Dir. Yash Chopra
Watching this movie made me think about the not-so-fine line between courtship and stalking. Hindi films have, frustratingly, blurred that line for decades. Occasionally, a film comes along that attempts to explore it artfully. Raanjhanaa is one such; it utterly failed for me, but it arguably did attempt to do say something about the boundary where courtship ends and stalking begins.
Darr doesn't explore this boundary. It doesn't even acknowledge that it resides in a vast industry of films that sometimes have trouble telling the difference. Instead it blows right through the boundary, leaving it so far behind in the dust that there is never any question whether anything it portrays should be interpreted as romantic.
Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) occupies a deeply creepy, dangerous, and psychopathic territory. He is not a superficially or initially charming man shown to turn dangerous upon rejection. Rather, it is clear from the film's earliest scenes, in which he carries on spirited telephone conversations with his dead mother, that he operates at a disconnect from reality. Not a shred of subtlety in Rahul's conduct disturbs Darr's smooth sheen of bombast. There is no gaslighting, no insidiousness. The crazy is obvious. Kiran (Juhi Chawla) is its blameless, helpless victim.
I can see why fans of Shah Rukh Khan might enjoy Darr. In it, he dials his hamming to a different frequency, in which the famous quivering lip produces the name "K-K-K-Kiran" rather than a hero's declaration of romance. In that way Rahul is more interesting than Khan's villainous character in Anjaam, who, until he actually turns murderer, is almost indistinguishable from other SRK heroes of that era - arrogant, smarmy, entitled. Rahul is broken, has been broken for years by the premature loss of his mother; it's not clear whether his status as college weirdo is a cause or an effect of the pathology that makes him stalk Kiran.
But other than this interesting, if stereotyped, portrayal of a man on the fringes of sane society, Darr veers off in odd directions - one especially clunky sequence is the the "just say no" speech that Rahul's drug-addicted classmate remorsefully delivers just before Rahul offs him and plants evidence that he (the classmate) is Kiran's stalker. But Darr is still a Yash Chopra film, and it does offer some of the grandly satisfying filmi elements that one expects from Chopra. The apex of these is, of course, the Holi song "Ang se ang lagana," in which Juhi Chawla looks purely radiant while a mad-eyed, snarlingly sinister Shah Rukh Khan lurks threateningly among the musicians.
Darr lacks the thematic layers that make the second half of Anjaam so interesting and satisfying. Here, instead of the demi-divine power of womanhood ignited by injustice, revenge for Kiran comes in the form of Sunil (Sunny Deol), a one-man naval commando unit. Sunil has a barrel chest and big strong arms and presses both into service to protect his young fiancée. This is, of course, Sunny Deol's wheelhouse; whether in service of India herself or India's most vulnerable young women, Deol is ready to set his jaw and throw a lot of punches. It is always good fun to get a taste of Deol's jingoistic military-hero persona on full display.
Sunil's competence as a protector doesn't leave much for Juhi Chawla to do, though. She is wasted here, doing little more than swooning into Deol's arms and flash dimples in the larger-than-life snapshots that Rahul projects on his bedroom wall.* I think she lands a few blows in the climactic scene in which Rahul traps Kiran on a boat, before Sunil swims in (navy commando, remember?) to save the day. Chawla is lovely, for sure, and the little drag performance she gives for Deol is rather delicious. But it would be nice to see a woman who is perhaps a little less helpless in the face of male entitlement gone psycho. What would have happened to Kiran if she had no strapping Sunil eager to protect his investment? At least the people around Kiran - Sunil and Kiran's brother and sister-in-law (Anupam Kher and Tanvi Azmi) - take seriously the threat posed by her stalker, which is more support than Madhuri Dixit's character gets in Anjaam. But still, what's a woman to do who doesn't have a Sunny Deol hovering protectively just around the corner?
* I seem to recall this device used in another movie as well - did Salman Khan project an image of Preity Zinta in his wall in Jaan-e-mann? As I recall it wasn't intended as a symbol of psychopathy there, but perhaps it should have been.