This isn’t just Shahrukh making his move on Kajol in the context of this film, this is Shahrukh making his move on, well, the world! It is in this next series of scenes that he turned from “promising young actor who has a certain something” into “Godlike Superstar”. (and also, if you’ve read my book, you know these are the scenes where I personally fell in love with him)
(part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, part 6 here, part 7 here, part 8 here, part 9 here, part 10 here, part 11 here, part 12 here, part 13 here, part 14 here, part 15 here, part 16 here)
In my last post I talked about Kajol’s mic drop moment. When she silently confronted Shahrukh with what it means to be an Indian woman, to accept a terrifying and miserable future because it is what your father has decided for you. At first, Shahrukh was reacting as just, well, a decent human being. He was trying to get her to ask for help, to ask to be saved from this situation, because he couldn’t believe how bad it was.
But after she looks at him, and lets him fully see the steel in her spine, it becomes personal again. He has to process that she isn’t what he thought she was. All along, he was fooled by her facade. He thought she was the usual giggly silly girl who was just “pretending” to be shy and traditional. Or not even pretending, who truly didn’t understand that there was more to being a woman than simply not sharing a room with a man. Sure, he had started to trust her, to like her, but he didn’t really fully grasp her, at her core, until this moment. It’s the matching set to Kajol’s moment of realization after his “Hindustani” speech. And, just like the camera lingered on Kajol for a moment to show her processing her new understanding, so does it linger here on Shahrukh.
First, fascination. He stares after her, caught up in her strength and beauty and depth that she has just revealed.
Then, he pulls himself together, reminds himself he needs to get out of this spin and ACT. Takes a deep breath and forces himself to move on.
He feels better once he is moving. It’s the opposite of Kajol. She was smiling and happy when she was just thinking about him and what had just happened. But once she pulled herself out of it and faced the future, and her responsibility for determining what would happen next in their relationship, it was an awesome burden. A burden she has now shaken off, giving him the blunt truth and warning him off of expecting anything more from their relationship.
But Shahrukh has been trained all his life for action and decisions! Getting past the self-reflection point, moving on to thinking about “what’s next?”, that’s when he starts to smile. First at himself, for every doubting his next move.
And then at Kajol, for thinking he wouldn’t have a next move up his sleeve to make.
And then there is a scene that probably made more sense in the script, before they saw the performances. It is supposed to tell us that Shahrukh is in love with Kajol, but is trying to forget her because of her fiance. But we knew that already! His face just told us that!
I guess, if you were stuck in the bathroom or something, it would be handy to have this scene show it over again. Oh, and we also see that they have now safely rejoined the larger group (Karan!). All of them are gathered around a few tables shoved together, passing around photographs. Shahrukh is staying uncharecteristically quite, while Kajol is uncharacteristically chatty. I think this might be supposed to be way at the end of the trip? It’s a month remember, and Shahrukh and Kajol were separated fairly early on, and were only together for a few days. So the film just sort of skipped over them rejoining the rest and spending another couple weeks traveling as a large crowd through Europe.
It’s one of the few times that Adi uses his father’s “emotional chronology” (not my term, a friend came up with it) kind of editing. We skipped weeks and weeks of things, because nothing happened emotionally in that time. After Kajol told Shahrukh she was engaged and got on the train with him, I think we can assume they made a point never to be alone together, that Kajol slowly blossomed and relaxed with her old friends, while Shahrukh became more and more odd and introverted. But the only scenes that matter are the ones when they are together, so we don’t need to watch the rest of it (just like we don’t need to see every detail of Sridevi’s job in Chandni, or what Amrita Singh is doing for most of the second half of Aaina).
So we come back at the end, with the photos being passed around to signify it is the end of the trip. And Shahrukh holds them in his lap and gently slips the photo of him handing Kajol the flower (seconds before spraying her face) into his pocket. Only, a moment later, Tina (Sheena?) mentions Kajol’s marriage, and Shahrukh just as quietly takes the photo out and hands it back saying it fell out of the pile. This whole time, he is just sitting there still and she is chattering away. But, frankly, it isn’t very interesting acting. Not even worth a screenshot. It’s fine, but it’s not at the level they bring to their other scenes. There really is just something that sparks there every time they are alone on screen together.
