Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, or, My Heart Has Already Been Given (to Ajay)

I really don't know why I'm even bothering to review this movie. Not only is Nida over at Bitten by Bollywood overdue to post her own review, but since it came out in 1999, HDDCS has risen to near-legendary fame (and brought the same to its director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali). Still, I'm a completist, and I did promise to look it over, and I'll do my best, but I feel like it's all been done before. Having said that, I'm assuming that whoever reads this has either seen the movie or is aware of its plot, so spoilers ahead, me hearties! (Although I promise not to give away the ending.)

Nandini (Aishwarya Rai, very young and adorable here in a way her innate poise usually forbids) has the best room in her family's Gujarati home. This is due to the fact that, as her sisters/cousins plainly state, she's her father's favorite. (Side note: I hate when parents play favorites, on screen, IRL, it doesn't matter, and this is one thing about some Hindi films that makes me nuts. Anyway.) Her father (Vikram Gokale) is firm, however: a guest is like God, and one doesn't refuse to lend one's room to God, even if he is in the form of some unknown Indian-Italian music student coming to learn from the famed Pandit Darbar--that is, Nandini's father. Nandini pettishly accedes to giving up her space to the Italian guy, but she's already made up her mind to hate him.

Then the Italian guy arrives, stumbling across the desert and yelling at his father, who apparently replies in peals of thunder from heaven. Sameer (Salman Khan) is kind of a doofus. He's got enthusiasm to spare, and a way with the ladies: as he tells Nandini when they first meet, "If you keep looking at me, you'll fall in love with me." Still, when he sings Pandit Darbar recognizes his pure heart, and offers him lessons--with payment to be exacted on the pandit's whim.

Well, you should've insisted on at least a security deposit, pandit-ji, because Nandini does fall "in love" with Sameer. I put the phrase in quotes because, dude. These two remind me of nothing so much as a couple of junior-highers in the initial throes of infatuation. They're all about picking on each other. Which shouldn't be surprising: after all, Nandini's whole family plays childish games like "statue" so of course Sameer fits right in with the dynamic. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the tensely beautiful "Aankhon ki Gustakhiyan:"

Yeah, "infantile" doesn't begin to describe their relationship. Even though Nandini has repeatedly told Sameer that he must approach her parents and offer for her hand, he delays and delays and delays while getting as many lessons under his belt as he can. Well, their flirtation in the above scene ends up with Nandini, driven to distraction by Sameer's antics, smacking him. Sameer retires to his room to pout alone, despite Nandini's abject apologies. Fed up with his attitude, Nandini promises him that she's about to go make someone else fall instantly in love with her and actually propose, unlike a Certain Someone. And that's precisely what she does, in "Nimbooda," ("The Sour Lemon," her nickname for Sameer):

Who wouldn't fall in love with her? This is the only role I've seen wherein Aish is as cute as she is beautiful. As you can see, Vanraj (Ajay Devgan) does indeed fall instantly in love with Nandini, telling his sister shortly thereafter that, one way or another, "Nandini will be mine." And unlike Sameer, he makes good on his promise, just as Nandini's relationship with Sameer is exposed to her parents.

Nandini's parents, faced with the choice between letting her stay with this musician of unknown family who didn't even let them know he was interested in their daughter and will undoubtedly end up taking her halfway around the world in pursuit of a career that's hardly a certainty, or the barrister who's from a respected family just down the street, have little difficulty choosing Vanraj and kicking Sameer to the curb.

Sameer stumbles out of the house and across the desert once more, shouting imprecations at his father all the way, because of course it's all his dead dad's fault that he refused to do the stand-up thing for Nandini. His maturity is, um, astounding. Nandini tries to kill herself, or something that involves taking a knife to the wrist that Sameer once kissed. Aaand, Intermission! Yep, that's right--we're only halfway through the movie!

In case it isn't totally clear, I am so glad that Nandini ends up married to Vanraj. This naive girl who doesn't even know how babies are made (where does she live, under a rock?) needs someone who's way farther up the maturity scale than Sameer's likely to climb within the next decade. Not that she's going to realize that without a lot of help. No, Nandini's the kind of girl who's destined to learn everything the hard way, and that means it's up to Vanraj to show his merit over and over again.

Silly girl. She should be thanking her lucky stars to have ended up with Vanraj. The man is the closest thing I've seen to a saint on celluloid. When he discovers that Nandini's heart is not free to be given, he takes her to (as Beth puts it) fake pretend Italy (i.e. Hungary) to find the man she's still convinced is her true love.

This movie displays all the hallmarks of an SLB production. Gorgeous, visual feasts for sets, loads of melodrama, and a story that tries to be way more important than it actually is. Still, there are delightfully human touches in each character's depiction that make this my favorite SLB film to date, and he displays a fine eye for symbolism. I love the scene wherein Nandini is trying to put sindoor in her hair part (signifying her married state) but finds herself stymied by an injury. She would be able to complete the task easily if she just switched hands, but being Nandini, that option doesn't occur to her. Vanraj, seeing her dilemma, gently removes the sindoor from her hands and puts it on for her. Their entire relationship, encapsulated in one wordless exchange--it's seriously brilliant storytelling in that second.

