Amarkant Varma (Shahrukh Khan) is a program executive for All India Radio, dispatched from New Delhi to cover festivities in Assam. On his way there, he meets a mysterious woman whose beauty intrigues him. She ignores his attempts at conversation and he sees her board the next train with three men.
Later, Amar spots the same woman in Haflong. He again attempts to talk to her but she says she cannot recall meeting him before. As part of his news assignment covering 50 years of India's independence, Amar interviews an extremist leader, who claims that the reason behind human rights violations and poverty in the region is due to the Indian government. A few weeks later, Amar describes his encounter with the woman over the radio, which she hears. He again spots her at a post office. He follows her and tells her that he is in love with her. She tells Amar she is married. Amar wishes to apologize, but she arrives with two men who beat him unconscious.
Amar learns that she lied about being married. He reaches her home, and learns that she left. He bribes the PCO owner at the post office into giving him her contact information, and learns that she is telephoning to Ladakh. He travels to Leh, and while recording the Sindhu Darshan Festival, a suicide bomber is chased to death by the military. Amar spots the woman again, boarding a bus. While he tells the military that he is reporting on the festival, the woman uses Amar to her advantage, telling the military that he is her husband.
The bus breaks down and the passengers are required to walk to the nearby village. Amar forces the woman to reveal her name: Meghna (Manisha Koirala). The two travel together, but the next day, Amar wakes to find Meghna gone (It is later revealed that Meghna is part of the Liberationists group, which plans multiple suicide attacks in New Delhi at the upcoming Republic Day celebration).
Amar returns home to Delhi, where his family has found a potential bride for him in Preeti Nair (Preity Zinta). Amar agrees to marry Preeti because he does not hope to meet Meghna again. On his date with Preeti, he spots one of Meghna's associates, Kim. Amar chases him down to Connaught Place, where the man runs into police and kills himself with cyanide. The police relinquish the situation to the CBI. Meghna is also in Delhi, and requests Amar to help her get employment at Amar's office. (Meghna actually stays with Amar to escape from the CBI operation). Based on eyewitness claims, Amar is now a suspect of the CBI. Amar questions Meghna's motives, and she reveals to Amar that her name is actually Moina. As a child, she had been a rape victim of the army and seeks liberation through her suicide attack on them.
Amar is again assaulted by Moina's associate and the terrorists. As he fights back, the terrorists receive a call from Moina. Amar grabs the phone and pleads with Moina to stop all this and marry him. Moina says it is too late, and presumes Amar is being killed. The CBI misconstrue that Amar is part of the terrorist group and arrest him when he comes home. They reject his claims of innocence and sedate him. The next day, Moina is ready for the suicide attack. Amar escapes from the CBI and tries to hold her back, expressing his love, and pleading her to live with him. As they embrace, the explosive vest Moina wears explodes, killing them both.
Sameer Chanda, and Wasiq Khan were the production and art designers for the film. The principal photography took place in Himachal Pradesh, Leh, Assam, New Delhi, Kerala, and Bhutan over a period of 55 days. Tigmanshu Dhulia was the casting director. Pia Benegal and Manish Malhotra were the costume designers, Simran Bagga was Mani Rathnam's first choice for the role that Preity Zinta eventually accepted. The song "Chaiyya Chaiyya" was shot between Malaika Arora and Shah Rukh Khan on top of the Nilgiri Express, en route Ooty, Coonoor and Kotagiri, the train is particularly painted in brown for the song sequence. The travelling scenes, other crucial scenes were shot between Manisha Koirala and Shah Rukh Khan near Alchi Monastery, during the Sindhu Darshan Festival in Leh. The longest song of the film "Satrangi Re" with the lead pair was shot near Thikse Monastery, the mystical Basgo Monastery ruins, and Pangong lake near Pangong Tso in Ladakh. The song "Jiya Jale" was shot between Priety Zinta and Shah Rukh Khan near Athirappilly Falls, Alappuzha backwaters, Periyar National Park, and Periyar Lake in Kerala. Several action sequences in the film choreographed by Allan Amin were shot near Connaught Place, New Delhi, Rajpath and Old Delhi.
