So, part one got a little deep and a little poetic about the meaning of the diaspora and male versus female life spaces and so on. I will try very hard to keep it light with this one, but I don’t know if I can! I think this is the first movie I’ve recapped here (except maybe Airlift?) that I think is legitimately deep, not just fun to watch.
So, onward! To the one who comes in my dreams!
(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)
I left off with a discussion of almonds and Pooja Ruparel. So, your usual second generation diaspora issues. Speaking of diaspora issues, I didn’t realize until this re-watch, but there is a little K3G moment here! Or, more accurately, a little DDLJ moment in K3G. If you recall, in K3G, Kareena’s horrible character is introduced when Kajol and Farida Jalal call her to come down to breakfast while standing by their breakfast table. And then the camera cuts from this wholesome vision of motherhood and womanhood, to the youthful and exciting and HORRIBLE “Poo”. Anyway, the same thing happens here, even down to Farida Jalal being the one who calls out. Only instead of revealing horrible sexualized Kareena, it’s sweet innocent Kajol!
That wasn’t just a random slam at Kareena in K3G (fun though those can be!), it actually shows how different DDLJ was than every other film before or even after. Kareena in K3G is basically a redux of Saira Banu in Purab Aur Paschim, a young woman raised overseas who has completely lost touch with her original culture, as shown by her fashion, make-up, and hair. And then a wise young man from Bharat (subtly named “Bharat”) seduces her back into Indianness and India.
(why is she blonde? I don’t know! Does she always have either alcohol or a cigarette in her hand? Yes! Is this the same super traditional looking old woman who is married to Dilip Kumar? Indeed it is!)
DDLJ is saying something different. Kajol doesn’t need to be seduced back into Indianness, she is still Indian. She is introduced wearing a modest white Salwar Kameez, her hair loose and natural, her face basically make-up free. And this is also an indication of what kind of hero we can expect (I promise, he is coming soon! In like 4 more paragraphs!). This is not a heroine that needs the most traditional man in the world to bring her back to virtue and India (Which she will learn to call “sharam” and “Hindustan” once she has been brainwashed by the sick mind games of a cute boy who has a fetish for women in saris). No, this is a girl who is awesome all on her own and needs someone who will complement her, not convert her.
Also, let’s talk about the actual visual here! I just re-watched Karan-Arjun and Baazigar (full summaries here and here in case you missed them), and Kajol barely got an intro in those. In Karan-Arjun, she is just suddenly there, smiling and bouncing and watching Shahrukh from behind a fence. In Baazigar, she sort of gets an intro, with the whole Gabbar Singh dialogue thing, but that is more an introduction of the role, the little sister Shilpa had been talking about, than an introduction of “Kajol”. In Baazigar, we saw her feet, the belt, then her face and she turned in the Gabbar homage. But there was no hold on her face, no assumption that the audience would need a moment to appreciate her presence. Moreover, the intro told us nothing about her character, it was just a random Gabbar Singh reference that quickly turned into a Johnny Lever comedy bit once the work of establishing her relationship to the other moving parts of the plot was established.
Now let’s look at this intro. Her hair is hanging down, drying, she flips it back and reveals her face. The camera stays on her face for a good thirty seconds at least, while the music swells and she runs through various expressions, a small smile, and sort of “huh” mouth, a glance to the side, a look up at nothing, and so on. Just the fact that the camera is staying on her for so long tells us something, that Kajol is going to be a force to be reckoned with in this film, or after this film, or soon. That we should all be excited to see her. Adi is playing the long game here, he believes this is going to be a star making film, and that it will run long enough to take advantage of that. Which, oh man, did it ever!
And then there is what she actually does there, which tells us so much about this character! In the last two movies, Karan-Arjun and Baazigar, she didn’t even bother with a character most of the time. In a few scenes, suddenly she would be believably sad or happy or in love or whatever. But most of the time, it felt like it was just Kajol showing up for work and wearing weird clothes and trying not to laugh about how silly it was that she was doing all this. But in this, I don’t think this is Kajol that we are studying for 30 seconds. This is Kajol-as-Simran. Simran is completely unselfconscious, thus the unpracticed facial expressions and wild natural hair, but also a little bit of a dreamer, the side glances at things we can’t see tell us that. She keeps her emotions to herself and you have to look closely to figure out how she feels, the small smile and quiet expressions tell us that.
So, that’s Simran! Raised in a cozy little household in the middle of London which feels like India, wearing Indian clothes and natural hair when at home, but with secret dreams she may not have even shared with her family. Until now! Okay, everyone in the world has pointed out how creepy and weird it is for Kajol to share her fantasies about a dream lover (so I don’t have to dream alone…) with her mother. I have nothing to add to that.
