Saala Khadoos! A good movie, but a short and single track movie. So not as much to say! I am actually finishing the whole thing off in 2 posts.
Read on for the second half!
When we come back, after Madhavan has thrown her out of training, Madhi is sad and at home. Her Dad is being a pain, as usual, saying that of course she failed, it’s pointless, give up. Finally, Madhi has had enough! She grabs her bag, throws in her stuff and says she is leaving. Stepping over her father on the way, which is one of the most disrespectful things you can do (since it means putting your feet above them. See also: the end of “Ruk Ja O Dil Deewane”).
(Her Dad doesn’t react as cutely as this, and she doesn’t look as happy and unaware while doing it)
And, sad leaving home song! We see that she goes to Junior Coach’s house, where he and his wife take her in and give her a place to sleep and feed her and are generally loving and awesome. Junior Coach also goes jogging with her and helps her in the gym and gives her what she needs. Meanwhile, she is dreaming about on the beach, wearing the hat Madhavan gave her, and having visions of him. Forget Madhavan! Junior Coach is where it’s at!
Meanwhile, back in Delhi, ick! The big boss creepy guy, I forgot this, had ordered one of his chamcha’s to check her out and send him pictures back when Madhavan was training her. Now he is getting the report that Madhavan is no longer working with her, but she is still training with Junior Coach. He pulls up the pictures he was sent on his tablet and expands-expands-expands, focusing in on her lips and breasts. It is fascinating! I mean, yuchy, but also fascinating!
This is a movie that is all about women’s bodies. As boxers and athletes. The photos of her training, when just looked at regular, show her muscles and stance and so on. But the icky Delhi guy changes it, just by zooming in on certain areas, and suddenly it becomes sexual. It’s like a before and after shot of how to sexualize any image of a woman. This is what people talk about when they complain about “male gaze” in media. And this is also a disgusting view of how a man can find any image of a woman sexual, no matter what. This is what leads to the “she was leading me on!” arguments.
Being super icky like that, Delhi guy orders that Madhi be called up to Delhi. Back in Chennai, celebration! Junior Coach is super proud of her, she is thrilled, this is her big chance! Gah! It’s so awful, knowing this is all because the icky guy thinks she is sexy!
So, Delhi! Icky guy greets her and tells her he is sending her out to a match tomorrow, against a Russian champ. That he is doing a huge favor, since usually she would have to wait years for this kind of chance. Junior Coach tries to interfere, to point out that the Russian is more experienced and in a higher weight class, so it isn’t a good match, but icky guy overrules him. Madhi goes along with it, because she trusts her coaches.
And she gets knocked out in ten seconds in the ring, a real bad blow that splits her lip and makes her look a little concussed. And Delhi guy announces that he will take her back to Delhi and then send her home. Madhi looks miserable about all of this. It just makes me feel sick, because this is how guys get away with it! Not just in sports or just in India, or even just with women. But any time those who have the power want to keep it from others, all you have to do is promote them beyond their experience, and then say “See! I gave them a chance and they blew it! Now I never have to give any members of that group a chance ever again!” And even in their own mind, they can think “look what a great guy I am! I took pity on a member of whatever group! Even if they failed, they now owe me.”
(this is why it took us decades to get a Wonder Woman movie)
So, yeah, icky guy calls her back to his private compartment on the train. We don’t see what happens, but he is pushing her head down in his lap, then he cries out, and she runs out of the room, upset. The girl, a fellow boxer, who originally called her to come back, goes up after her and comforts her, saying “it’s no big deal, we all have to do it. I mean, you know what your own sister has done, right?” It looks like this comment doesn’t really register with Madhi at the time, but it sure registers with me! If they had just hit that a little harder, they could have made it clear that “good girl” Lux has had to do this over and over again, and was possibly injuring Madhi just to save her from the same fate. I mean, look, if she had given up after the injury instead of running away from home to keep training, she would have been saved from experiencing attempted rape. Of course, Madhi loves to box, and it is worth it to experience this if she can continue. But Lux doesn’t feel like that about it, she is just boxing to get a job to support the family. So in her mind, she is saving Madhi from suffering, because only one of them needs to go far enough to get a good job and support them all. Or, you could interpret it that way, but the film doesn’t spend quite enough time on it to make it clear that this is the correct interpretation.
