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Plot: two news anchors unite to exonerate an innocent man… and find love.

Not everything that the “King Of Bollywood” touched turned to gold instantly, or was a sure-fire hit for that matter. Case in point and with the benefit of twenty years of hindsight is Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (or, Yet The Heart Is Indian, for the English-speaking world), a box office flop at the time and still underappreciated to this very day. After the parallel cinema classic Dil Se… (1998) Shah Rukh Khan alternated between serious-minded political manifestos and his usual comedic fare. That Yet The Heart Is Indian is a combination of the two probably didn’t help either. Like Dil Se… (1998) before it Yet The Heart Is Indian is about the love of country, about the Indian national identity, and the earnest belief that good always trumps evil. For all intents and purposes Yet The Heart Is Indian had the makings of a hit. Yet things don’t always pan out the way we want them to. Having to compete with the Rakesh Roshan rom-com Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai (2000) (with Hritik Roshan and Ameesha Patel) certainly didn’t help. Is Yet The Heart Is Indian one of the lesser SRK features? Hardly. In fact it’s probably a lot better than the unfair rep it has garnered over the years.

In the early days of the new millennium Shah Rukh Khan was never averse to the idea of remaking American properties for the Hindi market. The earliest (at least as far as we’re familiar with his massive body of work) of those was Yet The Heart Is Indian, or a Bollywood remake of I Love Trouble (1994) with a sliver of Switching Channels (1988). Khan would spend the following years experimenting with translating various popular American properties for the domestic market. That resulted in good to excellent features as Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), or a Bollywood composite of Love Story (1970) and Oliver's Story (1978); and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006), or Closer (2004). To make those possible he needed a hit – and that came in the form of the beloved desi epic Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001). As near as we can tell the early 2000s were a transitional period in Khan’s storied career. He had helped shape the careers of Juhi Chawla, and Sonali Bendre in the prior decade – and now he himself was in need of help getting his career back on track again. That should have happened with Yet The Heart Is Indian, but somehow didn’t. Thankfully Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001) (with the trio of SRK belles Kajol, Rani Mukherjee, and Kareena Kapoor) is where Shah Rukh Khan somehow managed to reinvent himself and regain his relevance.

Ajay Bakshi (Shah Rukh Khan) is universally beloved and popular reporter and host of his namesake show on K Tea-V. Ria Banerjee (Juhi Chawla) is an up-and-coming investigative reporter with ambition and talent to spare. Having uncovered many a political scandal and exposed corruption in the highest echelons of government her career is definitely going places. Banerjee has recently vacated her field reporting job at the tiny TV24 when she’s offered a high-profile anchor position on rival channel Galaxee Channel by founder K.C. Chinoy (Dalip Tahil). Bakshi is instantly smitten when he lays eyes upon Banerjee. Back at the K Tea-V headquarters Ajay is ordered by his boss Kaka Chowdhry (Satish Shah) to interview political prisoner M.K. Sharma (Bharat Kapoor). Ria, not impressed by Ajay’s persistent romantic advances and continual invasion of her personal space, creates a diversion to occupy Ajay when she runs into his scorned former lover Shalini (Mona Ambegaonkar) and interviews Sharma instead. As all of this is happening the unsuccessful don of local criminal family Pappu Junior or Choti (Johnny Lever) is to be ousted from the family. Ajay makes him an offer that will benefit them both: a fake assassination attempt on Madanlal Gupta (Mahavir Shah), the brother-in-law of Minister Ramakant Dua (Shakti Kapoor) will boost both their profiles – Choti will regain respect from the families and Ajay’s ratings will rise.

When an attempt, a very real one at that, on the life of Dua does transpire Mohan Joshi (Paresh Rawai) is quickly identified as the perpetrator. Ramakant takes advantage of the crisis and tightens his grip, political and otherwise, on the city. Ajay and Ria come to the realization that Mohan has been set up as a sacrificial lamb and is wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit. In the ensuing chaos Ramakant has forged an alliance with Chief Minister Mushran (Govind Namdeo) as have competing channel heads Kaka Chowdhry and K.C. Chinoy. Together they conspire to have Ajay hand them the evidence of the crime so it can be conveniently buried. Mohan is summarily sentenced to be hanged and awaiting execution on death row. When Ajay and Ria get wind of said plan they work together with Choti to bring the real culprits to justice and exonerate Mohan. With the city eruption in massive protests and hours ticking away there’s one question: will Ajay and Ria be able to free Mohan and, perhaps more importantly, will their shared experience finally make them romantic partners?

