28/01/2016 8:26 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

'Dil Se': Revisiting A Mani Ratnam Classic

India Talkies/YouTube

Dil Se, written and directed by the Mani Ratnam and starring Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala, presents the tale of a Delhi-based radio broadcaster named Amarkanth Varma who gets ensnared by the bewitching beauty of a mysterious Assamese girl, Meghna alias Moina, whom he meets at a deserted railway station in the middle of a rainy night. What starts off as physical attraction slowly takes the form of obsessive love as he chases her down from Haflong to Silchar to Ladakh with the hope of marrying her. Alas, their love is doomed! While she knows it from the very onset, he must learn it the hard way. Dil Se is third in Mani Ratnam's trilogy of films (following Roja and Bombay) revolving around couples/lovers caught in the turmoil of politics and terrorism.

Dil Se is a great example of what can be achieved in front of the motion-picture camera when a bunch of creative people, hell-bent on proving their mettle, come together, keeping their egos aside. At the time, Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala were already at the peak of their acting careers while Mani Ratnam (riding high on the success of Roja and Bombay) had just established his film company in collaboration with Shekhar Kapur and Ram Gopal Varma. Add to this pool of creative talent, a lyricist like Gulzar, composer like A.R. Rahman, singer like Sukhwinder Singh, cinematographer like Santosh Sivan, choreographer like Farah Khan, and a dialogue writer like Tigmanshu Dhulia. Voila, we have all the ingredients needed to concoct a cinematic masterpiece! Dil Se is not just a masterwork of cinema but also one of the best romantic thrillers of all time. And just like Roja and Bombay, Mani Ratnam finds a way to camouflage the socio-political commentary while delicately blending the elements of romance and suspense.

Mani Ratnam masterfully weaves an unforgettable tale of love in the backdrop of terrorism.

Now widely considered a classic, Dil Se despite doing well in the overseas markets had failed to woo the Indian audiences. Till date, it remains Shah Rukh Khan's most mature work. His devastating portrayal of an All India Radio programme executive madly in love of a mystical beauty, whom he knows can never be his, carries the hallmark of an actor working at the height of his powers. No wonder Khan became the nation's heartthrob in the '90s in spite of doing some highly unconventional movies like Darr, Baazigar, Anjaam, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, etc. Although he has only grown in stature since then, his later performances certainly pale in comparison to Dil Se. Post-mid-2000s he has been coming across as a spent force and his most recent performances have been utterly disappointing to say the least.

If Shah Rukh Khan's heart-breaking performance is the heart of the film then undoubtedly it is Manisha Koirala's beguiling performance that gives the movie its soul. Austerely dressed and with minimal make-up and sparse dialogue, she sets the celluloid on fire with her bewitching innocence. A lot has been said about Manisha Koirala's classic ethereal beauty but here she looks prettier than ever. As Meghna, she is both the hunter and the hunted: a quintessential femme fatale destined to be doomed. During the portrayal, she goes through a gamut of emotions as we get to witness her unbridled innocence, cold detachment, epileptic delirium, playful interludes, vengeful rage, and serene submissiveness. It's difficult to think of another Bollywood actress with such a remarkable gift of beauty and natural acting talents.

There is poetical beauty in Amar and Meghna's romance--almost a sort of divine connect that brings their romance to life. Dil Se follows Amar through the seven stages of love that are defined in ancient Arabic literature: attraction, infatuation, love, reverence, worship, obsession, and death. Khan and Koirala are well supported by the rest of the cast. Credit to Mani Ratnam for eliciting memorable performances from not only his lead actors but also from the movie's supporting cast well led by the debutante Preity Zinta who shares some memorable moments with Shah Rukh Khan, especially during the beautifully filmed song "Jiya Jale". Alas, all great tales of love are essentially tragedies! Dil Se is no different.

Overall, Dil Se is a powerful work of cinematic art that certainly deserves more attention than it has received during the last decade and a half. It is technically brilliant and aesthetically beautiful. Mani Ratnam masterfully weaves an unforgettable tale of love in the backdrop of terrorism. A. R. Rahman's haunting background music and Santosh Sivan's startling cinematography beautifully add to the movie's overall poignant tone. The dance sequences imaginatively choreographed by Farah Khan and the exotic shooting locations simply transcend the viewer to a world of Sufi romanticism and Urdu poetry. And, of course, the scintillating romance between Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala tugs straight at the heartstrings. Dil Se is a must watch.

A version of this article was first published at A Potpourri of Vestiges.

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