Twinkle was so great in this! Well, really Twinkle and Salman. The two of them together just lit up the screen in a really unusual way. Which, I think, was on purpose to support the story.
I love Twinkle, like, as a person. And one of the reasons I love her is that she is very upfront about not having been the greatest actress and just sort of doing the whole acting thing because she was young and didn’t know any better. Which is how she comes across in most of her roles, nice enough, young enough, but not really bringing anything special to the table.
But in this film, she just glowed! Not in the usual otherworldly beauty and virtue kind of way, but with a real solid warmth to her. Especially in her scenes with Salman, they felt like two real people who just really really liked each other. Which is, I believe, what makes the film work.
For me, the film is about the question of formal roles in a family and in a relationship, versus the real emotions that can underlay those roles. This is a theme set up right at the beginning, Salman isn’t being a very “good” grandson. He never comes home to visit, he forgets his grandfather’s birthday, he spends all his time drinking and romancing instead of working to support the family.
But those are all the surface parts of it, the real underlying necessity of a “good” grandson is that he love and care for his grandfather. And so, once Salman is informed that he has hurt Anupam (rocking the wig to convincingly play a whole 2 generations removed from Salman, who is only 10 years younger than him) by forgetting his birthday, Salman immediately make sit up to him, because he cares.
(born in 1965: born in 1955)
Maybe a usual “good” grandson would be super respectful and obedient and all those things. But does that mean anything if it doesn’t have a big heart and true love behind it? In the same way, maybe a normal grandfather would have stopped his allowance, forced him to get married and settle down. But Anupum explains that they never had that kind of relationship, his parents died so young that Anupum felt he had to make up their love to him, and so just focused on loving him.
It is related to the message at the beginning of DDLJ, that Anupum and Shahrukh have an unusual relationship with his casual acceptance of Shahrukh’s failing school and all their jokes and games. But ultimately, Shahrukh is ready to quit his fun and settle down and work if he thinks it will make Anupum’s life easier. His behavior may not be the usual respectful son behavior, but his attitude and emotions are all that could be wished. In the same way, Salman may be introduced as the drunken womanizer in London, but he really does love his grandfather and is ready to drop everything to make him happy.
(There are so many white women in this song!)
I also like how Salman is introduced as a “womanizer”. We see multiple women coming to bid him goodbye at the airport as he leaves London. And they are sad to see him go, but not in a “I thought we would be married!” kind of way, more in a “oh darn, we had such fun together, miss you!” kind of way. He is clearly not a womanizer who lies and seduces and tricks. He just enjoys sex and spending time with these woman, and they enjoy spending time with him, and it is all completely above board. There is no demonization of them for enjoying sex, and no demonization of him for enjoying their enjoyment.
Skipping ahead a bit, there is a later flashback where we get to see in more detail how he deals with these women. He may sing songs to/with them, he may sweep them away on romantic getaways, but he never says “I love you” and he is completely above board about his intentions. When he learns that one of his women has fallen in love with him, his response is not to run in the opposite direction, but to gently explain that he doesn’t feel that for her, that all he feels is friendship, but that he is happy to be her friend for life. And I believe it! I believe that he isn’t just spending time with these women because they are warm bodies, but that he sees them as people and cares about them as friends. It makes all the difference in the “womanizer” portrayal.
(Also, I don’t think I have ever seen Namrata look better than she does here)
Really, this is all just saying the same thing over and over again, that labels matter less than how you feel about people. Except for those times when the labels really really matter. That’s what the film is talking about, the difference between the label and what’s underneath.
And now, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
So, Salman and his friend/servant/”brother” Johnny Lever are sent to the remote area around Ooty to build a hotel. Really, it’s just a way to get him out of the temptations of the city. Salman sees Twinkle on the street, after having already glimpsed her from a moving car back in Bombay, and immediately falls in love. He pursues her in a way he never pursued the other girls (so far as I can tell from what we see of his past life), spending days searching for her, lying once he finds her if it can help him spend time with her, and being heartbroken when she finds out the truth and rejects him.
Back in Bombay, he doesn’t forget her, even with other beautiful women around, and finally tracks her down to a hotel boutique she manages (I also like that it isn’t a “sweet and innocent girl” that makes him change his ways. I mean, she’s not a “bad” woman, but she is a mature working city girl, not some pretty little teenager). She is still mad at him, and challenges him to change his ways, to go to work every day and stop drinking and smoking, for 6 months. And then she will marry him.
And Salman actually does it! Goes to work, stops drinking, the whole thing. Culminating in her hearing that he was taken to the hospital for drinking, running down to tell him off, and then learning that it was for withdrawal symptoms because he quite cold turkey, and running back in the room to embrace him. And now they are really really in love!
(Really really in love and in super cute matching outfits!)
