In between other things, I am slowly making may way through a massive multi-part summary of all the SRKajol films. I already did Karan-Arjun and Baazigar, and this whole thing was started with my summarizing Dilwale. And now I have finally reached the pinnacle (suck it, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai fans! I am saying DDLJ is better and you can’t stop me!)
(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)
The last post was just a long discussion of Shahrukh and Kajol’s first conversation, which turned into a rant about eve-teasing and India’s concept that the only way to protect women is to cut them off from all male contact, except that sanctioned by their fathers. And how Shahrukh’s flirty-talky attitude was actually making fun of Kajol’s insane level of paranoia about a cute guy her age daring to chat with her. But, at the same time, I think both characters were meant to come off a little badly here, Kajol for her extreme primness, and Shahrukh for his extreme almost ADHD outgoing-ness.
But then sexy Tina arrived, and Shahrukh found a more appropriate play partner, and Kajol was able to finally leave, dragging Tina behind her over to their seats. And then we have a little “Summer Nights” moment, with Kajol and Shahrukh sharing conflicting perspectives on what just happened. Shahrukh’s version has Kajol coming on to him, so forward, girls these days! Karan is all glasses and baseball cap and interest. Kajol’s version has Shahrukh being super aggressive, wouldn’t leave her alone! Boys these days!
So, here’s the thing, it is set up as contrasting similar scenes. But I don’t think it is supposed to be contrasting a lie with a truth. I think it is supposed to be contrasting two people who are saying what they think they are supposed to say for their friends. Shahrukh is putting on an act of being the ladies man who all the women want, and Kajol is putting on the act of the extremely proper Indian girl who has no interest at all in boys, and is disgusted when they talk to her. Just like “Summer Nights”, actually. Sandy gives the super romantic version, because she thinks that is what she is supposed to be into, and Danny gives the super sexual version, because that’s all he is supposed to care about. But the truth of their feelings and experiences is somewhere in between.
It also tells us a little bit more about these people as they are with their friends. We have seen Shahrukh already a bit more with friends, drinking, partying, etc. What this tells us is that all that wild machismo we saw may have been at least partly an act. Because he is certainly putting on a show for them here, and pretending to be much more of a player than he actually is. We have seen Kajol with her family, and know that she struggles with being a “proper” Indian girl, that she has dreams , that she fought for her right to be on this trip. But now we see her with her friends and realize she is also putting on an act, pretending to not want the life they all have, to not be frustrated by the restrictions her family has put on her. The girl complaining about “boys these days!” is very different from the girl who secretly dreams over the perfect lover.
Oh, and then both groups notice that there is an invitation from Eurorail to a party that night! Dancing, music, booooooysss! Why is Kajol even friends with these girls? Or, actually, why don’t these girls realize Kajol is putting on act of being so prim and proper, because if she was really like that, she wouldn’t hang around with them?
And, party! This set is just so so weird! Anupama Chopra gives the back story that sort of explains it in her book, they only had a limited time to film it, and Saroj Khan was late, so Shahrukh called up Farah Khan and asked her to come and do a song, sort of as a personal favor. Although she was also just starting out, so she probably needed the work. Adi and Farah put their heads together, Adi’s original vision was a real MTV style kind of number, something completely young and fresh. But, Saroj Khan wasn’t down for that, so they had canceled those plans. Farah, on the other hand, was all in, but they didn’t have enough time to really pull it together. So instead, they put together this sort of surreal nightclub number with a real catchy almost rock-and-roll sound to it. And now that I think about it, the whole look and sound and dance is actually a lot more similar to the Shammi movies of the 60s. Which is a cool reference to throw in! The Shammi teenage love story and the super fun and over the top songs that came with it had sort of fallen out of popularity at this point in Indian film. Putting in something like that was a clear sign that this is going to be a film that resurrects the carefree fun time hero with a heart of gold, instead of these super super macho (or super super sweet, in the case of Hum Aapke Hain Koun) guys that had been around since the 80s.
