I last saw this movie right after it came out, and it was soooooooooooo good that I never felt the need to watch it again for another 10 years. I remembered it so perfectly, after one viewing, because it was so clever and charming and unusual, that I didn’t really need to see it again, I could just play it over in my head. But then I started to wonder, could it really be as good as I remembered? And the answer is “No! It’s even better!”
So good! So ahead of it’s time! In so many ways! And also a little bit behind the times. In the best possible ways! Oh man, now I just want to watch it all over again right away. But I will resist that urge, and instead just watch it again in my head while I write about it.
I don’t even know where to start, there is so much wonderfulness! I guess maybe with the bit that is behind the times? Just like Dil Chahta Hai, if you strip away all the fancy modern trappings and weird haircuts, this is a 3 brothers multi-starrer plot. The oldest is responsible and adult, the middle one is troubled and clever, and the youngest is sweet and a little naive. Just like Amar Akbar Anthony, or Yaadon ki Baarat, or Waqt or any of the others. Although at least this time the three of them don’t have to be separated. So that’s new!
But ultimately, it is the same brotherly love that we see in all the other movies, just under a new name. They spoil their little “niece”, they joke with but respect their older “brother”, they tease but help their youngest “brother”, and the troubled middle one is constantly being encouraged to be better. Most importantly, in this family of three “brothers”, the wife of the oldest, their “Bhabhi”, is the center of everything.
Can I just say here how much I LOVE Juhi Chawla? She does such an amazing job in this movie, playing a warm and wonderful and supportive wife, but at the same time not turning into a doormat or a saint. And while the script may spend most of its time following the men around, it is clear that she is the one who is really controlling everything. One of my favorite scenes is when she and her husband have that terrible fight, and the friends come over soon afterward. While her husband paces nervously in the background, the other too sit on the bed and beg her to smile, to tell them what’s wrong, to let them fix it! Even the framing is perfect, Juhi is sitting there perfectly still, her husband moving nervously in the background, and the other two sitting slightly lower and looking up at her. She is clearly the household goddess, and they are all just revolving around her. And that’s not even mentioning the perfect way Juhi manages to show her hurt on her face, without making it feel like bitterness or self-pity.
(Look how happy they are when Juhi joins in with their play!)
The love stories were also a little old-fashioned-but-not. While our older “brother” may occasionally fight with his wife, generally they are a wonderful and loving couple, the relationship that can serve as a model and control over the others. Just like Mohnish Behl and Tabu in Hum Saath Saath Hain, or Jackie Shroff and Dimple in Ram-Lakhan.
Our middle brother has the most tumultuous relationship, again as is traditional, like Amitabh and Parveen in Amar Akbar Anthony. Although it is a little untraditional in that he is actually separated from his wife, and considering divorce. But besides the details of the tumult, the rest of it is familiar. Juhi-as-Bhabhi takes a hand, talking to her younger “sister-in-law”, giving wise advice to her younger brother-in-law, and the two other brothers take a hand as well, the older one trying to beat some sense into him, the younger one giving back to him a simple and idealistic view of the world.
And our younger brother has the nice and sweet and innocent romance. Just like Saif and Karisma in Hum Saath Saath Hain, or Shashi and Sharmila Tagore in Waqt. And, just like in those movies, it is kind of an afterthought in comparison to the detail given to the romances of the older “brothers”. But cute! And leads to some great songs.
(Seeing all 3 heroines together like this just confirms that Juhi is clearly the best one, right?)
Oh, the music in this! So interesting watching it after having seen Vishal and Shekhar live! This was of course their big break. And the songs are great, but they are all kind of the same. That is, they are all written to be performed live to a huge crowd. Which is how they are actually performed within the film. And, having seen Vishal and Shekhar, I think that might also be their prefered way for their music to be heard, in the midst of a lot of screaming and cheering and dancing and happiness.
(Probably too much to hope that a band will suddenly show up and sing at my church tomorrow, and I won’t have to teach Sunday School)
Vishal and Shekhar brings me to the stuff that is new! The songs, for one. Well, not entirely new, but certainly unusual. For once, the music was almost entirely diegetic. Meaning, it was actually the characters singing in real life for real reasons, no fantasy songs, or big montage numbers that are understood to be more an impression of what happened, than what actually happened. This time, it was people in a band, singing as part of a band. Well, except for one song that was a little bit of a montage.
(If I can just manage to find this with English subtitles, I will learn everything I need to know about music history!)
Of course, the one song where meaning takes priority over style is the one in honor of RD Burman, because he is too important to risk people missing the message! What this film is groundbreaking for doing in 2003, is what RD was doing in 1973. Simple rock inspired compositions, no big orchestras in the background or chorus of singers, just songs that could be performed in the real world, and could be shown being performed within the film. Songs that inspire the audience on and off screen to start joining in. I mentioned Yaadon Ki Baarat earlier, it has one of my favorites of the RD Burman nightclub style numbers!
