July 29, 2011

The Most Significant Hindi Film of the Last Decade

The farewell dinner in Sydney. Rohit and Shalini will soon be leaving for their marriage. Akash is invited. Mahesh Uncle is present. And Rohit tries to taunt Akash by reminding him of their graduation party, and the punch that had resulted in the iconic black-eye. Akash retorts: “In fact, I think I was lucky. Because if Shalini were with me, and someone had flirted with her, I would have killed him.” Some giggle in the audience. “Crap!” – emits a girl in my row. And for me too, that heroic line does not work this time. Ten years ago, when I was seventeen, and had romanced girls only in my head, that line had given me goose-bumps. Something had changed. This line from Terry Gilliam’s ‘Twelve Monkeys’ probably explains it: “The movie never changes. It can't change. But every time you see it, it seems different because you're different.”

Last Sunday I watched ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ after close to six years, and for the first time on big screen. The occasion was the tenth anniversary of the movie and the screening was followed by a Q&A with Farhan Akhtar. I had always been disappointed with the Sangeet scene where Akash ‘proposes’ Shalini in front of a hundred people. This time, I was disappointed with almost the entire final act. The writer-director himself admitted that there were two things he would like to change, in retrospection, and both have to do with the final act. One, he said, would be to terminate the Akash-Shalini track in Sydney itself, and two, to eliminate the last shot in the epilogue in Goa where Siddharth notices Deepa and drifts towards her as Akash and Sameer join their wives. It was heartening to hear him speak, with his charismatic insouciance, and answer all sorts of questions candidly, without making big deal about the movie that changed the shape of Hindi cinema like not many.

Back then, I didn’t understand cinema much. But I was so affected by the movie – by its sound (movies without sync-sound started to put me off), lighting (“You can watch DCH just for the way it uses light and colours” was my favourite show-off remark in college), and editing. I was amazed to observe the effect of the shots lingering over the faces for just a few seconds longer, enhancing the performances, and creating a stillness that all of us could relate to, but could hardly ‘diagnose’. It is not a coincidence that DCH showcased the finest performances of all lead actors, that had as much to do with editing, as with the unforgettably written characters. Also, the use of jump-cuts and ultra fast-motion, though not innovations, changed the picturization of songs forever. By just being truly modern, and setting an aesthetic parameter, DCH defined the decade that followed, and in this sense contributed more to our cinema than ‘Lagaan’. For me, these two movies, releasing within 5-6 weeks, changed the perception of cinema forever.

I was thus excited to catch this movie this Sunday, to check how it affects me after surviving for all these years on the finest of world cinema. And I have no words to describe the experience. Nostalgia had indeed a major role to play, but the real triumph was of the movie itself, of watching it unfold magically on the big screen. It is long, it is extremely melodramatic, and it is rooted in the Hindi cinema tradition. But ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ supersedes the tradition and becomes something so entertaining and involving that should be continued to be treasured when it is no more ‘modern’. The dip in the final act is something we would blissfully ignore.

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