Saturday, February 7, 2009

Review : Dil Se ...

This review was posted on rec.arts.movies.local.indian in 1998.

After seeing "Dil se ...", the latest film directed by Mani Ratnam, my main reaction was, "What a superb film ... it could have been".

There are many reasons why this could have been another feather in Mani Ratnam's cap, and there are many reasons why it fails to do that.

The movie has all the basic ingredients it takes to make a very good or even a great film. The director is well known for striking the balance between artistic achievements and commercial success. The actors esp. Shah Rukh and Manisha, are among the finest we have today. The music director A.R.Rahman is arguably the best one can have right now. Lyrics are by the talented Gulzar, and among other names one can see in the credits are those of Shekhar Kapoor and Ram Gopal Verma as executive co-producers. Not a bad team at all.

But what's more important, is that the film has a fertile story line. It's a story of an AIR newsperson who is reporting on insurgencies in various parts of India. In the very beginning of the movie he falls in love with a girl who is elusive and mysterious. Their lives intersect many times in a short span. She understands his love but has other priorities. He is a son of an army officer who has apparently died while serving the nation, whereas she is a terrorist seeking revenge for the wrongdoing of the Indian military. To him, love is everything, to her, there are more important goals. He never learns a great deal about her, and finally resigns to the fact that he has lost her forever. Decides to get married to another girl, a family friend, and as fate would have it, she surfaces, seeking shelter in his house, on the day of his engagement. Why does she come back ? What exactly is she trying to accomplish ? What will happen to his planned marriage ? How would they and all others cope with the challenges this situation places upon them ?

Now this is a plot that offers great opportunities to the scriptwriter and the director to show their artistic creativity. It isn't entirely novel, but it's full of possibilities to prepare a fantastic mix of conflict, betrayal, suspense, revenge, love, action and such other things. In addition, the plot sits on the thin borderline of reality and fantasy. It gives a chance (not unlike Roja and Bombay) to create a movie that is both socially responsible and an intense love story. And again like Bombay and Roja, the plot of "Dil se ..." can serve as a vehicle to offer both sides of the arguments.

Unfortunately, the final product seems half-cooked. And if I have to pick one singular factor to blame then I would choose the script. It's weak, it leaves too much to the viewer's imagination. It's loose, in the sense that it doesn't glue consecutive scenes in a cohesive manner. And it just fails to make the viewer feel the emotions of the various characters. All these are not uncommon attributes of an Indian film, but coming from Mani Ratnam, one has higher expectations.

The film is not without a plus side. The camerawork is excellent. Choice of locations is fabulous. Some scenes are brilliantly picturized. The chase in Delhi's Connought Place is very realistic. Song picturizations are very imaginative. The first song, picturized in a train, is a pure pleasure to watch and is certainly a feat if you start imagining the difficulties that can come while shooting it. The tunes are nice and catchy. The last song, "diya jale ..." sung by Lata Mangeshkar is probably the best. Picturization of the second song, the title song, is technically awesome, but artistically the symbolism is a bit overdone. It takes me a while to make out the lyrics of A.R.Rahman songs, so I really cannot comment on the quality of the lyrics, except that the repeated usage of a GHalib's sher in one of the songs, sounded stupid.

The movie doesn't take any sides, and doesn't show military in only a bad light or a only a good light. It effectively shows the atrocities committed on Manisha's people without being cheap. And it thankfully doesn't preach nationalism and patriotism in a holier-than-thou attitude.

The performances are really good. I am not a fan of Shah Rukh, but I liked his acting. Manisha is best in such roles, where she has to say a lot without actually saying it. Having one of the most expressive faces, she looks great in simple costumes and does well everything the role expects her to do. Zinta, who acts as Shah Rukh's fiancee does a remarkable job. Other supportive performances are good too.

The flaws are too numerous to list. Apart from the script, the dialogues have nothing to write home about. At many places they seemed out of context or unrealistic. Especially in the scenes when Shah Rukh gets beaten up by the terrorists (in the early part of the movie) he keeps on saying things even a person with below average intelligence would know to avoid. So do the marriage related discussion between him and Manisha while hiking in Ladakh sounded totally out of context to me. In many scenes it's all very confusing, and hardly convincing. The two best dialogues that I found was Manisha's "Mere pas samay nahiN haiN" as an answer to Shah Rukh's love stricken pleas and Zinta's question to him in their pre-marriage discussion ... "Are you a virgin ?". And as you can see, that's not saying much about the dialogues.

Editing wasn't very good too. The songs were too randomly inserted, but there is a real lack of continuity throughout the movie. As a director, scriptwriter and screenplay writer, Mani Ratnam should get a lion's share of all these blames. He doesn't tell us which parts of the India he is talking about. The details of the plan of the terrorists is at best vague. He also scores poor on portraying the relationships between various characters. The terrorists don't look like comrades, they don't look like friends among themselves, they don't even look like very dedicated soldiers. They look like simply some individuals who happen to be part of a conspiracy. In short, they are very unconvincing, like most of the movie.

The end is certainly novel, swift, sudden and shocking. But without any good foundation and convincing series of previous events, it looses all its desired tragic impact and becomes a hollow anti-climax.

When I heard the title "Dil se ...", it sounded kind of incomplete. The movie certainly does justice to that part of it.

Rating (on a scale of 1 to 10) : 5

Recommended :
Only if you are interested in Shah Rukh / Manisha / song picturizations.

Avoid :
If you expect a movie of Mani Ratnam's past standard.

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