“The word is Lakshya”. To take on a war film like “Lakshya” for just your second directorial endeavor is no easy task. Farhan Akhtar serves a product that is exceptionally strong on form and high on production value. This is undoubtedly a very talented director whose youthful, yet mature dynamism enthralled one and all with “Dil Chahta Hai”, the breath of fresh air, which could easily go down as one of the finest romances in Hindi cinema. “DCH” hit the bull’s eye because its content, its script, written by Farhan himself, used its simplicity, and clarity as its strength. “Lakshya” on the other hand, tries to do too much at one time, and its excesses unfortunately cause the film to lose its focus.
In a slow-paced first half embellished with beautiful songs and subtle humor, Farhan takes his time to set his characters up. As Lieutenant Karan Shergill (Hrithik Roshan) reminisces about his journey towards becoming a soldier, the director convincingly explores the confused state of mind his protagonist was in. Karan impulsively joins the Indian Army, but its rigidity proves too strong for this rich, spoilt lad. An egotistical conflict with his father (Boman Irani) and a shamed rejection by his girlfriend (Priety Zinta) catapults him back into the military academy, and his lakshya is born - to prove himself by becoming an officer. A peppy song later, Karan reaches his goal, and war breaks out in Kargil. After such a detailed and brilliant setup, Farhan Akhtar gets confused as to what his own lakshya is, and the film veers off into several directions, ultimately taking it downhill.
The second half suffers from a dilemma as to what Karan Shergill’s goal is. It seesaws from having to prove a point to his father to reconstructing the broken relationship with Romila (Zinta), and then to capture a strategic military point. In trying to deal with all these facets of his protagonist’s characterization, Farhan sensitively develops his characters’ interpersonal relationships. Had he stuck to the exploration of these relationships, his pre-interval setup would have worked its magic. Unfortunately, the focus now shifts to the Kargil war. Instead of the war serving as backdrop for the story, it comes to the forefront of directorial attention. And this precisely is “Lakshya’s” undoing.
There is no denying that the battle scenes, and the special rock-climbing operation are brilliantly picturized. The research gone into giving the film its authenticity is commendable. However the war surprisingly and suddenly adds one more goal to Karan’s character, and as a result, one seems to wonder what the hour and a half long pre-interval exposition was for in the first place. It is indeed inexplicable why Farhan soaks us into these fascinating characters as well as he does, and then decides to sideline them to glorify soldiers sacrificing their lives in the war a la “LOC”.
While this topic calls for a separate movie by itself, the director’s treatment of this chunk of his film is also trivial. After keeping away from clichés for most of the film, Farhan’s stereotypical, caricature representations of Pakistani soldiers are a dire step backward. Both the director and writer Mr. Javed Akhtar have denied their film’s “jingoistic” factor repeatedly, but end up succumbing to precisely the same when dealing with the war. The dialogues spat out by the long-mustached Pakistani General (Parmeet Sethi) and his associate are amateurish. While the Indian Army bathes in discipline, the Pakistani soldiers are out there fighting without uniforms, dressed in pathanis. Can the “enemy” possibly be simplified to such an extent? I believe not. Such simplification and “jingoism” is routine with J.P. Dutta but is shocking when it comes from Farhan and Javed Akhtar.
To his credit however, Farhan Akhtar directs his actors to stupendous performances. Hrithik Roshan’s transformation from the confused, spoilt, rich kid to the responsible officer/action hero is a delightful ride. Priety Zinta in her minimal role as Romila Dutta successfully tries a more restrained approach. Boman Irani as Karan’s egotistical father who grows to gradually externalize his love for his son is stunning. The phone conversation between Karan and his father opening up to each other strikes sparks of Farhan’s directorial talent. However, the biggest surprise comes in the lack of depth in Sunil Damle’s character, played by Mr. Amitabh Bachchan. If one is going to have this great actor play a role, it better be special. However, the Colonel’s character poses absolutely no challenge to Mr. Bachchan’s acting abilities. Further disappointing is a waste of a talent like Om Puri in a role that spans barely a couple of minutes.
Christopher Popp’s camerawork and Vic Armstrong’s action aided by Farhan Akhtar’s epic scaled vision secure the technical prowess of “Lakshya”. Shankar, Ehsaan, and Loy polish the film with their majestic musical score. Yet at the end of it all, the film disappoints because of the gargantuan potential that it had. You imagine the wonders the Akhtars could have done by simply doctoring and fine-tuning the script further to give it more focus, and you sigh. Farhan, with his flair for driving his narrative through his characters, had at his disposal, exactly what he needed to make what could have been far beyond a formulaic Indo-Pak war flick. Disappointingly, he fails to recognize that, and is distracted by a fascination for techno razzle-dazzle. As you walk out of the theater after three hours, you are left with an undeniable feeling that something was missing here. And that something was simply the film’s lakshya.