Friday, August 5, 2011

Grand Fixations

The online film journal founded by me and Broken Projector's Gautam Valluri, Projectorhead, is now out with its third issue. It can be read here : Projectorhead

Dil Se (1998) / Mani Ratnam
Of all the love-stories Shahrukh Khan has acted in over the last two decades (the first spent in first the discovery, and then the establishment of a convenient love-icon, 'SRK'; the second spent in endless self-parody and elevation of the icon to the status of a soup can), Dil Se is the most romantic. Set around the celebration of the 50th year of Indian Independence, Ratnam’s film employs a love-story to solve a political conundrum – of course, it is a wishful fantasy – one where the direction is even more militant-romantic than the characters itself. Everything in the film seems to happen, infact, with a profound affectedness – there are no small measures or half-hearted gestures: it is a film about impossible love, separatist struggles, wrongful indictment, a terrorist plot to disrupt a national event; nothing minor or perfunctory is essential, or maybe, even something as transient as a demonstrative glance is performed as opera. The leads are both young dreamy quixotes : one reserves his romance for a seemingly impractical love-affair, the second reserves hers for a revolution. They are both halves of a whole; the hero a na├»ve yuppie from the capital of the country, oblivious to an entire complex political circumstance that grows in smaller parts of the nation , and yet, blindly hopeful of a better tomorrow – the female, a member of an oppressed community which seeks separation from the Union, a young rebel who makes convincing arguments in sedition but is actually, a cynic. A lyric from one of the songs filmed over a sequence of the two leads secretly longing for each other goes : ‘Main Adhoora, tu adhoori, jee rahi hai’ (We are both merely halves without each other).Their eventual union elevates them to an absolute, a wholesome entity, so complete that beyond it lies absolutely nothing.

In the video for the title track of the film, the lovers conduct their private business even as villages burn, children run from unknown horrors, and the military calls for a curfew around them. Ratnam consciously juxtaposes the quality of destruction imminent in a love-affair with destruction imminent in a separatist struggle, deeming them essentially as products of the same human attribute: obsession. As such, it is one of the greatest films about obsession (with the notion of them together being his, and the notion of them separate being hers.)  In a curious case of foreshadowing, at the 3:12 mark in the video, the lovers embrace. As they do, a bomb explodes in the background. At the end, when the hero finally convinces the heroine to give up on her dream of a revolution and instead invest her romance in him, they embrace. She is a human bomb. The two halves join and form a whole – the bomb explodes and the world comes to an end. Absolutely nothing, Ratnam stresses, lies beyond this point.

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