Oh, but the song hasn’t even started yet! Right now, we are just taking in the room, a tiny sound stage with a few tables and a bar in the back, and tiny stage in front, on which an opera singer in a purple and yellow dress and pink wig is singing. It’s a ridiculous outfit, but it does add a much needed shot of color to the mise-en-scene (I wrote “mice-en-scene” at first. That’s when you talk about all the elements of mice that make up what you see on screen), so I will allow it!
And there are Kajol and her friends, sitting at a table in fancy evening dresses looking bored. One of the friends starts complaining about the party, and Kajol points out that she also complained about the train and the food and generally thought everything was going to be a disaster all along! I really like seeing Kajol with her friends, we saw the sweet and secret side of her with her family, but now we are seeing the confident and in charge personality with her friend group. Going back to the home versus world dichotomy of the diaspora, in her home she is still the sweet obedient Indian daughter. But out in the world she is bossy and outspoken and a little mean. I think probably the home-Kajol, the sweet and obedient one, is closer to her real personality. But her way of interacting with her friends shows how she is able to armour herself against the challenges of the world. Her father thinks she needs to stay home, to be protected, in order to remain safe and “Hindustani”. But actually, she is perfectly capable of protecting herself when she has to.
Which brings us back to here, with the girls complaining about how boring the party is, when they see Shahrukh, Karan, and Third Friend walk in and immediately all perk up! Meanwhile, Shahrukh and friends are having a similar “wait, this is lame!” reaction. Until they see the girls and Slutty Tina (or Sheena? I’m not sure what name I am hearing, but I am sticking with Tina because that’s what I’ve been calling her all along and it’s too late to go back now!) waving them over. Karan asks “are they waving to us or the waiters?” Shahrukh hits him in the stomach and tells him to just be quiet and follow his lead (again, he is pretending to be more confident than he actually is). The boys walk over to the table, Shahrukh is all “Hiiiiiiii!” to Tina and she is all “hiiiiiiiiii” in response. Kajol is mad and hiding her face behind a menu, but they all ignore her.
The 3 boys sit down and immediately break up into pairs with the other girls, while Kajol is left as the 7th wheel (their romance grouping is a car with a trailer hitched behind, so 6 wheels. And then Kajol is I guess the spare tire? It’s not a perfect analogy). She continues to aggressively read the menu. This shot is very nicely framed, in the foreground center we have Shahrukh and Slutty Tina holding hands and talking. Between their heads, in the background, we can see Kajol watching and listening. And right on the edge of the frame, on either side, we can see Karan and Third Friend similarly chatting with Kajol’s two other friends.
It’s a really pretty construction, but I think it is also on purpose to show how Kajol is feeling at this moment. She is the center of the screen, and the only person who’s face we see full on, so she is the one the audience will most sympathize with, whose perspective we are sharing. And in her perspective, Shahrukh and Tina are looming large over everything. While we can see that the other people at the table are also talking, it is Shahrukh and Tina’s conversation that is coming through clearly to her, they are the ones she is really listening to. And I don’t think it’s a romantic thing, it’s not that she is obsessed with Shahrukh. It’s that she is obsessed with how he is talking with Tina, and how Tina is talking to him. They are BOTH looming large in the center of her mind, not just SRK.
I’ve occasionally been Kajol in this scene, we all have, when you think you are out with friends and are feeling all happy and confident, and then suddenly romantic interests show up and everyone else is flirting and paired up and you are left by yourself. It’s blechy, to put it mildly.
That is what is making her aggresively read her menu and look mildly annoyed, that initial frustration. But as the scene goes on, I think there is a little more going on. It’s not that she is feeling bored and left out. She gets actually angry. And it’s while she is listening to Shahrukh try the same lines on Tina that he tried on her, and Tina responding to them perfectly, being a confident and experienced flirt, that she starts to look up from her menu and the camera subtly focuses in more and more on Shahrukh and Tina, showing how they are gaining greater prominence for her. The simple explanation is that she is disgusted with Shahrukh’s obvious player attitude. But, why? Tina isn’t offended, he’s not doing anything wrong right now. And she claimed that she already knew it was a line when he used it on her, it shouldn’t surprise her that he is using the same lines over again with another girl.
