DDLJ! Woo! I can go off DVD with full confidence in my abilities! Woop woop! Although I may still re-watch it at some point just for joy and happiness.
Also, if you really want to learn about DDLJ, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I will be referring back to it constantly, and even when I don’t refer back specifically, just assume that Chopra’s theories are the underlying force behind everything I say.
(also, oh my god I love the header image I found! Adi was such a dork. Also, I am pretty sure that is actually from the sets of K2H2 based on the suit, but I don’t care, I’m still using it. I may reuse it if I ever get to K2H2)
(part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, part 6 here, part 7 here, part 8 here, part 9 here, part 10 here, part 11 here, part 12 here, part 13 here, part 14 here, part 15 here, part 16 here)
DDLJ! Woot-woot! If you, like me, are watching it on DVD, the experience truly starts with the menu. First, we have the familiar “Come……Fall in Love, Again” screen. And then, “plinka plinka plina”, and it’s Cartoon Shahrukh! With his hat and his dark skin and prominant nose! He turns and looks, and there is cartoon Kajol! With a unibrow! And then run towards each other as the music swells and the chapter headings show up on the DVD menu. I actually have it on blue-ray now, but thank goodness, they kept the cartoon in place!
I’m not just including the description of the DVD menu because it makes me unutterably nostalgic for college (for me, college was 4 years of watching DDLJ on repeat, with occasionally studying in the background. I distinctly remember carrying my laptop back and forth with me to the laundry room, because I could not bear to be DDLJ-less for even the amount of time it took me to put clothes in the dryer), but because I actually find it interesting! The first time I show this DVD to people, they tend to laugh because the unibrow and the nose are so prominant. It feels odd, we are so used to highly stylized, or highly white-washed (in the literal and metaphorical sense) cartoon representations, and there are two figures with dark skin, and a little too much nose and facial hair, respectively. But at the same time, not quite enough to truly make them caricatures, they are still recognizably Shahrukh and Kajol.
So, why is this? I think it is because, for the people who are buying this DVD and blue-ray, Shahrukh and Kajol are so familiar, that to see them nose and unibrow-less would actually look odder. We want a purely representational figure, to remind us of the film we are about to watch in the most accurate way possible. I suppose now they would do some sort of 360 recreation using images from the actual film, but back when the DVD first came out, that was technically more difficult, so they had to use cartoons instead. And actually, I bet they didn’t update it for the blu-ray, because they knew the people buying the blu-ray had probably already bonded with the cartoon from the DVD and would be emotionally upset if it was removed. I know I would be! Heck, I had a hard time making my peace with a slightly different cover image on the case!
(actually, the same image, but they removed the black borders and it upset me DEEPLY)
So, you navigate around Shahrukh’s nose and you find play and the movie begins! Oh my gosh, I am already excited! Title screen, in English and Sanskrit, but not Urdu (I don’t know what that means, but I always notice it when it is included or excluded). Little Tyrolean hat and scarf perched on top of the title. And, begin! It’s very sudden, I’ve gotten so used to today’s system where they front load all the corporate partners. But remember, back in 1995, there were no corporate partners, because no one was investing in film. In fact, it was this movie that played a large part in making that shift. First, by proving that there was a large international audience for the films (well, helping to prove that, Hum Aapke Hain Koun had come out less than a year earlier). And second, by being the proving ground for Aditya Chopra who went on to create the first truly corporate film studio.
And here we are in London! It looks beautifully grey. I don’t know if they did that on purpose, waited for a rainy day, or if it just happened, but it is perfect. They are filming in the middle of the night, of course, to cut down on traffic and all that. But for once, the filmmaker uses that and it helps to set the tone. London is cold and dark in that hour before dawn and Amrish Puri is standing there, all alone, the one slice of any color. He is wearing a brown/maroon-ish jacket, providing the color of the earth against London’s cold stone. And his dialogue starts, explaining that he has been in London for 20 years, and yet he still feels an outsider. The only beings who seem to know him are the pigeons, who fly back and forth between London and Punjab. But he cannot fly, because his “wings are clipped and shackled to my bread”. That’s beautiful, isn’t it?
