DISCLAIMER: Mush alert!
Back in the 1990s, the world was not woke enough to have a know of the concept of feminism -- more precisely, equal rights to women -- to grind the imposition of patriarchal notions to shreds. This was also the decade of a grand change -- when the world of Indian cinema moved to films where women had a larger role to play.
When 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' released in 1999, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali was hanging by a thread of hope. His debut directorial 'Khamoshi: The musical' had bombed at the Box Office. And HDDCS was his last resort.
SLB repeated Salman Khan from his previous endeavour and paired him with newbie Aishwarya Rai. Ajay Devgn was also roped in.
SLB has had a knack of presenting stories with a deeper storyline -- in terms of the base he provides to his characters. Salman Khan's Sameer, Aishwarya Rai's Nandini and Ajay Devgn's Vanraj -- all had layers only a director of SLB's finesse could achieve to portray.
While Salman's Sameer was a thandi hawa ka jhonka and could bring the house down with his antics and histrionics, Ajay's Vanraj was a stark contrast -- he was mellower, maturer and a bigger believer in love.
Love -- because that's what HDDCS was all about.
Almost every movie that Sanjay Leela Bhansali has brought to the silver screen vouches for one little fact -- with every droplet of love comes a gallon full of pain. 'Black' can be a exemption to this.
Sameer and Nandini fall in love with each other, but have to part ways due to patriarchal notions that say a girl has to abide by what her father tells her to do.
Nandini gets married to Vanraj, only to unknowingly let him know of her past. Vanraj had already fallen in love with her then, but lets her go. He takes her to a Europe trip to reunite her with Sameer.
Nandini, when finally meets Sameer, realises she doesn't love him anymore and goes back to Vanraj.
As much as there is love in this framework, there is pain in a greater aspect and amount.
Love begets sacrifice for the one you love -- any kind of sacrifice and in any amount needed.
A similar thought -- where there is love, there is vulnerability to pain -- was interwoven in 1983's 'Woh Saat Din', starring Padmini Kolhapure, Naseeruddin Shah and newbie (then) Anil Kapoor.
Kolhapure's Maya spends only seven days with her husband (hence, the name) -- the commitment -- Shah's Anand before he can reunite her with her former flame -- the love -- Kapoor's Prem. But, by the end of the narrative, she cannot let go of the commitment.
There's love and pain in Prem and Sameer's longing, Maya and Nandini's helplessness and Anand and Vanraj's sacrifice.
But at the end of it all, there's the woman who chooses the partner at her own will.
Both Maya and Nandini could have taken the easier route -- of getting back with the love -- or what they assumed to be love.
But they open their heart -- when it was the last thing one could think of doing -- and accept their love towards their commitment.
Maya still had Anand's daughter as one of the goading factors to make the decision. But Nandini's decision wasn't controlled by any motherly feelings. She genuinely fell in love with Vanraj.
One can safely claim the first half of HDDCS belonged to Salman and the second to Ajay, but, in a fair judgement, the thread that connected them was Aishwarya's Nandini.
In the video of the making of the movie, Sanjay Leela Bhansali had recalled the scene where Nandini tries to commit suicide by the pond as one of the most arresting scenes. He said he was stunned to see Aishwarya’s eyes all welled up -- and without even using glycerine.
"I could see Aishwarya had begun to experience Nandini in totality," he explained.
SLB added: "She would listen to the script as nobody till date has heard my script. She was very careful, attentive, sharp and involved."
The song 'Nimbooda' -- primarily, the high point of the story because Vanraj gets besotted with Nandini as she sings and dances to this song -- brings to the fore the effervescence of Aishwarya. She swirls, twirls and flirts with the camera like it had been a long, long career when her debut movie only released in 1997.
With every scene that she features in, Aishwarya's beautiful eyes do all the talking -- sometimes, louder than the National Award winning Ajay Devgn's sentences.
In the course of climax when Nandini realises her love for Vanraj (ably supported by the beautiful title song) -- she tells Sameer: "Tumne mujhe pyaar karna sikhaaya hai, Sameer... Par pyaar nibhaana maine apne pati se seekha hai...", the character takes over Aishwarya and all one can see is Nandini's love -- the love that brings dullops of pain along with it, and wins over commitment.
Nandini runs towards Vanraj, and damn, how beautifully she runs! The urgency, the longing and the beauty -- could anybody do it better than Aishwarya Rai?
This concept of loving, sacrificing and letting go is often repeated, rehashed and reworked on. Anurag Kashyap's 'Manmarziyaan' is, by that measure, a more modern and glorified version of HDDCS.
And as much as Taapsee Pannu's Rumi stands out as the feminist voice in 'Manmarziyaan', HDDCS is all about Nandini, and more than that Aishwarya, who infuses her timeless beauty into a character that stood the risk of falling prey to two strong male characters and even bigger stars.
It's Aishwarya's Nandini -- and it's a totally personal thought -- that inspires Roop of 2019's 'Kalank'. It is so hard to not spot the similarities between HDDCS' 'Man Mohini' and 'Kalank's 'Rajvaadi Odhni' -- their introduction songs.
HDDCS was also known for its music -- by Ismail Darbar. It sort of redefined melody in a decade where pop beats ruled the roost. Practically speaking, HDDCS redefined a lot -- romance in the 1990s, SLB's career path, beauty -- because, Aishwarya Rai, and love.
India TV Recommends 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' for its (re)definition of romance and commitment, SLB's brilliance, Aishwarya Rai's bursting into the picture, 'Nimbooda', and Ismail Darbar's soulful music. And for the joie de vivre of love and pain (they cannot be apart).