding the twist of having to deliver the bulk order of 1 lakh shirts. Apart from this, rest of the movie remained faithful to the original. It was so faithful that the Cinzia character’s Italian dialogues were translated to suit Juhi Chawla’s tamil character Vyjayanthi. The concert, mouth-organ playing kid, taking the kids to visit the museum, Vyjayanthi’s advise of treating the kids with maturity were all the same as in the original. All the kids did a great job, especially Kunal Khemu who went onto become an actor. Aamir was also the Assisstant Director of this movie, in fact this was the phase when Mahesh Bhat was considered to be the most busy director, so busy that he was supposedly giving instructions over the phone; that was the reason for Aamir to step-in as Assisstant Director. This did not stop the movie from winning the Filmfare for Best Actress, Best Film and Best Lyricist[Sameer].

4. Kramer Vs Kramer – 1979 : It was a movie about a marriage gone wrong and a divorce case ending up in a courtroom. Dustin Hoffman as
Ted Kramer, a workaholic from advertising industry marries Joanna Kramer, played by Merly Streep. One day when he returns home after being given a big assignment with a new client, he finds his wife walking away. She wishes to walk-out on him, leaving behind her son Billy. Now, its upto Ted to look after Billy. He does so with some help from Margaret, his neighbour. One day, as they sit around the park while the kid is playing, Billy has a minor accident and is bleeding profusely. Ted makes a mad rush to a hospital amidst the traffic and speeding cars. A year and half later, Joanna returns to seek custody of Billy and this is where a bitter court battle ensues. There is a lot of bad blood and lot of vicious remarks being made about Ted’s carelessness in taking care of the baby. Finally, Joanna being a mom, wins the battle on emotional grounds and Ted is left alone. The movie won 5 Oscars, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay.

https://i0.wp.com/www.musichouseltd.co.uk/shop/images/Akele%20Hum%20Akele%20Tum.jpgMansoor Khan could not resist this movie as well. In 1995 he remade this movie and titled it ‘Akele Hum Akele Tum’. He just changed the fields of interest, i.e., Aamir Khan as Rohit is a promising singer who sings for a club and awaiting his opportunity to sing in a movie. His love interest Kiran, played by Manisha Koirala, is learning classical music. She is a fan of Rohit and she makes it to one of his New Year shows where they meet and falling in love seems inevitable. Soon after the breezy romance they get married and realise that life is not easy. Kiran is ambitious and she is not willing to sacrifice her singing so she walks out on him, leaving Rohit with his son Sunil, played by Aadil. How Rohit and Sunil manage  together and how Kiran comes back into their lives to reclaim Sunil forms rest of the courtroom drama. Aamir gave a very well restrained performance but the same cannot be said of Manisha. The movie had some good songs but was marred by plagiarism where Anu Malik lifted the famous Last Christmas song of George Michael. Also, there was a rubbish spoofing of Nadeem-Shravan duo; Shafi Inamdar and Harish Patel played the crook music directors Amar-Kaushal, who are after Rohit’s composition. I am not sure whose idea it was, TIPS guys or Anu Malik but it was in bad taste. Anyways, the movie bombed at the box-office. Only Aamir and Adil’s performance added some value to the otherwise dull movie.

5. Godfather – 1972 : How does one even start-off talking about a movie like ‘Godfather’. I shall not go into the plot and drama because its totally unnecssary. And I will not be able to say anything that has not already been said.

In 1975 Feroz Khan paid tribute to Godfather with his version named Dharmatma. But he twisted the plot towards the second half, where instead of allying with his father and their forces Feroz plays against them. Feroz Khan repeated the same concept in Jaanbaaz and Yalgaar without much success. In 1992 a movie named Zulm Ki Hukumat was released. The movie starred Dharamendra as Pitamber Kohli and Govinda played Pratap Kohli aka Michael of Godfather. This was one of the first proper remakes of Godfather. The movie fared pretty well and I liked Govinda’s perfromance.