Aditya Chopra wrote the script, of course, and we all know how brilliant it is. But I think the years since then have shown him to be not just a brilliant scriptwriter, but something of a poet. He wrote the poem for Dhoom 3, and for Jab Tak Hain Jaan.
(Of course, what really sells it is hearing it in Shahrukh’s voice)
And then we see Amrish Puri suddenly transported to the happy Punjab with singing and dancing in the fields.
There is so much to think about here! Anupama Chopra has done a much better job than I could talking about how Amrish represents the older generation of the diaspora and that longing for home and so on and so forth. But, what I want to focus on in the micro-level, is his clothes. I said that he stood out against the grey stone of London as not belonging. Well, he also stands out against the colors of the Punjab. He is both too bright for London and too dark for the Punjab, belonging in both places and neither. This will come up again through out the film, for instance when later Satish Shah mentions that they need to get to the party on time because Amrish has become “a bit British.” No matter how much he may protest, he doesn’t belong in either place.
And also, this is the Punjab. He is not dreaming of India, both the visuals and the dialogue says specifically “Punjab”. On the one hand, on the simplest level, this is a Yash Raj film and Yash Raj films are always Punjabi, because Yashji was Punjabi. But on a bigger level, this is the first sign of grappling with a different kind of Indian identity, one that is ethnic rather than national. Amrish doesn’t miss India because he wants to fly the tricolor and sing “Vande Mataram” (remember Hrithik’s intro in K3G? Not that). He misses it because he wants to be in the fields of his youth, smelling their scents and hearing their sounds.
(Not this either. But isn’t this cool? I love the ABCD movies!)
More than that, you know the reason Yash Raj films always use the Punjab, right? It is because the Chopra family themselves are adrift, cut off from their home. BR and Yash were the only members of their family to get out before Partition. They have lived in Bombay now for decades and decades. And yet there is still that faint almost sense memory of a home that no longer exists, where the fields flowered and the people sang and there was peace everywhere. That Punjab, which may have never existed, is the Punjab that Yash Raj recreates on film over and over again, on Bombay sound stages, just as Amrish Puri is bring it forth here, in the heart of London. By using the Punjab as the reference for a lost home, Yash Raj is speaking not just to the diaspora, but to the Punjabi refugees and their descendants who are still home-but-not-home, in India.
And then Amrish arrives at his little gas station shop, which is the most stunningly accurate creation of an immigrant business until, maybe, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. In which the business is just making deals and selling things out of their car, parked on a street in Southhall. I love Jhoom Barabar Jhoom for that, and for all the other ways that it evokes the real on the ground immigrant experience, and affirms that it is still magical. But, this isn’t about JBJ, so back to Amrish and his gas station!
(Abhishek’s office in JBJ, a far cry from the usual businessman types that are supposed to make up the whole diaspora, according to most films)
Again, I love this gas station. It is neat and tidy with miscellaneous realistic items stocked on the shelves. There is a small counter near the door, on which sits a cash register and a Lakshmi idol. The first thing Amrish does upon arrive is to light incense under Lakshmi and take her blessings. I have seen this same thing in so many stores in my neighborhood. Lakshmi, Ganash, Buddha, a Mexican Saint, an African idol, some little bit of home brought with them to this distant land (did I mention that I live in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in America, according to the 2010 census?). And brought to the most familiar and important place in their life, their Store. This will come up again in a bit, when Shahrukh dishonors this idol, but I think it is important that he dishonors this particular idol, the one who keeps Amrish company and gives him strength through out his long long work day. Lakshmi here is not just a sign of Amrish’s faith in her, it is a sign of his faith in his hard work and the profit it provides which keeps him shackled here. In order to justify spending his life separated not just from his home in India, but even his family home in England, he must believe that what he is doing is somehow holy. Or that by his sacrifice, he can make it holy.
