Even those only mildly familiar with Hindi films will no doubt have heard of 1998’s Dil Se (’From The Heart’). A flawed, but mesmerising tale of love and terrorism; it flopped in its home country upon release, but garnered massive praise from critics and film fans alike - even becoming the first Bollywood film to crack the UK box office charts. It has since gained further recognition as the movie that inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber to pen the Broadway musical Bombay Dreams and also earned a spot in Channel 4’s top 100 musicals programme. More recently, the instantly memorable ‘Chaiyya Chiayya’ song played out in every multiplex cinema in the world during the opening credits of Spike Lee’s hit Inside Man, spreading the word even further.
So, while Dil Se may currently be one of the most famous Hindi musicals out there, it unfortunately has garnered a rather more infamous reputation when it comes to its treatment on DVD. One would think Indian DVD distributors would be chomping at the bit to capitalise on Dil Se’s acclaim by producing and marketing a world-class DVD release along the lines of fellow mainstream favourites Lagaan and Asoka, but alas no. As it stands, there have been a total of four sub-standard releases so far - each doing little justice to the film, its renown or Indian cinema. Here is a rundown of each, along with the various positives and (mostly) negatives that go with them…
DEI - Platinum Edition (USA/Canada, 2000):
Regarded as the best of a bad bunch by Indian movie lovers when it comes to their DVD releases, DEI nonetheless didn’t provide as definitive a disc as you might expect from a release labelled ‘Platinum Edition’. Still, it’s a cut above the usual junk churned out by Hindi DVD makers and does boast a cracking, 5.1 Dolby Digital track with crystal-clear clarity and booming bass that may just be the best a Bollywood film will ever sound on your home theatre system.
On the video front, things aren’t quite as peachy, but still acceptable all the same. The NTSC transfer is progressive with minimal dirt/speckles and sharpness is well rendered. Colour rendition is respectable, if rather cold, but contrast levels are far too dark, leaving black shades crying out for more detail. Annoyingly, brief cuts in the print negative occur from time to time as well. The original 2.35:1 aspect ratio has also been cropped to 1.85:1 and letterboxed with no anamorphic enhancement.
The English subtitles provided are adequate - translations are decent, though occasionally some words and phrases are ditched for the sake of keeping the pace slower. The biggest detriment is a lack of subtitles for the film’s five songs. Though not crucial to follow the story, the lyrics offer a metaphorical insight into the characters’ state of minds.
EROS (USA/Canada/UK, 2001):
Currently the most widely available release of Dil Se, this DVD is actually a reprocessed version of the above DEI release, but of even lesser quality. Though taken from the same print, the transfer is lacking DEI’s sharpness and clarity, resulting in a very soft look and with numerous instances of dirt and speckles. The video is also deprived of DEI’s progressive encoding, instead merely making do with psedo-progressive interlace.
Otherwise, the disc is much the same as DEI’s - only just slightly more mediocre in every departmet. Colours are a little more bleak, the 5.1 Dolby track remains a great listen albeit at a lower bitrate and the English subtitle track is also unimproved upon, but sports an ugly bold Times font this time around instead. Distributor Eros boasts the biggest selection of hit Bollywood movies on DVD in the world, but their reputation for quality is far less illustrious as is evident here.
AYNGARAN (UK/USA, 2001):
Now this is more like it. Anamorphic transfer (cropped only slightly from 2.35:1 to 2.20:1), glorious colour and contrast rendition with excellent sharpness/detail and a superb 5.1 Dolby Digital track that rival’s DEI’s. The English subtitle track even includes those elusive sing lyric translations. It seems this is about as perfect a Dil Se DVD as anyone could hope for, right? Well, it would be were it not for one slight snag - this release from South Indian DVD label Ayngaran offers the dubbed Tamil version only. And it was all going so well too.
Now that the wind has been sucked from your sails, it may as well be the best time to list the other negatives affecting this otherwise first rate disc. A low bitrate applied has meant some ugly MPEG compression artefacts appearing now and then. Like the Eros disc, the NTSC video is not encoded progressively; pseudo-progressive interlace is used instead. And much like every other South Indian DVD release, the English subtitle translation is extremely sub-standard with awkward sentence structure and grammar.
While a Hindi audio track would’ve still made this by far the best option for the film on DVD, it is instead only a worthwhile purchase for Tamil speakers and/or die-hard Dil Se fans.
RAPID EYE MOVIES (Germany, 2005):
Bollywood is currently enjoying massive popularity in Germany, so it’s not surprising German DVD distributor REM would choose to release their own disc of Dil Se for the German market. Unfortunately, they have done an even greater disservice to the movie than their Indian counterparts with a truly atrocious PAL transfer. Sharpness and detail are non-existant, colours have a hideous green tint to them and while the anamorphic video offers the widest viewing angle of all four discs, the picture has been squashed slightly in the process. There aren’t much better things to report on the sound front, as the Hindi track provided is a distorted, scratchy 2.0 stereo. No English subtitles are provided.
So, weighing up the pros and cons, it looks as though DEI’s original release is the best option to go for overall - although good luck in finding it, as only a limited number were ever produced. Until Bollywood really hits it big in the West and a Hollywood studio bags the rights to the film, Dil Se fans will have to make do with the above flawed four.