Happy Madhuri week! Looking for something from your suggestions that I have already seen and could write about quickly, I landed on Dil. Because it is soooooooo terrible that I don’t need to really think that deeply about it, and it is also soooooooo fun that I can sincerely recommend it.
This is the only film in which Aamir Khan and Madhuri co-starred. Kind of remarkable, considering how much they both worked in the 90s. It was also a big big hit, which makes it doubly remarkable no one tried to repeat the cast and recreate the success.
You can watch it even today and see something special in Madhuri and Aamir. Much much better chemistry, I think, than Madhuri and Shahrukh. Maybe even than Madhuri and Anil. Aamir has this dangerous cocky edge to him, and Madhuri has this spoiled Queen quality, and then the come together, and FIREWORKS.
Starting with the central jodi and going through all the other elements, this film has everything necessary for a hit. Great songs, great dramatic moments, classic plot with some minor new variations, and no logic at all. It’s the perfect 90s movie.
And since it is a 90s movie, it also has ridiculously bad gender dynamics, measured by 2000s standards. But they don’t bother me (although you can feel free to disagree) because they are just that ridiculous. It’s easy not to take the rape plot seriously and look past the creepy bets because they are so very very silly. And we still have the lesson of young people being allowed to choose their own spouses, which is the bedrock of the plot. Well, that and something about not being greedy for money which I never quit followed.
Oh, one final story! When my friend Dina meet Aamir in person while he was filming Dhoom 3 here, Dina and her mom and like two other young women were all called back to meet him and get autographs by the make-up vans. It wasn’t creepy, they were just the only ones hanging around in the middle of the day on a weekday. Anyway, Aamir was super nice and signed all their autographs and stuff and made small talk and asked what their favorite movie was, and one of the other young women (not Dina) said “Dil is my favorite movie” to which Aamir went “really? Dil? really? Huh.”
Even the man himself knows it is not the greatest film.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
We start with Anupam Kher. He is dreaming of fabulous wealth, that he is in a remote cabin and has money everywhere. And then he wakes up to his same poor house and is grumpy. But his wife and son don’t care. And the audience doesn’t either, his quest for wealth is treated as hilarious and not worthy of respect. Anupam through out this film is not worthy of respect, he is either a comic figure or an evil one. This is why the 90s are so refreshing to visit, now that we are surrounded by films telling us “respect the old upperclass man above all else!!!!”
Aamir goes to college and immediately starts a feud with rich girl Madhuri. It’s not exactly a sexy feud, he doesn’t seem to fall in love with her at first sight or anything, they just really really don’t like each other. He taunts her, she taunts him. They are aware they are a man and woman, they aren’t children, but it’s not romantic. And then they make a bet that if Aamir wins a boxing match, Madhuri will kiss him. She resist and resists, and then at the last minute goes along with it, but Aamir is the one to turn away! Not because he respects her, but because he wants to insult her, show that he doesn’t even care about her kisses.
Yeah, the sexual politics of this film are weird. If I am remembering right, Madhuri and Aamir’s first run in is because she accuses him of eve teasing and he feels he is innocent. There is definitely a strange sort of tension between the “innocent” boy who just wants to harmlessly flirt, and the “touchy” woman who is always accusing him. Which reaches its peak while they are on a school trip to Shimla (always Shimla!). Madhuri misinterprets Aamir entering her room by mistake and accuses him of trying to rape her. Which is bad, that she would overreact like that. But it gets really really bad when Aamir that night kidnaps her and pretends he is actually going to rape her. Before finally letting her go and telling her this is a “lesson” in what rape really looks like so she can fully understand how wrong she was in her false accusation.
I should clarify, he isn’t punishing her, or at least that’s not how the “lesson” is framed. He is teaching her not to minimize the experience of women who really went through this, or falsely accuse someone of something so terrible. Which is also not great, but not great in a different way. He isn’t being aggressive and violent, he is being patronizing, and so is the film. If a girl accuses a boy of misbehavior, she is just overreacting, she doesn’t understand what misbehavior really is, etc. etc. etc. Because only men truly understand what it’s like to be raped? I guess?
Oh, and here’s what I always get distracted by at this point! The place where Aamir stages his faux-rape is the same cabin used in the beginning for Anupam’s fantasy of having lots of money! So, is this tying sex and money fantasies together in the minds of the audience? Or were they just cheap and reused the same location without thinking about it?
It’s probably the second, but it could be the first, because love and money are tied together directly in this film. While Aamir and Madhuri have been having their college war, their fathers Anupam and Saeed Jaffrey have been having their own relationship. Anupam wants to marry his son off to a rich man and get a big dowry. He sees Saeed and starts stalking him and wooing him, pretending to be even richer than he. And again, all of this is treated as humor, Anupam (the father figure) is the butt of jokes. Finally, the fathers arrange for Aamir and Madhuri to meet and it goes terribly, because they are in the middle of their feud. And then they leave for Shimla.
