Woot! We made it to “Main hoon Hindustani!”
(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)
Prepare yourself, this post is going to be very very long. This is the most “problematic” scene of the film, and possibly also the scene in which the thesis statement of the film appears. Anupama Chopra argues that it the thesis scene, I would argue that it is a combination of this scene and the post-song scene in the mustard field.
It’s hard to think of this scene as people would have seen it the first time they watched the film. I don’t even remember it really registering for me, at least not the first half. I think I was mostly confused? But this was also just my third Indian movie, so I didn’t quite grasp the undercurrents. I’m going to try to set it up as it would be for an experienced Indian film audience, who has never watched this movie before.
We’ve already seen Shahrukh’s Raj break a lot of rules with his interactions with Kajol. He drops her and steps over her at the end of “Ruk Ja” (something which Kajol-the-actress did not know was going to happen, so her shock and anger is real there). He casually talks about dating non-Indian women, he flirts with Kajol’s friends in front of her. He buys beer. He arranges for them to spend the night in the same room and never apologizes for it. And at the very end of “Zara Sa”, he gets drunk, and carries her off.
And now we see Kajol waking up, looking disoriented, wearing a man’s shirt. I can’t think of a shot that explicit in an Indian movie before. There’s plenty of indications that “Hum-Tum” from Bobby goes pretty far if you think about it, but it’s all just in a song, it’s filled with metaphors and fantasies. We don’t see Dimple arranging her clothes as they leave. And of course honeymoon songs always go pretty far, in Doosra Aadmi (the movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil might be based on), you see Rishi grab Neetu from the shower, and then the room flood as they stay in bed, not noticing. But you don’t usually see the morning after, the result of these actions in the harsh light of day. It’s always the romantic fantasy, not the reality.
Here, it’s too real. As she wakes up and looks around, Kajol starts to panic, ever so slightly. Her eyes widen, her breathing catches and speeds up, this is not like her panic during “Ruk Ja” when it was mixed with anger and excitement, this is true panic. And the audience is right there with her, actually ahead of her. While she is still squinting, trying to wake up, we have already noticed that she is in bed, that she is in a man’s shirt, and then we see, with her, that Shahrukh’s clothing is spread out on top of the sheets.
(I imagine the original audience’s face looked pretty close to this as well)
It’s hard to think back to how this would have originally been received, because we have the advantage of not just having seen DDLJ multiple times since then, but also all the other movies that DDLJ inspired. And some of them, like Band Baaja Bharat or Hum Tum or Neal n’ Nikki (yes, I saw it. I even liked it! Well, some parts), had a wild hero who actually did go all the way with his miss-matched proper heroine. But it was just a bump in the road on the way to true love, they were really in love and of course he married her eventually. Even more films kept the line clear, that our hero may be wild, but he isn’t actually a danger. And our heroine may be having an adventure, but she still knows herself and keeps her morals, and our hero is truly a “hero” and respects that. Yeh Jawaani, Jab We Met, Kal Ho Na Ho, Dil Chahta Hai, Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na, they all had “almost” moments that ultimately went nowhere.
But I am trying to imagine that I am watching DDLJ for the first time, and I haven’t seen any of those DDLJ inspired films yet. It’s shockingly “realistic” for an Indian movie, especially a romance. There haven’t been any real fantasy songs so far, and their interactions have had a healthy dose of realism. They talk like people actually talk, they want things people actually want. Heck, they even dress like people actually dress! So maybe they will have sex like people actually have sex. Not in a metaphorical field of flowers, or a big sweeping culmination of once in a lifetime romance, but as an awkward regret filled mistake with some guy you met on vacation.
Certainly that’s what Kajol is thinking, you can see it in her face, the horror, and also the sense that this is what all her fantasies have turned into, this dirty morning after feeling with some guy somewhere in Switzerland. And then Shahrukh arrives, and it turns into a nightmare.
Not because it is so unthinkable and horrifying, but because everything is just slightly off, in the same way things are in dreams. Shahrukh is recognizably himself, but not quite. He is too sweet, to saccharine, too complimentary. It’s like a scary alternate universe Shahrukh. Like he has been replaced by a pod person.
