Mani Ratnam seems fascinated with Kashmir and the power struggle going on there. Kashmir issue is very complicated and I have no intention of dealing with it in this article. Instead we will talk about Dil Se, a movie much ahead of its time, written and directed by Mani Ratnam and starring Shahrukh Khan in one of his best performances till date. This was Mani Ratnam’s first Hindi film based on Kashmir issue but he also made Roja before this, in Tamil which also dealt with this issue. Mani also tried to bring the insurgency in the North-east parts of India in Dil Se and created a beautifully crafted love story around these mature and complex themes.
Released in 1997, when 50th year of Independence celebrations were in full flow, movie was a commercial failure but is still remembered as one of the best Hindi movies of past 20 years. Dil Se tells story of a Delhi All India Radio Reporter/Anchor xyz played by Shahrukh Khan who is on an assignment to cover the festivals of North Eastern India when he encounters a local girl abc played by Manisha Koirala. He is immediately smitten by her and his curiosity is further increased by the mysterious nature of his crush. He chases her across various parts of Northeast India and after several hostile encounters with her entourage, he befriends her only to discover later that she is an active member of a militant group who plan to do a suicide bombing on 26th January, India’s Republic Day.
I wont give you the exact story as it will definitely reduce the impact of the movie for those who haven’t seen this movie yet. Shot beautifully across various parts of Northeast India and even Kashmir, Mani Ratnam tries to tackle some sensitive issues here like the **** in which a unit of indian army was accused of raping an entire village in Kashmir as well as the use of females as suicide bombers, something which India experienced when Ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi was executed by a female suicide bomber from LTTE. Cinematography and the background score were two of the strongest points of Dil Se and normally I despise the song and dance routine of Hindi movies but they were shot so innovatively here that it is one of the few movies in which I don’t fast forward the songs.
A.R.Rahman’s memorable song Chaiyya Chaiyya has then been used in a number of Hollywood movies and serials and has also been voted among the all time top songs of last millennium by BBC. Song was shot on top of a moving train and was choreographed by Farah Khan. Abc was behind the cameras like in most of Mani Ratnam movies and captured the essence of that part of India brilliantly. Story, screenplay and Direction wise Mani Ratnam has never been better as he was in Dil Se. No one saw that ending coming, specially those who follow Hindi cinema a lot. That ending also was one of the biggest factor which affected the commercial success of this movie. Our audience wasn’t mature enough for a movie like Dil Se in mid 90s.
Acting wise Shahrukh Khan is perfect in his part which begs the fact that why doesn’t he acts in movies like this much more than acting in sell out movies which he does nowadays. One scene which particularly stands out is where he is standing in for a sick RJ and presents his first meeting with Manisha Koirala as a radio show. In other scenes too he is perfect as a vulnerable lover who is torn between his love for a girl he knows is just using him and his sense of morality. I for once could never beleive how Shahrukh pulled this role off seeing the drab he is in these days. Manisha Koirala is probably at her best when working with Mani with her two best performances coming for Mani Ratnam in Bombay and Dil Se. She delivers a beautiful performance here as a terrorist who was traumatized as a kid. There is always a subtle grace associated with most of her performances and this is no different. Like Shahrukh’s character, her character is also always torn between her feelings for Amar who she is knowingly using and wants to stop but can’t.
Being marketed as a love story was probably one of the biggest faults of this movie which disappointed most of those viewers who went in for a typical Shahrukh Khan romance drama but saw a much more mature and complex story with a non Bollywood style ending. I was 9 when this movie came out and I remember the look in eyes of audience who kept sitting on their seats in disbelief after the ending.
Recognized now as one of the best movies made in 90s, Dil Se is a significant Hindi movie which if made now would have been accepted much more willingly and also would ve generated much more controversies than it did at that time. Two aspects of 24*7 news channels and social media I guess. If you have seen Dil Se then I hope you too share a feeling similar to me, if not than please tell me in the comments section about where we disagree. For those who havnt seen this, do watch this, you wont regret at all.