‘Dil Se’ Turns 20 Years Old: We Celebrate Bollywood’s Tragic Love Stories

[Photo Source: Eros International]

It’s hard to imagine that it’s been 20 years since Mani Ratnam showed us a complicated romance that ended in death and heartache in “Dil Se.” There are a lot of ways we can celebrate the major anniversary of “Dil Se,” from its incredible songs (Thank you, A.R. Rahman!), to its gorgeous cinematography. But for now, we pay homage to its core: the tragic, complex love story.

Here are some (of the many) tragic love stories to “pre-game” the 20th birthday of “Dil Se.” These are the Bollywood films that left us teary-eyed with a half-eaten samosa in hand and a subscription to Saavn we probably didn’t need.

1. “Mughal-E-Azam” (1960) – Our parent’s “Romeo & Juliet”


We may be celebrating “Dil Se” now, but “Mughal-e-Azam” will forever be the benchmark for Bollywood tragic love stories. K. Asif’s historical drama follows the epic love between Prince Salim and his court dancer, Anarkali, and their battle with Salim’s disapproving father, King Akbar. Akbar refuses their plea to marry and imprisons her to keep them apart. Salim rebels against his father with a physical battle (Anarkali quite literally got a knight in shining armor. You go, girl!).

When he fails, he is sentenced to death UNLESS Anarkali dies in his place (cue suspenseful music *duh duh duhhhh*). Ultimately owing Anarkali’s mother a favor, Akbar frees her under the condition that she is exiled and can never tell Salim that she is still alive. Not only is this film iconic in the production barriers it broke, but themes of love, religion, and history make the tragic ending that much more painful.

2. “Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak” (1988) – The tragic “smooch fest” you didn’t know you needed…

[Photo Source: Screenshot/Nasir Hussain Films]
Considered Bollywood’s first attempt at adapting the classic Romeo and Juliet story, “Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak” is the romantic tragedy that brought Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla into the Bolly-sphere. Raj Singh (Aamir) and Rashmi Rajput (Juhi) are from disputing families (shocking, I know) and when their families disapprove of their love, they run away to the countryside to have a life together.

In a dramatic finale, Rashmi’s dad hires a hitman to hunt down Raj. Except the idiot henchman ends up killing Rashmi. As she breathes for the last time in Raj’s arms, he grabs a dagger and commits suicide. This film captured the innocence of young love in a way that was groundbreaking, even though the story paralleled the Shakespeare classic, and set the stage for all romantic movies in the 1990s. Sidebar: There is A LOT of kissing in this movie.

3. “Devdas” (2002) – A love “-angle” that never quite becomes “tri”


I would be ashamed to call myself a Bollywood fan if I didn’t include Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Devdas” (2002) on this list. When Devdas (played by Shahrukh Khan) returns to India after having spent the past 10 years of his life studying in London, all he wants to do is marry his childhood best friend, Paro (played by Aishwarya Rai). But, because Paro is of a lower class than Devdas, his parents deny them marriage. Paro eventually marries another man against her will and Devdas turns to alcoholism, and it kills him.

The tragedy of the film is truly felt through Shahrukh Khan’s performance; it’s visceral. You feel him drinking away the pain, you feel his body and heart physically hurt, and you see him do everything in his power to forget about Paro, who never stops loving him – it’s truly heartbreaking.

4. “Fanaa” (2006) – She’s blind and he’s a terrorist… What could possibly go wrong?

“Tere dil mein meri saanson ko panaah mil jaye … Tere ishq mein meri jaan fanaa ho jaye.”

Did you just get chills? I know I did.

Kunal Kohli’s “Fanaa” tells the story of a New Dehli tourist guide, Rehan, (Aamir Khan) who falls madly in love with a blind Kashmiri tourist, Zooni (Kajol). On the day of her eye surgery, Rehan is reportedly killed by a terrorist attack and Zooni is never able to see his face. It is later revealed that Rehan was not killed by the attack but was one of its masterminds and is alive. Many years later, fate brings the two back together and when Rehan’s true identity is revealed to her, she is forced to kill him herself. She has to kill him because she loves him (a version of love I hope I never have to go through).

The ultimate validation of their love is seen in the end when Zooni takes their son to visit Rehan’s grave. She doesn’t tell him that he was a terrorist, she tells him that he died fighting for what he believed in.

