I had never heard of this film until it was recommended in a comment, and I don’t know why I never heard of it, because it is brilliant! Clever and sweet like Chashme Buddoor, intense and emotional like Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, and with an interesting message about Indian society like Ishaqzaade.
It’s a south remake, the original was called Prema and also stared Revathy, which explains why she was brought up to Bombay for the remake. And thank goodness, because her performances is perfection! But the movie still flopped in the north. And I wonder, was it because of the big changes they made to the ending? Or was it that it was just a little too layered for a northern audience to grasp?
The other big change between the original and the remake is the casting of Salman Khan. This was still fairly early on in Salman’s career, it was only his 6th film, after a mixture of hits, flops, and so-sos. He wasn’t yet “SALMAN KHAN”, he was just a fairly successful actor who had a strong fan base and one huge hit. But every role and every film was an oppurtunity to make him an either bigger star and secure his place forever, or to be such a huge embarrassing flop that it was all over. (of course, Hum Aapke Hain Koun 3 years after this would be that huge hit that secured his place forever)
His performance here has that little extra edge to it, the earnestness and eagerness and effort and rawness of someone just starting out and hungry for success. It’s a good look for him, I like it better than his smooth confidence in the post-Hum Aapke Hain Koun hits. And it works especially well for this character, who is always trying extra hard to find his place in the world.
The plot as a whole is no huge ground-breaking thing, just yet another movie in which a boy from the wrong side of the tracks falls for a rich girl and her family objects. I should say, it’s no huge ground-breaking thing in 1991. In 1989, when Salman made Maine Pyar Kiya, then it was ground-breaking! But by 1991, he was kind of a victim of his own success, all sorts of love stories were coming out and another star-crossed lovers tale looked like nothing special.
But it is special! Because of the little touches and differences that make this story stand out from all the others. Simply giving the bare plot outlines doesn’t tell you anything about what is so special in the film. What makes it special is the lowkey way the couple comes together to begin with, the subtle way their relationship builds up, the fact that Salman is Hindu and Revathy is Christian, but unusually religion is not really the issue in their relationship. That it is Revathy’s mother, not her father, who objects. That Salman’s backstory is so unusually tragic. That there is a quiet little background message about consumerism and nervous disorders.
That last message is the one I found most interesting. But I can’t deal with it without getting into SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
What I find fascinating about this movie is the statement it makes about abusive parents and the disorders they can cause in their children. At the start, Revathy looks much better off than Salman. She comes from a well-off household, she has a loving father and mother, she is always smiling and cheerful and happy and confident. It is this joy that first appeals to Salman, because it is such a contrast to his constant gloom and anger. Salman craves simple joy in his life, that is what we see right at his introduction, standing under a tree smiling as he watches children playing Cricket in the street. He can’t resist their simple happiness, even to the point of volunteering to speak for them and get their ball back when it flies over a wall. But, then his joy is taken away, when the house owner taunts him with his past as a juvenile delinquent who killed his father.
Revathy, on the other hand, is introduced laughing and fighting with her sister in the post office. She brings her own joy and happiness with her everywhere. And she has no fear of sharing her happiness with the world, or taking more of it from others. That is, she is happy to go up to Salman, a near stranger, and ask him for help buying them movie tickets, or taking a share in his donation to a beggar, and at the same time she has no fear of talking in the theater or loudly fighting with her sister, because she assumes that everyone in the world will be happy to share with her.
The only slight oddity in her character is her obsession with taking pills, recommended from the TV ads. We see this brilliantly in her fantasy love song with Salman, where she dreams about his perfection in terms of advertising promos. It’s a clever little touch to the song, showing how her fantasy has been influenced by advertising, but it has a deeper meaning that comes back around later.
Even at this early point, there were signs that Revathy’s homelife wasn’t as perfect as it looked. But it was treated more as a joke, “ha-ha, her father is afraid of her mother!” It still seems kind of like a joke for much of the movie, but it gets slowly more and more serious. It’s not that the characters change, it’s that we see more clearly what they have been like all along.
While Salman had an abusive father who drove his mother to suicide, and Salman to killing his own father as a boy, Revathy’s pain is like slow poison. Well, it is slow poison! That’s the point, she has so little control over her life and her family, that she is taking control in the only way she can, by poisoning herself with pills.
It reminded me of anorexia nervosa, which is thought to have a mental side to it, people who feel out of control in their lives taking control in the only way they can. And there is also that component of the image and the media, telling them that what they are doing is “good”, even if those closest to them say it is unhealthy. Revathy is embracing the lessons she has been told by the TV ads, that all these pills and medications will make her better, and she is taking them and noting down all the details, and pouring all her unhappiness and lack of control and misery of her home life into this one outlet and distraction. She is only appearing so happy and healthy because she has hidden all her unhappiness away in one little spot.