https://i0.wp.com/content6.flixster.com/movie/10/85/20/10852076_pro.jpgEven after all this, we still had Aamir in line to pay tribute to Godfather. So, he acted his part in Atank Hi Atank which released in 1995. He played the role of Michael, which Al Pacino had played. In fact, it was quite fascinating to see Aamir with a moustache and his wet-hair all combed back, he looked like he meant business. This movie had Rajnikanth playing Sonny, I think the only time that Aamir and Rajni have ever worked  together. But none of this could save the movie at the box-office.

to be continued

Dil Se… Sincerely

There have been blogs, haters, lovers, detractors, and saviors. To an extent even my father is not really fond of “Dil Se”. There was once a Mani Ratnam blogathon on MadAboutMoviez. And of course there were fans, there are fans including me. And there was once a discussion amongst us writers of this site, regarding which is the best Indian movie from last 15 years. Though I was hell bent on Satya, Sethu mentioned “Dil Se”…  There was once a film called “Dil Se”, it is, and perhaps will be forever.Continue reading “Dil Se… Sincerely”

Dil Se… – The Manifesto of a Man’s Passion

Dil Se… released when I was in the middle of my 10th standard. The songs came out first, and I didn’t have much of an opinion. After the release of the movie too, I don’t think I got any feedback. Those days, friends and followers had a more literal meaning and they were mostly restricted to your class. These hapless souls, chained like me and being led to the altar of public exams half a year later, also wouldn’t have watched the film immediately. Even though I had seen some of Mani Ratnam’s earlier films and liked them, nothing really compelled me to watch it immediately. But by the time the movie left the theatres- which was very soon- my cousin had seen it and was all praises for it. Being my soul mate, his opinion mattered a lot. By this time, with repeated hearing and watching on TV, the songs- as it always happens with Rahman’s- had really grown on me. And then there was that evening…

I caught on TV the sequence of Shah Rukh whispering to Manisha in the dark corridor of an AIR Studio, interrupted by streaks of light and greetings whenever a passer-by opens the door. Never before had I experienced such a use of light and sound, or rather, their absence. I couldn’t catch even a single dialogue then (it was the Tamil version), but was instantly drawn into the melancholic world of Amar and Meghna. I believe it was on that evening he became “Mani Sir”, a dronacharya to me. Watch the video here.

But what to do now? We didn’t even have a VCR at home. This was much before TCRips and DVDScrs (Well, what is a DVD anyway?) Months later, I found out that the movie is playing in a B-class theatre somewhere outside the city. What followed was nothing short of an uprising to make someone take me to the movie (Yeah, people. I had to be “taken”). I vaguely remember that I attempted Bhagat Singh’s path of “loud noise to make deaf ears listen” and Gandhian fasting. However the might of authority brutally quelled it. Later when I was invited to watch movies on a VCR at a friend’s place, I tried to rent Dil Se, but it was not available. It was a year later that I finally got to see it, when it was screened at an open air venue. It matched all of my heightened expectations, and I fell for it completely, much like Amar fell for Meghna at the deserted railway station that rainy night.

But I learned later that the majority did not share my feelings for it- starting with my uncle who accompanied me to the screening and later remarked, “What a waste of three hours!” to my “One of the most beautiful three hours of my life”, to the majority of Indian movie-goers who decided its box office fate. I realised that it was very much a niche film. It might sound silly now, but for years my litmus test for a new friend who displayed similar views on life was, “Do you like Dil Se…?” and a positive answer moved him/her to the inner circle. I compensated for my initial negligence by immersing myself in that familiar melancholy on VCD countless times. I used to claim that I could survive years of solitary confinement if I had the freedom to play this movie. More than just as a movie, I suspect that in those formative years, Amar’s single-mindedness in his desire and passion might have rubbed off on me too.

But this time when I re-watched, I really wanted to put Dil Se… to the acid test. It’s been over a decade since I saw it first. I have grown, undeniably in age and arguably in sensibilities, aesthetics and experiences. And now I write this because, to my delight, I saw the same film again- not a degree less of anything. Excuse me for wasting so many words on my personal life, but that’s what Dil Se… is to me- it’s MY film. And all the above factors contributed in making it so.

