I just watched Humpty Sharma again, for like the 7th time. But it was interesting watching it now, while I am in the middle of my DDLJ recap. So I was hyper aware of what it took from DDLJ and what it got rid of.
This whole thing is going to be SPOILERS, so if for some reason you still haven’t seen DDLJ and/or Humpty Sharma, go off and fix that right now, and then come back in 6 hours having watched them both and read my post.
And this is another post where I get all distracted by the trees and forget the forest. So here’s a quick synopsis of the bare bones of the plot. Alia is an engaged girl from Ambala who goes to Delhi to raise money to buy a designer wedding dress. And to escape from her home, which isn’t completely happy since her sister’s marriage fell apart. Varun is a player college student, trying to squeak through his exams so he can graduate and run his father’s bookshop. They meet in Delhi, where Varun helps Alia get revenge on an ex-boyfriend who is blackmailing her friend with a sex tape, and raise the money to buy her dress. At the end of their time together, Alia sleeps with him and then goes back to Ambala before he is awake the next morning. But she takes the money he gave her and uses it to buy the car Varun’s father dreamed of. And it turns out this post is so long I have to split it in to, so I will summarize the second half tomorrow!
The most important thing DDLJ and Humpty both nail is the feeling that the characters are super young and naive and fragile and not really ready for the world, but also completely and absolutely right for each other and much stronger together than they could ever be apart. In Humpty, Alia or Varun (the fact that I can’t remember which just shows how strong their coupling is) puts that into words, telling her father “People aren’t perfect, relationships are perfect.” It’s not that Varun or Shahrukh, or Alia or Kajol, are flawless perfect people. But their flaws compliment and smooth out each other. Kajol makes Shahrukh responsible, Shahrukh makes Kajol fearless. Varun makes Alia softer, Alia makes him stronger.
The first time I watched DDLJ, I was the same age as Kajol was while filming, and even younger than her character was supposed to be (I think. Was she 18 or 21?). Watching DDLJ now, when I have crossed the line into being older than both Kajol and Shahrukh were at the time of filming, and much much older than their characters are supposed to be, I see them very differently.
The first time, I was really stunned by how they changed over the course of the film. I saw their personalities at the beginning as being set in stone, of course Kajol is virtuous and chaste and Shahrukh is wild and drinking. Heck, I was in college, there were horrible Shahrukh-like boys living on my floor, and I was very much the Kajol type, and I never thought we would have anything in common. The idea that just spending time together would reveal those behaviors to be only the surface of their personality, that they could change into a joking happy compatible couple just blew my mind.
But watching it now, as an “adult”, of course that’s what happened! Kajol was never really virtious and chaste, and Shahrukh was never really wild. Those were just the personas they were trying on, because that’s what you do when you are 20, you try on different personalities and behaviors because you haven’t been around long enough to fully form your own. It’s only when adversity reveals their actual selves that Shahrukh and Kajol see how well they fit together.
Both films follow the same structure for introducing this concept. And it seems simple, but it is all in the execution. We see Varun/Shahrukh and Alia/Kajol with their separate families, and with their friends, and we think we know them. Varun isn’t book smart, and he is kind of a trickster, but he is also a little dopey and lovesick all the time. Alia is fast talking and selfish and superficial. But they both half little indications of deeper sides to them. Just like Shahrukh, Varun is kind and generous to his father. And Alia may only care about her bridal lehenga, but she also has a seen with her older sister encouraging her to forget her broken heart.
When they meet each other, just like Shahrukh and Kajol in their first meeting, they are both deep in their separate personas they present to the world. Sure, the very first moment has a bit of a spark to it (Varun and Alia agreeing that she would arrange for him to pass his test if he paid her), but the second meeting sees him playing the boy with a crush, and her playing the sophisticated girl who doesn’t care. It is very different from Kajol’s “good girl upset by flirtation” and Shahrukh’s “player who hits on everything that breaths” personas. But the underlying idea, that they are so young they actually think these personas are their real selves, and that the persona they are seeing in the other person is their real self, that is true.
