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.