One of the key reasons the film Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai (2000) works so well is the honor and respect shown by our primary protagonists - Avinash (Anil Kapoor), Preeti Virat (Aishwarya Rai), Khushi (Sonali Bendre) and Babli, Preeti's college friend (Tanaaz Irani). This approach to life comes with costs for each of our heroes.
What makes this film difficult to watch is that almost everyone else in the film freely dishonors family, community, and culture without paying a price.
The primary story of the movie is that Preeti witnesses a heinous assault by Bhavani Choudhry (Mukesh Rishi) and his men on a teacher they have a disagreement with. The attack is in the center of town with a crowd gathered around and Preeti is the only willing witness to come forward to testify. This angers the Choudhry family and, as a result, Choudhry's brother rapes Preeti.
Rape in India has been described as one of India's most common crimes against women, with a new case being reported every 20 minutes. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the United States has an average of 207,754 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year (2006-2010). Sexual assault is one of the most under reported crimes, with 54% still being left unreported. In many cases, rapes go unreported because victims fear reprisals from their assailants or further victimization by society, their community, or families.
This is what happens to Preeti. Disowned by her family and secluded by society, she leaves her house. She seeks refuge with a friend but is rejected when the community recognizes who she is from a newspaper story:
Man 1: Isn't she the same girl who was raped last night? (To gathering crowd.) Come and see the girl who was raped last night!
Woman1: How dare she come to the colony where respected people like us live?
Woman 2: No man dare touch a woman without her permission!
Woman 3: By touching a woman not belonging to him, a man can be burnt to death!
Woman 2: Let a man touch a woman and he'll burn like a cinder!
(Avinash appears behind the women and dramatically places his hands on the shoulders of each of them in turn.)
Woman 4: What are you doing?!?
Avinash: I was checking whether I'd burn to cinder or not. Turn to ashes. But nothing happened. That means none of you women is true to her husband, correct?
Man 2: You're being insolent!
Avinash: No, I'm showing you the truth! I well know which woman knocks at which door once her husband is away! If I open up and divulge how many married and single girls flirt with me, 8 out of 10 homes here will break up! You won't tell them anything but will abuse this girl who is already distressed!
Woman 2: But she too must have tried to flirt with him. That's how she lost her honor!
Avinash: Who said that? Who? Who spoke about honor? Come up front and speak!
Woman 5: It was me.
Avinash: You spoke of honor? You left your husband only because he is bald? And now you look for part time friends in clubs? What a bloody shame. (To the crowd.) Don't make a mockery of the word honor! It's not a necklace given to the wife or certificate from college! It's no jewelry that you hide in the locker and can lose! Honor is only related to the heart. Nobody loses honor when they are raped. Nor is it saved by wrapping a nine-yard sari! For honor, you need shame. Of self-esteem, purity of the heart. We consider Draupadi a sati [one of the five virgins] though she had 5 husbands! And you...! You refuse to give refuge to this guileless girl! Only so that your colony doesn't get a bad name!
Man 3: We are family men. We have to live in this society.
Man 1: If you don't care about society, take her to your own house!
Avinash: Yes! That's just what I'll do! She will stay in my house! For as long as she desires! Everyone hear this loud and clear! Henceforth if anyone talks nonsense to her I won't dishonor you but I will kill you! Understand?! (To Preeti) Come with me. (He picks up Preeti's suitcase, takes her by the wrist and leads her across the square to his home.)
Seeing how the community abuses Preeti, victimizing her again and again, is frustrating and reminds us that the children's saying "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me" is not really accurate. Words have the power to hurt as well as heal.
Watching Avinash brings Preeti back from total shutdown after her ordeal shows the power of walking alongside those who are suffering. Avinash and Preeti live well together as friends but their friendship creates an uproar in the community, creating additional challenges for Preeti. Avinash, who realizes he has fallen in love with Preeti, decides to resolve the situation by proposing marriage.
As this is Bollywood, the conclusion of the film isn't reached simply but it is reached with satisfaction. Watching Anil Kapoor's portrayal of Avinash reminds us why he became such a huge star. Aishwarya Rai's Preeti shows us the importance of honesty and truth in the face of adversity.
Ultimately we are left feeling that the world would be a much better place with more people like Avinash and Preeti in our hearts and in our communities.
Here is a trailer for the film provided by Eros Entertainment: