I follow Amitabh on twitter (of course), and he mentioned today that it is Aish and Abhi’s wedding anniversary. Congrats Aishwarya and Abhishek! I have complicated feelings about your relationship (simple version: why no more babies? I need more Bachchans in the world!), but I love love love you as a couple onscreen. Specifically, in Kuch Naa Kaho and Guru (Sarkar Raj is a mess, and I haven’t seen Dhaai Akshar Prem Ki (has anyone?)).
In general, separately, I find both Aish and Abhi a bit too much to take in their own ways in most films. Aish is to mannered and practiced and perfect. Abhishek is a bit too loud and crude. I have liked them in certain roles in certain films on their own (Aish in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Abhishek in Sarkar), but I always like them when they are together! They smooth out each other’s rough edges and balance each other perfectly onscreen.
Kuch Naa Kaho was the first place I noticed this. Actually, I didn’t notice it, I just felt it. I really really liked Kuch Naa Kaho, it felt fun and light and happy and it just worked for me in a way that not every movie does. But it was maybe my first Abhishek movie, and my second Aish (after Mohabettain), so I didn’t realize how different they felt onscreen than they usually did.
In Dostana, for instance, Abhishek has a kind of similar character, but comes off as something of a jerk. Always looking for the angle, playing a part, persuing his own selfish desires. It works in Dostana, because he’s supposed to be kind of a jerk until he is redeemed at the end. But in Kuch Na Kaho, he is supposed to be the hero. And yet, the first time he meets the heroine, he is tricking her into giving up her seat on an airplane wuth a clearly false sob story about his sick child. Not only that, once he gets what he wants (her ticket), he ignores her. What a bozo!
But it works, because Aish is coming off as someone who kind of needs to be tricked. I don’t want to say “deserves it”, because that has all sorts of connotations. But more like, she is a little rigid and a little nervous, and it is probably good for her to have her plans shaken up a bit, for her world view to be challenged. So your reaction to Abhishek stealing her ticket isn’t exactly “boo! Tricking this poor woman!” But at the same time, it is a mean thing to do, so you reaction to Aish isn’t exactly “I hate you and I am glad you were tricked!” but rather “Oh man, in the long run this is probably fine, but you have my sympathies in the short term.”
This dynamic is just increased in their first song together, the totally awesome “Baat Meri Suniye To Zara”. Especially because they have both been coming off a little unpleasantly in the interim. Abhishek accidentally breaks up his cousin’s wedding and then has to scramble to fix it up again (because he is so confident and focused on what he wants over what other people want). Aish arrives at her engagement party and makes it all about her and how hard it was for her to get there (because she is so aware of her own life and problems above others’). I mean, they’re not horrible people doing unforgivable things, it’s more that I find my over-whelming sympathy for them starting to slip away. And then they confront each other, and it all comes back! Abhishek is sooooooooooo confident and dismissive here! I am totally with Aish in trying to knock him down a few pegs. But on the other hand, Aish is so determined and just won’t let it go, I can completely see Abhishek’s urge to keep pestering her.
(Bad quality, but with subtitles!)
Their next few meetings keep this dynamic. If you remember, Abhishek’s uncle Satish Shah is forcing him to meet potential brides. And Aish works for the Satish Shah, so he is making her promotion hang on her ability to get Abhishek to meet these women. Abhishek is treating it all as a joke, coming up with the most delightfully absurd ways to turn them off (pretending to be a father just looking for a free nanny for his son, pretending to remember the girl from a past life, and so on), but Aish is treating it completely seriously since she needs that promotion! I actually sympathize with Aish’s character, she is completely in the right all along and Abhishek is completely in the wrong. But she takes things so seriously, it’s kind of a drag to watch, so I am also okay with Abhishek doing stuff he really shouldn’t be doing just to bug her. With any other couple, I would either find her too much of a buzz kill or him too much of a flibbertigibbet, but somehow the two of them together just work.
