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. From that day on, when we were fighting over films, I couldn’t get this film’s images out of my head. And that discussion immediately triggered the first scene of the film in my memory. At Halflong station, Assam that ends with the line duniya ki sabse chhoti prem kahaani (world’s shortest love story). Which compels me to write this today, as I have now seen the film at least 4 times in the last week. Though the scene itself can give a good number of love stories run for their money, it was just the beginning of a 2 hour 38 minute film. It starts with Shah Rukh Khan in a taxi going to the station in a hurry to not to miss the train, army men stopping them to check their taxi. Very rarely you get see quintessential SRK on screen, perhaps Mani Ratnam completely extracted his charm, dubbed along with his wittiest spirit, and delivered Amar Verma. Amar Verma is a winner for SRK.
So coming back to the first scene, from a blurred scene to a focusing scene, we get to see a taxi, which is stopped by army men to scan it. SRK asks the Taxi driver, Bum to nahi hai aapki gaadi mei… (I hope you don’t have bombs in your car). The very usage of the word Bomb as Bum gives it an extremely raw feel to it. The whole film is that raw. Needless to say it is used throughout the film, that way. The army men then scan the car, when they are done with scanning it, they let the car leave. We again see a defocused image which transitions/fades into another defocused image, so that the transition is seamless, and we get to see a lamp hanging from a barbwire establishment. The taxi reaches the station, Amar steps out of his car, inquires the status of the train, which is, as he is told, late by 8 hours. His cheekiness doesn’t stop, he keeps shouting as if almost proving the silence he is the coolest human around. I wonder at times, if I was in a situation would I shout to silence? Where I can feel the cold winds shivering the bones out of me? Perhaps, yes… It is an exciting idea, almost surreal to shout to silence, and then there is someone sitting at the station, covered by a blanket. Maybe he has a lighter Amar needs, to light his smoke. Smoke is his partner in crime, his crime being self satisfying entertainment. Now the flamboyant Amar can’t really hold himself back from even mocking the guy who is like a dummy. Not even responding, even though Amar is trying quite well to stimulate. But he doesn’t. And the windy night is relentless. And then there is a breeze, albeit a strong one. It reveals the one blanket was hiding, who was holding the blanket quite tightly to avoid exposure, only to be revealed completely. Amar is awestruck, by the striking beauty of the one. The one who is sitting isn’t a man, but a woman, as beautiful as one could ever possibly be.
He can’t stop himself; he is attracted towards her, immediately. And he approaches her, shyly, slyly, and asks if she is carrying a matchbox/a lighter may be? She just doesn’t speak. He asks if he can do anything for her, bring anything for her? Mai kuch kar sakta hun aapke liye? Kuch laaun aapke liye? Chaand Taare? (would you like to have something? Stars? Moon?) And he speaks in the same breath, without fluttering. She asks for a cup of tea, he runs, compels the canteen guy to wake up and prepare tea. Speaks with unputdownable urgency as if he is going to miss the train, and then a train arrives, he asks the guy at the tea stall that his train was supposed to be late by 8 hours? He tells him the train arriving is a different one. He rushes with the cups of tea in his hands hoping she is not boarding this train, and that she does, with a couple of men. Out of a fit of emotions he shouts calling her, she nervously, snappily looks up to see him. It starts raining, and droplets falling into the tea make a rhythmic sound. He ends up saying, duniya ki sabse chhoti prem kahaani, then covering his head with his jacket to avoid his head getting wet due to the rainfall.
This sequence followed by the epic song, Chaiya Chaiya and the rest of the film, that pretty much continues to be as raw, as passionate, and as abrupt as the first sequence, and it doesn’t lose control. It is an atypical Mani Ratnam film, perhaps one of his finest, and in my book, 2nd finest, after Nayagan (yes, more than Iruvar, Bombay, Roja). And I love it even more than Nayagan, because it isn’t as perfect as Nayagan. And if you fall in love with something, it has to be something flawed, that adds to its beauty. One major flaw lies in its narrative, we always get to see Amar Forcing himself on Meghana. Meghana only hints she is attracted to him. We can never be sure, even after the film is over that Meghana was really in love with Amar? Tough call, that, but that impurity makes me like the film all the more. It transcends the question of what is right, what is wrong, because in the end it’s the bigger picture surrounding the story and the smaller picture which is the heart of the film. Both combined make one hell of an experience. The impurity and the incompleteness of the story make me go back to it looking for answers, that don’t exist. All that exists is a certain Amar Verma who sees the hell at the end of the rabbit hole, and sees that stepping into it will be the only end to everything, also the solution of the disaster that’s about to happen.
His obsession grows as he comes to know of the reality, to stop the wrong, he decides to do something scary. He makes his way into the mush. He knows he is used, but he can’t give up, can he? How can he? He’s particularly smitten by the woman. And her mysterious moroseness makes her all the more attractive. How cold, a woman could possibly ever be? Who smiles intermittently, when she imagines something? May be when Amar asks her to suppose two of them get married, and have kids. She smiles, beats him, softly. He records this conversation and lets her listen it, later on in the film. When she does listen it on a headphone on a tape, she sees in his eyes with an impatient sweetness to embrace him but her inherent fear stops him, Amar sees her as if compelling her to make a move, but she doesn’t……she sees him with watery, glossy eyes but just doesn’t weep (or she does almost).
He goes strength to strength to stop the disaster, he fights off her subordinates. And mind it; fist fights in this film are damn visceral. Each punch hurts the one who is at the receiving end; every kick is supposedly jaw smashing. Also, technically, the lighting and cinematography make the film even more scary and passionate. I don’t know what filters or what lenses Sivan used. The film had a very mystical, foggy look throughout. And certain colours like red, blue, orange were amplified. The edges were very soft. And the whole film seemed as if extracted from a winter cloud and as if it’s always evening or morning in this world. This film is always dusky, and perhaps, always intimate. One of the best looking shots of the film is certainly when all terrorists are at their hub in Delhi, processing negatives; Amar plays “Ae Ajnabi” on the radio. Ae Ajnabi is certainly one of the best songs of all times and Dil Se… is certainly a masterpiece soundtrack from Rahman and Gulzar. Including the background score in which the poem By Allama Iqbal Sitaaron se aage jahaan aur bhi hain, ishq ke intehaan aur bhi hain is sung by Sukhwinder Singh. It leaves you devastated, shattered as Aman embraces Meghana, and asks repeatedly to say once she loves him, she doesn’t till the end of the film, and the film ended, and she didn’t say it.
Mani Ratnam had his official site once. It is missing now, on the section of that film in his commentary he said Dil Se… is based on 7 stages of love as mentioned in Arabic literature. I didn’t research what are the 7 stages of love, for me, I have one film, Dil Se… and that’s enough. For no text reading can make me feel the way this film does. And maybe, the second time when Meghana meets Amar in the film, she (ostensibly) failed to recognize him, but she did snappily, nervously look back when he shouted to call her. Maybe, maybe, let’s suppose she did start adoring him, somewhere in between.
Full movie is now available on YouTube, made available by Venus. Do not stop yourselves from watching it again if you have already, definitely watch it if you have not. It’s a rare classic, and happens once in a while.