Back in Chennai, things continue to suck. Madhi goes to the gym to find the cops searching her locker. And finding cash. They accuse her of stealing from the office, she calls back to Junior Coach as they drag her away that it was all a set-up. And now she is in jail, thrown in with a bunch of other women, while Junior Coach tries to get her out but has no luck. She tries to reach for the phone and demand her phone call, and is shoved off by a cop. She goes back to sit down, and the woman sitting next to her quietly slides a cell phone along the floor towards her. Madhi picks it up and dials, and it’s Madhavan! Or at least, his back. We see him pick up, but before he can say much more than “hello”, we are back in jail with Madhi yelling into the phone that she’s been arrested, she needs help, all she wants to do is box, that’s all, as the guards come over and try to grab the phone from her. Which probably makes her message that much more powerful, since it is being shouted over the sound of slaps and abuse from the cops.
Next scene, Madhavan, Junior Coach, and Madhi walking to the airport. Junior Coach tells Madhavan that if he’d bargained a little, he could have gotten her out for much cheaper. And Madhavan says “I would have paid any price.” Whoa! That is take your breath away romantic, right? Or something, because I’m still hoping for no romance right now. I like it is a film that is about woman being able to be successful and men helping them with no romance at all. Keep the romance gone for the rest of the film and put in more sister stuff, and I will be a happy camper!
As they go through the gate of the airport, Junior Coach says farewell, and gives Madhavan his blessing, saying “You are a good man!” Interesting! The whole film is about accepting exceptionalism, basically, and the price that can take. Madhavan’s whole complaint at the beginning is that the Indian sports association is more focused on finding people who can play the game and go along with the rest than on finding the best of the best. And Madhavan, as the best of the best, only cares about doing his best and finding the best. He may come off as rude and crude, but those who have to work with him eventually recognize his qualities and that his behavior doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
They arrive at training camp, she is in as his wild card champion, despite not having won any of the qualifying matches. She promises that she will do whatever he wants, she only wants to train. And then Lux! She is with a bunch of other girls, working out, and sees Madhi arrive and runs over, looking sincerely delighted to see her. She starts talking at once, how happy she is to see her, how they can room together, how great this is. Madhavan comes over and says he will talk to the steward and get the rooms re-arranged so they can bunk together. Which is so nice of him! And like the most understanding thing he has done. Again, this is that guru-student relationship I don’t quite get, which is more than just teaching, but a whole life relationship and mentorship. Including bribes and bails to corrupt cops, paying for food and equipment, and arranging for you to live with your sister even if the prior arrangements are otherwise.
(Speaking of, did you know Shahrukh was in the room when Yashji died? Just him, Adi and Uday, and Pam aunty. So the whole Guru-Student thing is still around, just in a different form)
But Madhi does not want to room with Lux. She just says “I room alone” and walks away from the fence. Which is frustrating, but no worries, they have that confrontation that’s been brewing for a while in the very next scene, when they bump into each other in the empty cafeteria. Lux starts off friendly, all “hey, what’s up?” Madhi is having none of it, and lays it all out, that she fought with a broken hand, never told on Lux, has suffered for months, and now they are done, the two of them. Lux (finally!) gives her perspective, saying she was going to be a cop, she could take care of the whole family, and then Madhi had to come in and take it from her. Did she know what all that she (Lux) had to do to get here! Things she can’t even say! And then Madhi says something in a disgusted way about knowing what she has done, and Lux goes for her throat. Madhavan shows up just in time to separate them, and Lux starts yelling and hitting him, asking him what Madhi did that she couldn’t do, she would have done anything! Anything! Madhavan orders Madhi to leave, and then once she is gone, tells Lux “She’s just better than you.” And Lux completely falls apart, sobbing on his chest, while he gently pats her back and looks all torn up over her head.
Couple o’ things here. First, I like that they show how all of the rape by coercion and so on that Lux has been through has completely destroyed her sense of self, that she desperately needed success in order to justify everything she had done in her own mind. I also like that they show how she has lost the ability to even consider advancing on merit, or that there is any merit to be had beyond a willingness to give your body to whoever asks. And I like that they show Madhavan feeling her pain as she finally accepts that she just isn’t good enough and her sister is, and her sacrifice was for nothing.