And then there is my second favorite song, which I know is objectively terrible, but I don’t care, I love it! Maybe because the set-up is so great? Abhishek and Aish are working together to try to get a fighting couple back together. All along, Abhishek has been teasing and teasing and being horrible and Aish has been just putting up with it. But this time, the girl he is meeting turns out to have her own issues, and Aish and Abhi are able to be good people and try to help her, and in so doing, to also work together for the first time. Plus, I think it is really cool when silver jacket guy picks Pony up and carries her off at the end.
Usually these “and suddenly I saw her in a new light and I am in love!” plots don’t work for me, but at the end of that song, when Abhishek sees her in a new light and falls in love, it really really does! And it’s not because of anything in the script for sure, it’s just their chemistry together. I mean, I love the script, it is super clever, but they haven’t really had any conversations or bonded in any way. But they way he looks at her, and the way they vibe together in conversations, just feels nice and normal and pleasant.
And then, twist! She has a child! And a husband she hasn’t seen in like 6 years! This is another reason to like this movie, how well they handle the married woman/single mother thing. And maybe that’s sort of related to the Abhishek and Aish chemistry too? Because Abhishek shakes her up a little, so it doesn’t come across quite so much as “suffering tragic mother figure” and a little more “stiff-necked goodie two shoes who needs to have some fun and be young again.” But at the same time, he has that innate Bachchan gravitas, so I can believe that he really is mature enough to handle taking on a wife and a son at the same time.
Although, it takes Aish a little longer to believe it. Again, if she weren’t so stiff and he weren’t so loose, the whole bit where he follows her to parents’ Day at her son’s school would be a little awkward. But as it is, it’s just nice! He goofs with her son, but gives her proper distance, and she convincingly plays “torn between desires and duty”. And then they fall in love because they fall down a mud slide together? This bit is a little harder to make sense of. But whatever, the song that comes after is really nice and pretty (soundtrack by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, my favorite music directors). And especially impressive, considering the many many other “Kuch Na Kaho” songs they are competing with! Including the one from 1942: A Love Story, RD Burman’s last soundtrack.
All of this is nice, and their chemistry lifts it from an okay rom-com to a really fun rom-com, but the final twist is where the chemistry is actually vital from a story perspective. Aish’s husband comes back, and the whole last hour is focused on showing them trying to be a married couple, because they are actually married, but at the same time showing that Aish and Abhishek, unmarried, are more of a couple than she will ever be with her husband. And it is all in silent glances and little moments, that only land if this couple really does feel like a married couple. Which they do! The little jokes, the comfort, the support, it’s all there!
I think, from the director/screenwriter’s perspective (Rohit Shetty, by the way. Wrote it specifically for his lifelong friend Abhishek Bachchan), that was supposed to be the big meaning of the film. That you have this woman who is married, according to society. She had the religious and the legal ceremony, she even gave birth to his son, and now she is living alone and raising him. There are plenty of movies in which you have women in this situation (for instance, Juhi in Paheli), and the lesson is that this is still a marriage, she is still a married woman. The husband doesn’t have to be present to be “present”. She is married to her husband because he is her husband, and that is that.
At first, it looks like they are going to set this on it’s head by making her an abandoned wife. To argue that she still needs a husband, and it is a matter of simply swapping for one who is actually there. Which is still a good message, that a husband isn’t a husband any more if he is gone that long. But then it goes further, when the husband comes back.
It’s not just that he has to be present in her life, it’s that the marriage has to work. They have to love each other, to be considerate of each other, to just make sense together. And that’s where the ending comes from. Abhishek steps back, because he knows her husband loves her and he has a right to make his marriage work. But in the end, Aish chooses Abhishek instead. Because the marriage isn’t working, and it never will, and no magical words said in a ceremony or written on a piece of paper are going to make it work.
In contrast, all along, we have seen how Abhishek and Aish really do work. They balance each other, they challenge each other, they can work together to achieve goals, and they are actually in love.