As a kid, when I first stepped out of the movie hall after watching Lakshya, I had goosebumps from the ending moments, where Karan (Hrithik Roshan) hoists the Indian flag on the recaptured peak.
For the longest time, that moment stayed with me. But as I revisited the film over the years–because it truly is one of the finest coming-of-age dramas–I fell in love with the songs, the dialogues, and the characters.
And the one character that has truly stood out, and spoken to me, is Romila Dutta, played by Preity Zinta.
Though set against the backdrop of a fictionalized war, that draws inspiration from the 1999 Kargil War, Lakshya is more than just a war-drama. It is ultimately the story of Karan’s transition from an entitled college student to a responsible army officer.
Taking into account the film’s central plot, and Bollywood’s predisposition towards creating unidimensional female characters, it would have been ‘acceptable’ to create a love interest with no depth or characteristic other than being the protagonist’s love interest.
But that wasn’t the case with Romila Dutta.
Romila Dutta was a woman who worked hard for her dreams, who loved with abandon but also valued herself enough to move away from a man-child – which was exactly what Karan was when she broke up with him.
Throughout the film, Romila remains a multi-layered character whose role in the film isn’t just about loving Karan.
Yes, it’s her break-up with him that pushes him to finally, reform his life and pursue army training with all seriousness. But, as an audience, you also see Romila’s individual personality.
She is the woman who achieved her goals without calling in favours from her parents, who questioned Karan when he was wrong or fought with his father, and who dared to love again, after her break-up with Karan.
More importantly, she placed her self-worth over society’s flawed expectations, when she broke off her engagement because of her fiance’s chauvinistic attitude.
As a reporter covering the war, she’s moved by the tragedy to the point that she has an emotional outburst. But, when she realizes that she misspoke, she is also the woman who lends a comforting hand to the soldier who just lost his friend in the war.
In the name of building a feminist, Javed Akhtar (screenplay writer) did not write a character that was arrogant or argumentative enough to only consider herself right – a trope that many creators adopt for, and one that ultimately, does disservice to feminism.
In fact, she was given a profession with a near-accurate working knowledge of how that profession looks like in real life.
A single glance at the movies from the early 2000s will show how rare that was. And to an aspiring writer in love with movies, it was a chance to see that there is more to female characters than being the hero’s love interest.
Preity Zinta also managed to balance the characteristics and emotions of Romila perfectly, allowing us to fall for her story and root for her win, even when she wasn’t the protagonist.
Lakshya is a fine film that gave us a small glimpse of the inimitable courage and patriotism that drives our soldiers, and the sacrifice that families of army personnel go through. And to date, it continues to speak to confused millennials.
But for me personally, it gave me a character I admired and was inspired by. In a movie that showed Hrithik Roshan in an army uniform, that has to count for something.
All images from IMDb, unless specified otherwise.