Thursday, January 01, 2009

[DVD] Dil Se.. (1998)

Star Crossed

Many reasons why I would have popped this DVD into the player this New Year. For starters, it's been sitting on my growing pile for a long time, and that iconic train dance sequence to the tune of the famous Chal Chaiyya Chaiyya just had to be seen again. With Shah Rukh Khan's Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi being in my list of favourite movies of 2008, I'm still quite adamant to revisit all his past movies, a gargantuan task no less I believe. And this is some 10 years ago, which to my surprise he's not as buff back then unlike now, with a 6 pack that's not so prominent.

SRK stars as Amarkanth Varma, a programme executive for All India Radio. An idealist in his job, he is one who never shies from doing tough interviews especially when dealing with his pet subject of finding out what people's reactions are after 50 years of India's Independence, and risks his life too in weeding out known terrorists to get their end of the story. Little does he know of course that this stint of his would somehow come closer to home as the story progresses.

He meets a stranger one rainy night, and while allowing his glib tongue to run wild, the girl, Meghna (Manisha Koirala) never flinches, and is too aloof and cold. Undeterred, he managed to get a response for hot tea, before she disappears onto a train. Billed by Amar himself as possibly the shortest love story in his life, I would like to think that this is more of a one sided infatuation that will haunt him for the rest of the movie. Here's a man, while dogged in his pursuits in life, didn't learn when to give up when the signs obviously are in his face to back off. And as Fate would have it, he would bump into her during his assignments, which lead to some really persistent, clingy moments where even Meghna tries her very best to shake him off, quipping that time is short, which is a statement that will resonate more once the audience gets a glimpse into what this stranger is in town for.

Who can also forget that moment atop a train, to the tune of Chal Chaiyya Chaiyya? You just gotta respect everyone involved in pulling off that performance atop the Barrack Valley Express, which goes around mountain sides, over valleys and across bridges, all the time with everyone dancing and singing. It's some amazing dance choreography coordinating movement atop the moving train sans safety harness, and even though you suspect the train might be moving at slower than normal speeds, it's still a filmmaking and logistical nightmare just to pull it off as it did.

Directed by Mani Ratnam, who's credited with discovering A.R. Rahman in giving him the break into providing the music for movies (and such as how Chal Chaiyya Chaiyya is now such an enduring hit), the film initially didn't go down well with audiences who had thought that the film was strange. And it's not tough to find out why. It's not the usual masala formula that Bollywood usually employs, and it's not a romance per se since it's mostly rooted in one man's infatuation for a woman he cannot attain.

While slated to be married to another girl (Preity Zinta in her debut, and I guess it's always a boon to be introduced to audiences via SRK, just as how Deepika Padukone was in Om Shanti Om, and Anushka Sharma in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi), he still can't shake off the thoughts of Meghna in his mind, and despite his heated telling her off in a clash of ideals, still decided to listen to his heart and keep her safe from harm as best as he could. And watching the development of his love/infatuation was quite off at times too, as it looked very much like some really primal urges that needed to be satisfied during an extended and unexpected get together in the desert plains. Working for the radio also provided opportunities to express his love through songs (the Ae Ajnabi moment was extremely nuanced and pitch perfect), the movies does get progressively darker in tone, when he gets closer to his lady love.

And I cannot deny that the ending was shocking in the way it presented itself. While on one hand it allowed for some closure to be achieved, I thought it was very extreme, but I guess that's how for some, that love does mean sacrifice of the highest order, that our hero gets the girl and saves the day, in a truly unconventional way.

The Region Free DVD from Eros International unfortunately isn't digitally remastered, and the quality of visual transfer is less than pristine with numerous noticeable pops and cackles. Also, the presentation is matted into a letterboxed format, and not anamorphic widescreen. I do not think there is any another DVD edition available, so it is likely that this is it. Scene selection is available over 24 chapters, though I would recommend not going through the list if you haven't watch the film, because there are spoilers described for each chapter.

You're able to zoom in to the Songs such as Chal Chaiyya Chaiyya, Dil Se, Satrangi Re, Ae Ajnabi (another favourite here) and Jiya Jalay, but will have to rely on your remote to bring you back to the menu page once the presentation is complete, unless you prefer to use where the song ends as the launch pad to continue with the movie.

The Features section is a misnomer, because everything contained within were trailers of the TV Spot nature, short clips of no more than 30s each. Under Forthcoming Attractions, you have Nanhe Jaisalmer, Cheeni Kum, Provoked and Bombay to Goa, the first three which will autoplay when you start the feature film proper. Now Available contains 17 (yes 17!) shorts from London, Ekiavya and I See You to Mr Hot Mr Kool, Saawan and Being Cyrus, amongst others. Song Compilations contains again clips (not songs) of 4 movies, which include the box sets of Amitabh Bachchan the Legend, The Ultimate Collection of Shah Rukh Khan Vol 1 and 2, and Black and White Gems Vol 1 and 2.

Not a bad way to get a quick glimpse of how much one needs to catch up on!

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