(it’s like this, but with Kajol in a bedroom talking to Farida Jalal instead of Bobby Darin on a strange TV set singing to nobody. Boy, Bobby Darin was cool, wasn’t he? If you get a chance, you should definitely watch That Funny Feeling. If a Man Answers is also pretty good, but on the whole, That Funny Feeling is the superior Bobby-Sandra film)
All I have to add are a couple of notes about the set design in the background of their conversation. There are two small single beds, showing that they are a middle class family who can’t afford multiple bedrooms, and that while Kajol is supposed to treat her mother as a friend since she is a woman now (according to the dialogue that no one in the world agrees with), at the same time she is being kept in the same room as her pre-pubescent little sister. Adding to that, there is the big shelf of stuffed animals which is the main decoration of the bed area, and which covers both beds equally. Even if all the animals are Chutki’s, they are still constantly in Kajol’s area as well, keeping her tied to a childlike space.
And, poem! Another of Adi’s awesome poems. Also, another little look forward to future of Yash Raj, I noticed for the first time that “Andekhi Anjaani” is one of the lines, and suddenly that song from Mujshe Dosti Karoge starts playing in my head. Oh, I do love Mujshe Dosti Karoge! And the “who have I been dreaming of?” song makes a lot more sense there, since it isn’t just some random hallucination, but an actual person with whom they have been exchanging letters.
(Is Hrithik the only man in the world who can pull off flared two-tone jeans?)
And, song! And finally, Shahrukh! Remember how I talked about how this opening establishes women in the home while men are outside of it? This song really really supports that interpretation! Kajol is dancing around her home, always kept within its walls. Even at her wildest, dancing in the rain, she is still kept within a large privacy wall of the garden, keeping her separate from the world and world away from her. Also, speaking of that bit, astroturf? Why always astroturf, India? It bothers me in Dhoom, and it bothers me here! Who has astroturf in their backyard?
(My favorite part of this is that they show us the wedding photo right at the beginning, so we know it is okay that they are having sex. No! I take that back! It’s at the end when she puts on the “sexy” lingerie that is actually more modest than the clothes she was wearing before!)
Meanwhile, where do we see Shahrukh? He is lunging forward on the rugby pitch (so proud of myself for knowing that term!), surrounded by non-desis, and defeating them all. He is riding a motorcycle down a British road and coming on to a (British?) hitchhiker. He is in an indoor swiming pool. And, most memorably, he is racing a plane down a runway, as the camera pulls back into the sky with the plane to show him leaping below as it takes off. Shahrukh is in the world, and defeating it! While Kajol is kept safe and warm in her own little private world. The two sides of the immigrant community, do you completely give over to the world you are living in, playing rugby and racing planes and being better than everyone else? Or do you remove yourself from the race entirely, stay safe and home and hide your small dreams deep in your heart?
Secondly, notice that Shahrukh is being introduced as Kajol’s fantasy, not the other way around! I am sure it has been done like this before, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of another big film that had the girl bringing the guy to life through her fantasy. It’s always the other way around. “Bholi Si Surat” from Dil To Pagal Hai, “Dekha Ek Khwab” from Silsila, “Dream Girl” from Dream Girl, etc. Shahrukh is what Kajol wants and needs, not the other way around.
(dum dum de dum DREAM GIRL, dum dum de dum DREAM GIRL. Watch out, it will get stuck in your head. Or your dreams. (No, that joke was way too obvious, I take it back))
This whole first 20 minutes has been leading to this, because this whole time we have been getting to know Kajol’s situation and life and what might be missing and what might be needed. We have NOT been getting to know the hero. It’s not unusual (to be loved by anyone….) to have the hero’s intro delayed until the 20 minute mark. But it is unusual to spend that time leisurely getting to know the heroine instead. The only other movies I can think of that start this way are the great films of the great heroines. Pakeezah, Guddi, Daddy, Rangeela, they all start that way. There is a lively debate in both academia and the fan world as to whether DDLJ is or is not a feminist film. I’ll be dealing with both sides as elements come up. But I think it is important to note that, structurally, Kajol’s perspective is privileged. It is her family and her problems that the film is focused on resolving, starting with this first 20 minutes setting the stage. While Shahrukh’s character may dominate as soon as he appears, that has more to do with his dominating performance energy and less to do with how his character was created and introduced.
(I was just looking for a youtube clip of the song, but this is so much better than I hoped for!)
