Back to Bombay today! For the penultimate sequence. And then off to Delhi tomorrow for the ending.
I left off with Gaurav tricking the guard, and not-Gauri, into letting him into Aryan-Shahrukh’s house. The audience, in theory, could be tricked as well, not 100% which Shahrukh it is until the reveal that he is carrying Gaurav-Shahrukh’s trophy in his bag. But after that reveal, this is definitely supposed to be treated as a monster in a horror movie sneaking into a house, not as an anti-hero tricking the establishment.
We go straight from the reveal of the trophy in the bag, back to the inside of the house and Aryan-Shahrukh’s two tiny adorable children sleeping in their beds. Not-Gauri pops her head into their room, whispering “come on guys, get up, Dad’s home!” This is the point at which every single time I have gone to this movie, the person with me has let out an audible gasp. Because suddenly this feels real, and dangerous, not a fun game any more.
It’s just a quick glimpse into the kids room, but the set designers and director did an excellent job in telling a whole story in those 3 seconds. First, there is the look of the room. It is purple (of course), because this whole house is purple! The important meaning here isn’t in the color itself, just that it is the same color as the rest of the house. It creates a subconscious tie between the kids’ room and the parents’ room and the living room and the den/Aryan-Shahrukh’s office. It feels like they may live in a mansion, but the separate family spaces are still spiritually close to each other, just like if they lived in a normal house like any other family.
(Maybe the purple is a Prince homage? Did Yash Raj have inside information when they picked this release date?)
Second, there are the details we see of the set design here. The room isn’t messy, but there is stuff around, like real kids live there. Baseball hats and toys and stuff. It isn’t some antiseptic perfect staged room, you get a sense of their personalities. And, again, it feels like this is a real family, not a rich family that lets their kids be raised by nannies and keeps all their possessions hidden away.
Third, and very important, the kids are sharing a bed. In America, this would be super weird of course. But in India, it is the sweetest and most touching part of it. In this huge fancy mansion, they still insist that their children share a room and a bed, just like kids in any other family through out India. They are putting a priority on family closeness and love.
And finally, fourth, there is the way not-Gauri pops her head in and says “Get up! Dad’s home!” She is making herself into any other wife and mother, not ringing for the maid to get the kids like an out of touch rich woman, or floating in like an unbelievable magical angel of motherliness, but just being kind of practical and matter-of-fact about it. Which also makes the kids into just any other kids, being woken up in the middle of the night to say “hi” to Dad when he comes home from a business trip, because everything feels a little weird while Dad is gone and it is nice to see him back home and get presents and all.
All 4 of these factors, in terms of the narrative, come together towards one goal, making Aryan-Shahrukh into “Dad” and a part of this little family. Not a superstar, not a villain, not an action hero, just “Dad”. Which means Gaurav-Shahrukh isn’t attacking a public figure any more, or someone who can punch back, but just dopey old “Dad”, the center of this family, who they cannot survive without.
(Love how bored the kids look here. But also, how they are leaning on “Mom” and “Dad”, like they are just Mom and Dad, not international jet setters famous all over the world)
If that little moment is to turn Aryan-Shahrukh into “Dad”, the next second is to turn him into not-Gauri’s husband. Gaurav-Shahrukh walks into the huge fancy living room, with the big staircase, and the glass wall out onto the swimming pool and, beyond that, the ocean, and looks around all innocent and wide-eyed. And then not-Gauri comes running down the stairs behind him without really looking, saying how happy she is that he is home, and grabs him into an embrace before he has fully turned around. And, immediately, her eyes shift and the audience knows that she knows he isn’t her husband.
This moment is SO IMPORTANT. We have seen Gaurav-Shahrukh fool Aryan’s fans at Madam Tussaud’s, and even his acquaintances at the wedding, and his close staff members and his own wife through fuzzy video footage. But the very moment she touches him, his wife know something is off. Aryan isn’t just an image, he is a person, a person she loves and lives with, and is intimate with (both in the literal and metaphorical way). Remember way back when we were first introduced to her, we saw Aryan and her sharing the same cup? That kind of intimacy, the “had two kids, married for two decades, know each other inside and out” kind of intimacy, that is something different. She isn’t married to Aryan Khanna-SUPERSTAR. She is just married to Aryan. And this is Gaurav, not Aryan, who she is holding in her arms. His image, his literal image on the security cam, may be the same, but the body is different, the person is different.
