I already did a detailed discussion yesterday comparing and contrasting the first halves of DDLJ and Humpty. And that got so long that I decided to break at intermission and talk about the second half today. This may be slightly too much thought to put in to Humpty (although it is a very good movie. With a terrible title), but it is interesting as an example of how DDLJ has forever changed and influenced the Indian romance film.
This whole post is going to be SPOILER-iffic. So don’t read on if you haven’t seen both DDLJ and Humpty. And, just to get it out of the way, I’m going to start with a bare-bones synopsis of everything that happens in this half of the film before getting into the detailed analysis.
The first half ended with Alia leaving Delhi after spending one night with Varun. Varun respects her wishes and doesn’t chase after her, until he receives a massive gift, a car, which indicates the depth of her feelings. Varun responds to the gift by following her to Ambala where, fairly early on, he reveals his intentions to her father. Alia’s father makes a deal that Varun can stay in the house and help with the wedding preparations, and if he can prove that he is a better man in any way than Alia’s fiance, he can marry her. Varun struggles to find a flaw, and Alia helps in an attempt to prove that the fiance is gay, but in fact he is flawless. And then Varun gets in a fight defending Alia’s honor and her father is furious with him for fighting. Alia decides they should run away, but Varun convinces her to stay, and in a final train station confrontation with her father, Varun argues that he is the better man for Alia than her fiance simply because he loves her more. Varun returns to Delhi, thinking he has lost her. While Alia gives a final quiet plea to her father. In the end, Varun is surprised in Delhi by the entire wedding party, which has traveled from Ambala to Delhi with Alia to find him so she can marry him.
So, right, we come back from intermission to see Alia, with her family, in a temple. I think a Sikh temple, which sends me down my usual rabbit hole of “wait, are these characters Sikh? Or just Hindus who have a Sikh influence? Where is the line drawn? Why do I care?” Oh wait, there is one quick scene before the temple. But it is very quick, which is the point.
In DDLJ, they used the interval break to violently pull us away from Shahrukh and back to Kajol. We had been all “Shahrukh Shahrukh Shahrukh” since the scene in the church. Then back to Kajol for just a bit after the song, and then back to Shahrukh until intermission. So long as we were in the Shahrukh mindset, Kajol was a mystery and a challenge. But when we were with Kajol, we are reminded that she isn’t a mystery for someone else to solve, she is a living person with her own pain and problems. That’s a level of dignity and respect that most romance films, from India or anywhere else, don’t usually afford their heroines.
We get a lot less of that here. Partly, I think, thanks to DDLJ. DDLJ taught audiences, and screenwriters, that female characters in romances should get just as much back story and motivation as the male characters. While DDLJ had to constantly hit us over the head with it to make us even think about Kajol perspective, Humpty can draw it all with very broad strokes, a few reaction shots and a couple comments. While Kajol gets a whole journey by train to the Punjab, meeting her extended family, meeting her groom, having a conversation with her mother, all of this time to work through her feelings and for the audience to fully understand her position, Alia just gets two quick scenes. First, being measured at the village tailor show while her mother, sister, and grandmother wait and her sister seems to suspect something, asking Alia if she has “left something in Delhi?” And then a few seconds of a close up on her staring into space in temple. And then Varun comes up behind her, and it turns back into the story of Varun&Alia instead of just Alia.
This is kind of the equivalent of the church scene in DDLJ, only in that it makes clear the religious component of their connection. I don’t mean “religious” like getting married in a church and stuff, I guess I mean more spiritual. That part of a connection between two people is when it moves beyond just physical attraction, or even emotional connection, and reaches the point of “seeing God in you”. There’s just a few seconds to establish that here, but that is long enough, because it is a concept that goes back even before DDLJ, to all those other films where the “3rd date” activity was a visit to a temple.
Big big difference from DDLJ, post prayer scene, is that Varun brought his friends along! Can you imagine if Karan had gotten to go along for the Punjab part of DDLJ? How awesome would that have been!
