Bollywood’s biggest blockbuster hit of 2004; Stephen Horne reviews Yash Chopra’s disappointing film on Yash Raj Films’ disappointing 2-disc DVD set.
Squadron Leader Veer Pratap Singh (Shah Rukh Khan) is a helicopter pilot with the Indian Air Force. During a mission to rescue survivors from a bus accident, he saves the life of a Pakistani girl, Zaara Hayat Khan (Preity Zinta), who has travelled to India to spread her Indian surrogate mother’s ashes. The two share an instant attraction to one another and spend the next day in each other’s company, visiting Veer’s aunt and uncle (Hema Malini and Amitabh Bachchan) at their Punjabi village. As Veer sees her off at the train station to start her journey back home, Zaara breaks the news that she is engaged to be married to a powerful man back in Pakistan just as Veer himself is about to declare his love for Zaara.
Veer travels to Pakistan in an attempt to win back his love, but upon seeing the damage he would cause to the honour and public reputation of Zaara and her husband-to-be by breaking up their high-profile marriage, he backs off and heads home for India. However, as he waits in line for his bus ride, he is stopped by the police under orders from Zaara’s fiancé and blackmailed into signing a document stating that he is an Indian spy. Veer is thrown into a dingy prison cell where he remains for 22 years until a young lawyer, Saamiya Siddiqui (Rani Mukherji), pays him a visit and vows to prove his innocence and reunite him with his Zaara.
Directed by legendary 72 year-old veteran Yash Chopra and written by his son Aditya Chopra, Veer-Zaara is a Hindi musical with a tale as old as the hills. Both father and son are known for making old-fashioned storytelling seem novel again with modern ideas and youthful music. Chopra Senior’s previous directorial venture, 1997’s Dil To Pagal Hai (‘The Heart is Crazy’), was a traditional triangle romance bursting with energy and freshness while Chopra Junior’s first film, 1995’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (‘Brave-heart Will Win The Bride’), shattered NRI (non-resident Indian) stereotypes while telling a standard love story. Veer-Zaara continues the Chopra tradition of putting forth new ideals – in this case, the current popular trend of friendly relations between India and Pakistan. Beyond that, though, the film fails to captivate and must be considered one of Bollywood’s biggest disappointments of 2004 despite also being the year’s biggest smash hit.
The movie’s main problem lies within its script. Aditya Chopra, who created such likeable and human characters in his debut, here has written such long, laborious and arty dialogue for his actors that they end up portraying people that seem anything but real human beings. Veer and Zaara’s tragic love story seems phoney and manipulative in its attempt to extract emotion from the audience. The two are portrayed as being so perfect and lovely (Rani Mukherji’s character at one point compares them to gods) that it paradoxically becomes hard to empathise with their plight. It doesn’t help that the build-up to their relationship is undefined with too few intimate scenes and actually seems like a bad copy of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge at times. But whereas ‘DDLJ’ was subtle and light-hearted, Veer-Zaara is overly theatrical and excessive.
Much of the performances in the film are also nothing to shout about. Shah Rukh Khan recently stated in an interview that he now sleepwalks through romantic roles, and that is exactly what his performance here is. He neither displays too much of his trademark hamming (as seen in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Kal Ho Naa Ho) nor is he sincere and restrained (as he was in Dil Se and Swades). It’s simply an average job from Bollywood’s number one star. Preity Zinta, despite questionable talent, has bafflingly become Hindi cinema’s most sought-after actress in recent years. She does nothing to further justify this in Veer-Zaara as her performance is devoid of warmth and merely a succession of blank stares. There’s little or no much-needed chemistry to be found between Zinta and Khan, who normally gels so well with his on-screen partners.
The supporting cast fare better than the leading pair. Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini, despite making short, publicity-seeking special appearances, make a lasting impression during their brief screen time and add some sorely needed comedy to the film. Rani Mukherji gives, by far, the best performance in the film. Rising above her equally ludicrous lines, she gives it her all and succeeds in making her material seem convincing and better than it really is. Her all-too-brief jail scenes with Shah Rukh Khan offer the only truly compelling and intimate moments in the movie (hampered only by a dodgy ageing make-up effect for Shah Rukh). Veer-Zaara would surely be a poorer movie without Rani’s presence, but after seven years of consistently excellent performances, India’s best and most underrated actress deserves better.