Dil Se is said to be a journey through the 7 shades of love that are defined in ancient Arabic literature. Those shades are defined as attraction, infatuation, love, reverence, worship, obsession, and death. The character played by Shahrukh Khan passes through each shade during the course of the film. Authors Sangita Gopal and Sujata Moorti of Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance also compared Khan's romance in the film to the trajectory of love in ancient Arabic literature, believing the lyrics in two of the songs to have delivered an "apocalyptic fatalism".
The film is a dramatisation of the attraction between a character from the heart of India and another from a peripheral state and a representation of opposites in the eyes of the law and society. Dil Se is described as a film "structured through deferment and unfulfilled teasing promises." Rediff.com said about the film, "The entire feel of the film is appropriately poetic, with a few romantic exchanges standing out quite memorably. Tigmanshu Dhulia has handled the film's dialogues adroitly. Amid moonlit desert dunes, there is a particularly stirring conversation between the leading pair. Amar reveals his hate for Meghna's eyes -- because he can't see the world hidden behind them and his love for the same, stunning eyes -- because he can't see the world hidden behind them."
Elleke Boehmer and Stephen Morton in their book Terror and the postcolonial (2009) believe that the songs and their exotic locations in the film were very important in masking the impossible reconciliation between a terrorist and an uptight government agent by evoking pure fantasy. They argue that this is a phenomenon called the "liminal space of dreaming" in that the terrorist woman cannot fulfill her sexual desire so the songs fill the void of this desire by "their sumptuousness and exotic locales" in the Ladakh region.
Release and reception
Though Dil Se received a bad response in India, it found success overseas. It was screened at the Era New Horizons Film Festival and the Helsinki International Film Festival The film went on to win the Netpac Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, two National Film Awards, and six Filmfare Awards. The intense political agenda of the film with the trials of the Assamese on the India-China border, the love story and the fact that it coincided with the 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations became a major factor for its success overseas, particularly amongst the South Asian diaspora in the west.
The film became the first Indian film to enter the top 10 in the United Kingdom box office charts. Even two months after its release in September 1998 the film was still screened on five screens, five times per day with an average of 3000 spectators a day for each screen alone in the 14-screen Cineworld complex in Feltham, West London. Deepa Deosthalee wrote a positive review to the film, calling it "A picture perfect ode to love" and praising the direction, writing and performances.
The film has won the following awards:
1999 Berlin International Film Festival (Germany)Netpac Award - Special Mention - Mani Ratnam
1999 National Film Awards (India)Silver Lotus Award - Cinematography - Santosh SivanSilver Lotus Award - Best Audiography - H. Sridhar
1999 Filmfare Awards (India)Best Female Debut - Preity ZintaBest Music Director - A. R. RahmanBest Lyricist - Gulzar for "Chaiyya Chaiyya"Best Male Playback - Sukhwinder Singh for "Chaiyya Chaiyya"Best Cinematographer - Santosh SivanBest Choreography - Farah Khan for "Chaiyya Chaiyya"Nominated- Filmfare Best Actress Award - Manisha Koirala
1999 Star Screen Awards (India)Best Male Playback - Sukhwinder Singh for "Chaiyya Chaiyya"
The soundtrack features 6 songs composed by A. R. Rahman. Raja Sen of Rediff called it, "Rahman's finest soundtrack, by far." The song "Chaiyya Chaiyya" became especially popular, and was featured as one of the top 10 songs of all-time in an international poll conducted by BBC World Service. The song has been featured in the film Inside Man, in the musical Bombay Dreams, and in the television shows Smith and CSI: Miami. This soundtrack is described as a landmark album in Indian music, with each and every song becoming a colossal hit.
The soundtrack was recorded in several other languages. The Tamil version of the track "Chaiyya Chaiyya", entitled "Thaiyya Thaiyya", was sung by Palghat Sriram, although Sukhwinder Singh, who sang the Hindi version was credited as the singer. Malayalam lyrics for the song "Jiya Jale" were penned by Gireesh Puthenchery while the Punjabi part of "Thayya Thayya" was penned by Tejpaul Kour.
Pink Floyd bass guitarist Guy Pratt for post Roger Waters albums Delicate Sound of Thunder, The Division Bell and Pulse played bass on title song Dil Se Re.
The background score was also very much appreciated and said to have contributed largely to the film.
Hindi (Dil Se)
All lyrics written by Gulzar; all music composed by A. R. Rahman.
All lyrics written by Vairamuthu; all music composed by A. R. Rahman.
All lyrics written by Sitarama Sastry; all music composed by A. R. Rahman.