When a filmmaker’s debut as a director is hailed as a cult, it not only makes him one of the most promising voices in the Hindi Cinema but also hangs an albatross around his neck of its name. Farhan Akhtar is that filmmaker and Dil Chahta Hai is that albatross. Even in the case of Ashutosh Gowariker. Lagaan was his third and finest film, and when Swades happened, people wanted to see another Lagaan, but it wasn’t, and perhaps that’s why it didn’t do the numbers the team expected.
The same holds true for Akhtar’s second film, Lakshya, which released in the same year as Swades, 2004. The only time Dil Chahta Hai and Lakshya seemed similar was the way Akhtar handled the characters. Hrithik Roshan, who played Karan Shergill, echoed the demeanour of Sameer from Dil Chahta Hai, both were amusing to the T, brimming with comical identities. But Lakshya was a story of one man and his journey from his bed to the battlefield. This is where it went completely apart from Akhtar’s debut as a director.
Lakshya wasn’t just a film about a man and his transformation, it wasn’t a film about war, it raised a lot of questions and answered them along. We first meet Roshan as Lt. Karan Shergill, but 20 minutes into the film, we go into flashback mode and meet someone one could never imagine could be in the Indian Army. The expressions on his face, his body language, his style of communication, everything suggests he’s nothing but an inert individual. And Roshan pulls of the nuances perfectly.
His life is sans aims and ambitions, he’s happy getting a Jurassic Park DVD couriered to him and asking his help to switch on the geyser every morning, in fact, he has the same expressions while he’s asleep. These are very real montages that may unfold in many households even today. Who would have thought there was a fantastic comic hidden inside Bollywood’s Greek God?
Karan might be a character driven by lethargy and laziness, he’s a terrific dancer and a very fluid one. In an imaginary song sequence that still remains one of the most imaginative ones, we get the highly contagious Main Aisa Kyun Hoon song where we see his struggles with himself. Unforgettably choreographed by Prabhudheva, only Roshan seems to be the actor to pull the complex steps with ease. Who would have thought someone could ponder on his being with such a unique vision?
He joins the Indian Army not because he feels his country needs him, because his friend does. He runs away after a series of swollen experiences, and this results in his love Romi (Preity Zinta) walking out of his life. This is where his transformation begins. The slacker is done and dusted and a new Karan is born. He goes back to where he ran away from, again, not because of his love for his country but his love for Romi. Who would have thought we would see a Hindi film hero joining the Army for his girlfriend and not for his Motherland?
Lakshya has a terrific interval point. Karan Shergill, who now is Lt. Karan Shergill, has found his Lakshya- Peak 5179, which has been captured by a bunch of intruders from the neighbouring nation. He gazes at the peak and what follows is a close up of his face, which suggests he knows what his aim is now, and the film breaks into intermission.
The second half of the film could have been a separate film on the Indian Army, it’s soldiers, their personal demons, losses, and their moments of mirth and glory. There was an inevitable song that had all the soldiers singing a song and celebrating the hope of triumph and also remembering their wives at home. It’s a lovely stretch and composed fantastically by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. Another lovely thing about the film is the way Akhtar treats the material and the characters.
There’s a moving scene between Roshan and the inimitable Om Puri. Roshan asks him why do wars happen, he says humans are driven by greed. “Chand Dharti pe hota to Yeh uske bhi tukde kar dete,” he declares but in a very hushed tone. It’s a whistle-worthy dialogue but the way Puri says it, you cannot help but feel a little moist. Who would have thought we would see a Hindi film where restraint would drive such clap-trap lines?
Another moving scene is a telephonic conversation between Karan and his father (Boman Irani). He says his mother is not at home, Karan says he has made this call to him. Filmmakers usually reserve the emotional scenes for mothers, but Akhtar’s idea is a little different. We finally sense Irani’s character isn’t as stoic and stern as he was made out to be. Who would have thought a father-son relationship could be as tender and tear-jerker as that of a mother-son?
But the best scene of Lakshya was arguably the one where a soldier explodes at Romi, now a journalist reporting from the LOC, when she asks why do wars happen. Her thoughts come across more off as rants that happen daily on social media today. The said soldier explains how they are the ones sacrificing their lives for the nation. She stands quiet, and he too stands silent the next moment. He has just lost his friend, and the anger is justified. Who would have thought Akhtar was a visionary who would reflect how things function in India today all the way back in 2004?
By the time Lakshya reaches its climax, Karan has lost all his soldiers and friends and has to place the Indian Flag at the peak all by himself, and he does. It’s a heroic and an emotional moment for him and the audience. And before the end credits roll, we see Romi and him embracing each other forever.
Who would have thought someone would make a war film that would be a lot more than just about war?