(This is also why I love candid, or semi-candid, photos of real Gauri and Shahrukh. Except for MAYBE Karan, no one else looks that relaxed around him. Everyone else is always thinking “I’m with Shahrukh Khan-SUPERSTAR!”, but Gauri just sees that really nerdy guy she met when she was 14)
Gaurav knows something is off too, right away, he looks nervous like he can’t believe what is happening, like he isn’t sure what to do next, because clearly his regular Aryan routine is not going to work here, in the man’s house, with his wife. Not-Gauri handles it like a champ though! She backs up, smiling, like she thinks he is really her husband. And she manages to hold the smile even when Gaurav-Shahrukh casually asks where the kids are, why they aren’t greeting him. Her eyes say “STAY AWAY FROM MY CHILDREN YOU MADMAN!” but her mouth just says “they are in bed, of course, it is late” in a tone that dares him to contradict her and reveal that he doesn’t actually know the kids sleep schedule because he isn’t really her husband.
I’m saying not-Gauri the character is handling this like a champ, but the actress really is as well. She does a great job playing the sweet and loving wife for Gaurav while letting the audience know that she is panicking and trying to think her way out of this situation. This is the scene that made me think they should, or could, have gotten a bigger name for her part. It’s mostly thankless, just two scenes and a few lines all in support of Aryan-Shahrukh’s awesomeness, but this sequence here is really tricky and really showy. An actress like Rani or Vidya or Juhi or even (dare to dream!) Kajol could have really dug in and made a meal of it. But maybe this actress was the way to go, because she does a fine job, and it is easier to think of her as actually being Aryan-Shahrukh’s wife, unlike a bigger name where you would always be thinking about her own real life stardom, instead of just the character.
I think it is not-Gauri here who suggests that they go up to the bedroom, and talk quietly. Or else Gaurav-Shahrukh suggests it and she agrees. Either way, the implication is chilling. She is ready to be raped if it will keep him away from her children. And at this point, I’m like 80% sure that Gaurav-Shahrukh wouldn’t actually rape her, but there is a 20% doubt. Because he let her hug him, and he is letting her think he is her husband, and it looks like he is a little scared by what he has done, but also kind of enjoying the fantasy. And how far does he want this fantasy to go?
Not-Gauri draws him into the bedroom, and sits him on the bed, being smiling and relaxed the whole time, as much as she can be. She is being very physical too. Pulling him into the room, gently pushing him onto the bed, overcoming her fear and distaste in order to move him to where she needs him to be. Gaurav is beginning to think he got away with it too. He has his hand sort of loosely over his face most of the time, like he thinks she hasn’t gotten a good look at him yet and is still fooled. And he is talking about how her test at the gate over the security camera was so tough, she compliments him on it (knowing what he wants to hear), and he replies “I have been studying my whole life for that test!”, a great double meaning phrase, because is it that he has been studying Aryan Khanna his whole life as a fan, or that he is Aryan Khanna and that test was just about his whole life story? Gauri compliments him and compliments him, and then suggests that she run him a shower so he can relax. He agrees to let her go, and she runs into the closet/hall to the bathroom.
The camera follows her, and uses this quick small jump cuts to show how fast she is thinking, and how it feels like time is slipping away from her. She pulls open a closet, and starts digging through the drawers, Aryan-Shahrukh’s rolex watches, neatly rolled up silk ties, and finally pulls out a gun hidden under them all. She holds it carefully in her hand, but like she also knows how to use it, and walks softly back to the room. Coming around the corner to see Isha, her little daughter, curled up asleep on Gaurav-Shahrukh’s lap! I gasp-screamed a little the first time I saw it, and so has everyone else I have taken to see this movie. It’s probably the most terrifying moment of the whole film.
(wait, not rolex! TagHeuer)
But, why is it so scary? I think it’s because we have been seeing Gaurav-Shahrukh through not-Gauri’s eyes for the past few minutes. And she is seeing him just as clearly as she can see her husband. For her, Aryan isn’t a superstar with a million followers who deserves to be taken down a few pegs. He is her husband and she just wants him home, safe, with her and their children. And Gaurav isn’t an obsessed fan, or a poor broken hearted little boy, or a brilliant imitator. He is a man who has broken into their home and might hurt her children. We are rooting for her to find that gun, to shoot him, to neutralize the threat. And when we come out with her, ready for triumph, and see that the worst fears have come true and he has her daughter, it is chilling!
Oh, and there’s something else in the background of all these scenes that makes it feel even more real. Usually in movies like this, horror movies or thrillers or action movies, there is the frustration with how the hero keeps his heroine completely in the dark, tries to keep her separate from the action in order to “protect” her, and the end result, narratively speaking, is that she is always too trusting and ends up kidnapped. And the end result in terms of audience reaction is to lose a little bit of faith in their relationship, because if they were really so in love, wouldn’t he be able to share these things with her?
