It didn't win any awards. It isn't highlighted as one of the top ten Bollywood must-see films. But the film Chaahat (1996) shouldn't be missed.
The film tells the story of widower Shambunath Rathore (Anupam Kher) and his son Roop (Shah Rukh Khan) who are are Rajasthani folk singers. They make their living by entertaining guests at five-star hotels in Jaipur. Tragedy strikes when Shambunath's persistent cough is diagnosed as throat cancer. Roop decides that they must go to Mumbai for better medical treatment. In the big city, Roop gets lucky when he meets Ajay Narang (Naseeruddin Shah), a hotelier, who offers him a job as a singer. Ajay's sister Reshma (Ramya Krishna) becomes extremely fond of Roop. Meanwhile, both Shambu and Roop meet Pooja (Pooja Bhatt), a kind young doctor who they each feel might be a good match for Roop. Pooja and Roop fall in love but Reshma has become obsessed with Roop and wants him for herself, and Ajay will do anything to keep his sister happy.
What makes this a story worth seeing is watching the transformation of the main character, Roop Rathore (Shah Rukh Khan), from a trusting innocent into a strong and defiant man willing to risk his life to save those he loves. The last 30 minutes of the film turn violent, but the physical violence seems proportionate to the emotional violence done to Roop, Pooja, and Shambunath.
Early in the film when Shambunath is told he has to go to Mumbai for treatment he protests vehemently, telling Roop,
"I will certainly not go to Mumbai. There is a problem in going to Mumbai. Your uncle, too, had gone to Mumbai. After some days I got a letter than on the streets of Mumbai they found a dead body. Do you know whose body it was? It was your uncle's Raghuvir. Mumbai is a people with a heart of stone. There is no value for human life. That city will rob you of me. A son from the father. I don't want to go to Mumbai!"
This sets the stage for the rest of the film.
Roop prevails on his father and it is the strength of the father-son bond that enables them to enter the lion's den of Mumbai.
I found it easy to empathize with Roop as the big city took advantage of his trusting nature. When I first moved the big city after college, I had to create my own support network. I was introduced to people who had dramatically different lifestyles than I was used to - a real learning experience. The biggest lesson came when I found myself homeless for a time because I put my faith in the wrong people.
Roop also trusts in the wrong people. While his father is undergoing treatment in hospital, Roop is on his own - and he sticks out like a sore thumb. Perhaps it is his innocence that attracts the wrong people. Or his unique spirit. He isn't familiar with how to act in the big city. When Ajay Narang and his sister Reshma take an interest in him, he readily accepts their support. But he also recognizes there is something not quite right about the Narang family.
Fortunately, he finds a friend in Pooja. When Roop first meets Pooja, she identifies herself as "Zindagi" which means "life". And she does indeed becomes his life and his love. She loves and accepts him just as he is, because he is just as he is.
Roop seems to flourish in Mumbai until he angers his benefactors. What Roop doesn't understand is that Ajay and Reshma don't want his talent, they want his soul. These people understand power, but they don't understand love. Roop is something new and different and must be possessed. When Reshma makes her raging desire for Roop known to him, he turns her away and says,
"Neither can you make art your slave nor can you buy out an artist. Forgive me for saying this but all rich people of this world - meaning you and rich people like your brother - cannot together try and buy me and my art from me."
He doesn't seem to be fully aware of the nature of her infatuation with him. What is worse, he doesn't realize what an impact her obsession will have on everyone in his life. At one point Ajay confronts a devastated Roop on the street and says,
"Do you know the reason for every battle? Love and attraction. This is what keeps making one person fight with another. And the victory is always of the one who is powerful."
What Ajay Narang will eventually learn is that the one who is most powerful - the one that has true strength - is the one that has love.
Here is the item number "Nahin Lagta" from Chaahat. This item number highlights the success that Roop has been given through a power that will eventually try to crush him.
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