5. “Guzaarish” (2010) – Hrithik Roshan plays a magician AND it’s on Netflix. What are you waiting for?

Truly one of the most compelling Bollywood films ever made and quite frankly Hrithik’s peak role (yes, we’re on a first-name basis), Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Guzaarish” (2010) narrates the story of a paralyzed magician, Ethan, who files a petition with the Indian high court seeking permission to end his life through euthanasia. Ethan’s petition is ultimately rejected by the court, but that’s not why it’s included on this list.

The love story here is between Ethan and his caretaker Sofia (Aishwarya Rai), whom you question the entire movie because her loyalty to this paralyzed man is baffling. Why does she stick around for so many years? I would think it’s for the money and at one point so does Ethan, but that’s not the case. When his petition is denied, Sofia offers to mercy kill him fully knowing that her fate will be jail – because she loves him and he loves her.

6. “Aashiqui 2” (2013) – A reminder to romantics everywhere to date someone who owns more jackets than umbrellas.

Mohit Suri’s “Aashiqui 2” tells the love story between fallen musician, Rahul (Aditya Roy Kapur) and rising musician Arohi (Shraddha Kapoor) which comes to a tragic end when Rahul’s alcoholism leads him to suicide. Rahul’s suicide is prompted by his undeniable love for Arohi, who puts her singing career on hold to help him fight depression.

In the end, he believes that the only way to help her move forward in life is to end his. When I first watched this movie, I was annoyed. Rahul makes the same mistakes over and over again, and Arohi always puts her life on hold to help him. You just want to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her to leave him. But then it hits you that their love is tragic because there is no conclusion; it’s an infinity sign with no room for growth or a sigh of relief.

[Read Related: Bollywood Throwback: 55 Years Later, ‘Bandini’ is a Pioneering Female-Led Hindi Film]

With “Dil Se” turning 20 years old, you’d think the ingredients for a romantic tragedy would change with the times. But the root of tragedy and the root of love have proven unaffected by time.

Tragic love always requires a massive sacrifice; I don’t think any other film industry has been able to beautifully tell these stories than Bollywood, and “Dil Se” is among the most fascinatingly told.

By Nikitha Menon

Nikitha Menon (Nikki) hails from the obscure and snow-ridden Erie, Pennsylvania and has always had a passion for comedy and … Read more ›

‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra

The Romantics

If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking. 

I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.

— Smriti Mundhra

As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.

In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.

For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.


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A post shared by Smriti Mundhra (@smritimundhra)

At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.

In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.

By Nida Hasan

Managing Editor at Brown Girl Magazine, Nida has worked and written for several publications in a journalism career spanning almost … Read more ›

Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi on ‘Ghoomer’

“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.

“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.

[Read Related: 5 Tidbits About Bollywood Royalty Abhishek Bachchan For His 41st Birthday!]

Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.

And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.

Take a look!

The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global. 

By Sandeep Panesar

Sandeep Panesar is an editor, and freelance writer, based out of Toronto. She enjoys everything from the holiday season to … Read more ›

‘Thank You For Coming’ Unapologetically Begs the Answer to a Very Important Question

It’s never a dull moment with your girl gang; some shots and conversations about sex, right? If you agree, you’re in for a treat with Karan Boolani’s directorial venture, “Thank You For Coming,” which had its world premiere at the 48th annual Toronto International Film Festival. This coming-of-age story unapologetically begs the answer to a very important question: Why should women be left high and dry in bed?


Kanika Kapoor (Bhumi Pednekar) is a successful, 32-year-old, Delhi food blogger who makes a huge revelation on her 30th birthday: She’s never experienced an orgasm. This dirty little secret (no pun intended!) has now become detrimental to her self-esteem. She feels so down and out that she even accepts the proposal of a very boring suitor, Jeevan-ji (Pradhuman Singh Mall).

[Read Related: Meet Fashion Blogger and Media Star Dolly Singh]

Thank You For Coming

But, it’s not like she hasn’t tried. Kanika’s been a monogamist since her teenage years, starting with puppy love in high school — unfortunately, their sexual endeavors coined her as “thandi” (cold) by her first boyfriend — all the way to dating in her adulthood. But, regardless of how great any relationship was, nobody had her achieve the big O. All until the night of her engagement with Jeevan, when the drunk bride-to-be leaves the party for her hotel room and gets into bed. What follows is her very first orgasm. Ghungroo, finally, tute gaye! But, with whom?

