I finally watched Andaz Apna Apna! Well, re-watched it. Which is supposed to be the best way to see it, when you’ve already watched it once for all the big plot points, and are ready to come back and just watch it for the jokes.
It is a really really good movie. And really irreverent. Not just to Indian society and so on, but to Indian films! Right from the beginning, it takes all the usual magical elements, and turns them into a joke. Every love song has a gag hidden in it, every romantic dialogue is a bit too silly, every”evil” plan has an inevitable flaw, even the costumes are purposefully a bit too-too. And, most of all, the stars are a joke! Aamir’s character is called “Aamir”, and Salman is “Prem”! Raveena is called “Raveena” and Karishma is called “Karishma”. They are all playing versions of their star personas, but revealing the emptiness and shallowness of those personas.
Which brings me to the first ten minutes of the movie! I can picture people in the theater watching it when it first came out, going “huh? What? I don’t understand!!!!” I think the filmmakers thought they could set the tone right from the beginning by putting the most ludicrous gag at the front of the movie. But instead, people just got really really confused right from the beginning. It works great for a repeat watch though! Or even a first watch, so long as someone has warned you in advance what kind of movie this is.
It’s the same kind of gag as the opening of Zamaana Deewana, but unlike in Zamaana Deewana, it isn’t just a one off, it is the beginning of a whole series of gags of the same type. And it is brilliant! Aamir Khan is riding down the road on a bike (just like in Jo Jeet Wohi Sikander), when he sees Juhi Chawla trying to fix her car. He comes up and offers to help, we think it is a meet cute between the two leads of the film, but no! She is really Juhi Chawla, movie star, and she needs a ride to a film set. Aamir takes her to the set, and meets her film friends. They go to a party and see Govinda. They talk about how she acts opposite Sunny, Shahrukh. But she loves “Aamir” (the character). She wants him to marry her! And manage her money! She will keep working, just keep her “distance” from her heroes, and he will take all the money! True Love!
And then Aamir wakes up because it was all a dream. Ha! In ten minutes, they made fun of the standard ridiculous meet cute of Indian film, our assumption that Juhi Chawla would be playing a character not just “Juhi Chawla”, the fantasies fans have about female stars falling in love with them, and our assumptions about characters played by Aamir Khan being noble and decent. Right off the bat, we should know this is going to be a heightened kind of film, where nothing is as it seems, and nothing really matters.
We need this ten minute intro to set the tone of the film before we meet our “heroes”. Because if we took the film, or their characters, at all seriously, then they would be terrible terrible people! Both of them are sons of respectable hard-working small businessmen (a barber and a tailor). Both of them con and lie to and steal from their fathers for their own entirely selfish reasons (to pay for headshots, and a fancy haircut). And both of them are also so stupid! Not dumb, just short-sighted and naive, believing that all their dreams will come true and everything will always work out for them. It’s just not very heroic, is what I’m saying.
And then they both do one final theft and run away from home to seduce and romance recently arrived heiress Raveena Tandon. Now, they are already pretty horrible people, and this would be a really horrible plan, except that Raveena Tandon is set up as just as fake as they are. Just as the heroes are more joke machines than manly ideals, so is Raveena’s character more a spoof of the traditional heroine, than an actual saintly innocent heroine.
She’s innocent, sure, and she doesn’t do anything wrong necessarily, but she also doesn’t do anything right. I mean, she’s not playing with small children or feeding the homeless or anything, like your usual saintly rich girl heroine. She’s wearing ridiculous outfits and big hair and publically announcing her plan to fall in love and get married as soon as she can find a boy she likes.
It’s clearly supposed to be a spoof of the standard rich girl heroine, not just how the director sees women, because we have Karisma right there, being a very different kind of female character. One with spunk and spark and determination, and no interest in big hair or fancy clothes. Of course, she’s not that bright either, seems more interested in just barreling ahead and doing what she thinks should be done, then in actually thinking through the consequences of her actions.
By the way, brilliant casting here! Karisma has so much more spark and interest onscreen than Raveena! Raveena does a fine job with the big eyes and big hair and panting interest in Aamir, but Karisma is on a whole other level with her squirrelly sneaking around in the background and yelling at servants and big doe-eyed falling for Salman.
(Also, THOSE PANTS!)
I love how they handle the romances. Salman and Aamir are just disgusting, planning to woo Raveena because she is beautiful and, more importantly, wealthy! But then Raveena is just so dumb, and Aamir is so transparent in his efforts, and the whole thing is handled so lightly, that it doesn’t feel at all like he is taking advantage of her, it feels like just fun!
(Also, I love the double-exposure bit right at the end! It’s such a classic love song touch, but on the end of this ridiculous silly song!)
It really works with the big reveal (SPOILERS, I guess?) that Karisma is the heiress and Raveena is the secretary. Sure, Salman is immediately thrilled that he gets to marry the rich girl, and Aamir is all sad about marrying the poor one. But then right after that, Aamir comes around, and Salman gets nervous about meeting Karisma’s father, and they pull off the switch from conning the girls to actually being in love with them. Oh, and the whole thing about Raveena just pretending to be “Raveena” and actually being “Karisma” and Karisma just pretending to be “Karisma” and actually being “Raveena” is HILARIOUS! Especially when the boys get confused, and then decide to not even bother and just go back to calling them the original names.
This is all without even dealing with the criminal plot! I also love that part of it. I mean, “Crime-master Gogo, Mogambo’s cousin”? That’s hilarious! And Paresh Rawal having the time of his life playing both the uptight millionaire and the punch-drunk villain. And all his worldly wealth being in diamonds? For no real reason? It’s great!
And really, the criminal plot, just like the romance plot and the conman plot, is only slightly more ridiculous than what is played straight in other movies. Which is what makes it so funny! There is this perfect balance of going just a little too far, but still staying close enough that you can see the relationship to the original they are making fun of. Is “Gogo” really that much more silly than “Mogambo”?
At the same time, what would be really deadly to the comedy would be to get too close to a regular movie, any slight tinge or realism or sincerity would just drag the whole thing down. That’s where the imitation movies since this tend to fail! Zamaane Deewane, Baadshah (ho baadshah baadshah ho baadshah baadshah ho baadshah BAADSHAH), Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, Ishq, they all had little moments of sincerity that just do not work in the midst of this kind of comedy.
(These two songs do not belong in the same movie!)
And then on the other hand, there are the ones that go way way too surreal. Duplicate, for instance. About half of Sajid Khan’s output. You can’t make it feel like it is just jokes for joke’s sake. They have to be making fun of something actual, even if it is just how silly other movies are.
And that’s what is really special about Andaz Apna Apna. That it is so laser focused on taking shots at love stories, at crime stories, at conmen, at everything that goes into making up Hindi film of the 1990s. And that’s probably why no one appreciated it at the time. It works a lot better a few years down the road, when you have enough distance to see how ridiculous all those other 90s movies were.