Friday, March 2, 2012
FROM THE HEART: DIL SE
In order to be a full-fledged, card-carrying movie star, you need to have at least one picture that, no matter who you show it to, even someone who doesn't even like you, there's only one possible response: “That was fucking great.” John Wayne had Red River, The Searchers, Stagecoach etc etc to point to when the “Hey, you're a drunk right-wing shithead and you're old” clamor got too loud. Elizabeth Taylor, even when she was threatening to become more famous for her multiple marriages than her work, could sit people down and be like “Watch National Velvet, A Place In The Sun, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and pour yourself a Shut The Fuck Up on the rocks.” Hell, even Keanu has the first Matrix. And yes, there's a lot of room on the movie star spectrum between the first two examples and the third, but that's the thing, no matter how annoying you are, no matter how dim the memories of your previous successes are, no matter how stupid the tabloid stories you get caught up in, if you have that one unassailable classic in your repertoire, you get to be a movie star. So it is with Shahrukh Khan and Dil Se.
Now, it's not even really like Shahrukh is in that bad shape. He's still the king. Ra.One made money, Don 2 made money and featured a surprising amount of legit, not-graded-on-a-curve ownage. But dumb shit like throwing a hissy fit and smacking Shirish Kunder around for no apparent reason other than Shirish Kunder being a sarcastic wiseass (Ed. Note: I don't mean that in a bad way at all; much love and respect for Shirish Kunder) can lead to a bit of SRK fatigue—at best—and can retroactively color one's opinion of his entire career at worst. It doesn't help that even in his good movies he has bits of schtick that he falls back on that can be almost catastrophically irritating (put it this way, if I never see the guy play a dork or a hick again I will not die feeling a sense of loss) even if five minutes later he saves the day by being awesome again. Can the king stay the king without being start-to-finish awesome in at least one movie? No. How awesome does a movie star's best role have to be to completely nullify all the shaky and inconsistent others? Very. With that in mind, I present you with this:
That right there is what this whole cinema shit is about. Shouts, of course, to A.R. Rahman and Gulzar, who wrote the awesome song, Malaika Arora for existing, Farah Khan for the choreography, and everyone else involved in the creation of that six and a half minutes of joy, because that is hands down one of the most exuberant and sublime sequences ever captured on film. And that's how the movie starts. That thing at the beginning, with Shahrukh in the rain, is the first scene of the movie, right after he meets the girl in the train station and immediately falls head over heels in love with her.
The rest of the movie maintains that sense of emotional size. Set in the buildup to the 50th anniversary of Indian independence, the story concerns Shahrukh—a radio reporter—working on a story about the precarious, and indeed fractured, state of the union, with some states on the brink of openly opposing New Delhi with violence. His having fallen in love with the mysterious Manisha Koirala, and her keeping him at at least arm's length, becomes an increasing distraction to his work. Even after his family arranges for him to marry Preity Zinta, he can't get Manisha out of his head and heart. Even after he finds out that Manisha is working with a terrorist organization planning to assassinate the President.
It's one thing to have a big, booming romantic plot, another to set that story in the context of national affairs and politics, but it's something else entirely to do it so well. Director Mani Ratnam does a number of things spectacularly well here: the number and richness of the levels in the love story, portraying his characters as less good guys and bad guys than people who do good and/or bad things for believable human reasons, and keeping a long movie from feeling excessively long. Not to be underestimated among his accomplishments here is getting arguably the finest performance of his career out of Shahrukh Khan.
That's the thing about this movie. SRK is so fucking good in it. All his considerable charm and massive charisma are on display here. But more impressive is the seemingly unaffected humanity, the increasing desperation and self-destructiveness of his love for Manisha Koirala, and the way that even as it increasingly leads him to abandon his work, family, and even risk his life itself for the sake of that all-consuming love, is that he remains emotionally affecting. At no point are we ever sitting there going, “Fuck's sake, SRK, let it go.” Rather, we're like, “Oh, man, poor guy . . .” This even as Preity Zinta is sitting there in an arranged marriage to some dude who's clearly in love with someone else; a lesser movie would have the audience siding with either SRK or Preity depending on one's personal loyalties or the skill of the movie's execution, but in Dil Se both of them have the audience on their side at the same time. (And whoa boy is the SRK/Preity relationship fascinating in this. They both love someone else despite having to be married to each other, but there's a genuine fondness there that feels palpably real.)
I won't spoil the ending for anyone who's yet to see it, even though the only DVD currently available is this fucktastically terrible transfer with slightly Alvin and the Chipmunksed sound that's all stretched out and fucked up on a 16:9 TV. Watching Dil Se is an almost Zen challenge on this DVD, and lemme tell ya: if this movie was this fucking good when I had to squint to read the subtitles and mentally slow down all the music in my head by about 12%, I can only imagine what it'd be like with a good 35mm print and good speakers. Holy shit.
But back to SRK for a second. He gets to be the king, he gets to pop up in people's corn flakes in animatronic miniature form hectoring them to go see Ra.One, he can be as pissy in the tabloids for as long as he wants, but he'll always be a movie star if only for Dil Se. It says something that among all the Indian film fans in my acquaintance, across all lines of taste, genre preferences, anti-SRK, pro-SRK, every last one of them is like, “Dil Se? Good fuckin' movie.” Just like Ed Lauter in True Romance talking about Comin' Home In a Body Bag. And all true cineastes know, that “good fuckin' movie” is the highest honor cinema can achieve.
Dude, just watch this one more time:
The advocate rests.