May 13, 2010

Retro From The Heart: Dil Se (PFC review)

As one awaits with anticipation the new product RAAVAN from the God of Images/Visuals, Mr. Mani Ratnam, one’s mind and heart are enveloped by nostalgia—the nostalgia of being audience the first time to another masterpiece by the same helmer: ‘Dil Se.’
1998 was the year when Mr. Varma had fantastically assaulted our senses with the crime master-piece SATYA. Just one month later, the Indian audience was to be treated to a product by another master-craftsman, Mr. Ratnam. While the topic and treatment would be variedly different from each other, the common bind that every cineaste was confident about was that he/she would be witness to a terrific blast of cinematic talent.

As a person who had been elated with Mr. Ratnam’s offering THIRUDA THIRUDA (arguably India’s first truly entertaining adventure movie in decades) — after his mega-hit ROJA— but also massively disappointed with the horrifically clichéd BOMBAY, I was looking forward eagerly to DIL SE.

I happened to catch the movie—with tickets purchased in black of course—the first Sunday of its release in Santosh theatre (one of the very few theatres in Bangalore that promised a good screen and good audio) with a friend of mine. By that time, the reviews were already out and the usual great suspect, Mr. Khalid Mohamed, had thumbed-down the film, albeit in an uncharacteristic display of low-key verbiage due to the fact that he was talking about the art of a director of Mr. Ratnam’s caliber. The reviews were almost unanimously disappointing, and so were personal accounts of friends/relatives. I could not believe it, but the statistical aspect of rejection of the movie was quite significant.

As the end credits rolled, I still remember being dumb-struck and could not budge a centimeter from my balcony seat; trying to still absorb the sum-total of images and music from the movie. When my friend and I were the only two left in the theatre, I turned around and asked my friend,’ What exactly did the reviewers/general public not like in the movie?’ We got up, had some lunch, and I caught a bus back to my hostel. For the next two days, I was simply unable to filter out the images of DIL SE from my mind. I was so over-whelmed by the movie that my mind was not even willing to enter into a debate with some fellow hostelites over the merits/demerits of the movie. I wanted to hold on to the magic of DIL SE as long as possible. I did not wish for any external agents to pollute the beautiful/clean river called DIL SE flowing through the veins in my body.

DIL SE is like a poem; a poem encompassing love, sensuality, and the most dangerous gamble of humankind: life. It is an ode to the strength and weaknesses of the emotion called love; to the man-woman relationship in all its beauty as well as its not-so-beautiful manifestations; to the helplessness of a person who is as strong only as his heart. When viewed through the prism of the realities of life, DIL SE would end up a major disappointment. DIL SE is not for the person that is a realist; one who never looks back in life but only ahead; one who cannot flex his heart back to vulnerability. The lead character in this movie is someone who is not cornered by the boundaries of reality; or even of life in general. If DIL SE is a poem, then the emotional crests and troughs of Amarkant Varma (Mr. Shah Rukh Khan) are the penetrating words of this poem. Right at the outset, Mr. Ratnam makes it clear that the audience would be witness to a character comprising of a never-say-die (pun intended) attitude, one that is romantic and utterly honest to one’s heart to the core. The initial words of Amar at the railway station lay the ground for his characterization. While the realist might balk at the notion of a short conversation being labeled ‘the world’s shortest love story’, the romantic is going to have his/her heart flutter at such a start to the movie. When Amar mentions that he could get the character of Meghna (Ms. Manisha Koirala)—whom he meets barely a minute ago—stars and also conquer forts; it becomes crystal-clear that this is a man who doesn’t really bother syncing his heart and mind before mouthing words. In contrast, Mr. Ratnam makes his lead character fall head-over-heels in love with the female character who is not completely a realist, but someone who is definitely hardened owing to her volatile background. The background music when Meghna asks for just a cup of tea is fantastically ominous and serves as a portent to the fact that this one could end up a beautiful but doomed love story.

Mr. Ratnam creates a magical tragedy pitting a foolish yet optimistic character against a disillusioned semi-realist. The character of Meghna is semi-realist in the sense that the humanistic part of her character is negated by the harsh realities of her past, present, and future. She has carefully buried all feelings of a ‘normal’ person like love, the yearning for family, for children, etc., beneath her hardened exterior. Time and again, Amar manages to scratch her shell and she lapses into this layer of her character; but she is quickly pulled back to reality either by her commander or her comrade (Ms. Mita Vashisth).