The morning after, an initially-satisfied Kanika works herself into a frenzy of confusion and frustration as she makes her way through the list of potential men who could’ve been in her room the night before.

Thank You For Coming

Was it one of her exes? She’d simply invited them to come to wish her well.

Was it her fiance?

Or, God forbid, was it actually the rabdi-wala (ice cream man)?

Boolani takes a straight-forward and on-the-nose approach to drive the point home. There are no cutting corners, no mincing words, and no hovering over “taboo topics.” The dialogue is raunchy, the characters are horny, and no one is apologetic. It’s important for a film like “Thank You For Coming” to be so in-your-face because the subject of women achieving orgasms can’t really be presented in any other way. Anything more conservative in the narrative would feel like the makers are being mindful of addressing something prohibited. And there is no room for taboos here.

But, there is room for a more open conversation on the reasons why many women feel the need to suppress their sexual needs in bed; how generally, women have been brought up to be the more desirable gender and hence not cross certain boundaries that would make them appear too brash. The fight for the right of female pleasure would have been a little more effective if the modesty around the topic was addressed. But, that doesn’t mean that the point is remiss.

The plot moves swiftly along, never lulling too long over everything that seems to be going wrong in Kanika’s life. “Thank You For Coming” is full of all the right tropes that belong in a comedic, masala film, too; the direction very seamlessly takes classic fixings like the abhorrent admirer (enter Jeevan-ji) and effectively plugs them into this contemporary feature that will remain perpetually relevant.

Thank You For Coming

And now, let’s come to the star of the show: the well-rounded characters.

Producer Rhea Kapoor has mastered the formula of a good chick flick and her casting is the magic touch. She’s got a knack for bringing together the right actors — cue, “Veere Di Wedding.” So, just when we think that it doesn’t get better than the veere, Kapoor surprises us with a refreshing trio — they’re modern, they’re rebellious, and they say it like it is. Thank you, Dolly Singh (Pallavi Khanna) and Shibani Bedi (Tina Das) for being the yin to Kanika’s yang — and for the bag full of sex toys your homegirl oh-so needed!

To complete Kanika’s story, we have her single mother, Miss. Kapoor, brilliantly portrayed by Natasha Rastogi. She is the face of a headstrong and self-assured matriarch and a symbol of the modern-day Indian woman. Rastogi’s character exemplifies the fact that with access to education, and a stable career, women do not need to mold their lives around men.

I love the fact that Miss. Kapoor is almost villainized by her own mother (played by Dolly Ahluwalia) in the film because she had a child out of wedlock in her yesteryears, she chooses to remain single, and she brings her boyfriends around the house to hang out with. But, there’s a point to be made here. The fact that Kanika’s mother is being antagonized just highlights that she is challenging the norms and pushing the envelope for what is socially acceptable for women. Miss. Kapoor definitely deserves an honorable mention.

Pednekar’s unexpected yet impeccable comic timing is the highlight of the entire film. Everything from being a damsel in sexual distress to a woman who unabashedly chases self-pleasure, Pednekar puts on a genuinely entertaining act for the audience. From being portrayed as a high-schooler to the 32-year-old, independent woman, Pednekar is fit for each role. Her naivety as a teen wins you over, as does her gusto as a full-blown adult with a broken ankle and some very messy relationships. This also speaks volumes about the versatility of her looks.

And, of course, Pednekar is not new to films that address social topics, but “Thank You For Coming” challenges her to balance Kanika’s droll with the responsibility of delivering a very important message to the viewers. Mission accomplished, Ms. Pednekar!

Thank You For Coming

“Thank You For Coming” is a through-and-through entertainer. Everything from the casting — a huge shout out to the rest of the supporting cast including Anil Kapoor, Shehnaaz Gill, Karan Kundra, Kusha Kapila, Gautmik, and Sushant Divkigar, without whom this roller coaster would have lacked the thrills — to the homey locations and even the glitz and glamor in the song sequences, they’re all perfect pieces to help drive home a powerful message: Smash patriarchy!

All images in this article are courtesy of TIFF.

By Sandeep Panesar

Sandeep Panesar is an editor, and freelance writer, based out of Toronto. She enjoys everything from the holiday season to … Read more ›