17 years ago, Farhan Akhtar took a leap of faith with Lakshya after making a dream directorial debut with Dil Chahta Hai. It was arguably Hrithik Roshan's best performance to date, but Lakshya flopped lock, stock and barrel at the box office, but that was unsurprising. For starters, it was unlike any of the stereotypical family dramas that populated cinema halls back then. Secondly, it was not your conventional war film – it did not touch upon national glory alone. Long story short, Farhan Akhtar's leap of faith backfired. There is a measure of strong ignorance that is associated with a large portion of the Indian viewership, which typically tends to equate a film's performance at the box office with the overall quality of the film. It takes, as Farhan Akhtar jokingly remarked back then too, the audience to mature enough to fully grasp the film's contents, and now, 17 years after its release, Lakshya has acquired a cult status of sorts.
What often skips the mind of the viewer is the fact that Lakshya is not essentially a chapter from one of India's successful exploits in the Kargil War. On the contrary, it is a story of a young man, Karan Shergill, who struggles to find a purpose, an anchor, in his life. Throughout the film, his personal conquests towards finding an aim in life – 'lakshya' – were metaphorically narrated by the progression of the actual war itself. Where the film digressed from a conventional storyline and what, in a sense, took the audience back then by surprise was the emphasis on the inner struggles of war – a soldier's battle within. In the midst of a tumultuous journey towards Peak 5179, while channelling his pain into self-belief, Karan visibly grapples with his inner struggles as well. That, back then, was not the status quo when it came to depicting the armed forces. For most of the war, Karan had to fight the ghosts of his past and not give in to the calling of his heart, as his ex-partner was also sent to cover the war with Karan's battalion.
What is most striking to me however, and which delves into a sociological realm, is how the relationship between Karan and his father progressed over time. Given that Karan was a spoilt brat through-and-through for most of his life, Karan's father was ashamed and disappointed in him. On top of that, making an impulsive career decision did not help placate his anger. If anything, it further enraged him. Men expressing their feelings in Bollywood is a rarity, especially when it is between a father and his grown-up son. For inexplicable reasons, there is almost always a tacit expectation to be tough and strong until reality and expectations diverge far enough to result in a confrontation. A scene that most resonates with and highlights the internal barriers of expressing their feelings is when, in the face of the war's uncertainty, a resolute Karan finally breaks down and tells his father that he loves him, with his father too breaking almost instantly. As they overcome these emotional hurdles, one can almost sense their desire to hear those words from the other person. This touching reconciliation between father and son immediately reversed an estranged relationship that existed up to then.
In addition to being a coming-of-age personal journey, Lakshya is as much a coming-into-being portrayal of Karan: he follows through with his decisions not for anyone else, but for himself. While the film certainly passes as a portrayal of war, the focus throughout, in one way or another, is on unpacking the true being of those who were actually part of the war. Beyond all the technical fronts that cinema buffs like to deliberate, what one looks for in a movie is a story well told, and in having Karan undergo this transformative journey with such conviction that its acceptance inspires hope, Lakshya offered exactly that. Basing our assumptions on its box office performance robs Lakshya of its legacy and the ability to continue to inspire generation after generation. After completing 17 years this June, Lakshya resonates and stays with its audience, remaining one of the finest films ever made in Indian cinema.