Mr. Ratnam is a master when it comes to creating romance on the screen and he leaves the viewer breathless with many magical moments shared between the lead pair. The ones that stand out, however, are the scenes that are steeped in pathos: the conversation between Amar and Meghna at the radio station when Meghna asks for a job a (Amar asking Meghna to wipe her tears before she leaves touches the audience heart-breakingly and simply elevates the scene to amazing heights); Amar and Meghna conversing about the 3 things they like and dislike in life; Amar getting up in the morning to discover Meghna’s disappearance and her sand-written words; Meghna coming to Amar’s house on the day of his engagement (Mr. Khan’s expressions and the background music when he faces Meghna at his engagement simply wring the heart); Amar discovering Meghna taking a bath and gazing at her sensually—hitting with an impact more powerful than a hundred explicit scenes put together— but respectfully keeping his distance and closing the door, cinematically opening it to the outstanding SATRANGI RE song; the climactic conversation between Amar and Meghna before the blast, to name a few.
Besides these two compelling characters, there are two other characters that leave a haunting impact on the audience; the music and cinematography. The lensing of the movie by Mr. Sivan is exquisite and evokes surrealism in various hues and angles. Whether it is the chase sequence in Connaught place, whether it is the sands of Ladakh, whether it is the Rajpath, Mr. Sivan’s capture of the moving images is a soulful feast to the eyes.

There are truly no words to describe the words of Gulzar Saab. He, the wizard of Urdu, of Punjabi, of Hindi, of metaphors, of similies, of rhymes, of poetry, is in top-notch form. His words are embodiments of sensuality, love, desperation, and longing. Sample this from the song DIL SE RE—the futility yet necessity of love, of relationships, come across beautifully:

bandhan hain rishton mein – There are restrictions within relationships,
kaanton ki taarein hain – and there are chains of thorns,
patthar ke darwaaze diwaarein - doors and walls of stone,
belein phir bhi ugati hain – even so, the leaves grow root,
aur gunche bhi khilte hai – and even so, their buds bloom,
aur chalte hai afsaane… – and the stories keep continuing…

The wordings of the song CHAIYYAN CHAIYYAN are bathed in the magic of the beautiful language of Urdu and will remain fragrant for years and years to come. The song captures the purity of love and the dedication of a lover hauntingly:

yaar misaale os chale, paaon ke tale firdos chale – She walks like the morning dew, beneath her feet the heaven moves;
kabhi daal daal kabhi paat paat – Sometimes the trees’ branches, and sometimes the leaves;
main hawa pe dhoondoon uske nishaan – I keep searching for traces of her in the air;
sar ishq ki chhaaon chal chhaiyya chhaiyya – With your head blanketed by love’s shade come, come, my shadow

One can go on expanding on the beauty of the other songs; SATRANGI RE evokes the zenith of passion and sensuality; AE AJNABI is an ode to pining; JIYA JALE conjures up feelings of a person who is just about to enter the boundaries of a relationship and love.

Mr. Rahman’s music matches up to Gulzar Saab’s poetry in notes and spirit and the resultant ‘sound of music’ is the stuff of legends. Twelve years since the movie, the songs and the music still echo the same magic that they weaved at their birth. The sands of time haven’t rusted the soundtrack one bit.

Ultimately, the film remains a triumph for the director in Mr. Ratnam. His sense of romance, of imagery, of visual poetry, is awe-inspiring. Mr. Ratnam showed tremendous spine when he made the lead characters blow themselves to smithereens in the end. He did not succumb to the cinematic pressure of somehow making the lead characters survive and boldly emphasized that however beautiful or probable, in life, not all loose ends get tied perfectly. Viewers will note that Mr. Ratnam leaves no stone unturned in conveying a sense of hopelessness when the character of Meghna, NEVER once (even when she is about to die) tells Amar that she loves him, though Amar literally destroys his life for her. The fact that she cannot bring herself to confess her reluctant love for Amar painfully brings out the torment that she faces being caught between misplaced idealism at one end and the humanistic feeling of love at the other.
DIL SE can be arguably called the most symbolic movie post the 1970s in the Hindi film industry. It works like a Shakespearean tragedy. When discerning the movie, if one tries to infuse a sense of factuality into the proceedings, the movie would fall apart like a pack of cards for the viewer. Consider the scene when the terrorists visualize the assassination of the President – the scene is so minimalistic in its depiction that it almost could be fit into a stage-play.

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