Humpty‘s “Ruk Ja O Dil Deewana” moment, “Lucky Tu Lucky Me”, is very different also, but has the same effect. They are both still playing their personas, but cracks are beginning to appear. Varun is actually impressive in this song, and a little bit aggressive. He isn’t quite the sweet innocent boy with a crush that he first appeared. And Alia is a little happy, a little spontaneous, a little shy with him. Not quite the sophisticated above it all type that she presents herself as. Both songs, “Ruk Ja” and “Lucky” have a kind of raw pulsing energy to them, they awaken the essential vigor and violence of youth, and therefore can break through all the surface posturing of these respective characters. And both songs serve the narrative purpose of moving the characters slightly out of their protective shells and slightly closer together.
But then, in both films, they immediately return to their previous personas once the cold light of day hits. In fact, they are even more determinedly within those personas. Varun is playing the “helpful fool” and Alia is playing the “willing to use him but doesn’t really care about him” mean girl. And they are both kind of enjoying the act, the scene in the coffee shop when the take turns loudly yelling their arguments at each other while the other customers listen in show their joy and pride in the faces they are presenting the world. Only we, the audience, know the truth. We see Varun put together the information to figure out what is happening with Alia’s friend, and seeming legitimately concerned about her, as well as concerned to watch Alia pawning her jewelry to raise money, in these scenes he has a maturity and confidence that he hides when he is with Alia. And we see Alia reveal her uncertainty and fear with her friend, that she hides when with Varun.
There are two scenes here that are almost word for word the same as in DDLJ. Only, they flipped the order and gave them a slightly different meaning because these are slightly different characters. First, Alia and Varun get drunk, really really drunk, just like Shahrukh and Kajol. Only, unlike Kajol, Alia doesn’t resist or fear letting loose a little. She has lived a free-er and more fearless life, she can trust her own judgement as to when it is “safe” to cut loose and when she needs to protect herself. And she knows that Varun is “safe”. She actually says that to him directly in a later scene (or earlier? But I am pretty sure later). That he is “safe” and she isn’t worried.
In DDLJ, the point of the drunk scene was to once and for all prove to Kajol that she was physically safe with Shahrukh, that he would never purposefully hurt her. In Humpty, the point is to let both Alia and Varun feel a little more emotionally safe with each other. They are the only ones left awake and talking at the end of the evening, and they are drunk enough and tired enough to let down their boundaries a little, Alia to explain that she is planning to marry a man she has never met in almost word for word the same way that Kajol does, and Varun to explain his father’s lost dream of owning a car.
It’s not just the words that are the same for Alia and Kajol, but the attitude. There is a strange sort of pride and strength in their sacrifice, as they lay it out for this boy they have just met exactly how clearly they see what is about to happen to them and how bravely they are facing it. It’s less of a sacrifice in some ways for Alia than for Kajol. Alia has actually met and talked to her fiance, Alia has clearly already been out and seen the world in a way Kajol never got a chance to, and she is more able to take care of herself and make what she needs and wants clear-to her father, to her future husband, just as she does to Varun. Both of them resist any sympathy, responding with just a look to the camera/the man questioning their future, letting him see in their face what it is costing them.
Both of them are giving up the world they have been raised in because their father thinks this world isn’t good enough for them, that they can easily transplant to another. Kajol was supposed to give up all the freedom and openness of her London life for the life of a Punjabi farmer’s wife. And Alia is supposed to give up her confidence and comfort in living in a huge Punjabi farmhouse with all her family about her, in running scams on the locals, in drinking country liquor in the backroom of a shop. As Varun points out, girls can have arranged marriages, but they aren’t usually the girls that spend a month alone in Delhi first. It’s not that one life is better than the other, but for both Kajol and Alia, this life is all they know. To think they can easily be transplanted to somewhere totally alien just because their father declares it, and be happy there, is a crime.
What I find equally interesting in this scene is how Varun opens up as well. First, by revealing that he doesn’t just have a shallow crush on Alia, he really cares for her. He tells her he will make sure she can get back the earrings she pawned to pay for her dress, and he points out that he’s not an idiot, he knows there is something really wrong if she is shopping for her wedding things alone in Delhi. And along with revealing the depth of his feelings for her, he also reveals his depths in general, that he isn’t just the casual boy she is playing with, but someone with concerns and responsibilities. He tells the story of his father’s attempt to purchase a car, canceled when their shop had a fire and the down payment was spent on restocking instead. It’s not the most tragic story in the world, and he doesn’t tell it like it is a tragic story. But he tells it like it is a serious thing, and something which weighs on him. Alia has offered the woman’s perspective, sacrificing herself as ordered by the men in the family. And Varun is offering the man’s, constant awareness of the necessity, and potential failure, of providing for the family.
