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)