Oh, and also, Kajol dances in a towel and we see a computer in the background while she does it. So she is innocent, but also a little sexual. And her bedroom may have stuffed animals, but it also has a computer. So again, innocent, but a little adult.
Song, over! Shahrukh is lying in an indoor pool, surrounded by floating beer cans, in a t-shirt and super short swim trunks. By the way, have I talked about SRK’s costumes yet? Short version, not good! Long version, his legs are not his best feature. Longer version, back in the mid-nineties the baby fat was really taking over his face and torso and chin area, and the key is to draw focus from those places to his pretty pretty eyes and poofy poofy hair. Which does not work, when you put him in short shorts and poofy shirts and wet hair. Blech! Yes, I said it! I said “Blech” to SRK in DDLJ! At least in these scenes.
(see, this scene works! Because it is all about the eyes and the hair. And a little bit the soft, kissable mouth)
And, as we all remember, he wakes up in the pool and remembers that it is graduation day! Runs out of his mansion, runs into his fancy odd looking white car (if I were a different person, I would be all impressed by what a recognizably fancy car breed it is, but I am not that person, so it just looks odd). Oh! And another K3G similarity! Am I the only person who keeps trying to figure out how Hrithik got all those vehicles? The red “oh. my. gosh” car, the yellow mid-song motorcycle, AND the grey convertible he gives Shahrukh a ride to work in. Anyway, spoilers, this will not be the only car we see Shahrukh drive and it is never explained or addressed.
(Can everyone drive cars onto the campus? Or just the super hot guys?)
So, running running running, on a fancy British looking school campus, running into the graduation hall, sitting down, KARAN JOHAR!!!! When Bombay Velvet came out, he was credited as “introducing Karan Johar” and like every reviewer in the world went “uh no no no no no!” Because of course, Karan was the highlight of these early scenes! Cute chubby eager Karan. Oh, Karan! I do love you.
And he is doing his little job, all responsible, giving us the exposition. Apparently, someone failed the final exams and the Dean is going to announce who it is on stage in the commencement address. Okay, is that really a thing at British schools? I know it is a thing at Indian schools, where everything is very test based, but is it a thing in England too? It sure isn’t in America! You would get letters and second chances and make-up exams and deferred graduation and all sorts of stuff! There is no one big final exam, it is a cumulative effect. If it isn’t a British thing, then I will say that this is one small area in which the film is made less for the diaspora and more for the folks at home.
Oh, and we hear our hero’s name! “Raj Malhotra”! The student who doesn’t graduate! Interesting contrast with Kajol’s name intro, right? Kajol is called to by her mother, in her bedroom, where she is dreamily dreaming. Raj Malhotra is introduced by a British authority figure who is rejecting him. In a public space. Surrounded by non-desis.
And, Anupum Kehr! Oh Anupum. You just did another thing today in the real world that I kind of hate, and yet I can’t help but love you in the film world! Again, just like Kajol’s scene with Farida Jalal, this is a pretty simple one to interpret so I don’t have much to add to the general consensus. Shahrukh and his Dad are friends, his Dad is uninterested in academic success and just wants him to have fun, they have a weird hand jive thing they do together. A couple of big interesting things here, though. First, the lack of interest in academic success which is such strange scene from the perspective of the millennium. Now, both at home and overseas, computers and medicine are the way to get ahead and make money. Back in the 90s, it was about business and trade and making it on talent and chutzpah. The rejection of the academic life, by the Malhotra family, is a rejection of the established power structures, both at home and abroad.
But, there are other power structures that this scene reinforces. The conversation about Shahrukh traveling through Europe takes an interesting turn. At first, it is Shahrukh the spoiled brat wanting something from his Dad. But once Anupum starts to get faint of breath and need to sit down, Shahrukh immediate drops to his knees and starts massaging his feet, the facade of the cocky British bad boy drops away and he reveals himself to be the perfect and respectful Hindustani ladka (sp?) (again, this is all interpretations I am basing on this excellent book that you should all read). And because Aditya is a genius, he even figures out how to make this work for his plot. Anupum orders Shahrukh to have fun, to travel, as a way of honoring his father who sacrificed so that he could enjoy. It’s brilliant! We get our wild young people adventure, while still respecting our elders! And it’s also a great message about how to be a good Dad, very in line with Yashji’s “I’m in love, yaar!” kind of father-son relationship from Kabhi Kabhi.
(you need a certain amount of unquestioning fatherly support to think you can pull off white linen bell-bottoms and a red beret.)
Okay, I just hit 25 thousand plus words again! Time to stop before I get to Kajol and slutty Tina talking about their trip.