(The velvet jacket! The miniskirt! The pink floodlights! The shy way Zeenat Aman says “acha”! It’s all perfection.)
So, there’s all these exciting and unusual elements, but what I really noticed on this watch were all the things that Jhankaar Beats did first, which I have seen in other movies since then. The whole idea of young people living on their own in the city and building their own families, that felt so fresh and new! And now it’s so common. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Love Aaj Kal, Wake Up Sid, Bachna Ae Haseeno, they all had heroes and heroines living in the city without a parent in sight.
The kind of surreal edits, the way the dialogue built up to certain expectations and then changed it with a joke, the casual way characters interacted without the usual sentiment and respect, all of that is now the norm! Even the way it handles jobs, as just something you do to pay the bills, not a Higher Calling or a noble pursuit, or a source of identity, that is now the norm in films! Unless you make it a whole plot point (like in Tamaasha or Wake Up Sid), often you may not even know what the hero really does for a living.
And then the big thing, which has become so normal now that it is now longer even noted, this was one of the first movies to be identified as being written in “Hinglish”, rather than Hindi. Only, the amount of English used in this film, which was so exciting and unusual back then, is now normal! Most films have English in the business meetings, the scenes abroad, and the occasional sentence thrown into the middle of a conversation for no reason. Heck, I think Krrish 3 had more English than this movie did!
There are also a few things that this film did, which no one has been able to imitate, because it would be like catching lightning in a bottle a second time. The biggest thing was the amazing way it just flowed forward. Within minutes, you felt like you were part of their world, the little jokes about trying to escape your wife’s diet, waiting to hear about a new keyboard, worrying about the potential divorce, wanting the youngest hero to talk to the girl he likes, and ducking out on your boss’s demands, it all just envelopes you and then flows on in this complex pattern of plots and difficulties all weaving together. And when it ends, you don’t want it to! You want to just keep spending time with this people and watching their lives go on.
Wait, I haven’t told you who these people are yet, have I? Well, I’ve told you the characters, but not who’s playing them. Except for Juhi. Who is wonderful. And by far the biggest name in the cast, the only one who is a true star. Which is good, because, as I described above, she is the real heart of the film, the glowing sun that everyone else revolves around.
Rahul Bose is the next biggest name in the film, but he wasn’t a big name then. He had just broken out with Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, it wasn’t clear yet whether he was going to be a one-film wonder, or a permanent addition to the parallel cinema scene. And then he was just amazing in this film and became the ruler of the parallel cinema scene.
(I have seen a random 10 minutes from the middle of this movie, and that is enough for me! Way way too strong for me to handle)
And then there’s Sanjay Suri, the “lead”, I suppose, if anyone is. He has a fascinating backstory! Grew up in Srinagar, his family fled in 1990 after his father was killed by dissidents, then he became a model, and eventually an actor. After Jhankaar Beats, he kept working in similar off-beat films, eventually founding a production company to produce his own off-beat stuff, like National Award winning I Am.
Juhi Chawla was the most famous of the actress, but the other two have the way more important families! I would guess this is the first time either of them had been in a film with someone who’s family was as crazy as theirs. I hope they bonded on set! Rinke Khanna is of course the daughter of Dimple and Rajesh Khanna, the sister of Twinkle, and sister-in-law of Akshay. She had been photographed and scrutinized her entire life, and there were massive expectations on her acting abilities. And then she never really made a hit in the mainstream industry, finally making this very “different” kind of film, and then leaving the industry.
Now, see, the only person who could possibly understand that kind of life is Riya Sen! Daughter of actress Moon Moon Sen, and granddaughter of Suchitra Sen, the greatest actress in Bengali cinema and the greatest “Paro” of all the Devdas adaptations. And then on the other side, she is the daughter of a prince, granddaughter of a king, and great-grand niece of Jackie Kennedy’s good friend, Indira Gandhi’s nemesis, Rani of Jaipur and member of Parliament, Gayatri Devi. And with all that royal blood and political power and place in the history of India and Indian film, here she is playing a random pretty girl in a shirt skirt, opposite a bunch of nobodies and ex-models.
(Also, Gayatri Devi was unbelievable beautiful. Just, oh my gosh!)
Now, the only thing that is making me enjoy this movie less than I did when I first saw it in 2003 is our 3rd hero. Why did I have to wiki him? WHY?!?!? Why couldn’t I have left well enough alone?
(don’t read on if you want to save yourself!)
Shyan Munshi, random young model type, had his first role in this movie, and was also a witness to the murder of Jessica Lal. Along with 31 other people. And, along with the 31 others, he changed his testimony and refused to implicate the murderer, and is now facing perjury charges. And now I have to have that in my head while I am watching this happy happy film! I don’t want that! Make it go away!