Monday, October 02, 2006

The Heart Desires, in Sydney

It has been about five years since I first watched Dil Chahta Hai. The movie, its literal meaning is The heart desires, broke new grounds in storytelling, production techniques and the subject matter. There are hundreds of Bollywood movies on love, this is the first one on friendship — a very special person recommended the movie to me thus. Compare the way Aamir’s character introduces the song in the graduation party in this movie with the way it was done in his first hit — there are few better illustrations of how dramatically urban India has changed since the late 1980s.

And then there was the way the movie depicted phoren.

Years before he romanced a blind Kashmiri girl and a Gori filmmaker in Delhi, Aamir Khan explored Sydney with a Desi girl, discovering his own feelings along the way in this movie. And this wasn’t done by swinging to bhangra beats in ‘Indian night clubs’ or ‘college campuses’ where only Desi kids are seen. In fact, most of the Sydney scenes in the movie are very realistic — I speak from personal experience. And it really was shot in Sydney (unlike, say, the Aishwarya-starrer where Italian scenes are shot in Hungary). That this is about the best silver screen depiction of Sydney, a city I am immensely fond of, is just a bonus. I recently traced these Sydney scenes, and I describe them below.

We begin with Aakash’s (Khan’s character) apartment. This appears to be in North Sydney — the city skyline as shown in Tanhayee (the sad song) is only visible from somewhere north of the Harbor Bridge. His office is also in North Sydney. From the way the Bridge is shown, it seems that one needs to take a left-turn after crossing the bridge to get to the office. Alternatively, one could probably take the train to Milson’s Point or North Sydney.

Where is the theatre where our hero and his heroine watch the ‘serious movie’ that sets off the song Jaane kyun? It is very likely to be the Greater Union complex in Mosman.

The song itself shows a number of places. The first scene, by the lagoon with boats, is in The Spit Bridge on the way to Manly. Not too far from the Mosman cinemas, there’s a great seafood restaurant there, though this is not shown in the movie. From there, the couple takes the monorail — this is something only visitors to the city do, and all visitors, time-permitting, do it. From there, they walk down Hyde Park — a summer walk in the park, many Sydneysiders will relate to this scene. Most Sydneysiders will not have taken the helicopter ride, again something for the visitors. After their chopper ride, the couple is shown returning to North Sydney, on foot, over the Bridge. This is, perhaps, the only unlikely Sydney scene in the movie — The Harbour Bridge just is not a fun walk, not when a train noisily passes you. Our couple is in a North Sydney pier after crossing the bridge, and the song ends in a Mosman seashore.

Between the songs, the couple’s relationship advances through a trip to the Lunar Park. The couple gets separated in the Olympic Park rail station. Aakash discovers his feeling at an opera. They, however, do not watch the opera at the Opera House. After the show, things turn serious, and we move to Tanhayee, the sad song.

The song begins as Aakash says good bye to Shalini (Preity Zeinta). We are shown that he is in a cab in a tunnel. Assuming that Aakash is returning home, in North Sydney, it is reasonable to guess that Shalini’s uncle’s place is somewhere south of the bridge — eastern suburbs perhaps? After Shalini has left, Aakash is shown wandering around: in Martin Place, the financial heart of the city; Milson’s Point rail station; in the pedestrian tunnel under the Central Station; the Rocks (you can see the Bridge on his left); the Market Street Mall; the cafĂ© in front of the Opera House (I have spent many a lonely afternoon myself in that place); the Waverly Cemetery (while a beautiful place, how would he know about it — may be he discovered it with Shalini?); the botanical garden; the eastern suburbs (he is shown jogging, why would he do it so far from his apartment though — maybe because it is close to Shalini’s uncle’s place?); and as the song ends, crossing the Bridge, alone.

Dear reader, you probably have guessed that I have watched the movie many times. If you haven’t, do so right away. You won’t regret it.