Veer-Zaara is by no means an awful film, just not the ‘Love Legend’ it was hyped as being. It’s easy to dwell on its many flaws and forget that it also features numerous enjoyable aspects. It is definitely to be commended on its refreshing portrayal of peaceful relations between India and Pakistan and tolerance among religions. After a plethora of anti-Pakistan war movies churned out by Bollywood after 1999, it’s nice to finally see no stereotypes or jingoism on display here. Technically, Veer-Zaara is also very pleasing to the eye with bright colours and gorgeous sets and scenery aplenty with the usual sweeping camera movements found in big-budget Hindi musicals. The music, recreated from unfinished compositions by the late composer Madan Mohan, features the odd forgettable tune, but is mostly very beautiful and works superbly within the movie. In particular, the dreamy opening sequence ‘Kyon Hawa Aaj Yun Gaa Rahi Hai’ (‘Why is the Breeze Singing Today?’), the gorgeously picturized ‘Aisa Des Hai Mera’ (‘This is My Land’) and the closing number ‘Tere Liye’ (‘For Your Sake’), which uses well-placed special effects to provide the film’s only moving scene between Veer and Zaara.
In the months since its release in November 2004, Veer-Zaara has become one of the highest-grossing Indian movies ever made and continues to pack ’em in inside cinemas across the world. Newcomers to Bollywood are also likely to enjoy the film since its unoriginality won’t seem so apparent. Still, I’m clearly among the minority of viewers whose expectations weren’t met. For me, the film remains a let-down considering the number of talented people involved and while it includes many of the elements that make the best Hindi films so enjoyable, what it ultimately lacks is a soul.
The video for this DVD release from Yash Raj Films is something of a mess. The source is taken from an interlaced PAL to NTSC conversion and presented in an incorrectly framed anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio of 2.22:1 (stretched from 2.35:1, making the actors appear skinny). There is a large amount of aliasing and edge enhancement present as well as a fair bit of dirt, grain and MPEG compression problems. Colour and contrast rendition is well done for the most part, but this hardly makes up for such a shoddy DVD transfer.
The Hindi Dolby Digital 5.1 track on offer is clear and packs a punch, sounding very nice indeed when played back through the proper equipment. The only problem to report is that the audio has been pitch-corrected and so occasionally sounds slightly garbled, but this is never distracting.
Around an hour and a half’s worth of mostly unexciting extras are included on a second disc:
A 30-minute behind-the-scenes look at the recording of the film’s music with comments from Bollywood’s top playback singers including 75 year-old Lata Mangeshkar, Indian cinema’s most famous voice heard on over 25,000 songs.
Director Yash Chopra sits down for a chat about the movie with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai director Karan Johar in a 20-minute piece. Chopra spends most of the interview praising his cast and crew, but does give away a few interesting tidbits.
A half-hour highlight package of Veer-Zaara’s premiere with red carpet comments from just about every living Bollywood star, past and present – all gushing with compliments of course.
The theatrical trailer and seven TV promos/teasers for the film and its soundtrack, which actually feature better video quality than the main feature.
Four short, incidental deleted scenes as well as the song ‘Yeh Hum Aa Gaye Hain Kahaan’ (‘Where Have We Arrived?’), which was edited from final cut of the movie.
Subtitles are provided for the film in English, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, Dutch, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati and Bengali. Only the deleted scenes and song on the special features disc are subtitled in English, however, leaving non-Hindi speakers in the dark for the rest – although a mixture of Hindi and English is often used. The English subtitles are translated well for the most part with just the odd punctuation error on occasion.
My own opinions of the film aside, Yash Raj Films have definitely done an injustice to the many fans of Veer-Zaara with this second-rate, over-priced DVD set. One would think that with all the money the corporation has made from the movie, it would invest some of it back into producing a high quality disc to raise the standard of Indian DVDs, but nope. Until the rights expire, this unfortunately looks to be the only option on DVD for Veer-Zaara.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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