Skip to content

Plot: radio broadcaster falls in love with a strangely aloof woman

There’s no shortage of romance in Bollywood. It’s an integral part of Indian cinematic experience, and they sometimes turn up in the least expected places. One such is at the heart, erm, center of Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se (or, From the Heart) which not only has the good fortune of featuring a young Shah Rukh Khan in the lead, but also two of Bollywood’s most beloved actresses: Manisha Koirala, and a very young Preity Zinta. Dil Se is a prime example of parallel cinema, or a more realist equivalent to Bollywood’s deliciously over-the-top and melodramatic popcorn/event movies. It’s certainly melodramatic in places but Dil Se is a political thriller first and foremost. Dil Se was closing chapter of Mani Ratnam’s thematic trilogy of terror films and was preceded by Bombay (1995) and Roja (1992). Dil Se initially did poor at the box office, and found success overseas first. It was screened at the Era New Horizons Film Festival and the Helsinki International Film Festival. It went on to win the Netpac Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, two National Film Awards, and six Filmfare Awards. In more recent years it has been reappraised and is now considered an unsung classic.

Amarkant Varma (Shah Rukh Khan) is an idealist program executive for All India Radio traveling to New Delhi to cover the festivities in Assam. On a rainy night he makes a stop at Haflong train station to catch the Barak Valley Express (he wouldn’t take the Chennai Express until some 15 years later) and makes his acquaintance with a mysterious, aloof woman. Mesmerized he tries to strike up conversation, but she has boarded her train before Amar can think up something useful to say. In Assam, while reporting on the North-East insurgence, he interviews citizens of Assam as well as the Liberationists in Kashmir valley and their motivations behind the resistance in Utthar Purv. Then he spots the mystery woman again in Lumding, but she claims not to recall their earlier meeting. A few weeks go by, and Amar describes their meeting on the radio, which she hears. When he meets her again at the post office she tells him to leave her alone since she’s married. Amar profusely apologizes but is beaten up by her brothers all the same. He figures that everything so far was a mere ruse and travels to Leh where the woman was last seen in the union territory of Ladakh.

At the Sindhu Darshan Festival a suicide bomber is chased by the military, and once again the mysterious woman is nearby. They both board the same bus, but when the vehicle experiences technical difficulties they are forced to walk to the nearest village. There the woman tells Amar to call her Meghna (Manisha Koirala) and confides in him that they never can be together. He’s an idealist, she’s a pragmatist. He’s a dreamer, she’s an activist. Unfazed Amar confesses his feelings for her, and is heartbroken to find that she has disappeared the following morning. He returns home to Delhi where his family has arranged a first date with wide-eyed young student Preeti Nair (Preity Zinta) from Kerala. Figuring that he will never see or hear from Meghna again Amar kindly agrees to marry Preeti.

Out on a date during his courtship with Preeti one day Amar spots one of Meghna’s associates on Connaught Place. Naturally, when the man commits suicide Amar becomes a prime suspect in the CBI investigation. Then one day he finds Meghna knocking on his door asking for an administrative job in the offices of All India Radio. Amar is puzzled to learn that her real name is Moina, and that she's part of a Liberationist cell planning multiple suicide attacks in New Delhi during the upcoming Republic Day celebrations. In fact Moina herself is one of the suicide bombers and she intends to blow herself up along with the President of India. His association with Moina and his trek to Sunder Nagar make Amar look suspect in the eyes of the CBI investigation officer (Piyush Mishra) and he’s arrested. On the day of the planned suicide attack Amar escapes CBI custody and pleads Moina not to go through with her terrorist act. Does love truly conquer all?