But, on the other hand, it would have been so much stronger if Madhi had had this realization too! Let her react with sympathy and caring to the revelation of all her sister has done, instead of with disgust and horror. Let her be the one to embrace and comfort. Show that women can better and more easily understand what all this means. Like in Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, when Konkona finds out that Rani has been working as a call girl to support the whole family, and her reaction is to hug her and insist that she come home for her wedding, because it is her sacrifice that is paying for it all, and she deserves to be there.
(And then this awesome song! You know Abhishek and Kunal Kapoor are cousins-in-law now?)
And, the way they show Madhavan in this scene and through out the film, it feels like he is the one noble decent man in the world who can actually appreciate women for their talents and as people, and care what happens to them. Which, it’s nice that Madhavan can do that, but it kind of makes him feel like a hopeless ideal, like men shouldn’t feel bad if they can’t live up to his standards, because he is so perfect and awesome. Sure, Junior Coach is there too, but Junior Coach doesn’t seem to have the burning anger and caring that Madhavan does, he seems more like someone who would never do these things himself, but sort of ignores it when other people do. Show some more decent men in the world, film! Surely there are some in India, right? Ones who would be shaken to their core by such happenings and do everything in their power to prevent them? Besides Madhavan?
Oh, and my third problem is that we then forget the sister stuff, again, for like half an hour! We are back to all boxing all the time! Madhavan gives Madhi a pep talk before her qualifying match, reminding her that all the referees are against her, and will give points to her opponent. Which is when there is the cool scene from the trailer, where she asks him all calm “What do you want, Master?” he says “A knockout” and she responds “That’s all?” And yeah, then she gets in the ring and knocks out her opponent basically instantly.
And, success montage! Newspapers, magazines, win win win! All leading up to her final fight, for the world cup championship, against that same Russian fighter! But first, let’s check in with Mom and Dad! Dad is stealing cable, Mom yells at him, he explains that Lux called and said she was disqualified in a lower match, but Madhi is going to be broadcast on TV. So I guess that does it for Lux?
Madhi and Madhavan show up for the weigh in for the final match, but her name isn’t on the list! Madhi starts to worry, but Madhavan tells her to forget about it, he will handle it, just sit down and wait. She obeys, unquestioningly, like always. Of course, icky Delhi guy is behind it. Madhavan goes to talk to him, he is in the middle of some sort of press meet, and asks everyone to leave the room so they can talk alone. All the press people who are eating the buffet and chatting obligingly lumber out. Normally I hate it in films when they make the room clear out like that instead of just talking somewhere else. It’s just so unrealistic and impractical! But in this case, I think it is kind of a brilliant character move. This guy is so gross and power obsessed, he would make everyone leave just so he doesn’t have to move.
Madhavan also clearly finds him gross, but is standing there, forcing himself to be calm and respectful, because for once he actually cares enough to try to play the game. He lets gross guy list off all the times Madhavan disrespected him in public, waits for him to be done, and asks “What do I have to do to get her back on the list?” He has to resign. Gross guy has a letter all ready. Madhavan signs it without a moment’s hesitation and walks out. Gross guy says on his way out, “What does she do in bed that you would give up everything for her?” Madhavan says something I can’t remember! Grr! Why didn’t I write it down? I think it’s something like “you wouldn’t understand” or else “she’s just a good fighter.” Either way, he could have gone back and made a big stink, but he was still focused on the big picture and basically lets this last grossness go.
Also, I think maybe they shouldn’t have had the success montage before this! I understand how sports movies work, you need the taste of success to make the threat of loss at the end even stronger. But if she already is on magazines and all that, how can they get away with dropping her from the list at the last minute without causing a furor? Also, how is it that her parents are only now excited about her success, and not before?
