War films in India off-late have been, frankly speaking, quite nonsensical. Starting with Border and all the way to LOC, these pop-patriotic efforts have been anything but cinematically satisfactory. Farhan Akhtar changes all that with his film by making Lakshya an intimate film in an expansive setting where war is incidental and emotions aren't evoked from mindless Paki butt-kicking.
What Lakhsya lacks is originality. The freshness (comparisons may be odious but necessary) of Dil Chahta Hai (DCH) is missing. Akhtar is bogged down by a need for a thematically different film and is heavily inspired by Hollywood. And while one can accept a certain level of imitation, there isn't really any need to 'play it safe.' One can plainly see shades of The Longest Day, Saving Private Ryan, An Officer and a Gentleman, The Guns of Navarone and even unexpected, unrelated films like The Beach. Lakshya is in many ways, a more generic film, catering to a wider audience (fair enough, considering the rupees 30 crore budget.)
The heart and soul of Lakshya is Hrithik Roshan's performance as Karan Shergill. He is extremely convincing as the wayward boy, the weak-willed individual and the focused Lieutenant. Good directorial choices and ably supported performances make a clique of moments work wonders for the film. The transitions of his persona are short yet extremely well scripted. It must've been difficult for the Akhtars, but they've pulled it off marvelously. Between quitting the IMA to going back to it, there are only two brief scenes which completes the transition, yet they are impactful and highly believable which is reinforced with a fantastic song during the training sequence that follows immediately.
The other performances are rock solid and very good. Amitabh Bachchan, Om Puri, Sushant Singh and Boman Irani, despite their limited screen time have enough high-quality dialogue that helps develop their characters and screen presence. Akhtar has made a bold move to cast huge names for might be called 'bit' roles. And while the industry seems aghast at this, we didn't see much of a problem with it: to a certain extent it ruptures the aura of the stars and the film remains above them all. Make no mistake, Preity Zinta is very much part of this too. Her role is limited and she plays what is yet another cog in Karan Shergill's life. This is not supposed to be a typical Bollywood romantic track. In fact, Akhtar might have compromised the ideal of the script by making her the instrumental reason in his life to make his life-altering decisions.
The IMA graduation scene, the rock climbing sequence and the locales are impressive (shooting in Ladakh must've been a mammoth effort). Key scenes like the telephone conversation between Karan and his father (Boman Irani) and where Karan and Romilla Dutta (Preity Zinta) meet briefly but cannot hug each other are extremely well scripted and performed. For once in a Bollywood film, it's the eyes that do the talking.
Technically, the camerawork is average at most times and quite disappointing at its worst. The night war sequences are unevenly grainy and tacky, almost to the point where you can't see anything at all. War sequences work with a certain kind of basic formula when it comes to framing and lighting but Christopher Popp has surprisingly stayed away from all that. The background score is excellent and really, really adds to the film. The songs are good too, with the army song and the title track standing out. Art direction is very believable and so are the special effects. At the script level, the idea of a faceless enemy works very well till the last 20 minutes of film where suddenly you are spending unnecessary time with 2D Pakistani militants. Also, perhaps a little more deliberation when Shergill kills his first enemy. There is a moment, but its not enough. Overall, the structure of the film is slightly awkward - if Shergill's college life is a flashback, its too long. Perhaps the film should've started from the beginning? Predictability in the screenplay also takes away from it all.
By choosing such a broad canvas, Akhtar has missed out on the little details that the people identify with. There is enough evidence of the painstaking research that he has put into it, but that is lost on the aam janta (quite the converse of DCH).
Upperstall, in 2001, rated Dil Chahta Hai even higher than Lagaan and gave it the film of the year award. There was good reason for that; we thought the film to be extremely forward thinking in its concept and execution and it didn't make any excuses for what it was. Needless to say, there was great anticipation for Lakshya, Farhan Akhtar's next ,and though we weren't disappointed, Lakshya isn't exactly landmark cinema. Blame it on expectations.