Okay, new plan! I just shoot for finishing in time to start over again with Baaghi on Friday. That seems doable, right? I’ve only got like 40 minutes left of screen, time but there are two really really important scenes right at the end that I really don’t want to shortchange.
Dubrovnik! Gaurav-Shahrukh has just pretended to be Aryan-Shahrukh and, as Aryan-Shahrukh, has molested a young girl at the wedding. The host has responded by throwing him out, despite Aryan-Shahrukh’s truly pained cries that he would never do such a thing! He can’t believe the host would even think it of him! And now his whole entourage of cars is driving out of the gates of the palace/wedding location.
They are met by media and protestors. Really? How fast did this news travel? Or is it that it was just edited to make it look immediate? Actually he had to pack up costumes and everything and this is two hours later? No, that doesn’t work, because he is still in his tux. Oh well, I’m not going to worry about it. Maybe Croatia just has a really really good group of entertainment journalists. Aryan-Shahrukh glances out at the crowd, looks away, then looks back and notices a handwritten sign floating above the cameras, “Say Sorry”, in Hindi. He doesn’t hesitate a moment, jumps out of the car, dashes through the cameras, and takes off after another running figure, a skinny young man in a maroon hoodie, Gaurav-Shahrukh!
This is the most unbelievable moment of the film, right away. That he is able to take off before his bodyguards notice, that no one follows him (bodyguards or media), that they two of them are able to chase through Dubrovnik basically unnoticed. And that’s ignoring the whole details of the chase! That Aryan-Shahrukh steals a motorcycle, rides it over tables and chairs and up stairs, while Gaurav-Shahrukh leaps rooftop to rooftop, and finally off the top of a cliff top fort into the sea.
(This fort. It’s cool looking, right?)
The most obvious interpretation is that the director (Maneesh Sharma) or the producer (Aditya Chopra) or the star (Shahrukh) thought it would be really cool to have a big chase scene here and threw logic out the window. But I reject that! I don’t think any of these guys is that stupid. I mean, come on! Aditya Chopra and Shahrukh have been in the industry for over 2 decades respectively, and they both had a lot riding on this movie, they aren’t going to throw in a chase scene just to deal with some sort of midlife crisis. And this is Maneesh Sharma’s dream project, he’s had 10 years to work out every detail exactly as he wants it.
Another possibility is that Adi or Shahrukh forced this chased scene on the film as a way of adding to its marketability. Like the Om Kapoor character forced “Dard-E-Disco” in Om Shanti Om. But I reject that too. This chase in particular is the most technically complex sequence of the movie, involving two Shahrukhs chasing each other all over Dubrovnik. There’s no way it was a last minute addition to the script, it had to have been planned all along.
(Of course, he was 100% right to force it in. It makes the movie! Both the movie within the movie, and the movie-movie)
So, accepting that it is here for a deeper reason, why is it here? I think there are two reasons, one a general commentary on film, and the other a commentary on stardom as it relates to these characters. For the first, this is a magnificent chase scene, dropped into a, so far, fairly realistic film. I think it is purposefully abrupt and unbelievable, going from the verbal arguments and fights, and mind games and disguises, of the last few scenes, right into almost superhuman physical feats. And just as the content changes and leaves behind the style of the past few sequences, so are our characters able to suddenly leave behind all the other elements from the past few sequences, dropping the media, Aryan-Shahrukh’s entourage, and the angry host and party-goers. Abruptly, it is just hero and villain engaged in a physical context. Maneesh is forcing us to see the contrivance, it is almost a Brechtian fourth wall breaking, as consciously artificial as Douglas Sirk or Rainer Fassbinder, just with action instead of melodrama.
The second meaning is purely for these characters. They have to break away and have this just between them, because it is just between them. Aryan-Shahrukh HAS to chase Gaurav-Shahrukh on his own (as I describe in more depth here), because he has to do everything himself, he has to take responsibility for everything himself, and more than that, whether he acknowledges it or not, there is a connection between himself and Gaurav-Shahrukh, ultimately it has to be between them, not any bodyguard or anyone else. Oh, and purely in terms of the believability that a 50 year old movie star would be able to chase a 25 year old up stairs and over rooftops, remember that it actually WAS a 50 year old movie star who was playing both the chaser and the chasee. And more over, he was doing this while in desperate need of a knee surgery. According to Maneesh Sharma’s interviews, one of the complications of filming this sequence is that they had to shoot painkillers directly into Shahrukh’s knee every morning to numb it before he could walk. Blech! Don’t make me be a movie star! I’m not even willing to walk in heels, let alone run on a broken knee!
