(1999) Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam Reviews
“Conveys the essence of true love like no other film I’ve ever seen”
My discovery of Indian cinema has been almost a spiritual experience. It’s like going from black and white to color for the first time. Compared to a movie like this, American and European films have no heart, no vitality, no color, and no passion. And I’ve never seen any love story that could compare to the one in this film. I’ve never seen the true definition of love expressed as deeply as it is here – and it is love in its purest form. I know I’m old-fashioned, but, for me, Hollywood ruins every good love story it manages to produce by making everything about sex. You don’t have that in India cinema – you don’t even have kissing; what you do have, though, are the depths and power of love expressed in ways Hollywood can’t even comprehend.
Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam has everything you could want in a movie – romance; comedy; fantastic music, singing, and dancing; elaborate set designs and magnificent locations; stellar performances; and, of course, the most beautiful woman in the world, Aishwarya Rai. I’m trying to get my hands on all of her movies as quickly as I can. She’s incredible in this 1999 classic, as are the two leading men who form the other two sides of the most poignant of love triangles. Salman Khan plays Sameer, a free spirit who comes to India from Italy to study music under Nandini’s father. Nandini (Rai) isn’t happy about this at all, but she and Sameer are soon engaged in some serious flirting. A strong love grows up between the two, only to be torn asunder by Nandini’s father, who sends Sameer away with a promise to never meet his daughter again. A heartbroken Nandini is compelled to marry a young lawyer named Vanraj (Ajay Devgan). She doesn’t love Vanraj, but he is an exceedingly good man who loves her dearly. For all her continued grieving over Sameer, it is Vanraj who eventually shows her what true love really is. The ending is just exquisite, a true emotional climax that brings both pain and joy to your heart at the same time.
The movie runs a little over three hours (which is pretty much the norm in India), but it is in no way too long. If you have a heart, it will be swept away during the second half of the film. The story and the passionate performances by Rai, Khan, and Devgan would be more than enough on their own to make this a stellar film – but Indian cinema gives you so much more than that. Music plays an integral part in the film, and every single musical scene is amazing (and, besides chapters, you can also jump directly to any musical number on the DVD). The one performance that really stands out, for me, is Nimbooda, which features Rai in a beguiling song and dance routine. Subtitles are always an issue with a foreign language film, but the English subtitles here are really rather good and certainly allow you to follow the film closely.
I’m having a hard time trying to convey the sheer magic of this incredible film. The love story puts Hollywood romances to shame, the performances are heart-felt and virtually guaranteed to make you laugh and cry, the cinematography is extraordinarily vivid, and I just can’t get over how powerfully the film conveys the essence of true love. And even if you took all of that away, the mere opportunity to watch Aishwarya Rai for over three hours makes the DVD well worth the price. She is as talented as she is gorgeous.
Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (HDDCS) is perhaps the only way Bollywood could have made up for an absolutely lacklustre first half of 1999. Sure, there were hits and some above average movies that missed the bus too – but nothing besides Sarfarosh really made you sit up and notice a movie. HDDCS does just that to you. And it sets a standard that the many big movies that will hit the screens in the second half of the year will find hard to surpass. I wouldn’t be very surprised if this finishes as the best of the best movies of 1999.
HDDCS has a number of factors going in favor of it. The film is expectedly brilliant technically, with outstanding cinematography by Anil Mehta to bring out the best of traditional Gujarati/Rajasthani architecture. This culture influence from Gujarat/Rajasthan which is key to the storyline also dominates the entire first half of the movie – and the culture goes right down to the colors of dresses that Salman Khan wears (or rather takes off as is his wont). One could perhaps look at the movie as the most colorful movie, and this makes it a movie that looks wonderful. Besides just looking wonderful, HDDCS also comes out being well above average too. The brilliance from behind-the-camera crew is ably fronted up by the performers in front, to make what is captured by the camera as good as it has come out to be.
With arguably the best music of the year so far, the brilliance of the music is further exaggerated by wonderful choreography, fleet footed dancing of Aishwarya Rai, and perhaps one of the best integration of songs into the narrative of the movie in recent years. And if director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s previous effort Khamoshi – The Musical had to announce itself as a musical, this one is an out-and-out musical that needs no such announcemement. Debutante music director Ismail Darbar excels with the songs for sure suitably aided by very apt and brilliant lyrics by Mehboob. The songs bear a heavy influence of the culture the movie portrays – and this influence makes the background score that much more effective. Though, on some occasions, the background score does border on being too heavy.
About the movie itself, the storyline is simple – but the characters are not necessarily so. This makes the movie so much more human in the midst of color and grandeur. Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) is the daughter of classical singer Darbar (Vikram Gokhale). Wonder if this is only coincidence with the music director’s name. Sameer (Salman Khan) is half-Indian settled in Italy who comes to his homeland to learn music from Nandini’s father. Games, pranks, and light revelry mixed with marriage sequences, kite-flyring festivals, etc. make up most of an imminently enjoyable first half. These also contribute to building each of the key characters though there are a few stereotypes around too. All performers including the supporting cast contribute to making this half enjoyable. Towards the end of the first-half enters Vanraj (Ajay Devgan), a family associate of Darbar and alliance for Nandini. Culture and complications leave the movie poised for an interesting second half as father decides in favor of this alliance leaving Sameer (Salman) in despair.
Ajay Devgan comes out with a brilliant cameo as the husband who on realizing the love of his wedded wife, decides to take her to her true love who is now back in Italy. The adamance of Aishwarya Rai and the commitment of Ajay Devgan to return her to love make some classy sequences in the second half. The scene now is set in Italy, which is not as colorful as the first half. Brief flashbacks and song-n-dance routines splash some color though. In the midst of a fairly absorbing second half where Ajay and Aishwarya hunt around Italy for Salman, there are a few cliched situations which one wonders could have perhaps been avoided. Helen features in a small role as Salman’s Italian “Hindi-speaking” mother. The movie draws a smooth climax, which is not quite unpredictable, but still quite effective. Perhaps the director does deserve credit for not going overboard as it happens so often with Hindi cinema.
Aishwarya Rai is brilliant in her dances and adequate in an author-backed role. Salman excels when he plays a character perhaps much like himself – that of a dumb fool in uneasy situations (Judwaa or Andaz Apna Apna), and sure enough, he carries off the humor and light moments of his role quite well. And unlike his other recent movies, he has also done quite well with the few emotional scenes he has, except a couple. Ajay Devgan excels in a role of a serious, introvert as he has often with such roles. Among the support cast, Vikram Gokhale measures up to the role of the classical singer and head of the household, and all others chip in with their best.