I view Dil Se… as the manifesto of a man’s passion. The first shot of the movie shows objects and movements out of focus with strange noises making us crave to know what they are. This more or less speaks of Amar’s life- he belongs to a well-to-do, caring family; has a secure career and a happy married life in the offing. But all he wants is Meghna, who is shrouded in mystery. Despite being amidst loved ones, he chased that one love that eluded him forever. I think this would be the longest journey anyone has taken to get a positive nod to his proposal. People seem confused about the genre of the film. Some catalogue it as the last of Mani Ratnam’s “Terrorism trilogy” after Roja and Bombay. And then accuse it of simplifying the issue of how terrorism is born! To me, Dil Se… is nothing but a love story, whose purpose is neither propaganda nor giving answers but simply telling the intense tale of a man’s love and loss (or gain, depending on how you see it). It speaks on behalf of individuals and their singular experiences. It neither generalises nor attempts to place any element of it above its central theme of love.

As mentioned, the aim of my latest viewing of the film was nitpicking and making sure it’s still worth writing about. All these years, Dil Se… has intuitively been my benchmark of Indian cinema, against which even a couple of Mani Sir’s latest paled. Now, the reason for this dawned on me- it’s simply perfect in every sense, from screenplay to background score. There isn’t even an iota of excess anywhere. Let me just point out one thought that struck me- this film is one of Santosh Sivan’s finest works as a cinematographer. Each of Santosh’s directorial ventures is praised for being a visual treat, but the images he brings in often seem to be excessive technical indulgences, superfluous from a critical point of view. In Dil Se…, there is not a single shot that you can remove from its structure. The same minimalism and maturity is shown by each technical department. In which other movie can you find Bollywood stars in so less make-up? Yet in their most deglamorised roles, Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala look gorgeous, may be because as a dialogue in the movie goes, there can’t be anyone more beautiful than a martyr. And martyrs were what they were.

Ever since I first wanted to see it, I’ve tried to follow each mention of Dil Se… in the media. Years later, Manisha said in an interview that she feels the film was ahead of its time and that it would be the one that would make her grandchildren proud. I’ve also read Mani Ratnam blaming the film’s failure on his ineptitude with Hindi language, an argument I would refute furiously. Dil Se… would simply cease to exist without the poetry of Tigmanshu Dhulia’s dialogues. (Can you believe, I had noted this name back then and was overjoyed when he later debuted as a director with Haasil). I suspect though, that the basic thought behind the dialogues were from Sujatha. The unquestionable superiority of Sujatha Sir and Mani Sir in dealing with romance, which we have witnessed in their other movies, is very much present here too. By now, I know most of the dialogues by heart which allowed me to pay more attention to the rest of the soundtrack and it amazed me again. Mani Sir’s wizardry brings into life the total world of the story by painstakingly giving details of even stray background noise. And it’s those details that makes the scenes magical – their walk as they plan a family and Meghna opens up to him for the first time ever, the later recreation of that scene through the yellow headphone, the night at the old temple in Ladakh where they share their list of likes and dislikes, even Amar’s later scenes with the bubbly Preeti… There were no clichés. Everything was fresh, and it still remains so.

I believe this is the best work of most of the cast and crew- from Farah Khan’s choreography to Allan Amin’s action to Shah Rukh Khan’s acting. The film must have challenged them all to do something that they are not used to doing otherwise in Bollywood- to be natural and authentic. However, the real master who made his mark till eternity through this movie is A R Rahman. As someone who hates the typical song-dance sequences in Hindi cinema, it was a revelation to find song lyrics and choreography taking the movie to a higher level, particularly with “Satrangi Re”. Rarely has the format of a Bollywood musical been exploited with such artistic grace, without yielding completely to market pressures. Personally, it’s my favourite Rahman album, one I will never get tired of. Even in the middle of a noisy crowd, if you randomly play, “Tu To Nahin Hai Lekin Teri Muskurahatein Hain…”, I’ll instantly be pushed into the sad world of the movie. And it’s a sheer pity that we don’t have the practice of releasing soundtrack albums because many of the brilliant tracks (many with lyrics) which would be amazing by themselves are locked to the movie- like the song we hear when Amar finds out after the night at the temple that Meghna has vanished. It forms the base of many tracks from then on- like when he chases the tuba player across Connaught Place. Once Rahman had remarked that the favourite scene he has ever given music to was the one in which the bride’s ornaments are being tried on Meghna. I’m curious to know whether he still thinks so.