I think the friends are here for two reasons. First, strictly for narrative purposes, it is helpful to have two extra characters bouncing around who are in on the whole thing. Secondly, it helps show what the life is that Alia would be going to if she marries Varun. In DDLJ, they both came from the same place, more or less. We could assume that Kajol would be happy and at home in her married life, much more so than if she stayed in the Punjab, simply because it would be in her home country. But here, marriage will either be sending Alia away to America, or to Delhi, “home” is not an option. So we have “Shonty” and “Poplu” here, to show how she really is already at home in Delhi, she has a nice little place ready for her, and she is more comfortable and more herself with the Delhi-ites (is that right? Delhi-ite?) than with the Americans.
Anyway, friends send her over to meet Varun, and she immediately embraces him and is whole-heartedly thrilled to see him. Even more so, when he gives her the gold earrings she left in Delhi, which he went back to buy back. But when he starts talking about how, after the car, his Dad is in love with her and can’t wait for her to come back to their household (implying that of course she will be coming with him to be the daughter-in-law of their household), Alia cuts him off and says no, she can’t do that to her family. Varun immediately says that he will go and tell her father what has happened, and again she says no, he will never agree.
It’s the opposite of the post-“Tujhe Dekho Tu” song scene, where Kajol was the one to suggest eloping and Shahrukh objected. In DDLJ, that scene was super radical, because we had the “good girl” suggesting running away and the “bad boy” nixing it. This one reverses it, but the point is the same, that the personas are just personas and we shouldn’t think they are the person inside. Alia may seem modern and mad at her family and selfish, but she is the one to refuse to risk hurting her family. And Varun may appear like a player, but he is the one that wants to get married immediately.
Alia has to rush back to her parents anyway, so there isn’t much time for talking (or even a song!), and the Varun goes back to his friends so they can do their job of moving the narrative along. Varun explains that he has a plan for how they can get into the house. Next thing you see, they are ringing the doorbell and explaining that they came from a dress shop in Delhi, Alia won a drawing, and they are here to give her a designer lehenga. Alia comes rushing out a few minutes later, to see her father and brother apparently happily sharing drinks with Varun. Her father greets her, and then asks Varun a few casual friendly questions “she won the raffle out of how many entries? And you brought it all the way from Delhi?” Before snapping out “Set down the glass!” And then pointing out, he didn’t build his business by being a fool, of course he knows Varun is running a scam, what is going on here?
I love this! Just cutting through all the trickery and going straight to the hurt of the matter. And also making the DDLJ-aware audience sit up and realize this would be a different kind of film. There are a lot of those moments in the second half, little winks and nods to the audience that is expecting one thing and getting another.
Varun cuts through it all too, stating directly that he met Alia, he liked her, he knew she was engaged and thought he could spend time with her without getting involved, but they fell in love. And now he wants to marry her. So, obviously, Alia’s Dad gives the nod to her brother and Varun, Shonty, and Poplu are all beaten up and thrown into the back of a truck to be driven back to Delhi.
I don’t know if it was meant this way, but the way Alia’s brother acts in this sequence, makes me think he is taking out his anger at Alia’s sister’s ex, the one who used to beat her. Certainly that backstory in general is meant to give a greater depth to Alia’s family’s actions. Her father doesn’t trust any boy with his daughters any more, her brother has a burning anger and need to hit somebody (if he can’t hit the person he wants to), the wound in general is still very raw.
And, song! Varun lays in the back of the truck bed and declares he has to go back, after seeing Alia again, he is more in love than ever. And then we see Alia get a phone call and run out of the house and jump in a car to be driven to where Varun is getting patched up at a hospital. Now, here’s what I find interesting. This song is most closely related to “Tujhe Dekha”, it’s the dreamy love song that confirms their feelings. But there are two big differences. First, “Tujhe Dekha” is a shared hallucination. Shahrukh and Kajol, so far as we can tell, are both dreaming the same thing. But this song is purely from Alia’s perspective as she rushes to Varun. And secondly, “Tujhe Dekha” is a dream of what their future together could be. While this song is a dream of their past, the times they already had.
The changes work better for this version. Part of “Tujhe Dekho” is them wishing they could live their past time together over again, only without the misunderstandings and fights. Alia and Varun never really misunderstood each other or fought, so their time together in the past is there to be dreamed of, with no alterations needed. In terms of Alia being the sole dreamer, well, it’s the same thing! “Tujhe Dekho” is the first time Shahrukh and Kajol were really truly in synch, after fighting their way through to each other for the whole first half. But Alia and Varun have been in synch all along, sure they were both being a little fake, but they understood each other’s fakeness, and got along anyway. So all this song has to do is affirm exactly why Alia cares for Varun through showing us her memories of him, and that Varun has been steadfastly in love all along through what we see in those memories. Oh, and also indicate what their future life could be, through showing how their time in Delhi was so nice, and that could just continue indefinitely if they got married.