But not-Gauri clearly has been let in on everything Aryan-Shahrukh fears and knows. We don’t need to see all the scenes where he gets a call from Gaurav and then turns around and calls her and says “hey honey, you won’t believe what just happened!” We can intuit it because she told the gate guard to call her before he lets anyone in, even Aryan himself. Because she tried Aryan’s cell phone and only let Gaurav in after he answered a series of questions and she couldn’t reach Aryan’s cell. Because Aryan-Shahrukh has a gun hidden in his clothes closet, but she knows it is there and how to use it. Clearly, she and Aryan as a couple have gone over and over general safety procedures for their home, and they have worked out special ones for this current situation. Out in the world, Aryan may be on his own, chasing down his stalker and fighting with the police. But in his home, he has a partner and ally, someone closer to him than anyone else.
And the reason they are allies, the reason they are so close, is because they share a prime directive. To protect their family overall. Way back at the beginning, we saw that what drove him to violence was not a supposed insult towards his age, or a threat towards his career, but an attack through his wife. And while the reporters and fans, and even his staff, were left to wonder what the truth was behind it, he and his wife were allied in their knowledge and attitudes. Which is all there, part of why the reveal of Isha being in the room is so shocking. Because not-Gauri, the character we have been identifying with for the past 5 minutes, is seeing the worst thing in the world for her. And Aryan-Shahrukh, the character we have been following for almost 2 hours now, isn’t in the room, but is in our minds, and her mind, and we know this is similarly one of his worst nightmares (one of my friends who saw this movie pointed out that it must be one of real-Shahrukh’s worst nightmares as well, and she wondered about the psychological damage of filming this sequence. But I’m guessing he must have been playing it out, or something like it, in his head constantly for the past 17 years since Aryan was a baby, and probably has way more safeguards and policies in place to protect his family than we are seeing here. Like, not a handgun in the closet, but a panic button that brings in 20 armed guards within 20 seconds).
(check out what it looks like when Shahrukh and Suhana go for a father-daughter bike ride. Those poor bodyguards. Couldn’t they have bikes too? Or at segways or something?)
Gaurav-Shahrukh, meanwhile, is chilling in this scene, because he doesn’t even seem to realize how terrifying what he has done is. Like, he doesn’t understand basic emotions between a mother and child. Or he thinks as a fan he has the right to be with this child and shouldn’t be feared as a stranger. Instead of acting like he has taken her captive, he just looks up and whispers to not-Gauri “shhhh! I just got her back to sleep” like he is a trusted co-caregiver. Even though she is standing there with a gun aimed at him.
He gently sets Isha back on the bed, and then turns to not-Gauri and you can see her considering whether it would be better to shoot him and neutralize him once and for all, or to wait and not risk terrifying or injuring Isha. Before she can decide, Gaurav-Shahrukh holds out his hand for the gun and asks for it, saying that it would be better not to scare Isha with it. Not-Gauri hands it over, simultaneously reluctant to let it go, and eager to do whatever he wants to stop him from hurting her child. Once Gaurav-Shahrukh has the gun, he orders her to take him to the den, the one that Aryan-Shahrukh is always talking about in interviews.
Still in her nightgown, she leads him downstairs and into the den we briefly saw earlier when Aryan-Shahrukh was waking up after falling asleep reading a script. It’s based on his den in real life, which I didn’t even realize until a friend pointed out that you can see it in the background of a lot of his twitter videos. He has shelves and shelves of awards, all custom made and beautifully arranged. Do you think he had the shelf built with a lot of extra space assuming he would get more awards? Or did it used to be smaller? Or did he have it built once he had like 20 awards, and then he just keeps rotating them out so there are never more than 20 in there? There’s also rows of costumes hanging, and a display case for all his Dabboo Ratnani photos, and a special area with the DDLJ poster, “Raj”s leather jacket hanging, and the ukulele and Tyrolean hat.
(Like here. But be real, were you thinking about the background, or the possibility that he is shirtless?)
Not-Gauri sits down on the sofa, looking strangely fragile and defenseless and wrong, in her little light nightgown, and huddles herself together for warmth while Gaurav-Shahrukh proceeds to destroy the room. He knocks the awards off the shelf, breaks the Dabboo pictures (Nooooo! Do you know how hard it is to get copies of those?), grabs the ukulele and uses it to create further destruction, the whole time talking about how all he wanted was five minutes, just five minutes, and Aryan wouldn’t even give him that. And now he won’t apologize. Doesn’t he apologize to her (not-Gauri) when he does wrong? Why can’t he apologize to Gaurav? Not-Gauri leaps in at this point, offering that she will apologize for him, isn’t that good enough? No! Gaurav needs to hear it from him!
