Producer : Shekhar Kapoor, Ram Gopal Varma, Mani Ratnam
Director: Mani Ratnam
*ing: Shah Rukh Khan, Manisha Koirala, Preity Zinta
Music: A.R. Rahman
Released on : August 21, 1998
Reviewed by: Anish Khanna
It is indeed a case of truth proving stranger than fiction with the release of a film on terrorism at the very height of a global terrorist scare. One would think that this fact could only aid "Dil Se" by heightening the impact on the audience. Unfortunately, this is not the case. "Dil Se" is a valiant effort on Mani Ratnam's part but gets lost somewhere along the way in a weak screenplay and sketchy characterizations.
The first half of "Dil Se" relies more on images than a solid screenplay, but Santosh Sivan's camera work is simply stunning and perhaps the best I've ever witnessed on the Hindi screen. Every image is like a celluloid poem and thus very effective. "Chaiya Chaiya", "Dil Se", and "Satrangi Re" are some of the most aesthetically pleasing songs ever shot. The locations are gorgeous! Mr. Sivan single-handedly holds the audience's interest despite the fact that they are left to contend with the very drawn out interactions between Amar (Shahrukh) and a cold, lifeless caricature called "Meghna" (Manisha).
Amar is on a terrorist interview assignment for All-India Radio somewhere in a northern territory, where he keeps bumping into "Meghna" (which she says is not even her real name). Despite repeated attempts to get close to Meghna, all Amar really finds himself in is trouble, and after being ditched by Meghna, Amar quickly returns to his family in Delhi and an engagement to the frank and outspoken Preity (Preity Zinta). The audience then learns that Meghna is a terrorist.
The script completely falls apart after intermission. Manisha's character waxes and wanes between acting human and acting for her terrorist cause, but with no real pattern or logic to her actions. One minute she will feel guilty about using Shahrukh in order that she may be incognito in Delhi, while the next minute she doesn't bat an eyelid when he's arrested or in danger. Her breakdown scenes seem extremely forced into the script, and the only reason why these scenes prove even somewhat effective is because Manisha is and remains a phenomenal actress, even in an improperly-defined part like this. The sequence where she tries to cry but the tears won't come out is mind-blowing, and no other actress could have portrayed this scene as well.
Shahrukh's character talks forever about how much he loves Manisha, but his "love" really has no reason to be anything more than infatuation and intrigue. Not once do you have reason to suspect otherwise. Again, Shahrukh does the best one can do with his role, but the redundancy and ignorant nature of the part work against him. The chase sequence towards the end shows a new, diversely intense side to Mr. Khan's acting. Preity Zinta, in the brief but welcome appearance as a real 90's woman, has a gol-matol face and child-woman quality reminiscent of the late Divya Bharti.
What was the message Mani Ratnam was trying to portray with this film? If he wants us to see how the mind of a terrorist works, he failed, as I could never tell what Meghna's pattern of thought was. If it was a statement on the futility of terrorism, the statement is incomplete as we never find out if the assassination plan is carried out by the terrorist group. If it is a statement on love vs. warfare, I don't believe it, because - again - I have no reason to believe that Meghna loves Amar or that Amar is more than infatuated with Meghna. Maybe if Mani highlighted Meghna's transition more from stoic terrorist to sensitive lover, it would be more plausible. Her action at the very end (one that supposedly proves her love for him) seems to come out of the blue. One moment Meghna is telling her group leader how confident she feels about their terrorist plan, and the next moment she gives up the whole terrorist thing by making her final "act of love" to be with Amar.
I was very sad and disappointed by this film. Mani Ratnam's strengths are always his intensely-filmed sequences and the portrayal of relationships between people. This film had several great sequences, but the relationship aspect was lacking. This is especially disappointing after we have just seen "Maachis", which excellently portrayed the humanity and love of terrorists. A film that had the potential to be in the league of some of the best cinema ever ends up falling flat on its face. If it weren't for Manisha and Shahrukh's excellent performances and Santosh Sivan's unbelievably good cinematography, I would give this film a much, much lower rating. Ironically, with a title like "Dil Se", the film loses its heart somewhere along the way.
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