Salman has his own problems, of course. While usually a remarkably sweet boy (as we saw with his early happiness over the children playing cricket), he cannot control himself when he feels anger. Which gets him into problems ranging from insulting a politician and blowing his big break into music, to beating up strangers on the street, to constantly accidentally insulting the family of his lady love.
Of course, what doesn’t help is that Revathy’s mother is a bully. She will keep pushing and pushing and pushing until she makes you give in completely. And Salman cannot give in and will not be pushed. He is the ying to her yang. And he is also the perfect man for her daughter for that very reason. Revathy has endless patience and endurance, trained by a lifetime of putting up with her mother (we see this right at the beginning, when she waits in the rain for hours for Salman without complaint), but she also needs someone who will inspire her to finally rebel, to give in to her emotions, which is what Salman sparks in her (she resists his attempts to kiss her, right after waiting in the rain for him. So she will endure, but she will also not do anything she doesn’t want to, she is comfortable saying “no” to him in a way she can’t to her mother).
What I really love, is how the romance grows even after they are “in love”. They fall in love awfully fast, after handful of cute meetings, she gets him to confess his whole dark past and why he feels unworthy of a relationship, and then waits for him in the rain and all of a sudden he is okay with the relationship again. Only, what is cool is that they aren’t actually “in love” at this point. At least, not as much as they could be. It’s not a simple binary yes-no thing, it’s a beginning that keeps deepening and deepening.
(they are in love here, it is real love and all that, but it isn’t as deep as it can go yet)
Soon after they start dating, she tries to get her father to help him get a job performing. Her father asks him about his dedication to music, and Salman declares that he loves Revathy, but he loves music even more, he can’t live without music. But at the end, he sells his guitar to buy her a gift. It’s not that he cares about music less now, it’s that he doesn’t care how much it hurts him to lose his guitar if he can make her happy for a moment with a present.
At another point, after their fight, Revathy talks about how she can’t bare to go a day without seeing him. But later, when her mother is forcing them to be apart, she gets his name tattooed on her arm and writes it in blood on her wall, and seems contented with just these tokens. She no longer needs to see him in person to feel him close.
There love is a powerful growing force, but it isn’t enough to save her, because she was doomed from the start. This is what was so interesting in comparison with the other romances of the era. Most other movies make the conflict over “how can we be together without the approval of our parents?” Not in a DDLJ “we must respect them” kind of way, but in a practical way, because they are not legally of age or with enough resources. That’s not the case here, Salman seems to have enough money, he has a job and he rents his own room and he can pay for dinner in a nice restaurant. He isn’t the poor little lonely rich orphan type, but he is certainly comfortable. They could run away at any point and he would be perfectly capable of taking care of both of them.
The only conflict is within Revathy, she cannot bring herself to rebel fully against her mother. Not until the very end, when the abuse has moved from emotional to physical. And when Salman has started confronting her mother directly, and revealing how small her power really is. But it doesn’t matter that Revathy has finally untangled her emotions, because the damage has already been done.
Now, in the original, Revathy collapses at their run away marriage, seconds before he is finally about to kiss her, and is taken to the hospital where the doctor inform them that her constant obsession with pills has poisoned her and she is slowly dying. The not-Salman hero wants to stay at her side, but she insists that he run off and perform at the music competition where he was accepted. He does, imagining her in her wedding gown the whole time.
(They kept the same idea of the song in the remake, but it doesn’t land as well)
It’s a lovely little statement about how his love for her has so far surpassed even his love for music, that singing is only a joy for him in how he can feel her closer to him. But when he rushes back to the hospital to tell her he won, she is dying. She manages to convey her joy at his triumph, but then as he bends to finally kiss her, their first real kiss, she dies.
Now, that’s really beautiful! He loves her so much, and she loves him, but the body is just too weak. It was never going to be enough, no matter what he did, they were never fated to be together, she will die before she gets her first kiss.
Of course, in the remake, they change things around. There’s dramatic last minute attempts to save her, he gives a whole speech to her about how she can’t leave him, and then she comes back to life and they kiss. It’s less perfect and fated and beautiful than the original, but it is much much happier, so I will let it go.
What I find more interesting is how they change the lead up to the hospital. Instead of it being a sudden collapse at their wedding, her mother pays a relative to kidnap her after they eloped (there is a cute thing about how they have to wait for Monday for the registry office to be open, so they are chastely sharing a hotel room in the meantime).
Salman goes to bring her back, and in the course of the fight, while Revathy is trying to help him, she is injured by falling on broken glass. And then is taken to the hospital, where the doctor explains that the pills she has taken have so weakened her body that they can’t stop the bleeding and she is slowly dying and so on and so on.
Ultimately, it’s the same idea, her mother’s insistence on things going her way, no matter what, had killed her daughter. But in the remake, it is a combination of the slow poisoning that started long before she met Salman, and a sudden new injury. I think I like it better in the original, when it is clear that she was always doomed, that it had nothing to do with not-Salman, that all their love did was make her life happier and maybe a little longer towards the end.
Oh, and also Amjad Khan is in it and he is SO FAT!