Readers Write In #167: Dil Se… A story about love told with all heart

Posted on May 5, 2020


(by Sai Krishna Ramavajula)

Much like the sad endings of many Mani Ratnam’s films, the last movie in his love-terrorism trilogy Dil Se did not fare well at the box office. But in my opinion, it is in no way inferior to its predecessors – Roja and Bombay. Dil Se follows the story of a radio journalist who falls in love with a mysterious girl, whom he meets in a deserted railway station at night. What starts as an attraction goes through the 7 stages of love and ends up with the lovers uniting in death. It might be compelling to dismiss Dil Se as yet another love story by Mani Ratnam, but it is a classic example of what a great director can do to transform a simple plotline into a true cinematic experience. Here are some of the tools that director Mani Ratnam and his team use to tell us a story with all their hearts (Ek DumDil Se).

Geographical Setting Mani Ratnam always uses the locations to add a layer to the story. In Roja, we had a girl from a village in South India going to the Northernmost part of the country in search of her husband. Then in Bombay, we had the lead characters from the same village moving to Bombay, a place where both Muslims and Hindus are in abundance. And, here in Dil Se, we have the lead pair hailing from two polar social segments. Amar (Shah Rukh Khan), who is from Delhi (representing the heart of the nation) is a radio journalist (heard by everyone). On the other end of the spectrum, we have Meghana (Manisha Koirala), who is from the North-East, (a region far away from the central region) is an extremist (trying to be heard). The story starts in the North-East (Meghana’s place) then moves to a middle ground in Leh and finally ends up in Delhi (Amar’s place). We see Meghana opening up much more to Amar in Leh and Delhi than in her backyard, in a way suggesting that her ties with her land are what holds her back.

Character Background The leading characters are structured in a way to show emotional contrast, as two people who can never end up together. Amar comes from a family which served the nation. His father was an army man, and his grandfather was a part of the freedom struggle. Meghana is a victim of the misdoings of the army. Their background indicates that these are two people unlikely to end up together. Similarly, Amar is brought up in a family dominated by women, and Meghana is brought up in a community dominated by men.

Vehicles  No Mani Ratnam love story is complete without either a train scene or a bus scene. Be it the bus scene in Mouna Ragam or the train scenes in Alaipayuthey (Saathiya), the public transport is an integral part of his love stories. Here we have both. The very first time Amar meets Meghana is at a train station, both taking different trains (different paths in life) to reach Silacher (die in the same way) in the end. Also, in Leh, the bus in which Amar and Meghana travel breaks down and crashes just like their love story. And in another scene, we have Amar and Preeti Nair (Preeti Zinta) traveling on a bus, and Amar runs away from the bus leaving Preeti alone, just like in the end.

Trios Mani Ratnam likes to categorize people in sets of three to showcase them distinctly. Something that I would like to call the three-piece characters. In Yuva, we have Lallan-The Corrupt, Michael- The Reformer, and Arjun –The indifferent one. Arjun is somewhere in the middle; whose opposite ends are Lallan and Michael. We also see this in Raavan, Mangal – The rough and tough guy, Hariya – The educated and neutral guy and then Beera, who is somewhat in between. Even in Dil Se, we have a similar version of the three-pieces in the female characters. There is Preeti Nair, the one in love with Amar and there is the female terrorist along with Meghana, who is unwavering and focused only on her mission. Then there is Meghana who lies somewhere in between them. If she did not have the baggage of her past, she could have been like Preeti and end up happily with Amar. And, if she had not met Amar, she would have been unhindered in her mission and been like her fellow female companion.

Colors  Colors in a frame can give depth to a 2D screen and they can have a subconscious effect on people’s minds. It can be used to tell a story rather than just making the frame look beautiful. In Yuva (Aayutha Ezhuthu in Tamil) we had theRed, Green, and Blue representing the three leading characters and their emotions. Similarly, in Dil Se the colors convey a deeper meaning and add a layer to the story that is being narrated. In the first scene, we have Amar who is seen with a red jacket and a black t-shirt. And, Meghana is dressed in the exact opposite color scheme – a red top and a black shawl. Amar is shown to be wearing his feelings on his sleeve – expressing his attraction for her confidently on the outside, whereas Meghana seems to be suppressing it within herself. And the only instance where see both of them dressed in white is during the night at Leh, where bothof them open up with each other.

How often do we see a director trying to tell a story not just through dialogues and scenes but makes use of every available tool at his disposal? The visual medium which can help to enhance the story-telling experience is one of the reasons what makes movies so special.

Post Iruvar, we saw a different Mani Ratnam, someone who no longer used the conventional styles to tell his story. So, every time a Mani Ratnam movie released, we constantly heard people longing for the old Mani Ratnam films.Since the late 1990s, he has been trying to rediscover himself and break away from the shackles of what made him ‘The Mani Ratnam’ in the first place. In that sense, Dil Se was different from what people expected based on Roja and Bombay. It is a movie that people do not talk about and is the forgotten child of Mani Ratnam – ironically like the issue that the director portrayed in this film.