I was dreading reviewing this movie and then I thought “well, what if I just don’t? What if instead, I explain to people why I don’t feel able to review it?”
There’s a way to tell a fictional story that is so similar to general real events that it is sad in a specific way. Devdas is melodramatic sad, about unfulfilled love and so on and so forth. My Name is Khan is a different sad. Yes, these are fictional people and a fictional story. But it is about hate and violence and grief that happens in real life, every day. Not just in general, but in specifics, a specific flavor of hatred and violence that follows and then grief not just for a person, but for how you thought the world used to be, for the wound of love and faith being repaid with ugliness.
Dil Se is like that. Yes, it is a made up story. But it is about two very real things. First, the violence against the women in particular of the Northeast region. And second, the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a female suicide bomber.
I don’t want to look at that ugliness, because I know it would hurt me. That sounds selfish, it’s a truth, it’s a thing that is happening, I should look at it. But I just can’t, I have to protect myself, you know? It’s a self-care issue. If I were to actually click all the links that pop up when I search for “violence against women in northeast India” it would wreck me. And if I were to think more about Thenmozhi Rajatranam and what she must have thought and felt as she killed Rajiv Gandhi and herself and 14 others, that would wreck me too.
Those two real life things are not directly in Dil Se. Our heroine’s experience with rape and violence from soldiers is made-up, not a real story, but it is like so many other stories that are real that it could be true. And the real life assassin was not a woman from the Northeast, but a woman from Sri Lanka, a survivor of that civil war. But she was a young woman who survived violence and gave violence back because she saw no other option in life.
With a film like this that is not-real-but-real, there are two ways to review it. The first is to pretend it is entirely fictional, simply deal with the fictional elements and ignore the “real”. The other is to fully dig into the “real”, to discuss the unspoken and unseen but felt. And with Dil Se, I can’t see reviewing it either way. The film is so fully influenced by the reality surrounding it, the sadness of the heroine, the impossibility of the love story, everything powerful is because of the “real” that is within them, I cannot review it without looking at that area. And at the same time, for my mental health, I cannot be your guide to understanding the “real” that underlays this film.
The one thing I can tell you is that the “Seven Shades of Love” interpretation is a total crock. Sure, that’s a loose framework for the narrative and the songs, but this is not that kind of a love story. I understand why the filmmakers found it judicious to pretend that was the case, but I am not going to insult the film they made by pretending it is the truth. Our hero may be falling in love, but his love matters not at all in the face of what our heroine has survived. That is the message of the film. To put his love journey over her violence journey is to miss half the story.
This is a memory of violence and injustice and never ending pain. To pretend otherwise is to disrespect the real people whose stories it is telling, by not telling them. Among the 14 killed by Thanmozhi Rajaratnam was a 10 year old girl. Another girl killed was only 17. Thanmozhi herself was the same age. I don’t need to click the links to know that young woman that age, and younger, are raped and killed every day in Northeast India.
This movie is a love story about the moment of bliss, the moment of hope in this wretched hopeless world, that love can give you. Love as a road to grace and escape. Love which is beautiful in contrast to the darkness that surrounds it. I cannot review this movie honestly as a beautiful work of art and love, without talking about the darkness, and that is a darkness I am afraid to look at directly.
So instead of reviewing it, I am giving you this discussion space. But the “happy place” rule is still in force, remember I have to read all your comments and, as I said, I cannot deal with this particular film’s real message in any depth. So talk about the performances, talk about your interpretation of the complex interpersonal dynamics, talk big thoughts about what the film is “saying” about masculinity, and the power of the state, and the power of love and all those things. Even fight over which song you think is best, and whether the weird spandaz tube imagery works. But don’t talk about the Tamil Tigers, or the Northeast.