And there is also that scary dream feeling that you are missing information, that you have forgotten something important. They way he is acting, brushing her face, leaning over her, it’s clear that he is acting on information she doesn’t have, that the situation is something different than what she thought. Like that dream where you arrive for class and discover there is a test and everybody else is prepared but you.
The same trick is being played on the audience. We are dropped into this scene where we don’t have all the pieces yet, but at the same time, we are also dropped into a kind of film that we aren’t prepared for. Everything about this scene so far is slightly different, slightly off from the film we had before this, and really, from all films made in India. Shahrukh isn’t over-acting, he is speaking calmly and quietly. Kajol’s hair is messed and her make-up is gone, she’s wearing a man’s shirt. They are in a real room in Switzerland, not a luxurious fantasy. Her panic is underplayed, her voice is rising slightly as she asks questions, but she isn’t hysterical or trying to kill herself (the way plenty of other film heroines have done “the morning after”). This one bit of a scene could be dropped into a film from France or America or England or Germany and look perfectly at home. It doesn’t belong with the rest of the film, we are as thrown by seeing a different kind of film as Kajol is by seeing a different kind of Shahrukh.
But at the same time, the scene refers back to things we already knew from the rest of the movie. Shahrukh says she got drunk, that it was the first time she drank. That what happened was “bound to happen”. And we, the audience, can confirm that all of that is true, they have been attracted to each other for a long time, she was really drunk. We just never thought it would go here! It has that real-thing-but-in-the-wrong-place feeling. Like, when you are dreaming and you step off your back porch into the ocean.
But at the same time, it is just so wrong! And the longer the scene goes on, the wrong-er it feels. This isn’t a momentary shift in tone to emphasize a plot point, like Mohnish Behl’s speech in Maine Pyar Kiya, which breaks the sweet and simple dialogue that has been provided so far in order to show the attitudes of society towards the story as it has been presented-this is a whole scene going on like this. It can’t be real! It must be a dream or a mistake or that there is something else which will be revealed to make it all make sense, like that they got married the night before or she has amnesia and it’s actually 5 years in the future (like in the later SRK movies Chalte Chalte and Jab Tak Hain Jaan, which have similarly realistic feeling morning after scenes). And Kajol speaks for us, just as we are reaching that peak of disbelief.
And just as Kajol and the audience reaches that tipping point of “it could never happen!”, the final denial before acceptance, Adi undercuts it and shows that it actually didn’t happen. Well, really Adi and Shahrukh. Oh my gosh, Shahrukh in this scene is brilliant! Really, he and Kajol both are. It is the perfect showcase for their conflicting styles. Shahrukh is all about controlling his face and features, doing it exactly right and in the most perfect way. And Kajol is all about just feeling what her character is feeling, and making you feel it too. And here we have Kajol slowly increasing her panic and fear with the audience right along with her, as Shahrukh pivots on a dime between a realistic and sincere acting style, and his boyish maniac character. He breaks the first time here.
This is also the perfect moment for a break, in terms of the audience’s emotional roller-coaster. We start out in a nightmare, disoriented, trying to understand what is happening, just like Kajol. We feel all her fear and regret. We are right there with her, and Shahrukh seems like an unknowable mystery, we don’t understand or relate to him at all in this scene, we don’t care about him at all.
But then, right at the point that she switches into true hysteria, Adi pulls us out of the spin. He doesn’t want to lose a theater of people to hysteria, and he also doesn’t want a theater of people to pull themselves out of the moment in order to avoid being sucked into Kajol’s madness. Remember how the suicide scene in Ishq starts out heartbreaking and then turns into laughter somewhere in the middle? That’s because they weren’t as smart as Adi. They let Kajol go too far without giving the audience a way to get out of her mindset. So we just shook ourselves free of the whole movie, and suddenly looked at the entire situation with no emotional connection, and it became hilarious.
