In 2000, when Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla starrer satirical comedy-drama Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani released, it was a failure at the Box Office.
Directed by Aziz Mirza (who also directed SRK in Circus), it was the first film produced under Khan, Chawla, and Mirza's joint production company. A film far ahead of its time, it is one of Bollywood's finer satires. And over the years, has even become a crowd favourite, despite failing to win over the audience when it first released.
This one was special. It was a complete disaster and completely written off. Our failure made us, Aziz @iam_juhi & me stronger. Love PBDHH— Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk) January 20, 2018
It's also one of the few films to have actually predicted, with unerring accuracy, the media circus that is our current reality.
With Juhi and Shah Rukh's amazing on-screen chemistry, amazing songs, and an engaging storyline, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani checked off all the boxes that make a typical masala entertainer. But what set it apart from the commercial cinema of today, is that it actually told a story worth sharing.
The film starred Juhi and Shah Rukh Khan as TV anchors and journalists Ajay and Ria, working for rival news channels.
However, they turn from rivals to partners, when they together start covering the break-down of a city - caused by the assassination of a minister's brother-in-law.
From politicians manipulating people's emotions to gain sympathy votes, to wrongly accusing people of being terrorists, the film attacked the culture of media trials and fake news that condemn a person and brand them as guilty, even before the law can take its course.
In a botched investigation, the assassin Mohan (Paresh Rawal) runs away and is apprehended by Ajay and Ria. The two, along with the nation, believe him to be a terrorist until he confesses that he killed the minister's brother-in-law because he assaulted his daughter, and their family was denied justice.
It's at this stage that the film cleverly remarks on how a flawed justice system actually pushes people to commit more crimes. But perhaps the film's greatest achievement is how it showcases Ajay and Ria's efforts to bring the truth out in the open get thwarted by powers of greed, corruption, and political power.
Though the scene that I have never been able to get out of mind is when Mohan's death by hanging, is marketed, with plans to telecast it live on National TV.
It's a stark reminder that when we turn news into a commodity, then the news is no longer covered. Rather, it's created... or more accurately, fabricated.
The film, like most films of the time, ends on a highly emotional and dramatic note where truth wins, because the 'press' does its job. I love it because I love masala entertainers and happy endings.
But in the years since the film released, its ending is the only thing that feels fictional. In the guise of comedy, drama, and romance, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani reminded people of the far-reaching effects of turning news into a business. At the time, the film was a satire. It's unfortunate that today, it's our reality.
All images from Netflix, unless specified otherwise.