Which we will see in abundance in the next scene! But first, a small moment, Kajol is reading on the train when she suddenly notices that Shahrukh isn’t back on it yet. They could have just as easily inserted a moment of Karan asking her to get him, or her seeing something from the window, or not even bothered with an explanation as to why she is the one to go after him.
Remember in the last post (or the one before it?) I mentioned how Shahrukh was raised in a loving household, but he still missed something? This is what he missed. Somebody missing him. He has to rely on friends to wake him for his graduation, or help him get to his train. His food comes from convenience stores and restaurants. He sleeps in a pool surrounded by empty beer cans. There is no one around who’s focus is on his welfare, his health, his safety, his happiness. And now it has happened so naturally that it is instinct. Kajol looks up and immediately thinks “Where is Shahrukh? Is he all right? Does he need anything? I should go get him.”
Another gorgeous establishing shot (I understand you can take Yash Chopra tours of Switzerland where a bus takes you to this very bridge. Some day…..).
Notice, this time, Shahrukh is the small still figure while Kajol is the one who comes to him. Not that he is actually smaller than her, but they dressed him in brown and blue which fades into the river and trees, while Kajol is in a brilliant yellow that stands out against them. The natural curve of the bridge helps with this as well, making them equal height for once. And, it is her only traditional outfit in the whole trip sequence, giving her this full flowing yellow clothing that makes her look bigger on the screen. She is a little bit of sunshine coming to brighten him.
She waits a minute, listening to him play their love theme on his ukelele, then taps him on the shoulder. He turns and looks at her. She smiles back and asks “what is it?” He says “I have something to tell you.” He looks very serious, but she responds fairly casually, “What is it?” The last two scenes have established that she is strong in her resolve, has the courage of her convictions, and is comfortable with him now that she has established that, no matter what, she will be marrying the man her father has chosen. And meanwhile Shahrukh is the one struggling, looking after her at the train station, trying to steal a picture, and now almost missing the train while he plays the same tune over and over and over again. But then, with one quick statement, he puts all that agony back on to her.
This is one moment I really wish I could have watched for the first time when I was already in love with Shahrukh. On my very first watch, at this point, I still thought of him as “big nose, a little pudgy, talks to fast, a little short, great hair”. So this moment didn’t really land for me, I was confused more than anything, because where could they go from here? I didn’t react like Kajol, with horror and world changing shock.
It’s not just her expression either. Adi ratchets up the horror with surging strings on the soundtrack and a slow zoom in on her face, just in case we missed it. Shahrukh, as a character in the film, doesn’t have the advantage of background music telling him how to react. But he is studying her face soooooooooo much, he picks up on the depth of her unhappiness anyway.
He repeats it one more time, and keeps watching her reaction, hardly blinking. Swallows down his nervousness, and then forces himself to laugh. But it’s not a natural laugh and she is only fooling herself if she believes it. His face right before looks like a guy who’se whole life hangs in the balance.
So no matter how much he forces his laughter out through his cheeks, this was not a joke to him. And really, the laughter isn’t very convincing either. It’s not the little happy chuckle he’s made before, it almost seems painful. And Kajol, even though she may not consciously acknowledge it, can feel that pain. Look at the way she has to close her eyes for a second.
He does better once that awkward moment is over and he can move on to his second line of defense. Because, as I said way at the beginning of this post, his natural place is action, not re-action. The opposite of Kajol, she is happier when he is joking and teasing, not when he is just saying something and waiting for her to react.
And so he moves on, becomes active both in what he is saying and how he is moving, twisting around on the railing, poking her on the shoulder, telling her it was just a joke, of course! While Kajol becomes passive, pulling in on herself, trying to resist his assault. And it is an assault. A calculated one. He tried to shake her with his initial bald statement, and when that looked like it shook her too much, he backed off to his second line of attack, the over the top protests that of course he didn’t mean it, how could she think that?
