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 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.