CINE STUCK: How Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam Changed My Movie-Viewing Perspective

Here are all the reasons why Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Magnum opus, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam changed the way I looked at cinema. Read on

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CINE STUCK: How Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam Changed My Movie-Viewing Perspective
I was a normal movie maniac until I saw Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam on June 18, 1999. Thereafter my life as a cineaste underwent a complete change. Nothing that any filmmaker does compares favourably with my favourite film.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying my friend Sanjay has made the best film ever. Or perhaps I AM saying that. And don’t let the “friend” before Sanjay’s name distort the truth. I became friends with the director only after he made Hum Dil what-have-you.

I still remember that morning after the devastating experience.Before Ho-ho-hum-dil-de-chuke-sanam all I knew about Sanjay was through Khamoshi: The Musical ,not to be confused Khamoshi: The Super-Musical that Asit Sen had made thirty years earlier.

I expected to encounter an arrogant impetuous director completely conscious of his genius as a director. And I was prepared for it. After all Sanjay was the most romantically enthused and sensitive filmmaker since Guru Dutt and and Bimal Roy—and let’s not beat around the ‘blush’ about such immodest evaluations.

On that morning after Hum Dil Jo Pyar Karega,sorry,Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam,Sanjay surprised me.The first thing he said to me after I introduced myself was, 

“If you’re a fan of Lataji I am double her fan.”

That’s how our friendship started. Two Lata bhakts mulling and squabbling over her melodies regretting why the Nightingale didn’t hum in Dil De Chuke Sanam. Over the weeks that followed I lived every moment of Sanjay’s agony and ecstacy as reports of not-doing-well/doing-well/doing-so-so/doing-fine poured in from all parts of the world.Neither Sanjay nor I could understand how his film could be anything but a revolutionary success.

Absolutely flawless and foolproof,there is a melodious methodology motivating every rhythm and gesture in Sanjay’s neo-classic. Sure, Khamoshi was also a great work of art with emotions that stirred you to the bottom of your soul.But Hum Dil is something more,something indescribably exquisite and achingly beautiful.

You know that feeling you get when you listen to Lataji singing “Hai tere saath meri wafaa main nahin to kya”? Does that feeling have a name? No? Then how do you define the sparkling spray of sensuous emotions that Sanjay brings to life in Hum Dil? From the opening montage of Aishwarya Rai chasing a cart full of kite-flying revellers through the deserts of Rajasthan accompanied to the sounds of Shankar Mahadevan’s “Man Mohini” you are hooked,completely spellbound and enslaved to the cadences of the nubile narration.

Cinematographer Anil Mehta has filmed Sanjay’s passion-play with a sumptuous splendour that overpowers and subjugates our senses.Indeed Hum Dil is like a seven-course banquet where the dishes are so light in the tummy you never feel the unbearable heaviness of the yummy –Raj.It comes as a shock to know that Mehta won’t be shooting Sanjay’s Devdas. It’s Binod Pradhan who will do Sanjay’s next romantic opus.

But can Devdas be as enchanting and fulfilling as Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam? I hope and pray it is. But a film like Hum Dil isn’t made. It just happens. “You’re right,” sighs Sanjay after collecting his hundredth award for the most romantic film of the last millennium(yes,yes I know the Guru Dutt cinephiles are affronted,but what to do yaar when hum dil de chuke sanam?). “Hum Dil De Chuke sanam just happened.”

I may be over-reacting.But I sincerely believe the work’s greatness has been under-estimated by our esteemed critics.In fact the sum total of the work is far greater than its parts.Because what Hum Dil tells us at the last is , “love’s not about conquering but concurring.” You may love and lose.But the loss subsumes a wealth of triumph in terms that neither money nor any earthly power can control.

There’s an arcadian innocence at the centre of the tale.The girl Nandini(Aishwarya Rai) is so pampered and protected from the outside world of corruption and heartbreak she thinks a kiss can cause pregnancy. “Aise thoda hi na hota hai,” Salman Khan chides her gently with a shy smile that is completely free of leery guile.