It’s very difficult to be objective when trying to write about Dil Se… I must have attempted it in vain at least a couple of times over a decade. Yes, it’s after all a dichotomy- you either love it or you rebuke it. That’s it. The film works for me because I can feel the characters and their world and make a connection with them which deepens with every viewing. These are people we won’t usually come across in real life. The decisions they make are the most uncommon. But the masterly writing makes it all so credible. Compare it with the careless caricatures that we usually see on the Indian screen. Let me take the liberty of giving an example. Each time “Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa”‘s Karthik made advances to Jessie, I was irritated, repelled and totally disconnected. I could never relate to him. His intentions are never convincing, neither are those of the “No-Yes-No” Jessie. But when Amar chased Meghna across the east and north of the subcontinent, there was a certain dignity to it. I lived through him. Each time I also writhed with him in the pain of unrequited love. And at the end, I too couldn’t think of anything but “sleeping in the lap of death” so that I can “drown my body in her soul”…

Read more reviews on MANI RATNAM BLOGATHON:

1. Pallavi Anupallavi (Kannada) 2. Unaroo (Malayalam) 3. Pagal Nilavu (Tamil) 4. Idaya Kovil (Tamil) 5. Mouna Ragam (Tamil) 6. Nayagan Tamil) 7. Agni Natchathiram (Tamil) 8. Geethanjali (Telugu) 9. Anjali (Tamil) 10. Thalapathi (Tamil) Take 2 Thalapathi (Tamil) 11. Roja (Tamil) 12. Thiruda Thiruda (Tamil) 13. Bombay (Tamil) 14. Iruvar (Tamil) Take 2 Iruvar (Tamil) 15. Dil Se…(Hindi) Take 2 Dil Se…(Hindi) 16. Alaipayuthey (Tamil) 17. Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil) Take 2 Kannathil Muthamittal(Tamil) 18. Yuva (Hindi) 19. Aayutha Ezhuthu (Tamil) 20. Guru (Hindi) 21. Raavanan (Tamil) 22. Raavan (Hindi)

Dil Se – An Unsung Classic

Some films are made much ahead of their time. The makers show gumption in attempting something radical, either in terms of treatment, story, or technique-sadly, the audiences and critics are not ready for it. While such films end up being commercial failures, time bestows a haloed nostalgia upon them for generations to come.

Rediscovered by film buffs and connoisseurs, films like Lamhe and Agneepath find a new lease of life, while others wait for that fortunate time in history when their stars would shine. Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se (1998) is one such brilliant cinematic gem that is crying to be rediscovered and feted, more importantly, waiting for its story to be heard.

A commercial failure in the domestic markets, Ratnam’s Dil Se is the story of Amarkant (Shah Rukh Khan) an AIR reporter who meets Meghna (played by an ethereal Manisha Koirala), a terrorist suicide bomber out to kill the President of India on the Republic Day.

Dil Se is a deliciously layered concoction topped with the common theme of love – Shah Rukh’s love for this mysterious lady whom he is constantly trying to deconstruct while she escapes a definition till the very end of the story, or Meghna who is torn between her love for her cause, her people and Shah Rukh. A subtle undercurrent is the issue of love for your motherland – dealing with issues of sedition, rebelling against the system and terrorism. Traversing the cold climes of Ladakh, Kashmir and Delhi mostly, Dil Se tells an unhappy tale through tough and painful imagery.

Ratnam’s pet themes of the politics of love found a very pained anguished voice in Dil Se – a voice that was embellished stupendously by Ratnam’s trusted Rahman. The combination of Ratnam and Rahman have over the years given us magical haunting melodies (Roja, Bombay, Guru and Yuva to name a few). With Dil Se, the duo created magic yet again. Soulful renditions that spoke of love and longing brought to life the unsaid subtexts of the story.

While the ever popular Chaiiya Chaiiya is what most would remember the film for, my personal favorites are Ae Ajnabi and Satrangi re. Udit Narayan is the voice of every broken heart searching for his lover in the emotional Ae Ajnabi. Sonu Nigam’s silken voice flows like a river in Satrangi re, bringing out the urgency and feverish need to be one with the lover. With both the songs, Ratnam weaves poignant images on screen. Very few directors have been able to utilize Rahman’s songs as more than just a musical interlude in the proceedings on screen. Ratnam has this maverick quality to make the songs another character in his story, using music to heighten the impact of emotions. Nothing could be a better example of Ratnam’s musical genius at work than Dil Se.

