JUN 24, 2004 – JUST HOW HIGH YOU’VE PRESET THE BAR for Lakshya is evident from the crushing disappointment that sets in when a soldier named Akbar proclaims he’s not Muslim, but Hindustani. In any other film, you’d sigh and let go, but here you feel betrayed – how can the man who gave us Dil Chahta Hai give us this cliché?
Then again, the fact that we expect Farhan Akhtar to pull another rabbit out of his hat, for his second feature, is our problem, not his. Lakshya isn’t quite magic, but it’s no misfire either – like Yuva and Dev, it’s a piece of meticulous craftsmanship that engages the head even if it doesn’t always excite the heart.
The best thing about Lakshya is how well it anticipates everything you’re likely to question about its slacker-to-soldier story of Karan (Hrithik Roshan), set against Operation Vijay. How does this Dude end up in the Indian Military Academy? Here’s the entire arc: the scary randomness of his decision-making, his parents’ reactions, the fact that maybe he’s doing this only because Dad (a wonderful Boman Irani) forbade it, plus the adjustment trauma when he does get in. What does Romi (Preity Zinta, once again working very well with Hrithik) see in the diametrically-opposite Karan? Here’s the answer, in a lovely, laidback romantic scene. Towards the end, when Karan’s regiment (a gallery of good support from the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Om Puri, Sushant Singh and Raj Zutshi) has to recapture a peak from the Pakistanis, it will of course be Karan, being the hero and all, who’ll finally hoist the tricolour, right? Yes, but think back to how everyone around him has fallen, one by one – only Karan’s left to do the job.
Obviously, Javed Akhtar’s hiatus from screenwriting has done him good, and his evolution as lyricist serves him even better. He does some of his best writing in two why-war-happens rationalisations – one from an angry soldier, the other from a peaceful (and rather poetic) senior – that beautifully show how language and mood can make the same things sound different. Yet, not everything is rhetoric; there’s also the girl who tries to put off a marriage proposal, saying, “Hum dost hain…,” only to be asked, “To kya shaadi kisi dushman se karogi?”
Such effortless humour isn’t the only reminder of Dil Chahta Hai. Here too, there’s a mother comforting a tearful offspring, a sentimental telephone conversation with an absentee father, and Farhan Akhtar apparently cannot cast Preity Zinta and not have her deal with one-dimensional MCP boyfriends – but there’s also the director’s filmmaking freshness, giving us everything from remarkably fluid transitions (say, from an army camp to a TV newsroom through a news programme) to the gorgeously realised Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy numbers. Main aisa kyon hoon isn’t just a triumph of rubbery choreography, it’s a state-of-mind snapshot of an existential dilemma, just as the exquisite kitni baatein is no generic sad song, but a reminder of life and love amidst death and destruction.
Where the cracks begin to show is in the uneven second half, as Lakshya makes some questionable decisions, mainly with regard to how Karan is portrayed. Hrithik Roshan is excellent – as the son hurt by his father’s inattention, the boyfriend whose ego cuts into his happiness with Romi, the pampered city boy who ends up in evacuated villages by the border, the soldier who has to keep his regiment’s honour, the Indian whose patriotism is stirred upon sighting the LOC – but, by the end, he’s just… The Hero.
He grandiosely announces that he’ll succeed or else die, but we know what will happen because the screenplay has already given him a moment of heroic predestination, when he’s sighted in the crosshairs of the enemy but survives. His subsequent battles brim with rock-video aggression, as electric guitars wail on the soundtrack – the overwhelming background score, in general, clashes with Akhtar’s preference for understatement – but most unforgivable of all may be the reaction shots from Karan’s comrades, as they express wonder and admiration at his Cliffhanger-level mountaineering skills.
This sort of hero-giri you expect in a Sunny Deol film by Guddu Dhanoa – but in something so intelligent, so well-made, that isn’t about war itself as much as the attainment of one’s lakshya? Then again, these expectations are our problem, not Farhan Akhtar’s.
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