No, I think this anger is actually coming out of a deeply deeply buried frustration and jealousy. Not just of Shahrukh, but of Tina also. In her heart of hearts, she wanted him to actually be sincere in those lines he used on her. She wanted him to see and recognize her at the table right now. But she also wants to be the girl who knows how to respond to those lines, who can flirt and enjoy being with a boy. And her initial irritation and disappointment in being left out, turns into bitterness and eventual vicious attacks.
I mean, I do think it is like 75% just being frustrated with these boys coming in and spoiling her good time and everyone ignoring her, plus actual disliking Shahrukh just based on his personality (he is a lot to take in this scene). But I think that 25% which pushes her over the line into a real crazy kind of action comes from a place of jealousy and bitterness about how her life has turned out.
And that’s why, when Shahrukh starts talking about how he is a brilliant piano player, much better than the one currently playing, she loses her mind a little, and goes up to the stage to announce him and invite him up to play. This is a way way over-reaction! I mean, who does that? She is ruining her friend’s good time, interrupting the performers, and forcing everyone here to listen to a presumably terrible attempt at piano playing, just because she wants to get back at Shahrukh for, like, not actually thinking her eyes are like his grandmother’s even though she kind of thought that was a line all along?
On the plus side, when she goes up to the stage to give her announcement that Shahrukh will now play for us, we do finally get to see a full length view of her gown and it is gorgeous! A great blue, a little more teal but the same sort of blue tone she wears a lot in Dilwale. Shahrukh is less taken by it, as he finds he has no other option but to go up and sit at the piano. Although then we get to see his outfit! His best so far, but that’s not really saying much. There are a lot of layers involved. Although at least the tan vest sort of slims down his torso a little and makes him seem slightly taller. It will be better once he loses the jacket.
(20 years later, and I actually think I like Kajol’s earlier dress a little better. But a black fitted suit is just a vast improvement over whatever that tan on tan look was for Shahrukh)
As he comes up and stands next to Kajol, he asks her “Was this necessary?” Which is my question exactly! She has really gone over the top in response to some light flirtation and exaggeration. Her only response is to smile and quote his own claim that the piano starts to play as soon as his fingers come near. And then she walks away while he makes a last attempt to stop her.
He has no choice but to go over to the piano and fiddle with the top a little, brush of the seat, look out at the attentive audience, and finally bang the keys. He puts on a big show, shaking his head, running up and down the board, even leaping on top of the piano at one point and playing between his legs, but clearly he has no idea what he is doing. And when it is over, while the audience sits in shock, Kajol stands in the center of the room, raises an eyebrow, and gives him a slow clap.
Okay, this is a horrible thing she has done! He is completely humiliated, and the nice attentive audience was just forced to suffer through all of that. Not to mention the damage to the piano! Again, I understand her emotions, but her reaction was way way over the top!
Usually when I watch this movie, often with a bunch of girls, there is a lot of “yeah! You go get him Kajol!” at this point. But, see, I think it is not supposed to be noble or admirable behavior. I think all of her actions in this scene are actually supposed to be the equivalent of, say, an Akshay Kumar action scene. Something that you enjoy watching, but you know you could never, and should never, actually do in real life. This is a revenge fantasy that we at home are enjoying and the character on screen is being very petty to actually enact. Because we also care about Shahrukh a little bit. Remember we saw him and his friends come into the room and be a little nervous about approaching the girls. And we saw him with his Dad, promising to have a great time on this one last trip and then come home and work. He isn’t some confident player who can’t be hurt, and this is his last time to have a good time, it matters if his evening is spoiled.
