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Dil To Pagal Hai
(Candy floss that may give you a stomach ache)

CAST: Shah Rukh Khan, Karishma Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit, Shaimak Davar.

DIRECTOR: Yash Chopra.

Glide straight into a placid lakeside. Woe betide. A girl, on the cusp of womanhood, is assailed by tumultuous feelings. Rejected in love, she’s consumed by jealousy. Breaking into tears, she flings pebbles at the sky, asking the divine forces, "Why did you do this to me?"

That sensitively etched scene in Yash Chopra’s Dil To Pagal Hai is alone worth the price of a ticket. Add to that a rousing dance showdown, the techno-savvy use of split screens which elevate a song sequence way above the ordinary and some stray moments of charm, and you’re gurgling like a baby treated to candy floss. When it comes to vignettes of tenderness, Chopra is still boss.

So much for the upbeat news. The downside is that, taken in its entirety, this eagerly-awaited romantic musical is a let-down. Quite clearly, your disappointment can be sourced in its half-cooked screenplay and sketchy characterisations (no one appears to have even a hint of a background resume). As disturbingly, myriad plot hooks flutter on in the air like wounded sparrows. For instance, much is made of Ganpati icons which are ultimately left lingering ostensibly on a studio shelf.

Like it or not, the Chopra world now appears to teem with familiar elements which even strike you as cliches - be it a young woman tasting booze for the first time a la Sridevi in Chandni, or Kajol in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, the business about turning around to cast a meaningful look (DDLJ again), a rain-splashed ditty, solo boogies and of course, a sudden flight of fancy to foreign locales, Switzerland being replaced by Germany’s Baaden-Baaden for that token touch of difference.

Hello Chopra saab, what’s going on?.. you often want to yell. Okay, so the glamour and gloss are goody gumdrops, right from the satin-sheeted boudoirs and the hip-hop stage rehearsal rooms to the ultra-cool costumes. But what about the key factor called story-telling? To be sure, the kick - off premise is enticing - the cushy belief that somewhere someone is destined for all of us. Wait for an eternity, if need be, and you’ll discover that alliances of the heart are made in heaven.

However, this simple homily isn’t supported by an adequate or fluidly told narrative. In place of passion, there’s for too much toing-and-froing as an ace director of stage musicals, Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) divides his quality time ever so passively between Pooja (Madhuri Dixit), the woman of his dreams, and Nisha (Karisma Kapoor), the girl who has always adored him as if he were her own teddy bear.

Snag : Pooja is already committed to a wide grin (Akshay Kumar as awkward as ever), who keeps jetting off to foreign shores to conduct some mysterious business. Meanwhile, even if Pooja is deeply in love with Rahul, she holds back, turning her lips away whenever the stage-whiz puckers up for a kiss.

As for the devoted Nisha, either fate intervenes in the form of a fractured foot or a contrived twist of circumstances, despatches her pronto to London, so the other coosome twosome con break into jigaloos on those grassy slopes of hope.

Needless to matter, after several reels of mandatory tears and jeers, the right man wins the right girl as if she were a ready-to-take-home pizza. As for those asides of shopping for gifts on Valentine’s day, gasping at a jolly Jack-in-the-box, Pooja’s take-off on the directorial orders of the theatre director, not to forget the endearing credit titles with an assortment of real-life couples mugging before the camera, well, they’re all cute. But that’s about it.

Positive factors collide against the negative throughout. On the plus side, count Sarmishta Roy’s splendid set designs, Aditya Chopra’s dialogue (lending the much-needed pangs of youthful angst to the proceedings), Uttam Singh’s music score (especially the hummable Are re yeh kya hua) and the pastel-hued cinematography by Manmohan Singh.

The choreography by Shiamak Davar and Farah Khan ranges from the energetic to the appealing. Yet, how you wish it had been breathtakingly exceptional.

Of the cast, once again after Pardes, Shah Rukh Khan appears to have been put on leash, making you miss his usual inventiveness and unbridled zest for dramatic intensity. Like most of Dil To…he’s okay and clinically correct when he could have been extraordinary if permitted to cut loose.

Madhuri Dixit looks gorgeous and delivers a bankably expert performance. Karisma Kapoor is excellent, despite her abbreviated role, breathing fulsome life into the memorable lakeside scene, besides dancing as if she had thunder and lightning in her feet.

That’s it then. Yash Chopra could have given you a knockout of a love story ’97 but appears to be content in confecting just a fairly palatable one - like delicious icing on an oh-so-so cake.

- The Times of India, November 01 1997

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