I like this whole romance a lot. For one thing, because they both choose each other. He falls for her at first sight and proves through his constant efforts that he really does want her, just her, not an idea of her or some perfect woman to save him, but really her. And she isn’t willing to just marry some perfect guy her family picks out for her, OR to accept him as he was to start with, she knows the kind of man she wants and if he doesn’t become that, she won’t marry him. We have to believe in this romance, that she loves him because he lives up to her standards, and that he loves her in particular and not just any woman could make him happy, because the whole second half of the film hinges on it.
Just as their romance reaches its happy ending, when they are having smile-y good night kisses and talking about how they can’t wait to be married, a little kid shows up and announces that Salman is his father!
I was mad at Salman at first for how he reacted, I wanted him to say “Of course you are my son!” and announce it immediately to his family and his fiancee, and be very proud and loving. Instead, he gives the kid a meal and then sneaks him into his house and hides him until he can take him to boarding school.
But, you know what, it’s better this way! This whole film has been saying “relationships don’t just happen! You have to feel the right way, and then everything else follows.” Salman didn’t feel like a father yet. He felt like some random guy who is suddenly responsible for some random kid. And from that side of things, he was being pretty stand-up about it.
(not exactly thrilled to meet this kid, as you can see)
Once the DNA test confirmed their relationship, (for once, someone actually has a DNA test in these movies!), he never tried to escape from his responsibilities. He made sure the kid had a place to stay and plenty to eat, he went to drop him off to boarding school himself and met the teachers and everything. If he had left him there, and visited him and paid all the fees and kept up with his teachers, and then paid for his college and stayed in touch the rest of his life, well, that would have been pretty decent! Not the most I could expect from someone in this situation, but far from the least I would expect!
Only, he doesn’t leave him there, not because he has a surge of responsibility, but because he has a surge of love. He sincerely misses the kid and wants to spend time with him. So he brings him back to Bombay, because he also misses Twinkle, and Anupum, and he can’t bear to be parted from any of them.
In most movies like this (Mausam, Main Hoon Na, the terrible terrible Dil Hai Tumhare, the almost as terrible Brothers), the kid shows up after the marriage, when the man and wife are not just tied by love, but by society and their other children together, and a million other bonds. But this movie went a different way. Salman had no societal ties to Twinkle, and he had no societal ties to the kid. He could have left either of them at any point with no major issues. Which makes it clear that the only obstacle was his heart, he just loves them both to much to choose.
And Twinkle loves him too much too. If it had just been a matter of an arranged engagement, or if she hadn’t returned his feelings in the same way, there would be no issues. Salman could spend all the time he wanted with the kid, and Twinkle could do her own thing. But she loves him, and wants to be with him and spend time with him alone, and resents the time he spends away from her with the child. And we see that in their acting and the way they are directed.
There is a scene in the second half when Twinkle and the kid have had a big fight, and Salman is trying to play peacemaker. He comes over to Twinkle’s house and is arguing with her, and in the middle of it, the phone rings and kid calls up to say “sorry Auntie”. And Twinkle forgives him, and then hangs up, and looks at Salman, and repeats what the kid just told her, “sorry auntie”, and then they both kind of smile and laugh, and lean in on each other. In another movie, this would have been just a dialogue scene, they sit on their marks on opposite sides of the room, they yell at each other, she says “sorry”, scene over. But in this, the way they are smiling and laughing and making eye contact and moving towards each other even while disagreeing, it feels more like two people who are in love, with all the complications and layers that implies not just two characters acting out their roles in a film.
I said that this movie doesn’t believe in labels, but that’s not quite true. It doesn’t believe in the labels that are forced on us and then the emotions are left to follow. It does believe in the ones that arise naturally out of what we are already feeling. It is wonderful that Salman loves his son so much. But ultimately, their relationship needs the security and certainty of social acknowledgement. It can’t keep going on like this, as something they each feel inside but no one else can see.
I love that, in the end, he has to tell Twinkle the truth, and Anupum the truth, and the whole world the truth, not because there is any huge deadline or external pressure, but because he can’t keep his feelings inside any more. He is this boy’s father, not just because of biology, and also not because he does the standard “father” things (he doesn’t work to support him, or punish him, or make him study hard, or give him a lot of rules, or any of that), but because he loves him like a father loves a son, and that’s all there is to it.
I kind of saw the ending coming, or at least hoped it would end the way it did, and I am so glad it did. Because, once again, it was on Twinkle to make her own decision about what societal label she feels ready to accept. She agreed to marry Salman with her eyes open, aware of what he was and still ready to accept him. And she agreed to be his son’s mother not because it was forced on her as a condition of the marriage, but voluntarily, because it was something she felt ready to do in her heart.
(Oh hey! That’s the title, right? “When love happens”, or something like that?)