This whole time, Gaurav isn’t attacking her, or even pointing the gun at her. But the threat is always there. Or is it? I think it is. They decided to keep her in her thin nightgown, showing how defenseless she is, and how unprotected her body is. And while the violence is never turned towards her, it is still there, surrounding her. And when she offers to apologize on behalf of her husband, there is at least a little bit of it that sounds like “and you can take out your anger against him on my body, if it will get you out of my house and our lives.”
But, even if she fears it, do we the audience really think there is a chance that Gaurav might hurt her? I think so. Because the destruction of the den is focused on destroying everything that has meaning to Aryan, everything he cares for. Gaurav even says, that he spent his life loving and finding meaning in Aryan’s life, in these costumes and awards and pictures that mean so much to Aryan and which used to mean so much to Gaurav. And now that meaning has been taken away and he is left with nothing, so he is destroying them. Which is just a small step to thinking about how part of what makes Aryan-Aryan, part of those “things” that Aryan cherishes and Gaurav used to love is his wife and children. Just as he is knocking over awards and breaking glass picture frames, couldn’t he start looking at the beautiful fragile woman sitting in front of him and think about how much it would hurt Aryan to see her destroyed?
I know it feels like I am focusing too much on the to rape or not to rape question, but I think it is really the heart of Gaurav’s psychosis here. If you think of it as him destroying Aryan’s room of memories, just like Aryan forced him to feel like he needed to destroy his own room, like he is trying to give tit-for-tat, then it almost makes sense. Or at least, you can sympathize. But if you think about how it would feel if he actually hurt not-Gauri, if that would be justified, if you think there is any chance at all that he would think it is justified, then you don’t sympathize with him, right? But the thing is, he is hurting not-Gauri! Maybe not raping her, but scaring her. And he is scaring Isha, probably giving her nightmares for the rest of her life. And he already scared that little girl at Madame Tussaud’s and that poor teenager at the wedding. We are so focused on seeing how his actions hurt Aryan-Shahrukh, because that is his real goal, that we (the audience), are forgetting how they are hurting innocent bystanders along the way. And this scene here, seeing how he is threatening not-Gauri, having that little bit of doubt as to whether he would feel justified in hurting her just because of how that would then hurt Aryan-Shahrukh, that is on purpose, to wake us up again, just like Aryan-Shahrukh’s press conference did, to make us convert over to seeing Gaurav-Shahrukh as the villain his actions show him to be, not the sweet little boy with the big eyes we fell in love with 2 hours ago.
(It was a lot easier to hate him in Duplicate, when his evil version looked like this)
While I have maybe 20% of me that is wondering if Gaurav would even be capable of raping Aryan’s wife, the next scene ends gives me maybe 4% that is wondering if he actually did. We cut from him sobbing and breaking things with her shuddering in fear in the background, to Aryan arriving home. He stops at the gate to wave at the guard, who looks just sick. That guard is soooooooo fired! And then cut to him walking into the den. There is a maid in the background, we can see her through the archway moving around. Clearly it is long enough after the attack that the staff has been brought in to help get things organized. But in the den itself, not-Gauri is alone, sitting in the same place, but wearing a robe over her nightgown now, and huddled up within herself. The den is in a lot worse shape than when last we saw it, clearly Gaurav was there longer than we saw and did a lot more destruction. She says in kind of a flat voice that she has sent both the children away, to her parents’ house. Because Isha kept asking “why did daddy destroy his office? why was he so mad?”
The way she is acting, it could be that she is just in shock after all of this, after seeing the den destroyed. But it could also be shock following an attack. She took the time to put on more clothes, she can’t bring herself to leave this room, she sent her kids away, and she doesn’t seem able to really convey emotion in her voice or talk naturally. It’s not a lot, but it is enough to give me that 4% of doubt.
The reason it is only 4% doubt, and 96% sure that all Gaurav did was wave a gun around and break a lot of glass doesn’t have anything to do with not-Gauri’s behavior, or even Gaurav’s personality, but to the way Aryan-Shahrukh reacts. It feels like, if his wife had actually been attacked, that would have broken him. He wouldn’t get angry, he would just go insane. Like, not angry cold insane, like we’ve seen before, but like “have to be committed, break from reality because he couldn’t handle it”, straight up crazy.
Instead, he goes cold. Super cold, like we haven’t seen before. He slowly walks towards his wife as she is talking, and reaches down to embrace and hold her. And then he looks away into the camera and says “Until now, Gaurav has just seen the face of the starwalla. Now I am going to show him the face of the Delhiwalla.”
Uff! That line is chilling. And it almost makes me scared for Gaurav again. Except, Gaurav just threatened an innocent child and a woman! Gah! I don’t know who to root for! This movie is so confusing!
Good thing I have one more part to cover through to the end, by then I am sure I will have figured out exactly who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, right?