It works, she slowly unwinds herself and starts to interact with him again, just in time for him to send off another little dart of truth at her. Actually, a series of darts. First, he pulls back and starts moving slower again, slowly leaning down to her, and towards the camera. There are so many camera movements in this scene! First the establishing shot, then the two shot, then these one shots of each of them at these funky angles. It works great, as this conversation jumps around and changes directions, so does the camera.
But for these 4 lines (the one above and following), Shahrukh stays in one direction, slowly coming closer to Kajol who is determidely not looking at him, and the camera stays on him as well.
This is a multi-part attack. The head on version didn’t work, the straight decent way of confessing his feelings. So now he is trying a round about tactic, getting her comfortable by teasing and pretending it was all a joke, and then trying to shake her up again, getting her to face and consider what her life is going to be like.
And now the next step, now that she is listening, to start giving her alternative options for her life. This is what he is too cowardly to do in Kuch Kuch, remember her line “if you could have done only that much, we could have won” comment when he finally says “I love you”, but only as part of a game? He’s not like that here. He is telling her exactly where she stands, telling her that she has a choice, but doing it in such a way that she feels no obligation, no responsibility. And sorry for so many screenshots, but the camera work, the expressions, and the dialogue are so perfect in this scene it’s the only way to really appreciate them!
Notice how the camera has shifted again. Now it is studying Kajol’s face, just like Shahrukh is, trying to read her mind.
He has got her attention now, so he doesn’t have to look at her any more. It is a little game they are playing, avoiding eye contact because that would be too dangerous, too look into each other’s eyes would be to see and to reveal too much, and they can’t go back from that.
Even when they are facing each other, they aren’t REALLY facing each other. It’s slightly off, slight avoidance of a coming together.
Notice how Kajol is studying him here. She’s not trying to read his face or understand his mind. She is weighing and balancing him. Testing his strength and sincerity. If she is going to do this, if she is going to risk everything, she has to know she has someone she can rely on. And Shahrukh knows this, that’s why he has such an elaborate plan in this moment, giving her the sincerity, the understanding, and the openness she needs right now. It’s also a brilliant scene written by Aditya, to have the hero move through all these emotions and possibilities and angles, while the heroine just stands there, watching. Because that’s what her life is like, waiting for her father to decide who she should marry, waiting for him to give permission for her to have one month to herself, waiting for Shahrukh to tease and rescue and distract her. And now she is taking her time, waiting to make this decision that could change her whole life, waiting to be sure there will be someone to catch her if she leaps.
But, unlike her father, Shahrukh is giving her a choice, he isn’t just pushing her off a cliff. He gives her a looooooooong pause after his last statement.
And then poses the question she’s been trying to avoid.
This scene has such great pacing. It starts out slow, with Shahrukh’s sudden statement, “I love you”. And then it pauses, and the tension builds, until it is released with Shahrukhs sudden burst of rapid speech, getting us past that tricky bit, and rapid cutting and changes as the camera moves around as well. Until it shifts down into a lower gear as this last speech starts. And it goes slower and slower until we end up circling back to where we began, with a quiet declaration of love, and the spoken question this time, not just the implied, “What will Kajol do?” And we look at his face, and her face, and his face again. And finally, their eyes are meeting and they are actually looking at each other.
Notice also that he puts it as a two part question. It’s not just choosing Shahrukh. It is rejecting the marriage that is a guaranteed misery and failure. It isn’t just choosing one man over the other, it is rejecting one man. And then, separately, choosing another.
Even if the train whistle hadn’t interrupted them, I don’t think she would have said anything at this point. She just wasn’t there yet. Look at the doubt in her forehead wrinkles and the way her chin is tucked in. And Shahrukh doesn’t want to push her all the way either. He has his puppydog eyes going, and he is presenting her with options, but he isn’t touching her, and he isn’t trying to emotionally manipulate her. He is just planting a seed and waiting for it to grow. And when the train whistle blows and interrupts them, he lets her go. Both literally and emotionally, making sure she doesn’t hear his final comment.