What is love? Ah, the quintessential question of every romantic Bollywood film. Over the course of a 2-3 hour feature film, this question is eventually answered. Through romantic duet songs shot in the Swiss Alps and intense dramatic scenes of confrontation between the hero and heroine, true love is eventually redefined and rediscovered in any classic Yash Chopra Film, including Dil To Pagal Hai.
Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan), a director of dance plays, and Nisha (Karishma Kapoor), his lead dancer, are best friends and work together professionally, producing large-scale dance dramas and productions. Rahul is a typical “no commitments or marriage” type of guy. Even though he was characterized in the 90s, his thinking and mindset are the same as any 21st century hero of Bollywood and/or Hollywood. Nisha is a kindhearted and confident, albeit slightly arrogant, dancer who is convinced that there can never be as good of a dancer as her. As we soon come to realize, Nisha is madly in love with Rahul, whereas Rahul only considers her a good friend. When Nisha fractures her leg while rehearsing for Rahul’s latest play “Maya”, Rahul is forced to find a new dancer to replace Nisha.
Enter Pooja (Madhuri Dixit). With her sheer salwar kameezes and fabulous Kathak dance moves, Pooja lives in the world of her dreams, where she believes that God will give her signs to help her find her soulmate, her prince charming, the one who was made for her. Upon being approached by Rahul to be the lead actress/dancer for his play, Pooja initially refuses but Rahul’s stubbornness eventually changes her mind. In due course, Rahul and Pooja begin to fall in love. In the midst of all this, Ajay (Akshay Kumar), Pooja’s childhood friend, also falls in love with Pooja. The rest of the love triangle unfolds with tension, miscommunication, and confrontations between the characters.
This is a film filled with optimism, positive energy, and lots of dancing! Due credit must be given to Shiamak Davar for the choreography of all the songs and to his company dancers for providing fantastic support. With Shiamak’s new style, this 90s movie had avant-garde written all over it. As a dancer myself, one of the best scenes in the movie for me was the artistic collaboration (Jugalbandhi) between Rahul and Pooja. As Rahul releases his frustration from needing to find another dancer by playing drums in his chic dance studio, a beautiful venue for any dancer to practice and perform, Pooja, who is practicing Kathak in the studio below, follows suit and dances to Rahul’s beats. This jugalbandhi is a true expression of both artists’ own creative desires and how their creative energies and ideas interact with and bounce off one another. It can also be considered a form of foreshadowing of Rahul and Pooja’s blossoming love and romance in the second half of the film. That being said, considering it is a dance film, more effort could have been put into the scene where Pooja comes to surprise her dance teacher (Aruna Irani), who is teaching some form of classical dance to her students. Unfortunately, it’s not really clear if it’s Kathak or Bharatanatyam and looks like an awful mix of the two. Nevertheless, the dancing throughout the rest of the film significantly makes up for this small blunder.
The presentation of women in this film is very interesting. As one of Pooja’s friends says in the beginning of the film,
“We’re Indian girls. The lovers of our dreams and our husbands are not the same… Someone else chooses them for us and we learn to love them.”
On the one hand, Yash Chopra presents women as future traditional Indian housewives, who are sacrificial and are willing to lower their standards for a husband. At the same time, that Pooja does not want to stray from her set of beliefs and values about love and life (i.e. that she will not stop looking for signs from God about her soulmate and won’t settle for less) is testimony to the fact that Yash Chopra was also trying to change the way women are typically presented by portraying Pooja as a “nonconformist” to the ideal of being sacrificial. Interestingly, Pooja’s nature, according to her dance teacher, is such that she often thinks about others before herself; so even though Pooja seems to be a “nonconformist”, she really isn’t. Thus, one would ask, is she really transcending traditional gender roles or is she simply demonstrating agency within the boundaries of hegemonic gender norms?
The parallel between Maya, the heroine of Rahul’s play, and Pooja is clearly emphasized throughout the film. In this way, the audience is able to understand that Maya is the woman of Rahul’s dream. Thus, by highlighting the similarities between Maya and Pooja, the director makes us realize that Pooja is the “real version” of the woman of Rahul’s dreams. The profound philosophical significance of Maya is also beautifully conveyed. As Rahul puts it,
“Maya is all this. Yet she is only Maya.”
This is similar to the Vedantic concept of Maya in Hindu philosophy as all-encompassing of aspects in the material world, yet being indescribable because of that very nature.
Rahul’s characterization in the film is very interesting and some of his otherwise unnoticed behaviors may indicate something about his temperament. In one scene towards the beginning of the film, Rahul chases Nisha around her room to get his cassette and eventually pins her down on her bed, forcing her to give the casette to him. Although this scene has a very playful aura to it, it may not be as innocent as it seems on the surface. One may wonder if Rahul’s “violent” behavior encourages the perpetration of sexual violence against women and perpetuates the idea that males have the authority to exert force over women. There are many scenes throughout the film in which Rahul demonstrates his power and authority, both physically and verbally, such as the scene where he forcefully grabs Nisha’s arm before the Bholi Si Surat song, initially not letting Nisha drink tequila on her birthday, claiming that it is not a drink for women (“tumhare peene ki cheez nahin hai”), and grabbing Pooja’s arm when they are rehearsing for a scene in the play. Even though Rahul is in character for this last scene with Pooja, his use of force to grab her arm demonstrates the impact of patriarchal beliefs on his behaviors and the behaviors of Rahul’s characters in his plays. In other words, Rahul’s own violent tendencies influence how he characterizes other men in his artistic works. Additionally, Rahul does a double-take every time Nisha comments on his behavior, saying “so sweet”, as if his masculinity and “macho-ness” does not permit him to be a sweet guy in public. #socialization #masculinitygendernorms
Karishma Kapoor did a great job essaying the role of Nisha. As we begin to observe towards the latter part of the film, Nisha’s self-worth is completely dependent upon Rahul loving her back. As a result, she criticizes herself by saying, “main bahut buri hoon (I’m very bad)” when she is unable to feel happy for Rahul that he is in love with Pooja. Nisha’s anger, jealousy, and frustration conflict with the happiness that she ought to feel for her best friend. This is a great representation of human nature and the human mind when people experience psychological dilemmas regarding their emotions and desires. This gives more depth to Nisha’s character, as we are able to relate to her internal confusion and frustration.
Final Verdict: As one of the movies that socially constructed Indian girls’ desire to dance in the rain and run in the green fields with dupattas flying in the wind, Dil To Pagal Hai is a fabulous romantic dance film interspersed with melodious songs, intense scenes of drama, and loads of cute flirting. A classic film that deserves umpteen watches and definitely one of my favorites!