(think how painful it would be to still be feeling with Kajol at this moment. You can feel that “can’t breath, can’t talk, can’t hold the tears back” in her face)
Adi gives us a reprieve, we are out of Kajol’s head at this moment, while still caring about her and the situation. And we are dropped right into a new emotion, OVERPOWERING RAGE. Shahrukh has really crossed the line here! He made us, the audience, believe that he had sex with Kajol! He made us feel panicky and unsure and doubting our own eyes and our own judgement. We will never be able to forgive him! We are watching the rest of this scene with our eyes burning anger holes in his face. Which also means, we are watching the rest of this scene completely focused on Shahrukh’s character, distracted slightly from Kajol’s panic, and also hyper aware of any slight change he might make to his performance. And with that hyper awareness, we can see the real “Raj” peaking through his act now. He is being serious and sympathetic, but it is slightly too much. We can feel the smile in his voice, see the twinkle in his eyes. And it just makes him so much more hateful!
Especially as he keeps letting it go on longer and longer. Kajol is begging him to tell her it didn’t happen, to save her from this nightmare, and he isn’t. Finally, he has the grand finale, the moment when he opens his shirt to reveal her “love bites”. Which is also the grande finale of our audience anger! This isn’t some last minute joke he made up! He planned this! He had a whole scenario in mind where he leads her on and on until the big reveal! What a COMPLETE ASS!
(side-note: he must have really believed in her innocence to think this would work on her, because those look super fake)
It has to be really horrible, what he did, because the shock has to linger for the audience, to keep us distracted from what is happening, keep is in the “HATE HIM!!!” mindset for the next few seconds as he tries to comfort Kajol. Because he does try to comfort her, right away. As soon as his joke reached its conclusion, and Kajol burst into tears, he backs right off. He is instantly ashamed and apologetic. If it was a less terrible thing he did, we, the audience, would already be forgiving him at this point. But it was so horrible, so unthinkably bad, that we are still holding it against him, still caught up in our emotions, just as Kajol is still caught in her crying jag and her panic, unable to stop.
(also, I love how she is holding herself here. It feels so natural and real, the instinct to curl up in on yourself when you are in emotional extremes)
He manages to get all the vital explanations and information out of the way, without really changing how we and Kajol feel about what he just did. Shahrukh rattles through this speech moving his hands, letting his voice go up and down, constantly moving his head, trying to catch her eyes. It’s a sudden return to the character we have seen before, the one who is always talking, always trying to charm. But it’s slightly out of control, just like Kajol is out of control here, his hands are moving to fast, his voice is almost stumbling over itself in his efforts to make this right. And the audience learns the vital facts just as Kajol does, that it was a joke, that her clothes were wet and he changed her without looking, that he slept on the floor, that nothing happened, that he borrowed her lipstick and drew on his chest for a joke.
Sure, we know and believe all this now (“we” meaning Kajol and the audience), but we are still too upset to forgive him, to get out of the emotional tangle we are in. That’s what needs to be solved, not the rational explanation for his actions, but the emotional one. And really, there were a lot of ways this could be resolved. Shahrukh could yell at her again, like he did after she doubted him when he saved her from the cops, get angry at her for doubting him. He could be sweet and gentle after she calmed down, like when he got her to eat the night before. He could simply embrace her until she calmed down. That’s what a good director, and a good writer, would have done. But Aditya Chopra is a genius, so he went a direction no one else could have seen.
He put in this unforgiveable action and hysterical reaction on purpose, to get the audience in the palm of his (and Shahrukh’s) hand. To make us pay as close attention as possible, to be emotionally invested, and then to set the loudest and brightest emotional explosion he could find right when we were least ready for it. This speech is so perfect, and so perfectly acted, that I had to do screenshots of every line.
- His voice changes here, it’s deeper and rougher and slower than ever before in the film, both showing his emotional upset, and making him sound more grown up, more like a Man instead of a boy. Interestingly, that’s actually the voice he has aged into! If you listen to him in Happy New Year and Dilwale, this is what his voice sounds like now. Probably more due to a crazy cigarette habit than increased maturity, but it is still interesting.
2. Notice the way he rolls “Hindustani” of his tongue here. It’s a word that clearly has deep meaning for him, it’s almost a sacred word. Also, between the two frames, notice the ever so slight zoom in. This entire scene has been shot very simply, a two shot with occasional one shots of each of their faces. But now, as his speech starts, we are going closer and closer, as the dialogue gets slower and slower, and the audience is pulled in, savoring every word and every slight change of expression.
