Dil Se Once Again

(earlier post on this film here)

The great strength of his film despite some obvious narrative flaws is that Rathnam’s ‘heroine’ remains always totally foreign to his ‘hero’ and the latter’s ‘humanistic’ framework. There is simply nothing to be ’shared’ between the two. She does not remain foreign to him as ‘aberration’ but as totally other. Eventually he makes the decision to collapse his framework and simply ‘merge’ with her (the film is a perfect love story in this way and the climax only logical). On his side of the equation he can have no access to her. The only way he can ‘experience’ her ‘being’ (and later her ‘being’ as political animal) is by crossing over, by going over to what in his framework would have earlier been the ‘irrational’. The female protagonist represents a kind of ‘new’ that simply cannot be accounted for in any satisfactory sense on the other side of the divide, at least not for the hero. This is relevant to the point I’m trying to make because it seems to me that Rathnam understands the essence of the political in a very profound sense. Let’s introduce Khamosh Pani (Sumar) as an example. In this film we can always be on the mother’s side. In Rathnam’s work however there is vertigo. We are safely with the male protagonist but then he suddenly switches sides and we are left in the lurch! We would prefer not to follow him but we’ve already gone too far with him. We are as intrigued by the female protagonist as he is. We are in a kind of deadlock, right at the verge of what can only be a pure ‘decision’.

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10 Responses to “Dil Se Once Again”

  1. Good note. I understand the logic here, though I don’t think we ever truly “follow” (in the cognitive or emotional senses) Amar’s actions. Blame it on the chemistry between SRK and Manisha or whatever it is, but where a film like Khamosh Paani scores over this film on this specific count is that I felt more connected to the son and even when the perspective of the mother is an “easier fit” one truly feels for the son and his vaguely drawn out political anger. This is not the case in Dil Se where the audience sees Manisha as a kind of abstraction which always remains an abstraction. Interestingly enough, both Amar and the mother from Khamosh Paani meet very similar fates at the end of their respective stories – even if a key component (the abstraction) is missing in the latter instance.

    On the one hand, succumbing to this abstraction could be seen as a bold stroke, as you’ve smartly and very convincingly laid out here. On the other hand, it could just be a cop out. I’m never fully convinced which is the case. I just wish Ratnam had given us a little more to chew on (in terms of narrative and characterization) with Manisha’s character, just as Sumar had so brilliantly given us with the son in Khamosh Paani.

    Where I absolutely agree is the depiction of India in Dil Se – from the “edge of existence” (always a lovely, totally apt term) to the heart of the country. What I’ve always found interesting also is the two instances of eroticism that SRK has with his two romantic interests (in the way of song sequences). They both, in a way, take place in parts of the country that are at the polar opposite ends of the physical and political center (Delhi) – where Manisha, in Satrangi Re, is found in the extreme north, where some of the more pronounced political strife (in the film’s context) exists, Preity finds herself drenched by the remote backwaters of Kerala, (in Jiya Jale) which is often utterly removed from these “national” politics. It is between these two extremely divergent poles of context that Amar finds himself, and in choosing the more problematic place (and woman) he takes a far more radical step than would be the case if he were settling down to some blissfully disassociated and apolitical “Southern” domesticity.

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    • It’s interesting also that the lyrics of the two songs are completely opposed. The title of one, Jiya Jale (even if it sounds a bit foreboding) is sharply contrasted to the “Mujhe maut ki godh mein sone de…” bits of the “suicidal” Satrangi Re.

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  2. Truly awesome comment on Dil Se GF. One I can completely agree with. I think you summarize the ‘confusion’ at the heart of this film extraordinarily well. This is the best bit of writing by far that I’ve come across on the film. It certainly is a valuable ‘corrective’ to everything I’ve said here.

    Khamosh Pani is a fine film for sure, one with a light touch…

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    • Thanks very much Satyam. We could discuss nothing but Ratnam and I’d be happy!

      I should also add that there is some tremendous irony that the “Southern” in Dil Se is somewhat apolitical in this context given that Ratnam made this film right after Iruvar!

      And of course, it’s always important that Amar is established at the very, very beginning (introducing himself to a policeman at a railway station) as working for All India Radio, and in this way, he’s shown to be an “All India” creature – a national being, and the film from that point on could almost be seen as a “discussion” of what this identity means, and what it forces one to negotiate.

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      • That’s a fascinating point as well. I think Rathnam probably does not believe in geographical or political absolutes. Whether it’s the ‘South’ or ‘Delhi’ or the ‘Northeast’ or what have you any one of these ‘names’ can be reconfigured in his films to become markers or alienation or signs of the normative. Of course even early on (in Rathnam’s career) in Mouna Raagam we see the South Indian couple in Delhi. The marital issues, the alienation of the woman comes about in the ‘capital’. A bit later Velu is an immigrant in Bombay (even if this follows a bit of ‘history’). Later on the Tamilians who are ‘aliens’ in ‘Tamilian SL’ (KM), And of course one could pick different examples along the way (Bombay is another obvious one). You have commented on Dil Se here. This is in any case an aspect of Rathnam’s politics that has often been missed. Much as since the 90s there is also evident another move, the tendency to ‘abstract’.. this latter move has always had mixed results to my mind even if I have a great weakness for it in Rathnam’s work. But examples here range from the obvious Dil Se and KM to even the second half of Iruvar where the Mohanlal/Ash relationship has this element to it (though it is most strongly grounded in ‘character’ here even if unlike Mohanlal Ash is not quite upto the task as an actress).

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  3. I agree totally. Ratnam certainly does “blend” the national identities in interesting ways, and isn’t prone to absolutes. I suppose I was speaking to the Roja kind of scenario, where he created a very clear distance between a Southern Indian “domestic bliss” context and a specific Northern political volatility.

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    • You’re quite right on that score. Because those kinds of tropes also exist in Rathnam. Roja is not a film that I like but this was one of the interesting features in the work.

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