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March 10, 1998


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Coma time...

Varsha Bhosle

A Dil To Pagal Hai poster. Click for bigger pic!
Liberty Cinema (Bombay) is forever off my list of possible venues to watch films. The last time I was there, I had had the misfortune of literally being locked up inside the hall -- due to some safety precautions enforced by the police - and had to suffer that entire travesty which went under the equally hideous title of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun!, exclamation mark and all.

I had to sit through scenes with a pomeranian umpiring a cricket match; Lord Krishna's idol beaming divine intelligence into the same pooch; the malady called Laxmikant Berde acting out some weird form of theatrics that was supposed to be humour; the impossibly Utopian family atmosphere; and inane song after banal song after sub-ordinary song from Ram Laxman -- some of which had lights flashing around the screen, just in case the audience missed the Alice-in-Wonderland aura. It was enough to make me gag.

Since I am no M F Husain, I didn't get any cheap thrills from Madhuri Dixit's backless choli which showed her back dhak-dhaking. And since I like my men to look intelligent and decidedly, well, manly (which adjective isn't confined to just muscles), I couldn't drool over Salman Khan. In short, I was in a coma for the four hours that it took to have the doors finally opened.

Yash Chopra. Click for bigger pic!
After that horrendous experience in 1994, I didn't dare to see a Hindi movie which I couldn't fast-forward. But last week, I went to see Dil to Pagal Hai at Liberty, anyway... Not because our Marwari mehendiwali and her daughter saw it nine times (that itself should have clued me in...), but because your acerbic columnist never misses a Yash Chopra movie.

Now you gotta understand that I'm probably Mr Chopra's greatest fan. I still watch the bhelpuri-delights and brazen histrionics of Deewar or Trishul or Silsila or Kabhi Kabhi or Daagh or Lamhe or you-name-it, at least once a month on video.

I have always lost myself in the enchanting saadde-Punjab-da milieu he creates; the way he quickly skims over the problems of poverty (Indians don't need to pay to be "entertained" by on-screen destitution); the corny but capturing dialogues of his heroes (remember Shashi Kapoor's Inspector scything his gangster-brother Amitabh with "Mere paas maa hai"?); and the trademark smooth Chopra songs, no matter which the composer. Too, no heroine looks better than when she's in a Yash Chopra film (recall Sridevi in Chandni).

Karisma in DTPH: Body, beauty and grace. Click for bigger pic!
None of which applies to Dil To Pagal Hai. It turned out to be the world's longest music video -- which modern dances ALL looked the same after the opening song/dance sequence. In fact, Dil... is just a polished and slick version of HAHK!, and I wonder if that wonderful cinematographer, Manmohan Singh, emerged from the experience mentally unscathed.

The highlight of the movie for me remains the titles. It's where not-so-well-know real couples from in and around the film industry played the loving pair cooing on the bench. Each time I spotted someone I knew, like distributor Yash Johar and wife, or Sidhharth and Gita Kak, or my nutcase cousin Rachana and her doctor-husband Nishit Shah, or even Yash and Pam Chopra -- I yelled in excitement. After that, it was coma time...

The movie is so different from Mr Chopra's earlier ventures that, instead of the heroine, hero Shah Rukh Khan looked better than I could ever have imagined. And juxtaposed against the superb bod, litheness and grace of Karisma Kapoor, the heroine looked fat and clumsy. One wondered why the hero would have chosen Madhuri over Karisma. No matter how many romantic aalaps and diffused blue moon shots went with each appearance of Ms Dixit - the Mills-and-Boons thing just didn't come through.

Shiamak Davar. Click for bigger pic!
And when it came to Shiamak Davar's repetitive choreography, the hero beat both heroines, hands tied behind his back. I'm told by an insider that Shah Rukh Khan has no natural rhythm in him -- and if that indeed is the case, then I award him five stars for the sheer toil he must have put behind each dance sequence. He is always superb while dancing.

The other thing I didn't understand was why was Akshay Kumar made to look like an absolute dork in that geeky hairstyle and ill-fitting clothes? Were they afraid he'd steal the show from Shah Rukh? There can be no chance of that. Akshay is a right royal stunner (for whom I'm willing to give up even Pramod Mahajan), but in the acting department, he is, well, let's say, handicapped.

How does one sit through a film where, when the hero finally meets his dream girl -- it's curtains for the interval? I mean, I'm used to seeing Deewar's 'Vijay' lighting a pack of dynamite with his beedi and coolly sauntering away -- and it's just the titles!

A movie-critic, whether picking or panning a film, is also supposed to give readers a brief outline of the film. I'm sorry, with Dil... I cannot. For, there is no story. Actually, I challenge you to prove me wrong.

A DTPH poster. Click for bigger pic!
In a world of RDX and bomb blasts, movies without violence seem as unreal as the traffic-less Worli Seaface in 1956's CID. Fictive as our movies already are, all sugar-and-jam render them completely unearthly -- and this is the problem I have with the no-story-all-dance genre that HAHK! seems to have spawned. It's like watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon without the slapstick.

And that my favourite director has embraced the absurdity and has done a one-up on, of all the lousy producer-directors, the Barjatyas, is the biggest sorrow in my current life (next to Maharashtra letting the BJP down). No doubt, Dil... is, to date, Mr Chopra's most successful film. Which means that he will fall into the trap of repeating this success. But from a man who made the not-even-one-song-ed Ittefaq in 1969, from a man who treated the almost-incestuous relationship of a guardian falling in love with his ward with such delicacy in Lamhe, I expect only progress.

Yashji, I beg you -- no more. This hurts me to say as much as it will anger you, but if you cannot revert to your former glorious self, hand over the empire to the producer of that spunky film Aaina -- Pam Chopra. I don't think I could live through Dil To Pagal Hai, Part II.

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