(Shahrukh, shortly before shooting this sequence)
The chase scene ends when Gaurav appears cornered. Only, before Aryan-Shahrukh can grab him, he jumps off the cliff, landing in the water below. And the final shot is a low angle view of Aryan-Shahrukh triumphantly looking down on him. There will be an interesting echo of this shot right at the end of the film, so remember it!
We go straight from Dubrovnik to the internet! Lots of shots of interviews with the poor girl who was molested, #moleStar trending on twitter in Bombay (okay, that’s pretty clever), various talking heads talking about how these movies stars can’t handle it, how they think they are above everything, how they have mental breaks. And I think this is when Aryan-Shahrukh, in the middle of awesome Sunaina showing him various bad press, gets a call from Gaurav-Shahrukh and ignores it.
Now, time for the big London concert. Because we are back in London. Shahrukh is in his dressing room, spraying his face with water, and then leaning forward to stare at himself in the mirror and gently stretch out his eyes, his cheeks, his mouth. There was a similar scene on the plane right before he got off in Dubrovnik. That time it was make-up and hair artists fiddling while he sat still until they were done. And then he turned to check himself in a small mirror and carefully put on his superstar smile. But this time it isn’t just a matter of putting his “game face”, it’s studying his “game face”, seeing if he can still do it, if his instrument is still working, checking his weapons before he goes into battle. And maybe wondering if this battle is worth fighting?
Before he can go too far into this, he is interrupted by Sunaina. Immediately he puts on the brusk and in control attitude he has developed for his underlings, hiding his doubts, asking her if she has the final script for his audience interaction (NOOOO! All my illusions shattered! I thought the audience interactions were spontaneous!!!!). She hesitates and looks nervous to tell him something for the first time. And while she is explaining, we switch to a back view of Aryan-Shahrukh walking down the hall backstage, up the stairs, and onto the stage. To face an empty auditorium. Because, as Sunaina explains, no one came. The audience went on strike, after the news from Dubrovnik. The sponsors backed out and the show is canceled.
Okay, this is completely unbelievable! I saw Shahrukh in the SLAM! tour in 2014. the show was organized by Cineyug Entertainment, which was right in the middle of the big 2G scandal. And along with Shahrukh, it featured YoYo Honey Singh, who was recovering from all those protests over his “anti-women” lyrics, Deepika Padukone who had just had an arrest warrant filed against her a few months earlier for acting in Ram-Leela, and Malaika Arora Khan, sister-in-law of controversy king Salman. And, of course, the stadium was sold out with every seat filled on the night. Now, you probably are thinking “oh come on, all of those controversies were just normal things! It’s not like people would protest for that.” But, exactly! Controversies are normal things! Maybe it makes it a little trickier for you to get your film released or a meeting with certain politicians for a while, but it all blows over and the fans don’t care.
(Also, ow! Shahrukh! Your shoulder!)
The only reason I find this at all believable, that everyone would skip the concert, is the explanation I gave in one of my reviews that Gaurav-Shahrukh attacked not at the normal weaknesses, but the deep heartfelt level, the essential belief in Aryan-Shahrukh as a person, making him not just hateful, but disgusting, and making his fans disgusted with themselves for ever believing in him.
I do completely believe that this would be the thing that finally wakes up Aryan-Shahrukh and makes him really start to fight back on the level of public opinion. Which is why, post concert, he and his team are talking on a cool outside balcony location with the lights of London behind them, and he declares that the need to have a press conference now, immediately. Akhtar leaps in and offers to set it up as soon as they are back in Bombay. But Aryan-Shahrukh declares no, it has to be now, in London. No more retreating, he is going on the attack! On the battleground where he has found himself, not the ground he would choose.
And it works! Because he actually reveals a little bit of himself, for once. That has been his weakness all along, that he only lets outsiders see the Superstar, not The Man. It’s why Gaurav-Shahrukh was so easily able to imitate him, and why no one could really see through it. And why no one believed him, because on some level, they always knew he was lying through omission, through actions, through “acting”. So if he is always hiding something, why couldn’t he be hiding something nasty?