And that’s why she gets her come-uppance. Not because a girl can never win or anything like that, but because she was truly in the wrong. Just because he makes you feel bad, doesn’t mean you get to attack him. The only reason it feels like she is in the right is because the director has so confidently put us into the Kajol head-space in the rest of the scene, and that head-space has lost all sense of proportion. Literally all sense, in the scene at the table, Shahrukh’s head was dominating her entire field of vision, excluding everything else, including the other two couples at the table that were flirting just as much, and everyone else in the room who is there to witness her bonkers response.
From the Shahrukh side, though, I think it ultimately turns out to be a good thing. Remember how I talked about his performance for his friends, versus his sweetness with his Dad? See, I think the beginning of “Ruk Ja”, when Kajol turns her back on him and he starts actually playing the piano, I think that is Shahrukh being challenged to do a little more than just be the “cool guy”, to actual reveal his sensitive side. Just that opening piano part, it’s not a rocking good time kind of song, it’s kind of complex and pretty and romantic sounding. I don’t think the original crazed attempt was a fake-out, I think it was that he didn’t want to reveal this side of himself in public, he would rather play the whole thing off as a joke. But when she goes so far as to underline his humiliation, that’s when he gets so focused on making her stop and turn back, that he is even willing to reveal his softer side. He needed that deep hidden vein of bitterness and regret in Kajol to spark with his veneer of uncaring and show his own hidden depth of beauty and sincerity.
Both of them are putting on an act. Kajol, in pretending that boys and good times and youthfulness don’t really matter to her, that she is satisfied with her quiet inner life. And Shahrukh, in pretending that he has no inner life, that all he wants is to flirt and have fun. But when they meet, it all starts an explosion deep under the surface, which eventually breaks through entirely and lets them reveal their inner selves to each other.
And, song! After the initial reveal of actual depth, the audience applauds, which gives Shahrukh his confidence back, and he is able to give Kajol some of her own back, by publicly humiliating her in tern. The lyrics, notice, are “Stop, Oh Crazy Heart!” And they are aimed at Kajol. Shahrukh is making fun of her, because she clearly lost it when she called him up to the stage to begin with.
Now, this song is another time when people feel Shahrukh crosses the line, pulling her on stage, finally getting her to dance with him, only to then drop her and step over her. And, sure, he does cross the line. But no more than she did before. The only way it is worse, is if you consider, again, all his flirtatious talk and grabbing and dancing and all that, is somehow more than just flirting. Which it isn’t. Kajol is reacting as though her honor as a woman has been shattered just by dancing with a boy. Shahrukh is acting as though young people can dance with anyone they want, and they worst he has done is embarrass her for a few minutes in front of a room full of strangers, just as she did to him.
And, apology scene! Even Kajol’s friends, notice, don’t think it’s that big a deal. They are following her and singing the song as they walk to meet the boys in the park the next day. Kajol doesn’t see anything to laugh about, but again, she doesn’t appear sad or scared, just angry. The insult is what rankles. It’s not a male-female power dynamic issue, it is an interaction between two equals which left one of them dissatisfied. Again, we are seeing everything from Kajol’s side of it, so the viewer can be tricked into thinking she is in the right. But Adi is also giving us clues that she is overreacting.
Okay, then Shahrukh offers her a flower and sprays her face and runs away, and that’s just bad form dude! Although, again, even her own friends laugh at it. So clearly, it is only in Kajol’s messed up squirrely head that this was a terrible thing deserving of an apology, and that spraying her in the face with a flower isn’t at least a little funny.
The next scene is one of those things I didn’t even notice on the first watch, but sticks out more and more every time I see it, and that confirms that Adi really knew what he was doing, as did both his stars, and everything is here for a reason.