One more characteristic of HDDCS that's typical SLB is its amazing soundtrack. It's no wonder that it's one of the top three soundtracks on BollyWHAT's list. From the rapid-fire delight of "Man Mohini" to the dreamy romance of "Chand Chupa Badal Mein" to the poignant "Tadap Tadap" and the wistful title track, every single song is a complete winner.

Bhansali-ji also deserves kudos for pulling the most nuanced performance out of Aish that I've seen (not like I've seen all that many, but...). By turns rebellious, despairing, teasing, sullen, and exuberant, Nandini is a whirlwind of colorful emotion, and Aishwarya does a wonderful job portraying her. Sallu--sorry, Nicki, but I really thought his Sameer was a little wooden. I think it's his delivery of his lines that doesn't ring true for me, especially all the English he uses, which isn't totally his fault. Ajay, on the other hand, is fabulous as a deeply sensitive man who finds it hard to put his feelings into words but easy to let his actions speak for themselves.

Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam is not a perfect film by any means, but it certainly abounds in perfect moments, enough so that I consider it worth every penny I spent. And, hey! Helen has a small role as Sameer's mama--watching her turn her face to heaven and blurt, "I love you Jesus!" is the perfect moment that sent HDDCS over the edge into "awesome" for me.


  1. Agree that this is one of Ash's finest performances. I think she was perfectly cast, as was Salman, who I thought was fantastic given his on-screen charisma and presence. Take the latter out of it, and the movie might well have not been the same (read: awesome) at all.

    I've gotten used to watching only the first half of this. Here's one instance where I'd prefer one of those 'choose the second half of the plot' DVD options, because the definition of 'love' the film advocated in the second half was too black and white and not one I agreed with. But that's okay, because there's plenty to love about HDDCS, as you say. Definitely one of SLB's best works!

  2. I love this movie mostly because of its ending (thought it was super-romantic) and all the bling and color which at that time was new! It was the first time I really liked Ajay Devgan, too, as he did really horrible action flicks before this for the most part!

    Aishwarya was super cute and really graceful here but I dont agree with this being her best performance. She did much better jobs in Kandukondain Kandukondain and Raincoat and was awesome in Chokher Bali. Her performance here was pretty over-the-top but of course, quite in sync with this masala-fest.

  3. I can see why people would hate this movie because of the ending or love it. I personally still do not agree with the ending but I thought the movie was wonderfully done. Definitely prefer the first half, not because of Salman but because I thought it's more fun. Songs are excellent. Love Ash in this movie.

  4. Hello, bollywood fan! You know, I've watched this three times and each time I feel like Sameer's a player. I'm not casting any aspersions on Salman himself but I feel that Sameer as a character was way too smooth to be anything other than an operator. I have to watch it again; maybe this time I'll get what I'm missing, and I'll pay attention to the definitions of love it provides.

    Bollyviewer--I agree, the ending *is* super-romantic! I didn't mean to say this is Aish's best performance; since I haven't seen many of the films for which she's garnered critical acclaim I don't feel qualified to make a call on that one way or the other--plus the fact that I'm a fan, not a critic! But it *is* my favorite of her performances that I've seen so far.

    Nicki, I agree, the first half is way more light-hearted; the second half is all sturm und drang, totally heart-rending.

  5. this is such a sweeet movie, romantic as it is lush. this was the only time salman didn't annoy me in his beefed-up 1990's roles. though i did laugh out load and roll my eyes as ajay and ash dance hungarian in the restaurant in italy, an italy that was filmed in budapest!

  6. Hi Rum! "Lush" is a very good word to describe any SLB production, IMO. I *love* the Hungarian folk dancing--too funny! And the dubbed Italian English. Oh my goodness.

  7. Hi,

    If you are looking for another performance where Ash was cute as well as beautiful I highly recommend Kandukondain Kandukondain. I haven't met a person who as seen it who hasn't loved it.
    If you love HDDCS I bet you'll love KK.

  8. This was my first Ajay and Aishwarya movie and I loved their performances. Salman was his usual hammy self.

    The other Aishwarya performances I would recommend are Iruvar (with Tabu - another favorite), KanduKondain (with Tabu), Raincoat (with Ajay), Chokher Bali, Guru and Jodhaa Akbar.

    I also like her in Provoked, Umrao Jaan and Shabd (very quirky movie with one of Sanjay's best performance).

    I'm not a fan of her more commercial movies.

  9. HDDCS is 1 of my fav movie.I hv seen it more than 20 times.Ajoy was the best among 3.

  10. Hi Aly--thanks for visiting, and commenting. I can't wait to see KK; it's perched at the top of my Netflix queue with a red "very long wait" accompanying it. Arg.

    Anonymous--I just saw Jodhaa Akbar, and it's my second favorite Aish performance now! I really want to see Iruvar and Shabd, especially Iruvar because I love Tabu. Thanks for dropping in, and leaving a comment!

    Hi Saheli! Have you really seen HDDCS 20 times??? Holy mother. I agree that Ajay did the best job; I totally was star-struck by him after watching this movie.