What Aryan-Shahrukh does in this press conference is finally reveal who he really is, at heart. He starts with the usual smooth speech, pointing out the documents and images in the files they have distributed which prove that there were 2 Shahrukhs. But when one of the reporters makes a snide comment about how do they know this is the ‘real’ Aryan now talking to them, he hesitates a moment, and then lets himself snap, “This is a joke to you? You think this is a joke? A woman was molested! I am trying to warn you!”
The content of what he is saying is not a surprise to us, the audience. Because we have seen him with his family, with his close staff, we know that he is a very serious person with high standards for himself. But it is a surprise for these reporters. Because they only know him as happy carefree joking Aryan Khanna. They have forgotten that there is a real person behind the facade. That is how he wins, but reminding them.
And he leaves London in triumph! Woot-Woot!!! I don’t know if Aryan-Shahrukh is supposed to be the hero for the whole film, he may even be the villain some of the time (certainly the way he is trying to run over Gaurav-Aryan with a motorcycle and sneering as he plunges off a cliff aren’t very heroic), but in this scene, he is definitely supposed to be the hero. And he is yelling not just at the reporters, but at us, the audience. The reporters are treating it like a joke, but the audience is, or at least can be, still treating it as a tragedy at this point. That Aryan-Shahrukh broke Gaurav-Shahrukh’s heart, and Gaurav-Shahrukh is at least as sinned against as he is sinning. But now the filmmakers are using Aryan-Shahrukh’s anger to confront our prejudices. Yes, Gaurav-Shahrukh is very sympathetic and sweet, but he is also a molester. A criminal. We should be treating his actions as a crime, not as a forgivable mistake.
(Yes yes, he is very cute. But he also molested a woman!)
Now, back to Bombay. A cab comes down the street and Shahrukh gets out and walks up to the Mannat guardroom. He knocks on the door and asks for the gate to be opened. The guard hesitates, and says that he was ordered to call “Madame” and get her permission first. Shahrukh nods, agrees, of course of course. But hurry, before the reporters find him!
Back in the house, not-Gauri is in bed, in a purple nightgown, on purple silk sheets, in a purple room. What is with all the purple! This is crazy! She sets down her magazine (Vogue India), and grabs the phone. The guard says that “sir” is here, but…. She asks the guard to have him turn towards the gate cameras and pulls out a tablet to view the camera. It is grainy black and white footage, but the walk the figure is standing and moving is clearly Shahrukh. But she still isn’t quite sure. So Shahrukh reaches into the security booth and grabs the phone and starts talking, rattling off his background, his schooling, his first apartment, and asking if he can finally come in and be in her arms instead of the arms of the reporters! She gives in, finally, and let’s him through. And as he goes through the gate into the house, the camera shows his trophy poking out from his bag. Gaaaaaah! It’s Gaurav-Shahrukh! Not Aryan-Shahrukh!
(She’s not reading the Vogue India with real-Gauri on the cover, but I feel this was a missed opportunity)
So, why is this such a shock? Or supposed to be such a shock? By the way, the filmmakers never cheat when they are showing Gaurav-as-Aryan. It’s the exact same make-up and CGI as in all his other scenes. It only works because Shahrukh is shifting himself between Gaurav and Aryan so well that you actually believe it is Aryan. And then a second later can’t believe you were fooled. Although I had a couple of friends who claimed they knew along which was which, I really couldn’t tell in most scenes!
I think this is the scene where they most wanted to trick the audience. Partly so we wouldn’t be mad at his wife for being so easily fooled. So they cheated a little. When his hand reaches into grab the phone, it is the old, weathered, familiar Shahrukh hand, not the CGI smoothed young man Gaurav hand. And then when he goes in and you see the trophy, you aren’t thinking “oh my gosh, what an idiot for not recognizing her own husband!” you are thinking “aaaaaaaa! What’s he going to do!”
By the way, I don’t think she is an idiot for not recognizing her husband. She isn’t sure, all along, she is trying to find some way of confirming. She finally lets him in because he argues that it is better to let him in so he can escape reporters than to keep in waiting. In essence, arguing that it is better to risk letting in an outsider than that the real “Aryan” would be trapped by reporters. Except I don’t think it is that logical, not an actual argument. Just a gut feeling that something is wrong that is finally overridden by an intellectual reasoning that there is no real reason to be this cautious and every reason to help him escape the press.
2600 words! Woot! I can stop and come back tomorrow for the last bit of Bombay and Delhi.