Not bad for somebody like Shah Rukh Khan. Before he became the “king of romance” and “Tom Cruise of India” he was an actor from humble beginnings. He has a penchant for chosing projects with an autobiographical slant. His father was a freedom fighter, so the screenplay of Dil Se must have resonated with him on a personal level. Khan had debuted in Deewana (1992) but would soon make a name for himself playing anti-heroes and villains. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) proved particularly successful. It was the highest grossing Bollywood film that year, and is widely considered one of the most successful Indian films in history. The Maratha Mandir cinema hall in Mumbai has, as of 2017, been showing it 20-plus years. And who wouldn’t want to be involved with a prestigious project as Dil Se? Mani Ratnam writing and directing, sharing the screen with India’s most gifted dramatic actress (Manisha Koirala), a lovely debutante (Preity Zinta), a director of photography (Santosh Sivan) and a choreographer (Farah Khan) who would direct the “king of romance” in the historical epic Aśoka (2001), and the Bollywood box office smashes Om Shanti Om (2007) and Happy New Year (2014), respectively? You’d imagine that Dil Se would resonate with people, but the opposite is in fact true. In its original run it did poorly, and Dil Se was only reappraised much later.

It’s nigh on unbelievable that Shah Rukh Khan is barely known in the English-speaking world. He’s one of the biggest actors, producers, and directors in Bollywood, and often works with filmmaker Yash Chopra. On-screen he’s frequently romantically paired with the Kapoor sisters (Karisma and Kareena), Madhuri Dixit, Anushka Sharma, Katrina Kaif, Juhi Chawla, and introduced Preity Zinta, Deepika Padukone, and Priyanka Chopra to the world. Khan famously declined the lead role in Danny Boyle’s multiple Golden Globes, Academy, BAFTA, and Critics' Choice Award-winning sleeper hit Slumdog Millionaire (2008), a part subsequently given to Anil Kapoor. Khan is known for playing idealists, anti-heroes, villains, and romantic heroes. He’s a man of the people, and loved across age brackets and demographics. He has his own wax statue in Madame Tussauds in New Delhi and London, lectured at Yale (in 2012) and TED (in 2017), and he was interviewed by David Letterman on his My Next Guest (in 2019). Dil Se is probably one of the most important movies in Khan’s extensive filmography, and a lot more cerebral than than the romantic comedies and dramas wherein he made a name for himself. Besides Manisha Koirala the biggest other star is Preity Zinta.

Zinta was a 23-year old former student of criminal psychology who had established a foothold in television as the adorable Cadbury Perk chocolate bar – and Liril soap girl. If those commercials weren’t enough to shoot her to domestic superstardom, her now world-famous dimpled smile certainly would. It takes well over an hour before Zinta makes her appearance in Dil Se but what a debut it is! Just a short 20 minutes is all that it took for pretty Preity to become a Bollywood darling and superstar. Obviously Preity impressed the Bollywood bigwigs and she won the Filmfare Award (1999) for Best Female Debut. Five years, and 15 films later, Zinta appeared in two career-defining productions. The first was Rajesh Roshan’s nearly three-hour-long Koi… Mil Gaya (2003) (or I Found Someone), a family adventure epic of Spielbergian proportions modeled after the likes of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Independence Day (1996). It ensured Hritik Roshan’s continued relevance, and birthed India’s most lucrative superhero franchise Krrish in the process. The same year she reunited with Khan for Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003) where she played geeky, black-rim glasses wearing, and barely-smiling Naina Mathur. Her hearty laughter warmed millions. Preity has shared the screen with legends, old and new, and probably is one of the most recognizable Hindi stars along with Priyanka Chopra and Mallika Sherawat. Also making a cameo appearance is former MTV VJ Malaika Arora in the song ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’.

Dil Se is the ideal title for Westerners to dive into the wonderful world of Bollywood, as Dil Chahta Hai (2001), and Karthik Calling Karthik (2010) for that matter. It might not exactly be representative of Shah Rukh Khan’s massive body of work (that generally dwells in far lighter comedic – and romantic territory) but if there’s one Bollywood movie that everybody should have seen at least once Dil Se is a pretty good choice. It offers a chance to see a number of Bollywood superstars early in their career before they became the household names and red carpet fixtures they are today. Shah Rukh Khan, Manisha Koirala, and Preity Zinta all are philantropists who have found charitable foundations, and have championed women's and children's rights in India, as well raised awareness around various (mental) health issues. For that all three have often won awards and are leading figures in their philanthropic endeavours. If that doesn’t make Dil Se more appealing to a wider audience, nothing probably will…

Plot: South American armsdealer sets up base of operations in Hawaii.