And it’s after this that Varun recreates the “morning after” scene from DDLJ word for word. Only this time, it works as it was expected to work, because the two of them are already on the same wavelength in a way that Shahrukh and Kajol weren’t quite at this point. Alia sees through the joke immediately and reacts by punching him, and telling him he has “seen DDLJ too many times.” Shahrukh tried this joke on Kajol, thinking she would laugh because obviously he wasn’t that kind of boy and she wasn’t that kind of girl, not realizing that she didn’t yet understand him. But Varun tried it and Alia understood perfectly.
They could have ended their interactions there, until “fate” pulled them together again with Alia needing help to save her friend. But I don’t think they would have. Just like Shahrukh and Kajol missed their train, because Shahrukh was waiting for her and teasing her, so Alia and Varun’s adventure was a direct result of their previous interactions. In this case, Alia ran into a problem, and her first thought was to run to Varun, this new friend she had made who was “safe” and who she trusted. If it hadn’t been this particular problem, I am sure she would have found another reason to call him. Notice, also, that Varun’s facade is the “open-hearted silly boy in love” while Alia’s is the “cold girl who is over it”, and yet she is the one to call him. Varun is more of a gentleman than he lets on, holding back a bit from an engaged girl. And Alia is more eager than she admits, happy to call him for help (just as, earlier, he realized that she had already looked him up on facebook).
Their adventure is fun, they enjoy each other and work as a team. But the important part is right at the end. They have successfully blackmailed the scummy boy who is blackmailing her friend (her friend’s story, by the way, along with her sister’s, is a nice reminder that arranged marriages can be the safest option for girls who are a little less savvy than Alia and less able to tell which boys are “safe”). But they also blackmailed the married woman that he was sleeping with, who’s only fault was cheating on her husband. In the car, leaving, Alia holds the woman’s jewelry in a bundle in her arms and gently picks through it, and Varun looks at her face and can tell that her heart is breaking at the thought of taking this jewelry. Alia may put on a good act of being heartless and modern, but she is touched at the thought of a woman losing her wedding jewelry. And Varun may put on an act of being helpless and silly, but he is capable of noticing when the woman in his care is distressed and quietly taking care of the problem.
In both this and DDLJ, they are resisting acknowledging their gender roles. Kajol has a hard time trusting Shahrukh in this world that her upbringing as a traditional Indian girl has made her completely incapable of handling. And Shahrukh is struggling to follow his natural instincts to protect her, without giving up the carefree life and attitude he wants to enjoy as long as possible. In this, Alia has a hard time admitting to herself that she has any emotions, any traditionally “feminine” feelings or depth. It’s not because of a generalized upbringing trained her to be like this (as was the case for Kajol), but because of the very specific situation of her family, that her sister has been burned by admitting those “female” emotions and so Alia has shut herself off from them. And Varun has a hard time admitting his “male” need to care for someone else, to put her emotions before his own and use logic and strength to achieve something, because he is trying to enjoy his last few weeks of freedom before taking over his father’s shop. (I put “male” and “female” in quotes, because I’m not talking about any kind of inborn thing based on DNA, just the kind of things society assumes come in male and female packages. All people have both these parts present in their personalities, of course, but Varun and Alia, for their own reasons, are resisting embracing the “male” and “female” parts of their personality and clinging to their “female” and “male” parts).
But now, their adventure has reached a point where they have to start embracing the parts of themselves they keep hidden from the world, letting those complementary features out so they can more fully bond together. And again, just in terms of the characters, I think this would have happened in some way no matter what, whether Shahrukh and Kajol had missed the train, or Alia and Varun had needed to gain vengeance on blackmailers. Once they met, and sparked together, it was too late. Inevitably, they would have found an excuse to spend more time together, and as they spent time together, they would have grown closer.