  11. HDDCS was a great watch,Ajay was understated and classy and Ash was beautiful and pretty good in her role....Salman was Salman and one of my favorite songs is the title song sung by Kavita Krishnamurthi that song is truly awesome,all other songs in this movie are great too...

  12. Oh, man, I think I'm still the only person who can't stand 95% percent of this film and all of its soundtrack with the noteable exception of "Nimbooda." =/ Ah, was a much better review than the one I wrote--I thoroughly enjoyed it! =D

    Re: Tabu dancing in Maqbool -- she doesn't dance a whole lot, nor is she the absolutely center of attention. She dances with the boss' niece, and its mostly hand movements. Nothing fancy, but I really enjoyed it.

  13. Hello, Reviewer! I thought Kavita Krishnamurthi did a fabulous job in the title track too. It's so heart-rending.

    Hi there, Bolly List. Thanks for visiting, and for the compliment. :-) You are literally the only person I've read say that s/he didn't like the HDDCS soundtrack! I don't think you're alone in disliking the majority of the film, though; it's pretty controversial over at BollyWHAT's discussion on it.

  14. Ajnabi--(warmly)Wow, I think we've finally found that one movie we completely and totally agree on!:)
    It's like we watched the film together, isn't it?

    Even though I loved Salman and Ash together and thought their romance both childish and steamy (a rare combo), I agree he was "wooden" in some of his delivery-i.e. When he discovered Nandini was in "Italy"--could you believe how fake his reaction was? He might as well have clicked his heels and said "whoo hoo" without any emotion, because that's how flat and disappointing this scene was. And you hit the nail on the head when discussing Sameer's immaturity--I think I used the exact words (Without meaning to plagarize, since I hadn't read yours yet) about him "pouting" in his room--sour lemon, indeed!

    I agree Ajay was fantastic, and that Nandini needed someone like him who was ready and available to give her the kind of "real love" that builds a solid marriage. Also, I was just as frustrated as you were that Sameer dragged his feet when he could have approached Nandini's father long ago--Vanraj, on the other hand, saw something he liked and didn't want to let it slip away!

    You saw Jodhaa Akbar! Wow, that's like one of my favorite films ever. I know I hype it up more than anyone else, but I just really really like the romance in it. Have you reviewed it yet? I'll have to check. But if you haven't---I can't wait to read it!

  15. Yay, Nida! At last we've found a film we both loved! I agree, next time we have the same film in queue we should watch together. It'd be fun.

    Salman's Italy reaction was literally laughable. My husband and I both burst into chuckles when he learned about her being there. Plus the reaction to be smacked was so OTT (And you posted your review first, so there's no way you could've plagiarized! LOL) although that's the script's fault, not his.

    Yes, I saw J-A and *loved* it. I'm reviewing it next week.

  16. Someone mentioned Tabu doesn't dance well.

    Here is my theory. Tabu is Muslim..which means when she was growing up, he most likely would not have learned Indian Classical dancing like Bharatnatyam or Kathak. These all have heavy doses of Hindu religion in them.

    So... I guess only Hindu actresses can do these dances well.

    Thats my theory anyway.

    BTW..I liked this movie and the ending. I also liked the fact that they made a dark skinned not so hunk get the gal.


  17. Hi Manny! I also like that the not-so-chocolate hero got the girl in HDDCS, although when I first watched the movie I was too ignorant to appreciate it.

    Vidya Balan was raised Muslim but learned Bharatnatyam growing up... she's good at it, too (just not at modern stuff). I would imagine that very devout families would steer clear of it though. Your theory requires more investigation! ;-)

  18. Vidya Balan is a Muslim? Really? WOW! You guys are top of things.. < hangs head in shame! >


    The reason for my theory was, recently I read a news article about good Bharathnatyam dancer who won a scholarship to a high quality dance school and the local Imam issued a fatwa against her and her family for accepting it.

    Even Christians in India do not learn these dances in general. But there are exceptions. My G.friend in college who is a Syrian Christian is a Bharatnatyam dancer. Thats cause she grew up in Tanzania and her parents wanted her to have some desi culture instilled in her the only thing they could find locally was someone teaching Bhartnatyam. :)

  19. Actually, Vidya considers herself Hindu and prays to Ganesha; at least, that's what she's said in interviews. But she was raised Muslim... Hmmm, maybe parents are onto something with their fear of desi dancing. LOL

    That's very interesting about the dancer w the scholarship. And your college girlfriend: that's kinda funny. It's amazing the lengths we parents will go to to ensure our children get some of the "home culture," even if it means doing something we wouldn't consider at home! :-D

  20. I just leaned Vidya Balan is a South Indian Tamil Hindu Brahmin. She is not a Muslim.

  21. "His maturity is, um, astounding." LOL. Well said! I thought Sameer was unbelievably childish and Salman's acting was either wooden, overdone, or underdone (but then... that's what I always think of him...).

    But Aishwarya and Ajay were awesome!

  22. They really are, aren't they? I wish someone would cast them opposite each other again (not in the Raincoat, that was *such* a bummer I couldn't bring myself to review it).


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