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LAKSHYA. Director: Farhan Akhtar. Players: Amitabh Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Preity Zinta, Om Puri. Music: Shankar Ehsaan Loy. Cinematic release (EROS).

Big-budget Hindi films set on India’s hot-button border with Pakistan have not scored huge box-offices recently. Undistracted by the box-office meltdown of J.P. Dutta’s ambitious LoC–Kargil, 28-year-old director Farhan Akhtar decided to return to the same war arena with a Hrithik Roshan romance-action vehicle. Akhtar’s gamble, only his second film after the brilliant Dil Chahta Hai in 2001, pays off handsomely. Lakshya not only delivers the goods but also proves that Dil Chahta Hai was no fluke.

Self-absorbed and seemingly uncaring Karan Shergill (Roshan) has little time even for Romi Dutta (Zinta), his professionally ambitious gal-pal. After Karan’s underachieving ways get a cool reception with Romi and her family, Karan decides to join the Indian army right at the onset of the Kargil border incident in 1999.

In the army, which is given a humane face in the form of the fatherly Col. Damle (Bachchan), Karan must choose between further slouching into mediocrity and finding self-discipline. Still struggling, Karan gambles on joining an elite commando unit tasked with reclaiming from Pakistan a strategically important mountain peak straddling the contentious Line of Control in the heated hours right when the conflict nearly sparked a nuclear standoff between the antagonistic neighbors.

Akhtar’s mastery over the medium is especially acute in the first half where Roshan is captured in goofball romantic mode. Making good use of Shanker-Ehsaan-Loy’s bouncy score that features a couple of catchy dance numbers, director Akhtar makes superb use of Roshan, the dancer extraordinaire.

Where Akhtar occasionally comes up short is in the final stretch, where some scenes go begging for a background score. This is especially true in some scenes featuring sparingly-used Bachchan and especially Om Puri. These two stalwarts, who can chew up scenery with anyone out there, are reduced to taking turns mumbling prophetic predictions about the Pakistani army’s behavior in the hot zone.

Despite these distractions, Lakshya is still a better film and a feather in Akhtar’s cap. After making a sensational directorial debut with Dil Chahta Hai, Farhan Akhtar, son of lyricist Javed Akhtar, has been on a roll. The younger Akhtar has been tapped to write the script for Nargis, the namesake biopic based on the life of the legendary diva and will also pen lyrics for the internationally anchored, Aishwarya Rai-starrer Bride and Prejudice.

Finally, consider the film’s remote Himalayan backdrops. A convoy of army truck trudges up on uncertain, dangerous roads. No matter how important their mission, the silently-majestic 20,000-foot peaks in the background dwarf the line of trucks. Tapping into post-9/11 anxieties, the mountains become a stand-in for a cunning, unseen enemy that can strike at any time. That could be why the arrival of an Indian flag at an opportune moment was greeted with spontaneous cheering from audiences. Lakshya is worth cheering all way.

Aniruddh C.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.