With the matter-of-factly titled Guns Hawaiian action director Andy Sidaris entered the nineties, a decade notoriously unkind to many a genre. The fourth LETHAL Ladies episode introduces a new partner for The Agency operative Donna Hamilton as they continue to battle drug runners and arms dealers. Guns is, as the title would have it, about big guns, both literal and figurative, and the first LETHAL Ladies without Hope Marie Carlton. It fares as well as one would expect. Sidaris returns to all the familiar locations, with many familiar faces, and all the familar gadgets. Bronzed blonde babes in skimpy candy-colored bikinis engage vicious narcotic distribution rings, enemy agents and crimelords in combat by dropping their tops, or forgoing clothes altogether. Everything is bigger in Guns: the guns, the explosions, and the breasts – all except the plot, which remains as paper-thin and flimsy as ever. Not that anybody’s complaining…

Having ridded Moloka’i from drug runners and a giant python, safeguarding a reputeable artpiece while liberating the island of a vicious narcotics distributing ring, and taking down a paramilitary unit on a remote island, Donna Hamilton (Dona Speir) and Nicole Justin (Roberta Vasquez), a never-before-mentioned third partner of Molokai Cargo, become targets in an ambitious plan from armsdealer Juan Degas (Erik Estrada), who has something of a history with both LETHAL Ladies. When an assassination attempt claims the life of Rocky (Lisa London) in collateral damage and Dona’s hardnosed DA mother Kathryn Hamilton (Phyllis Davis) is kidnapped by Degas’ goons, things get personal. With help from CIA field agent Bruce Christian (Bruce Penhall), The Agency man Abe (Chuck McCann), and series mainstay Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane, as Michael Shane) the LETHAL Ladies break out the heavy artillery to put Jack Of Diamonds, his assassins, and goons where they belong: behind bars.

Helping Degas carry out his elaborate plan of dominating the armsdealing profession is Cash, played by Playboy Playmate Devin DeVasquez (June 1985), and Tong (Danny Trejo) and his girlfriend (Kelly Menighan). DeVasquez had appeared in House II: the Second Story (1987) and Society (1989), while Trejo’s first role of note was in Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987) and the Steven Seagal actioner Marked For Death (1990). It wouldn’t be until the second half of the nineties that Trejo established himself with Desperado (1995) and From Dusk till Dawn (1996). Despite fulfilling every requirement Guns is Devin DeVasquez' sole appearance in the Andy-verse. In 2009 DeVasquez married Ron Moss, or Rowdy Abilene from Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987).

Guns is the only Sidaris production to have both CHIPs (1977) heartthrobs Erik Estrada and Bruce Penhall present at the same time. Penhall had a history with Sidaris making his first appearance as a different character in Picasso Trigger (1988) before returning four more times as Bruce Christian and staying with the series until its original end. In the interim Penhall played Chris Cannon in the two Drew Christian Sidaris entries Enemy Gold (1993) and The Dallas Connection (1994). Penhall, along with Speir and Vasquez, did not return for Day Of the Warrior (1996) and Return to Savage Beach (1996), at which point Penthouse Pets Julie Strain, Julie K. Smith and Shae Marks took over The Agency mantle. Guns signaled the exit of London and Lindeland from the series, and introduced Nicole Justin as a substitute for Taryn. Phyllis Davis and James Lew later turned up in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995) as a hostage and goon, respectively.

With Hope Marie Carlton, arguably one of the better actresses of the cast, choosing not to return for Guns, Sidaris brought back Roberta Vasquez as a replacement. Vasquez’ Nicole Justin - who acts, dresses, and talks just like Taryn – is an interesting choice. Nicole Justin, a brunette of South American descent, is, for all intents and purposes, Taryn. It would be the first (and only) instance of Andy Sidaris putting a minority character in the lead. Sidaris spents a good 20 minutes setting up Justin’s character, but there’s nothing that drastically changes the familiar Donna Hamilton-Taryn dynamic. Neither will it ever be brought up in the series again. Like Taryn in her final appearance Nicole Justin dates Bruce Christian, and she has all of Taryn’s post-Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) habits. The Justin part was one you’d halfway expect Liv Lindeland or Kym Malin to usurp given their Nordic looks and bulging chests, or Cynthia Brimhall for her sheer longevity with the series. It does help that Roberta Vasquez at least can halfway act and handle a gun. She also happens to look good in and out of a skimpy bikini. What does remain a constant is that most of the bit players still are awful at line reading, and that it usually doesn’t take long before they lose their tops. Carlton went on to star in Bloodmatch (1991) from Albert Pyun a year later.