I just talked about the scene in DDLJ when I fell in love with Shahrukh, when he says good-bye to Kajol at the train station and lets her know how he feels, with no conditions or requests, just a brave statement. Varun does the same thing here. He wakes Alia in the middle of the night to bring her the money he promised her he would help her get. Back when he made the promise, he was still playing at being “Varun, the love struck boy”. But now, he has achieved his goal, and he is bringing her the money as “Varun, the grown man who is in love with her the way a man loves”. Just like Shahrukh says it all without saying it in his “No, I won’t be coming” line, so does Varun say it all with “If you had needed 10 crore, I would have got that for you too.”
Only, Alia is a very different person than Kajol, both more and less brave. Alia is brave enough to insist on seeing Varun again after his confession, to take the lead in arranging for them to have sex. But she isn’t brave enough to stay the next morning, or to go home and confess her feelings to her mother.
Normally, I really don’t like sex scenes in Indian movies. Often they feel shoe-horned in, just for the shock value. SPOILERS FOR Band Baaja Baarat, for instance, I think would be a much better film if Ranveer and Anushka had merely kissed. To actually have sex makes Ranveer’s character look like a cad, and Anushka’s frankly unbelievable (who goes from never even dating to sleeping with a guy with no stop in between?). SPOILERS OVER But in this film, it feels completely natural. Alia knows, 100%, that Varun loves her. Really truly loves her. And she knows that this is the last time she will be this free in her life. Why not take this moment of happiness with someone she knows she can trust before giving up her life to a stranger? And Varun is respecting her more by giving her what she wants, being a better and more caring partner, than he would be if he played the “I know better than you what you really want” card.
Besides making sense for the characters, this scene is important for the narrative. Varun needs some firm indication that Alia feels the same way he does. In DDLJ, Shahrukh was constantly battling with Kajol’s reserve, he had to make do with a million tiny little hints and moments in order to be able to read her mind. But in Humpty, Alia is a straight-forward character with many fewer emotional hang-ups. It makes sense that Varun would be waiting for a clear straight-forward sign of how much he meant to her. And what is more clear than choosing to give up her virginity to him?
More important than the sex scene itself is the scene afterwards. Alia, in her own way, explains why she is in love with Varun but can’t stay with him. That her sister’s marriage broke their family, and she feels a responsibility to them and can’t break the family again by running away. It’s the most emotionally honest and raw she has been with him ever before. And he responds in a way that Shahrukh of DDLJ would approve of, not offering emotional honesty in return, but what she needs more than that, a casual comfort and warmth, simply making her feel better in this moment, even if it makes him look a little foolish. That’s what a good guy does, he comforts the woman when she is feeling vulnerable without making her feel more vulnerable by displaying his strength. It’s more manly than if he had responded by a lot of chest thumping and “I declare you can’t marry him!”
Speaking of being manly, what’s super manly is that when he wakes up and she is gone, Varun doesn’t go tearing after her. Instead, he hides his broken heart and buries himself in his new responsibilities, taking charge of his father’s shop. There is no “she slept with me, she is mine now!” stupidness. There isn’t even a “I know she loves me and is marrying someone else, it’s wrong!” stupidness. He respects her decision to marry who she plans to marry, and swallows his pain to make it easier for her. That’s what makes both this and DDLJ feminist romances. The guys don’t assume that just because they feel how they feel, the girl is going to feel the same way.
In this particular way, Humpty is even more feminist than DDLJ, because Varun needs a really really big sign before he decides to go for it and do whatever it takes to get together with Alia. Although it’s also because they are very different female characters. For Kajol, just bringing herself to leave that little sign behind was as big as Alia buying a whole car.
(Look at his little smile! Shahrukh knows exactly how much that bell means)
The car looks like the most blatant kind of product placement, and it kind of is, but it is also a great and very particular kind of gift for her to give. It calls back to that conversation when Varun for the first time revealed himself as a serious person with serious concerns. And it is also a gift to the whole household, whether she is openly saying it or not, she is taking this oppurtunity to act as the daughter of the house, fulfill her father-in-law’s dreams and take worries away from her husband and bring happiness to her “brother-in-laws” (Varun’s friends). Alia didn’t just fall in love with Varun, she fell in love with his whole life, with his indulgent father and innocent friends and casual running around Delhi. Kajol left the bell behind to tell Shahrukh she loved him and he had her heart. Alia gave Varun a car because, consciously or not, she wanted to be part of his family.
Okay, I knew I would have a lot to say about this movie! And I really really did! So I am going to deal with the second half in a second post tomorrow.