And in Shimla, everything changes. Madhuri falls in love with Aamir after his whole “this is what rape is” lesson that culminates in him pointing out his own nobility in restraining himself from taking advantage of her, especially considering she already accused him. She walks up to him in public and kisses him. Which, for me, helps with the whole “rape” part, the romance starts because a woman aggressively takes the lead. And now they are in love! And return to tell their fathers that they want to be married after all.
Everything is wonderful, except that it comes out at the engagement party that Anupam isn’t actually rich, he was just faking. Saeed is embarrassed and declares their children will never marry. Madhuri and Aamir are torn apart, their pure love destroyed by the greed and pride of their awful fathers. Really, so refreshing having the parents be terrible.
Madhuri and Aamir at first find ways to still be together, including convincing a sentimental police officer to arrest them and throw them in the same cell, but eventually Madhuri is locked in her room by her father who swears he is going to marry her off to someone else.
And we reach the BEST WEDDING SCENE EVER. Other movies have cute bits where the young couple runs away to a temple, or performs a faux-wedding in a romantic setting, but this one makes it a wedding and a rebellion in one. Aamir breaks into Madhuri’s room and, while her father watches through the window unable to do anything, starts a fire, walks around it, cuts his thumb to give her the blessing, and then puts the mangal sutra on her. The best part, as he is about to bless her, he turns and makes eye contact with Saeed in a very “Ha! Suck it!” kind of way. It’s the purest form of wedding as rebellion I have ever seen, and also just the purest form of “wedding” scene, they break the ceremony down to the essentials and yet everyone still respects it. Saeed bursts in, but his mother (Madhuri’s grandmother) stops him from doing anything because Aamir is Madhuri’s husband now. Aamir takes Madhuri to his home and his father turns them away, not because they aren’t really married, but because he is furious at Aamir’s disrespect in getting married without his permission. It’s not just a romantic kiddie thing, everyone in this film respects this purposefully ridiculous wedding ceremony!
That’s what the whole film feels like, delightfully over the top in a way that makes me feel like the filmmakers themselves didn’t take it seriously, and didn’t really expect the audience to either. Aamir and Madhuri run away to the forest and build a house somehow? That’s also ridiculous! And the post-marriage part is somehow more insane than the pre-marriage part of the plot.
(Where does the house come from???? And their clothes????)
Love this film also for the strong 6 act structure. The first half leads up to the marriage, but the second half starts fresh with the new marriage reality. Aamir and Madhuri are living in their magical forest house, everything is sexy and fun, they have their first fight and Aamir doesn’t come home, Madhuri goes searching for him, and they end up closer than ever. Aamir is working at a construction site, Madhuri goes to see him and tell him “I love you”, he takes the lift down from the floor he is working on AND IT CRASHES AND HE ALMOST DIES, which comes out of nowhere. Naturally, because this is a 90s movie, the doctors say they can’t do the “life saving procedures” unless they get paid, Madhuri runs from pillar to post looking for money, finally ending at Anupam’s house. Anupam at first rushes to give the money without thinking twice (a nice humanizing moment), but then has second thoughts, and declares he will only give it if Madhuri gives him her mangalsutra in return. Dun dun DUN!!!!!!! Madhuri, reluctantly, agrees to give it to him and also to never see Aamir again in order to save Aamir’s life.
Sad song!!!! Madhuri is slowly fading away in misery (such is the fate of a wife separated from her husband) and Aamir has turned to drink, now that his life-threatening injuries of just a bit ago have been entirely resolved (such is the fate of a husband without a wife to take care of him). Oh, and Saeed Jaffrey now loves Madhuri and has taken her back into his house, because the plot needed him too and anyway angry-vengeful Saeed was the first half character, this is the second half and a whole different movie. And similarly, Anupam has gone from kind of funny and shallow and silly in the first half to straight up Evil in the second half. Not only did he separate our young lovers, now he wants to marry Aamir off to a mentally damaged young woman, merely for the large dowry. EVIL.
(Okay, he doesn’t recover immediately, he has a little bandaid)
It takes Aamir being brought home seemingly dead, only for them to learn that it was another young man mistaken for him, before Anupam realizes the error of his ways. Of course, Saeed is taking Madhuri to America on an airplane that very night, Aamir must rush to stop her! The friendly romantic cop from the first half reappears and helps!!!! Dramatic airport confrontation! Lovers reunited!!!! HAPPY ENDING.
Really, it’s the most 90s thing ever. In good and bad ways, the nasty college pranks section is a bit hard to take, but the making fun of fathers for being dumb and wrong is delightful. The sexy scenes are super sexy and sizzling, but the fake rape doesn’t feel right. Aamir has foofy hair (the best Aamir), and Madhuri has a perm that is way too big (not my favorite Madhuri). But over all, well well worth watching!