To his everlasting credit King Khan has a habit of developing the talent he works with. Juhi Chawla had a history co-starring with him going as far back as Darr (1993), Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1994), and Ram-Jaane (1995). Chawla stood at Khan’s side when Yes Boss (1997), Duplicate (1998), this, One 2 Ka 4 (2001), and even the enchanting fairytale Paheli (2005) failed to meet box office expectations. And that was unfortunate, because Chawla excels at two things: drama and comedy. In Yet The Heart Is Indian she gets to do both – and the chemistry between SRK and Chawla is off the charts here. Like parallel cinema goddesses Manisha Koirala and Vidya Balan, Juhi (who once considered Madhuri Dixit her arch-rival) is a master of non-verbal acting. Chawla can convey deep emotions and engage in some of the most masterful comedy by simply rolling those big eyes of hers or contorting her face. Juhi has played her share of dramatic roles but what she really excels at is comedy. Also helping tons is that Chawla can dance with the best of them, proudly joining a line-up of starlets including (but not limited to) Kajol, and Sonali Bendre in the 1990s - as well as Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee, Deepika Padukone in the 2000s, and Alia Bhatt, and Priyanka Chopra in the 2010s. All of these women had their talent recognized by Khan and he in one degree or another helped define, establish, or consolidate their careers by having them co-star.

The prestige and marquee value of a Bollywood feature is measured at least in part (if not by half) by the success of its soundtrack. Yet The Heart Is Indian has some catchy tunes indeed. Lesser Shah Rukh Khan features seldom have outright bad songs, but they often end up sounding samey or miss the required hook. The longing for simpler days Yet The Heart Is Indian has since apparently seen reappraisal, if not for the movie itself – then certainly for its soundtrack. Which is to say Jatin and Lalit Pandit wrote some insanely infectious tunes for the occasion, most of which are beloved to this day. The two versions of ‘I’m the Best’ are identical and form the ideal introduction to the Khan and Chawla characters and have that kitschy retro-fifties/sixties feel. You have to be one of hell of a cynic not to love Juhi Chawla’s “nanana-nana” chorus from the courtship song ‘Kuch To Bata’ (‘Tell Me Something’). ‘Banke Tera Jogi’ (‘Like Your Devotee’) is a semi-ballad with ethnic percussion and instrumentation whereas ‘Aur Kya’ (‘What Else?’) has very much that romantic 80s feel with string sections. The costumes are bright-colored and Shah Rukh was always prepared to make fun of himself. The choreography from Farah Khan is outstanding as always, and Juhi Chawla gets her moment in the sun. Not only is she given beautiful clothes and dresses to wear Khan and her have a couple of fun routines together. Chawla is a way better dancer than, say, Ameesha Patel in Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai (2000).

Aziz Mirza had been trying to give the on-screen pairing of Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla their much-needed hit after Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1994), and Yes Boss (1997) failed to make a dent. Apparently the tides at the box office only changed in Khan’s favor with the Karan Johar drama Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001). Two years later Mirza would finally land his SRK hit with Chalte Chalte (2003). The only thing that he would direct afterwards would be Kismat Konnection (2008) (with perrennial LWO favorite Vidya Balan) or a loose Hindi reimagining of the Lindsay Lohan teen comedy Just My Luck (2006). Then there’s the question what exactly turned audiences off from Yet The Heart Is Indian. This has all the glamour and pageantry you’d come to expect from big budget Bollywood entertainment like this. At two-and-half hours there’s little over 30 minutes of song and dance. The romance is sweet and innocent, the message is positive, and the sentiment patriotic. It’s anybody’s guess why Shah Rukh Khan hasn’t caught on in the Western world yet. If Dil Se… (1998) was a bit too cerebral for you, perhaps something light-hearted and fun like this might appeal to you instead.

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…