He is Amar Verma (Shah Rukh Khan), an All India Radio correspondent who ventures into the hills of the strife-torn North East to interview the leader of a dreaded terrorist outfit; she, Meghna (Manisha Koirala), a woman on a deadly mission. He finds her cringing in the shadows of a lonely railway platform on a cold, tempestuous night. In a flash, he's drawn into the depths of her mysterious eyes, her enigmatic face, her ethereal voice. The very next moment, she's gone -- as quickly and stealthily as she'd crept into his life and conquered his heart.
Thus begins the chase: the harder she tries to escape him, the more his obsession grows. Little does he know that she is already wedded to the ideology that owns her, body and soul. His weary heart finally caves in and he agrees to reluctant matrimony with Preeti (Preity Zinta). Just then, his past resurfaces and lands up at his doorstep to haunt him again.
Mani Ratnam's first Hindi offering Dil Se.. follows the trail of his Tamil blockbusters Rojaand Bombay -- the story of an undying love set against the backdrop of political unrest. Yet again, he juxtaposes raw passion and vulnerability with nerve-snapping violence and unrelenting hatred. And the effect is explosive, the tension mounting with each successive frame and the pressure refusing to let up. And in the middle of this high drama, there are those endearing moments, like the time Amar sits in his studio for a live broadcast and recounts his first magical brush with his ladylove, while a haunting melody plays on in the background.
Ratnam's poetic vision shines through the film, as does his firm, vice-like grip over the medium. Equally impressive is the fact that the entire team rises to the same high note like a symphony in perfect harmony. Santosh Sivan's camera almost nudges you out of your seat as it cruises through myriad landscapes -- endless stretches of desert, forests and imposing snow-capped mountains. His command on the lens is best seen in the Chhaiyan Chhaiyannumber, shot atop a moving train winding through a hilly stretch.
While Suresh Urs' razor-sharp editing heightens the tension, Farah Khan's exquisite choreography leaves you begging for more. Gulzar's lyrics fall in perfect sync with the entire gamut of emotions Dil Se.. journeys through. Especially Aye ajnabi, which leaves you listless, drained. A feeling only aggravated by A R Rahman's soulful composition. His music dictates the mood in song after song -- be it the foot-tapping Chhaiyan... or the wildly passionate title song.
Liril girl Preity Zinta makes an impressive debut in a small but significant role. Manisha Koirala is excellent as Meghna, a picture of rock-solid resolve whose inherent vulnerability surfaces time and again on her delicate face which refuses to succumb to the conflicting feelings tugging at her heart.
But if there is one individual who outshines everything else in this picture perfect, it's Shah Rukh Khan in a towering, yet restrained act. He brings tolife every conceivable emotion, from passion to anguish, helplessness and manic obsession. He pushes himself, literally, to the brink and beyond, to come up with perhaps his best performance to date.
Director: Mani Ratnam
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Manisha Koirala, Preity Zinta, Raghuvir Yadav and Mita Vashisth
Showing at: New Excelsior
Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.