3. He says this line like an affirmation, like he is pulling her out of her despair by forcing her to acknowledge an universal truth. And it works, I can’t even point to what Kajol is doing different between these shots, it could be as simple as a slight alteration to the tilt of her head, or the way she is holding her mouth, but you can feel her getting calmer, getting more pulled into his logic.
4. And here, suddenly, it turns into a speech about her and his feelings for her, instead of a speech about who he is. Look at how his head has tilted a little, his hand has turned into more of a caress instead of a grip, his voice softens, his mouth softens, and she is suddenly looking at him like a savior instead of a tormentor. (also, random against the grain reading, what if they actually did have sex and this whole thing is an elaborate lie because he can see she can’t handle it?)
5. And here, finally, we have the culmination. He is no longer trying to explain, he knows she believes him. It’s not in his words here, it’s in his tone. It’s the same tone he uses in the river scene in Kal Ho Na Ho when he tells Priety over and over again “I don’t love you.” It’s the “I love you so much and it is dripping off of every word out of my mouth, and you are hearing it, and that is comforting you, and that is why I am still talking” tone.
And she does hear it, which is why her reaction to this speech, to this huge emotional journey, is to embrace him. Meanwhile, the audience’s reaction is to forget everything that just happened. Really, be honest, the first time you saw this movie, if someone had asked you what set off this fight, would you have been able to remember all the details? Or would you just have remembered being SO ANGRY, and then suddenly not angry at all?
It’s appropriate to forget the details, really, because our anger and Kajol’s fear are both transitory emotions, things that happen in the moment and then go away. They are replaced by love for Shahrukh (both in the audience and in Kajol), not a transitory emotion, but a life-changing one, one that starts small and quiet, but grows and grows and then never really leaves you. The punchline for this scene is not “Main Hoon Hindustani”. The big take away for the characters isn’t that line (although it is arguably the thesis statement for the film and the diaspora audience), but is this moment, the silent moment afterwards.
Kajol reaches out for him blindly for comfort, sinking into the security and love he is offering her through his tone if not his words. But then the camera goes in on a close up on each of their faces in turn. We see Shahrukh rubbing his cheek on her hair, cherishing her head in his hand, letting his face (which she cannot see at this point even if the audience can) reveal his true feelings. And then we see her, eyes closed, slowly relax into his hold. And then, very softly run her hand over his back, feeling him under her hand. And finally this moment, when her eyes open and you can see the sudden realization sneak into her face.
That’s the punchline for the scene, but there is an epilogue.
A moment later, we are back to Shahrukh, and we see the same realization in his face. Only, it isn’t tinged with fear, but responsibility and awareness. Kajol is afraid of her feelings. Shahrukh is only afraid of how his feelings might affect her. Again, he is aware of his power in this situation, as he has been all along, more aware than she is, because he is protecting her from that awareness by acting like a boy although he really has the powers of a man. And he reverts to the same Shahrukh he has been all along here, joking, but also competent. He reminds her that the bus is leaving soon and they have to catch it. And then he jokes about removing her shirt, a reminder that any such comment really is a joke, because he has just convinced her, once and for all, that he is no danger to her. And her reaction shows that new understanding, she is not angry or scared, just smiling a little.
Shahrukh smiles too as he walks away. Whether they are ready to admit it or not, they are both in the euphoria of love right now. They may not have had sex, but that confrontation was as intimate and revealing as a night together would have been.
But then the scene ends with Kajol, not Shahrukh. And we are reminded that, all along, this has been her journey. She is the one who sang him into existence in “Mere Kwabon”. She is the one that confronted him and caused “Ruk Ja”. She is the one who got drunk last night and changed their relationship. And she is the one, just now, who’s panic has forced their greater closeness. And now, she is the one who has to make the decision as to where they will go from here. And she is the one who will bear the harsher consequences of a wrong choice.
She smiles after him.
She smiles to herself.
She feels her emotions.
She laughs at what she is feeling.
And she stops laughing.
Hey! Look at that! Only 3600 words! I thought I would have to go on way longer! Oh well, maybe I will tomorrow, when Shahrukh learns she is engaged, and they go to church. If this was the scene where Kajol learned to look at him differently, that’s going to be the scene where he learns to think about her differently.