 No actor should be bigger than the film.The trouble with making a huge film with big stars is ,the stars’ images end up dominating the film’s other qualities.This didn’t happen in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.Not for a second were we looking at Aishwarya Rai,Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan.Or for that matter,Vikram Gokhale,Smita Jayekar or Sanjay’s all-time favourite screen performer Helen Aunty.Every actor even in the minutest role filled the frames with a happy and hectic conviction.

On most occasions when a director adopts the epic canvas subconsciously, unconsciously or consciously, he shows the characters as casualties of the mammoth surroundings that accommodate the characters. This is as true of David Lean’s masterly desert epic Lawrence Of Arabia as it is of Abbas-Mustan’s Soldier which situated its terrible battles in the sandscape.

In Hum Dil all the battles are fought within the human heart.Whether it's the haveli with its rhythmic riot of rainbowy shades or the brilliantly sombre granite-and-silt smoothness of Budapest— the striking landscape perfectly and effortlessly complements the majesty of the human heart.

The story is inspired by a folk tale about a young man from the outside who joins a joint family, falls in love with the girl of the family where he’s come to be educated.When her father gets to know the truth he exercizes his rights as a guru and demands that the lover-boy never look at his daughter for as long as he lives. Like an obedient shishya the man makes the promise to his guru.Decades pass.At the ripe old age of 80,the now-blind lover finally goes before his beloved. “I’ve kept my promise to your father.

Sanjay converts the folk tale into a modernday fantasia-romance where Muslin duppattas rub shoulders with the baroque interiors of symphony chambers where the lovers’ pleas echo with anguished resonance.There are images in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam that will remain alive in our hearts for as long as cinema lives.When Salman leaves the haveli,the girl crashes into the chandelier as she rushes out to look at her man for the last time.The chandelier overturns and her dupatta catches fire.

As Anil Mehta’s camera trails after Aishwarya with her dupatta on fire,our hearts leap into flaming circles of protest at the sheer injustice of separating the lovers.From this point when we are one with Salman and Aishwarya,the narrative has to wean us away from love’s tangles to a complete faith in the sanctity and purity of the marital vows when the husband Ajay Devgan’s monstrous nobility becomes a metaphor for selfless love.How can a man who takes his wife in search of her lover,go unrewarded?

It’s to Sanjay’s credit that Ajay Devgan’s character never appears wimpish even when he weeps in drunken heartbreak under that fateful bridge in Budapest(posing as “Italy” in the narrative).When at the end Aishwarya,clutching her mangalsutra in her hand,wearing a flaming-red Saree symbolizing her bleeding heart runs into her husband Ajay Devgan’s arms on the bridge,there’s water under her feet and fireworks in the sky.The elements merge in magnificent leaps of inventive filmmaking.

While we look at Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam we only see beauty and harmony. We never think of the ugliness that underlines all human relationships.Sanjay Bhansali makes the world love his lovers.And yet when it’s time to dwell on the sanctity and completeness of the Saat Pheras we are never at sixes and sevens with his narration.

Salman Khan was convinced that the woman should leave her husband and come back to her lover.He even sought the intervention of his buddy Sooraj Barjatya to convince Sanjay to change the ending.But Sanjay was adamant. “How could I send my heroine to her lover when she’s already accepted her husband as the man in her life?” he reasoned.

There are no doubtful moments in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.The dilemmas of the characters are so transparent and focussed,we simply flow with the dramatic tension.We are enthralled by the film’s melody majesty and drama.At the same time we are also taken up by the sheer weightlessness of the epic.

The songs.Ah,the songs! They do not move.They swim and waltz.Catch the myriad play of light and shade on Aishwarya’s face as she glides in and out of the wedding congregation flirting hurting and floating with her lover to the sounds of “Aankhon ki gutakhiyan maaf ho”.

Will I ever again see a film as picture-perfect as Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam? Can Sanjay ever do it again? I am afraid there can only be one answer to these questions.No.Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam is cinema at its purest.The fantasy-romance coalesces into the neo-realism of contemporary times so that we never know when the fairytale ends and the intense love triangle begins.Sanjay sweeps us into a tide of tumultuous events in the lives of his three protagonists.

Finally,we are left gasping for breath believing in the power of love to heal the hurt.Was romance invented so that Sanjay Leela Bhansali would one day make a film called Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam about it?

Image source: IMDb