This sacrifice is underlined, because as soon as he completes his brief prayer, the phone rings, and it is his wife, Farida Jalal. She is calling to confirm he made it safely to work. And we, the audience, see his home for the first time, the kitchen, in which his younger daughter is having breakfast, dressed in a school uniform, while his wife wears her Salwar Kameez and moves confidently about the kitchen. Her daughter makes fun of her for calling everyday, but to the audience, who has just seen Amrish’s treachorous journey through London, it makes sense. It is not that London is dangerous or that she is worried for his physical health, it is his spiritual and mental health that concerns her. Amrish must travel through the nether world of the immigrant, only to land in a shop to which he is kept shackled by need and the only comfort in his loneliness is a religious idol. Of course his wife would worry! She is using the telephone cord like an umbilical cord attaching him to, and providing sustenance from, their womb-like little home. Ew, I just squicked myself out! Too many bodily metaphors1
their home is a little bit of India in England. This is just the beginning establishing of the dichotomy between Shahrukh and Kajol’s differing versions of the second generation immigrant. Kajol is raised in a house of women, kept warm and snug between her loving mother and bouncy younger sister. The women are the obvious keepers of the flame of culture. While Amrish is sent out into the world alone, they stay home, where they are able to keep a little corner of India alive. But, as the rest of the film will show, in fact this dichotomy is false. The women, in their safety and comfort, are able to quietly question their established way of life and beliefs and traditions. The men, sent out into the world are strengthened in their original beliefs and purposes by the constant pressure of outside forces.
But before we get to those super deep thoughts, what is it with the almonds? I get it on a deeper level, Kajol’s sister is rejecting her mother’s belief in the power of almonds as breakfast food, in the same way she is speaking English and wearing Western style school clothes, because she is drifting farther and farther from their traditions. But, why almonds? Is this a thing? Is it just for kids, or is it for everybody? Why did my desi friends’ mothers never try to make me eat almonds? I know I shouldn’t be thinking about it this much, because Kajol is about to be introduced and that is much more important, but I can’t LET IT GO!!!
Speaking of things I can’t let go off, did you know that Pooja Ruparel who plays Rajeshwari/Chutki was actually the star of a film in which Shahrukh was just a lowly second lead a few years earlier? King Uncle was a remake of Little Orphan Annie, with Pooja Ruparel playing Annie, and Jackie Shroff as Daddy Warbucks. But it was Indianized, so of course Daddy Warbucks couldn’t just be a lonely millionaire, he needed a family around him. Shahrukh was his younger brother, who ran away from home when Jackie wouldn’t let him marry for love. He basically disappears for the whole middle part of the movie, while Pooja/Annie is slowly wearing Jackie down. And then Jackie tracks Shahrukh down and invites him to move back home with his bride, and there is a song. It’s just so weird watching Pooja’s scenes with Shahrukh in this and having that backstory! Just two years earlier, she was the main lead, and he was just the younger sibling who is ignored for long stretches. Plus, she probably thought she would be remembered forever for her star turn, but it turns out the little movie she made a few years later, playing a random younger sibling, is all everyone remembers today. Also, she totally carries King Uncle, almost knocks Shahrukh off the screen, and definitely over-shadows Jackie. Here’s her intro song (the “Hard Knock Life” equivalent).
So, I should try to at least get to “Mere Khwabon Main” today, but I’ve spent way too long already on the diasporic identity child actors and stuff, so I’m not. Oh! And it isn’t even the first song, anyway! Isn’t that interesting? The first song is actually the Punjab thing that Amrish hallucinates on his way to work. Huh. Normally, the first song comes 20 minutes in, to say “Hey! The movie’s really starting now! Stop chatting in the lobby and come in!” “Mere Khwabon” still serves that purpose, the scenes immediately after it establish the main conflict of the film. But I think by frontloading a song, Adi is telling us “Hey! Pay attention to this bit too! It’s not totally relevant to the plot, you can still wait 20 minutes if you want, but it means a lot in terms of character and setting so you should at least pop your head in the door and see if you are interested.”
Which is why I just spent over 2500 words on everything that happened before our hero and heroine even appeared. But I promise they will show up tomorrow! In the meantime, here’s a little taste to keep you satisfied:
(I am positive Adi cuts this himself. I picture him late at night, alone in the editing bay at Yash Raj, making trailer after trailer, just to relax after running a multi-national corporation the rest of the day. Supposedly, it was his brilliant trailer for Darr that actually convinced Yashji to let him direct DDLJ)
((Okay, now I have to show you the Darr trailer. I’m with Yashji, I’d let him direct anything he wanted after this!))
(It’s better than the movie, and the movie is pretty darn good!)