Here’s a scene we don’t really have an equivalent of in DDLJ! Varun goes straight to Alia’s Dad, again, and pleads his case. He also points out, first, that he knows Alia’s parents themselves had a love marriage (because they are clearly of different castes), and that he knows it is because of Alia’s sister’s troubles that everything is so bad right now. Significantly, the mere mention of Alia’s sister causes her Dad to immediately get overly angry and protective, which goes back to my personal theory that everyone is using Varun as a substitute for the guy they really want to beat up.
And then, awesomely, Alia speaks up in her own defense! In DDLJ, Kajol never really got to confront her father. Which was a sign not just of how little she thought he cared for her, but how little she cared for him in return. Remember in that final scene when she runs to Shahrukh and publically begs him to take her away, reminding him that she said all along her father would never understand? Now, that’s COLD! To not give Amrish the chance to do the decent thing before, and then to just wave all that dirty laundry in front of everybody at the end. But in this, Alia isn’t afraid of her father, and she cares enough about him to address the issue head on. So she tells him she loves Varun, she can’t stop loving him, there’s nothing she can do about it, and basically forces him to at least consider it. She isn’t a passive suffering figure, and she also isn’t a desperate woman planning an elopement, she is strong and confident that she will be heard.
Alia’s Dad doesn’t seem to listen, but the next scene is him inviting Varun and his friends back into his yard, and ordering them to have a drink. And then they have a calm cards on the table scene, which reminded a little of the similar scene in Bajrangi Bhaijaan when Kareena’s Dad asks Salman to get a down payment for a house within 6 months. It’s a demand, but it’s a reasonable demand, not one just made in order to flex some muscles and show off. Oh, and best of all, the women are invited! Alia’s Dad is clearly speaking for the enter household, but he is including his mother and wife and both daughters in the conversation. Unlike Amrish Puri, who completely dismissed his own mother’s concerns when she pointed out how sad Kajol looked.
So, reasonable challenge, Varun and his friends get to spend the next week helping with the wedding preparations, and at the same time getting to know the groom. And if, by the day before the wedding, Varun can point to something wrong with the groom, some logical reason that Varun would be a better husband for Alia, than he can marry her. So, it’s basically the same deal as Shahrukh had in DDLJ, but it’s all cards on the table this time, not him just in the background trying to convince the family without them knowing they are being convinced. And it also shows that Alia’s father is a little more comfortable with himself than Amrish was. Amrish wasn’t even willing to consider that he had picked a bad boy for his daughter, not just the wrong boy, but an actual terrible person. Alia’s Dad is open to that, is willing to be corrected, but is also confident that he won’t be because he picked the perfect boy.
(He is also confident enough to join in the wedding prep song much more than Amrish did in “Mehndi Lagake”)
And blah blah blah, plot! It just goes on and on, all plotty! The Groom arrives, he is perfect and handsome and doesn’t drink and knows how to cook, and all sorts of good things. But he is also really really dull. And Alia doesn’t seem that relaxed when she is with him. You know, part of that “people aren’t perfect, relationships are perfect” argument is, if a person is “perfect”, than could the relationship be perfect? If there aren’t any gaps they need filled, than what will bond you to them?
And in Alia and Varun’s moments together, we see how those gaps work. They fight, they make up, Alia gives him food she cooked herself and explains that she is a terrible cook but will get better, Varun says he will be happy to eat this food for the rest of his life. Varun gets down on himself and asks why she would even love him when her Groom is clearly the best choice, Alia yells at him until he gets over it.
In the same section, you can count down the little similarities to DDLJ. Instead of feeding pigeons together in the morning, Varun and Alia’s Dad share cigarettes together at night. Instead of Shahrukh becoming king of the kitchen, Varun struggles to even put together a simple meal. Instead of a long speech about trust and faith on the terrace, Alia blows up at Varun and breaks a pickle jar at his feet.
But the ending is where it gets really different. And also the same. The point of DDLJ and the point of Humpty are the same, that parents need to trust their children and let them “live their lives”. But also that children should give the same trust in return, that their parents will, eventually, see the right thing to do.