In fact for the first time Andy Sidaris seems genuinely concerned with plotting and character development. In the interim Edy Stark (Cynthia Brimhall) has become a lounge/nightclub singer at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, which is just an excuse to have her prance around in tiny glittery bikinis and sing, among others, the theme song. In all honesty, Brimhall isn’t too shabby a singer. Edy has left her restaurant Edy’s to redhead Rocky who turned it into Rocky’s. Kym (Kym Malin), last seen as in Picasso Trigger (1988) as part of the multi-talented linedancing duo Kym & Patticakes, has picked up oilwrestling and is seen hitting the canvas with Hugs Huggins (Donna Spangler), a 90s callback to Malibu Express (1982) peroxide blonde June Khnockers (Lynda Wiesmeier). It’s only at a record 27 minutes in that Sidaris flashes the first pair of breasts, but he compensates by showing three consecutive topless scenes from as many actresses in close succession. Substituting for the Professor (Patrick LaPore), who made his final appearance in Picasso Trigger (1988), is red bikini-clad stunner Ace (Liv Lindeland), more or less the same character as Picasso Trigger’s resident computer wiz Inga. Perhaps Sidaris genuinely didn't remember that Lindeland's character was named Inga originally?

Sidaris’ humour remains as unsophisticated and lowbrow as ever and plot-convenient excuses to get the girls naked are filmsy as always. When Degas explains to a hired duo of cross-dressing assassins that his target requires a “cerebral approach” he gets nothing but blank stares. Instructing them to “shoot her in the head” on the other hand is explanatory enough. During the final shootout Nicole Justin engages in an exchange of gunfire with Degas’ goon until Bruce Christian, brandishing an oversized gun, barges in saying “so this is what goes on in the ladies room!” In Sidaris tradition both Rocky and Cash die by gunshots between the breasts, and only Ace (the Inga substitute) is cowardly shot in the back. Cash fails to shoot Edy even though she’s mere meters away, apparently distracted by mirrors. Shane, being an Abilene, can’t shoot straight no matter what he does. Abe, a stand-in for The Professor, is killed while fishing by a remote controlled model boat and Juan Degas, the Jack Of Diamonds, is quite literally blown up at close range by Donna with a rocket launcher. For the first time in quite a while Edy Stark is given a more action-heavy part, which doesn’t mean that Sidaris doesn’t relish in her voluptuousness. Kym Malin’s Kym still only exists to raise the skin factor. Malin’s oil wrestling gig mostly serves a pretext to show a naked Donna Spangler, the Beverly Hills Barbie, who appeared in Playboy in December 1989, as the alliterative named Hugs Huggins.

As a disciple of the Russ Meyer school of filmmaking the material’s light tone and 80s fashion sense remain its strong points, even though the formula is starting to wear thin. Guns, if anything, is superior to Savage Beach (1989) in every way and as the first episode of the 90s it could’ve fared far worse. As enjoyable as Sidaris’ shtick tends to be in Guns things start to feel rusty and tiresome. The following year’s Do Or Die (1991) would adopt an overall darker and more cynical tone before returning to the series’ signature lighthearted tone with 1993’s Hard Hunted and Fit to Kill. At the halfway point of the LETHAL Ladies franchise the Sidaris formula starts to show its limitations, but that doesn’t change that they are almost universally fun. Guns has no shortage of big guns, both literal and figurative, and with a cast comprised almost exclusively of Playboy Playmates and Penthouse Pets was there really any reason to bother with trivialities such as plot? Andy Sidaris was hardly an auteur, but that never stopped his Bullets, Babes and Bombs or Girls, Guns and G-Strings series from being entertaining romps. Things could be worse…