At a small storefront, Shahrukh is buying a knife. He is looking at it and asking the store owner all sorts of irritating questions, obviously just enjoying being a Smart Alec. What I know now, that I didn’t the first time I saw this scene, is that it is a reference to Qayamet Se Qayamet Tak. It is subtle, but the knife that Shahrukh is eyeing looks sort of like Aamir’s in that film. Not like I think Adi sat down and said “this one moment, we will remind the audience explicitly of QSQT!” But more like he had QSQT and Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Koun in his head the whole time he was making this, and when picking something for Shahrukh to purchase in this scene, he landed on the knife just to subconsciously remind the audience what that film was like, and how this one is different.
(For one thing, Juhi with a knife is slightly more adorable than Shahrukh with a knife)
With all of us in the QSQT mindspace, a movie in which our hero and heroine fell in love at first sight and knew it, and everything that happened afterwards was with that knowledge, we see more clearly that the characters in this film are aggressively trying to ignore their attraction. And the way this scene is directed and performed makes it clear for the first time the depth of their feelings, by how hard they are trying to control them.
Kajol comes running in to buy a bell. She carefully ignores Shahrukh and only talks to the store owner, even when Shahrukh keeps trying to force himself on her attention, reminding her he was there first, asking for help counting the change, and so on. The eye lines and posture in this scene are very important. The shopkeeper is in the center of the frame, looking towards both characters in turn. Kajol is carefully straight facing forward towards him, not acknowledging Shahrukh at all. When she is finally forced to turn and look at him, she keeps turning away as fast as possible, back to the shopkeeper, then behind her to the train, then back to Shahrukh. He literally has her in a spin (“loving the spin I’m in, that old Black Magic….”). Meanwhile, Shahrukh is lounging with his whole body sort of leaning towards Kajol, and his eyes on her the whole time, even when he is interacting with the shopkeeper. Both of them are acting in an abnormal fashion, not just for their characters as previously established (Kajol is usually calm and forward facing, knowing exactly what she wants, Shahrukh is hyperactive, constantly changing focus), but for, like, normal humans in the world! This whole thing mildly confuses the shopkeeper.
Which brings me back to QSQT. Juhi in QSQT just went all in on love, pursued Aamir immediately and obviously and didn’t even think about consequences, or how she should behave. It was the perspective of a child, who can’t conceive of anything outside of their immediate needs. But Kajol is very aware of her place in the world, and how her actions effect others. She told her father when she left for the trip that, no matter where she was in the world, she would always know she was “Baldev Singh’s Daughter.” And that is what she is trying to be here, even though Shahrukh keeps pushing in on her internal barriers. She won’t let him in even a little, because that would run the risk of letting him in all the way, and that would be The End. But her internal conflict is tearing her apart a little.
Shahrukh meanwhile, the whole talking and interrupting part isn’t the important part for his character. That’s just what he does, he was bothering the shopkeeper before this, of course he would also bother Kajol. But the fact that he keeps going so aggressively, unlike in their first meeting or at the restaurant, when he gave up on her as soon as someone more responsive came along, shows his growing need. He is desperate for some sign that she feels something, anything, in response to him. He is, finally, for once in his live, completely focused on one object (even if he doesn’t know it yet).
In QSQT, Aamir knew he was in love early on and forced himself to be standoffish and hold back because he knew what the results would be. And then he finally gave in and fell all at once. In DDLJ, Shahrukh knows how to flirt, knows how to be with girls, and he has convinced himself that he can pester this one girl and it will be just as meaningless as it always has been. And maybe it was back when he first flirted on the train. But after “Ruk Ja”, she legitimately got under his skin, even if he doesn’t realize it yet. At the very very end of this scene, Kajol runs out of the store to catch the train, and Shahrukh goes still and quiet for the first time in this entire movie as he watches her leave, with a little smile on his face. The shopkeeper asks if he wants the knife after all, Shahrukh doesn’t turn from staring at where Kajol went and just flips his hand and says “no no.” He may be telling himself that this is still nothing, that he just gets a kick out of how he can make her angry, but he literally cannot take her eyes of her, and the audience can see it, even if the character can’t yet.