हम दिल दे चुके सनम
This is grand-scale Bollywood romance, starring Aishwarya Rai and goofball cutie Salman Khan, is recommended for a rainy afternoon’s lush fantasy. It addresses the conflict between duty and desire, a theme that is often explored to very moving effect in Hindi cinema. The plot is on the thin and predictable side, but Hum dil de chuke sanam ("My dear, I have already given my heart away") makes up for it amply with three hours of the kind of generous helping of color and chime that only Bollywood can deliver.
Nandini (Aishwarya), the beloved daughter of a famous musician, has led a sequestered and sheltered life in her father's palatial desert mansion, but she is a big dreamer with a romantic streak. When Sameer (Salman Khan) arrives from Italy to study with the master, his fresh, handsome charm shakes up the entire household - but it's Nandini who catches his eye. Their romance takes off quickly, if secretly, but Nandini's father arranges her marriage to Vanraj (Ajay Devgan) and, upon learning of her dalliance with Sameer, exiles him from the house. Sameer returns to Europe; Nandini goes through with the marriage, but she is such a miserable mess that Vanraj takes her to Europe to help her reuinte with her love. Ultimately Nandini will have to choose - the sizzle of romance or the steady hand of family-approved marriage?
Hum dil de chuke sanam's look at the nature of love, and its comparison of youthful infatuation against the enduring partnership of marriage, is not groundbreaking, and yet its appeal in a culture where many marriages are arranged is fully understandable. Vanraj is more patient with Nandini's moping and pining than most mere human men could ever be; she is fortunate that her choice comes down to the adorable passionate Sameer with whom sparks fly on the one hand, and a gentle, even-keeled saint of a husband on the other. That Vanraj is presented as so miraculously tender makes the film's message unmistakably clear; how bad can respecting one's duty really be, if the prize for listening to your parents is a husband like Vanraj?
Story aside, the bulk of the film's entertainment value - and it has quite a bit - resides in the charm of its characters, the beautiful sun-drenched scenery, and, of course, the naach-gaana. Hum dil de chuke sanam features some of the most delightful song and dance I’ve seen in a Bollywood film – sometimes even as good as the song in dance in the otherwise weak Devdas, which (not coincidentally) had the same director and composer (Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Ismail Darbar, respectively). Here’s a YouTube link to one of Hum dil de chuke sanam's delightful songs, "Dholi taro dhol baje". Another popular number from this film, "Nimbooda," is a little on the manic side, but it's still enjoyable, and it showcases Aishwarya's impressive technical skill as a dancer (though I hate her makeup).
Despite the opulence of the sets and costumes, the production of Hum dil de chuke sanam cuts costs in some classic Bollywood ways – the second half of the film, which is supposed to take place in Italy, was filmed in Budapest, and there’s nothing remotely Italian about the setting or the extras who wander about speaking Hungarian. But none of that matters - Hum dil de chuke sanam is a fine package in which to enjoy the all the outrageously good-looking actors, melodramatic romance, and decadent set pieces that modern Bollywood has to offer.