Freeze Frame #27: Dil Chahta Hai

Everybody talks about the scene at the Opera House in Dil Chahta Hai. Sure, it’s a good scene, well timed and acted, but I found it less than perfect. More on that later. First, my pick for the best scene in DCH:

Shortly before the scene at the Opera House, there’s one in a Sydney metro station where Akash gets on the train and Shalini misses it by a whisker. It’s late at night, she’s alone on the platform. There’s a lonely derelict sitting on one of the chairs there, and Priety doesn’t quite like the look of that guy. Farhan lets the apprehension grow for a few more moments, then you see Aamir – he’s gotten off at the next stop and rushed back here for her. You see her fright, his determination to keep her safe, the relief in her eyes… and then Aamir blindsides you with a move that is less than obvious, yet perfect for the situation.

The way the entire scene plays out is an example of how a well-acted scene can do away with the obvious. There isn’t a single line of dialogue in that scene that is obvious, and that is because the director trusts us to fill it in for ourselves. That’s intelligence – knowing what *not* to say in a scene. And it wouldn’t have been possible to use this intelligence unless Aamir, and more importantly Priety, hadn’t done such a wonderful job. In fact, the latter is so brilliant that I’m left searching desperately for superlatives.

As for the opera scene, here’s my take on that one: it’s a good scene, and the timing of every little part of that sequence, so important to its success, is perfect. In the hands of a lesser director, it could’ve been awful. But Farhan had already proved that he was capable of such brilliance in the earlier railway station scene. No, the thing that caught my attention wasn’t what was so good about that scene, but the one aspect that was less than perfect. At a crucial juncture, Shalini asks Akash to close his eyes and think of the one person for whom he would ask God for another day, so he could express his love for this person. And as he closes his eyes, we are treated to a holographic tour of his thoughts as they pass a number of people in his life and finally settle on… obviously Shalini. He opens his eyes and, as if for the first time in his life, looks at her. All of us know how this scene would play out, so why couldn’t he have acknowledged this fact and cut out that entire holographic sequence? Just have him close his eyes and open it after a short pause and look at Shalini – it would’ve been more potent in my opinion. Every one of us knows what that tour of his mind would’ve been like. As it stands, it’s a great scene, but not perfect.

Aside: To me, the relationship between the railway station scene and the opera house scene is akin to that between a couple of scenes in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. GOST ends with the pivotal scene in the movie – the one where Ammu and Velutha consummate their love for each other on the island. Roy totally nails it with her description of that scene, and what it would result in. Structurally, it’s an interesting choice to make – she took a tragedy and ended it at its turning point – the raveling and unraveling came before that.

But to me, the key moment wasn’t when Ammu and Velutha decide to sleep together. The key moment was when they began to see each other as desirable. This happens during Sophie Mol’s welcome party, when Ammu gets bored with the whole charade, looks out the window and sees Velutha playing with her daughter. At that moment, he turns to look at her as well. Roy describes that moment with the following line:

Centuries telescoped into one evanescent moment.

To me, that was the best line in the book. That was the turning point. Whatever the two of them did after that, it was simply mechanics – the ball was set rolling in that evanescent moment.

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