In DDLJ, Kajol delivered the body blow of “I wanted to elope all along!” to her father, and Shahrukh followed it up with a nice speech about how he loves her and she should trust her father to do the right thing. And finally, Kajol begged and begged to be let go until Amrish finally relented. In this, Alia delivers her body blow by actually running away. When Varun gets into a fight the night before the deadline (right when her father was starting to soften towards him, thanks to actually listening to the opinions of his female relatives, unlike Amrish), Alia decides it is hopeless and leaves for the train station herself, with Varun chasing after her.
They could have left. Alia is on the train as it starts to move. Varun is the one begging her to stay, but also jumps up with her because if she goes, he goes too. Only, she can’t do it, and jumps off at the last minute. Her Dad and brothers arrive at the station, and it looks like we are going to get another train station fight scene, only, finally, Varun has had enough and is ready to give his own speech.
In DDLJ, this speech is where Shahrukh showed the nobility and understanding that came with his outsider status. As an NRI, as someone new to this family, as someone new to India, he was able to fully understand the perspective of everyone else around him, the women, the elders, the children, everyone. His speech is all about that, about trying to make everyone see and understand each other, trying to make them come together. He has spent the whole film proving that he isn’t what he appeared at first, and proving that no one else is either.
Varun’s speech isn’t about making people come apart, that would be crazy, but it kind of is at the same time. All along, he has been trying to please everybody, to do the right thing, to not be himself. He slipped up the night before, when he reacted to Alia texting him about eve teasers by driving to the restaurant and getting into a massive fight with them. He reacted like himself, like a rowdy Delhi boy, not the perfect NRI son-in-law. And now, he is throwing off all that “perfect boy” cover and going back to the Delhi look again. He tells Alia’s Dad that he is going to talk to him as if he was his friend “Poplu”. And then he does, not just with the casual language and slang, but with the confidence and argumentativeness and flaws and selfishness and everything else he has been hiding. Which is kind of his argument, that he is a human person and it is impossible for anyone to be perfect. That Alia’s father himself isn’t perfect. And that “perfection” isn’t what you should want for your daughter, you should just want someone who loves them.
That’s Alia’s argument as well, in her final scene. She is sitting on her bed in her childhood bedroom, dressed for her wedding, when her father comes in. He points out she is wearing the locally made lehenga after all and she quietly says that she prefers it, that designer made wasn’t for her after all, she prefers “local”.
This is a fascinating argument! The whole first half of both DDLJ and this is showing them as 2 flawed people presenting fake faces to the world. But then the second half of DDLJ is about showing how those “flaws” aren’t that serious after all. When she has something to fight for, Kajol can be all kinds of open minded and brave and free-thinking. And when he has something to fight for, Shahrukh can be sensitive and noble and honorable.
But Humpty goes the other way. Their flaws are still there throughout, the second half is just about succeeding in spite of them. Varun makes stupid assumptions, fails at sensitivity, and gets into a stupid fight. But Alia is constantly blaming him for things that aren’t his fault, and she is the one who instigated the fight! She wanted him to fight for her, even if she was mad at him later. But they can shuffle along together all the better because of those flaws. Varun will put up with her bad cooking and bad temper. She will put up with his slowness and habit of getting into fights.
Making Varun flawed actually ends up strengthening Alia’s character. Not in contrast to him or anything like that, but because she gets to pick the guy she wants, even when he isn’t the “best” guy on paper. Just because he is the guy she wants, that makes him best for her. In DDLJ, Kajol really had no non-Shahrukh option. Her fiance was just a jerk and the marriage would have been a disaster even if Shahrukh wasn’t in the picture. But Alia has choices her, and she wants Varun, just because she wants him, and that’s it.
And she gets him in the end. Varun is sitting there, powerless and helpless, and Alia comes to him. She even gets the big Shahrukh arms pose! Kajol had to wait for her father to give her permission, had to wait for Shahrukh to be willing to run off with her, but Alia is having none of that! She is the one who decided they would try for her father’s permission, she is the one who decided they would run away and then got to change that decision, and now she is the one who gets to come and “rescue” Varun in Delhi.
Oh, it is just such a good movie! So excited that it might turn into a franchise!