Back with Madhi, still waiting to be weighed in, one of gross guys assistants comes in, walks over to the table, and gets her name added, then brings her over to be weighed in. She keeps asking “where is my Master? Where is he?” And when they don’t answer, she finally pushes them all aside and takes off running! She finds Madhavan back in his rooms, with his own Guru, preparing to watch her match on TV and then leave the training camp. Madhi confronts him, asking why he abandoned her! What happened! What can she do? He tells her the truth, that he had to resign so she could get her shot, so she has to win for him! She tells him that she can’t win without him. It’s actually a really well done scene. After all we’ve seen, I completely believe in their connection, whatever it is, and that she NEEDS him in the stadium to be able to perform, and he will do anything to help her win and doesn’t care what happens to him any more. But is it romantic? I DON’T KNOW!
And then I really don’t know, because after she leaves, his Guru runs down everything he has done for this girl, emptying his savings account, quitting his profession, if that isn’t love, what is? And Madhavan looks struck by the truth of it all! Which looks like we are suddenly veering into a romantic ending, right? Only the word for love is “pyar”. Not the more man-woman-y Ishq or Mohabbat. So it could still be just the guru-student kind of love, but a demand that Madhavan realize their bond is going to last even after she wins this final match.
(This Pyar, or the other pyar? Who knows!)
Either way, here we are, ready to fight! Icky guy is introducing himself to everyone as her coach, she is completely ignoring him, her parents are watching at home, and at the last minute, Lux comes in and sits in the stands. Indian flags are waving in the audience, etc. etc. The first bout goes badly, she gets pretty beat up. Icky guy tries to give her tips, she shakes him off. The second bout, she gets knocked out and almost doesn’t get on her feet again. At which point, Lux jumps up from the stands and runs down to the ring and jumps in to hold her up and tend to her wounds. Awwwww! I could have done with having this reunion happen sooner, but it is pretty sweet to see it here. Especially because, before the next bout, Lux is the one he gives her last words of advice and takes a moment to coach her, not icky guy. She doesn’t need some icky man of power to coach her, she just needs her little sister!
Well, and also Madhavan! He’s here! He sneaks in the back just before the final bout, but icky guy orders the security guards to start dragging him out. He is yelling and yelling, trying to get her attention, finally she sees him! He is signaling, trying to convey what she should do to win. Finally, he leaps up above the crowd to mime shooting an arrow, which reminds her off a story he told in training, about how Genghis Khan would win by first crippling his opponent’s weapons, then pretending to fly in order to suck them into an open attack where he could them surprise them with his own strength.
She gets it, and she wins! While everyone watches, confused, she hits her opponent over and over again about the arms, then stands back, panting, arms down, until the Russian comes at her with an open attack, which allows her to go in for a massive blow that flings her all the way off her feet, in slow mo, up into the air, and then come crashing down! WIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THE CROWD GOES WILD!!!!! The first person she reaches for and hugs is her sister (awww!), then the icky guy comes up and starts yelling at the cameras that this is his student, his discovery, his pride! Madhi finally hears what he is saying, and at the same time sees that Madhavan is walking out. So she punches Icky Guy in the face! And then the stomach, and crotch! It is super satisfying! And then she forces her way through the crowd, with the cameras still following her running to get to Madhavan and finally leaping up and grabbing onto him with both arms and legs! Like a monkey (or small child) holding on to her parent. Madhavan grabs her to hold her up, and gently kisses her neck saying “well done!” And, the end!
So, what was that? At the end? With the hugging? Because I can pretend to be interested in sports and social issues and so on, but really I just want to know what happened in the romance! And actually, I think we aren’t supposed to know for sure. Just like using “pyar” when his Guru confronts him, so we aren’t sure if it is about romantic love or just love-love, they did this scene just right to keep it unclear. She is running into his arms, just like in every Yash Chopra love song, but then she is holding him in the same way a child holds a parent. And he is hugging back, but just enough to support her in that position, not necessarily because he wants to. And then he kisses her, but on the neck, which could be sexy, but could also just be comforting. I don’t know! It could be a sweet story of her falling in love first and him only realizing it at that very end at the same time she realizes how much she really needs him. Or it could be a sweet story about how she had a crush on him but then learned to love and respect him as a coach only, and he finally admitted that he actually cares for her, not just her talent, but still in a guru-like way. I DON’T KNOW!!! But I will accept any interpretation you give in the comments.