A mention of Dil Se would also be incomplete without mentioning the amazing lyrics that academy award winner Gulzar has embellished the soundtrack with. Be it Jiya Jale, Dil Se re or the mystical Satrangi re, every song is a stand alone piece of poetry, which at the same time blends effortlessly into the films mood and theme. Perhaps Gulzar’s best work in recent times, the soundtrack here is an example of how magic is created in verses. The lyrical quality of the film also extends into Santosh Sivan’s mastery with the camera.  The opening shot of SRK and Manisha in a deserted railway station at night, or the angles in the Ae Ajnabi song, Sivan works his magic brilliantly. For a movie where much of the first half is a mix of images and montages, Sivan takes the narrative forward with his deft camera work. In the second half of Dil Se, it is Sivan’s camera work alone that keeps one glued to the screen in the midst of elaborate talkie portions between the characters on screen. Sivan in Dil Se manages to bring a fluidity to images in Hindi cinema- a feat rarely repeated hence.

Another facet of Ratnam that Dil Se exemplifies is his knack of getting out actors buried deep down stars. Shah Rukh Khan, the King of Bollywood, has very few performances that he would be remembered for. Dil Se is one of them. As a lover puzzled, confused and tormented by his lady, SRK excels brilliantly, going much beyond his usual stammer and stretched hands, to deliver a career milestone of a performance. A huge credit to this does go to Ratnam, for seldom have we seen the same SRK again on screen with as much conviction and power. Aishwarya Rai, Abhishek Bachchan are the other two stars who owe a lot to the director for giving them opportunities to showcase the actors in them. Manisha Koirala, whom Ratnam put right in the midst of all time performers and not just stars of Hindi cinema with Bombay, gave another nuanced turn in Dil Se. Pure as a dew drop, timid as a doe, yet stern and determined as a tigress on the prowl, she is scintillating as Meghna.

Director Ratnam, known to Hindi audiences for heady mix of love and strife in his earlier films, chose a stark and dark palate to tell his story this time. Much like Roja and Bombay, circumstances separate the lovers in Dil Se. Yet, unlike his earlier outings, Dil Se depicts a love that doesn’t find a happy ending. A love story that is doomed from the word go. Perhaps this is what led the audiences to reject the film so vehemently.

Today, as I watch Dil Se again, I am left with goose bumps. I am left wondering how poignant and relevant the film is as the world all over is erupting in violence against oppressors and tormentors. As love and innocence is lost from the lives of millions and the count of the internally displaced rises across nations, Dil Se and its cry for peace ring all the more closer to home. After the disastrous Raavan, one wished Ratnam would return to telling stories he believed in, without giving in to market forces, effortlessly traversing the commercial and parallel cinematic worlds as he has in the past. One wished he would tell another story, “dil se”.

Read more reviews on MANI RATNAM BLOGATHON:

1. Pallavi Anupallavi (Kannada) 2. Unaroo (Malayalam) 3. Pagal Nilavu (Tamil) 4. Idaya Kovil (Tamil) 5. Mouna Ragam (Tamil) 6. Nayagan Tamil) 7. Agni Natchathiram (Tamil) 8. Geethanjali (Telugu) 9. Anjali (Tamil) 10. Thalapathi (Tamil) Take 2 Thalapathi (Tamil) 11. Roja (Tamil) 12. Thiruda Thiruda (Tamil) 13. Bombay (Tamil) 14. Take 1 Iruvar (Tamil) Take 2 Iruvar (Tamil) 15. Dil Se…(Hindi) Take 2 Dil Se…(Hindi) 16. Alaipayuthey (Tamil) 17. Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil) Take 2 Kannathil Muthamittal(Tamil) 18. Yuva (Hindi) 19. Aayutha Ezhuthu (Tamil) 20. Guru (Hindi) 21. Raavanan (Tamil) 22. Raavan (Hindi)