When Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam released in 1999, there were rarely any Nandinis around. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Nandini illuminated the big screen not just with her fabulous lehengas, but also her shining face, effervescent giggle and headstrong ways.
Nandini resonated with the dreams and desires of several girls. But what was it exactly about her that grabbed attention?
Nandini makes an entry to the tunes of “Manmohini”. She plays the local game of “pitthu” and wins it with her accurate target, hinting at what we were about to see in the film. Yes, her eyes (and aim) are sharp, piercing and deep, exactly what she later explains to Sameer (Salman Khan) while arranging the candle chandelier. Her first appearance in the film left hearts beating. A female character this fiery was a rarity.
Despite knowing her limitations, Nandini dared to dream, to love and yet abide by her parent’s command. Nandini’s ways might come across as outlandish, but she was a ticking bomb ready to explode out of her family’s (and societal) boundaries. When her mother inquires about her bonding with Sameer, she honestly and unabashedly reveals to her about the physical side of their romance. Later, when Nandini realises she can’t give her marriage her all, she stays honest to her dreams and refuses to do things under the veil. She goes on to find her lover, even if it meant having her husband by her side.
Nandini’s transition from a naive girl whose entire world was inside her palatial haveli to a mature woman is impressive. Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and cinematographer Anil Mehta explored every angle of Aishwarya to perfection, highlighting her best features. No wonder, many still say the actor has never looked this beautiful onscreen.
The year 1999 was a mixed bag. While on one hand we had releases like Biwi No 1, Haseena Maan Jaayegi and Sarfarosh where female stars only needed to romance the heroes, on the other hand, we had Kaun, Sangharsh, Shool and Godmother. Bollywood was definitely in a transition phase, and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam easily finds place in the latter group that had strong female leads who had a lot more to do.
The highest point of Aishwarya Rai’s character came when she tries to judge her decision of choosing between Sameer and Vanraj (Ajay Devgn). This as her husband is patiently taking her to finally meet the love of her life. From draping a red saree to putting on the bindi and mangalsutra, the entire sequence of her getting ready is symbolic of giving her marriage one last chance. As the title track plays in the background, her travel to the concert hall was the most difficult journey and one can feel her mental state here. The conflict between her heart and mind is evident from her hesitance towards every step she takes, which is one closer to Sameer, and one farther from Vanraj.
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Nandini cemented not just Aishwarya’s career, but also made Bhansali an A-list director in Bollywood. It isn’t wrong to say that nobody knows how to make Aishwarya look this beautiful, strong and endearing on the silver screen like Bhansali.