Normally I’m not that careful about spoilers on this blog. I flag them when I put them into a post, I put up spoiler and non-spoiler reviews, but I don’t care if you read the spoiler review before you see the movie, or if you put a spoil in a comment, or whatever. However, in this case, I’d like to try to keep the experience that Karan carefully crafted for the audience. So I’m putting up this review early, so everyone who has seen it has a place to think about and talk about the film as a whole. And then the other review will be for people who haven’t seen the movie yet, but are planning to.
SPOILER SUMMARY IN ONE PARAGRAPH (don’t worry, I’ll put up a full synopsis, probably in multiple parts, later):
Ranbir meets Anushka at a party, they almost hook-up, but then she starts to laugh at how he kisses, so instead they just spend the night talking. She is upfront that her heart was broken by her ex-boyfriend Fawad and she still isn’t over it. They become friends right away, and admit to each other that they are best friends, there is an immediate bond between them. But then Anushka’s ex shows up and she goes off with him, finally reaching out to Ranbir a couple weeks later to tell him they are getting married and beg him to come to the wedding. Ranbir comes, but right before the ceremony, they have a big confrontation and he admits he is in love with her and his heart is breaking and he leaves the wedding early. On the flight home, he meets Aish, a beautiful older woman, and he pours his heart out to her, and she gives him her phone number. Months later, he calls her, and they start a casual sex relationship, and he also uses her for artistic inspiration, taking her poems as lyrics for his songs. Now that he’s finally at a good place (and with the encouragement of Shahrukh in a cameo), he calls Anushka, and they agree to meet up when she travels through Vienna on tour with her husband. The meeting goes terribly, it’s clear that Ranbir isn’t over her, he is just throwing Aish at her face in an effort to hurt her. Aish breaks up with him, saying she has fallen in love and knows he will never feel the same. And Ranbir confronts Anushka that same night, begging her to just “let him go”, even if he weakens and reaches out again, she has to be strong. Two years later, now that his career has taken off and he is touring and performing the love song Anushka inspired in him, he runs into her husband. Fawad tells Ranbir Anushka divorced him, and still hasn’t reconciled with her family, and no one knows where she is. Ranbir finds her, just to learn that she has cancer and is dying. He is supportive and caring, but they have a huge fight because she still doesn’t love him like that, and she plans to leave the country. Finally, at the end, he runs to the airport to stop her from leaving, she gets off the plane, and they agree to just be friends.
Phew! It’s a lot, written out like that! But there is nothing extraneous, really, in the whole film. At least, that’s how it felt to me. Karan wanted a message, a very particular message, and he wanted to come at it from all possible angles. And it’s not the “unrequited love” message he’s been selling. Or at least, not entirely.
It’s not about “unrequited love”, it’s about what love really is, what it means. The idea is that there are many kinds of love, and the “aashiqui” love, the lovers-love, is just one small part of it. Anushka and Ranbir are soulmates, they are each other’s whole lives, at the end of the film she tries to tell him that he is her family, her home, the only thing she has in the world. And through out the film, she has told him she loves him, how much he means to her. But it isn’t until the very end that Ranbir finally, fully, understands the value of that.
There’s been plenty of buzz about how this is just Kuch Kuch Hota Hai redux. And I see that, I do, the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai message was very similar. But the characters were slightly different. Shahrukh and Kajol in Kuch Kuch had this kind of love, this sort of all encompassing, soulmate, closer than breathing kind of love. And Shahrukh and Rani just had the lovers-love, not anything more. Kajol feels her love is unrequited, and leaves, and tries to move on and forget, but never really can. But the big difference is, Kuch Kuch implies that Shahrukh feels the lovers-love for Kajol as well. He feels it more for Rani at that moment, but the possibility is still there for him and Kajol at some point in the future. Rani’s character says it explicitly right at the end of the flashback, that she thinks she may have stumbled into the middle of someone else’s love story.
The bigger message is the same, that there is lovers-love (like Anushka and Fawad in this movie, or Shahrukh and Rani in KKHH) and then there is the soulmate kind of love which is just much much deeper (like Shahrukh and Kajol in KKHH or Anushka and Ranbir in this). But in Kuch Kuch, it is a little harder to see the message, because eventually Shahrukh and Kajol do become lovers. I mean, Karan puts it right there in the tagline, “Pyar Dosti Hai”. But people keep hearing it as “your friend will become your lover” instead of “friendship already is love.” So this time, Karan made it as explicit as possible, Anushka says it over and over and over again, until finally at the end, Ranbir gets it, their relationship and her feelings aren’t meaningless, just because they aren’t what he wants.
It’s not just Anushka saying it. Over the course of the film, we see many different kinds of love play out, so we can see the value of what Anushka and Ranbir have together. In the beginning, they are both in loveless relationships. Ranbir is with Lisa Haydon (who is HILARIOUS!!! Oh my gosh, I could have watched a whole movie of her playing the oblivious ditz) who clearly is just with him for his money. And Anushka is with Imran Abbas, another Pakistani actor who I guess the MNS didn’t care about enough to protest. He’s handsome. And Anushka is only with him because her family has arranged it and she hasn’t care enough to end it yet. Starting with these two superficial relationships, it’s easy to see how Anushka and Ranbir have a stronger bond just as friends than they do with their mutual significant others.
But then more relationships keep being added on. Fawad shows up, and Anushka turns into a sobbing mess, and leaves with him, abandoning Ranbir. It seems like she loves Fawad more, like he is more important to her. But when she calls Ranbir to come to her wedding, she begs him, because he is her only family, the only person she wants, the only person she can ask from her side. Doesn’t that have a value to him? Shouldn’t we see that? And at the actual wedding, they have a big confrontation, she is sobbing over his broken heart, but there is nothing she can do. She still marries the man she love-loves, but she has tears in her eyes as she does it because she is worried about her friend. Her love for him, and her broken heart for him, is stronger than her happiness in her romantic love for her husband.
With Aish, Ranbir has all the magical chemistry and sex and good times he could want. And she’s a friend too! It’s an alternative to his friendship with Anushka, friendship and benefits.
And yet, just texting to Anushka makes him happier than sleeping with Aish. His platonic relationship with Anushka, just talking, is more valuable to him than his friendship-plus relationship with Aish. Again, there is love there, love that comes out without sex, that is just there between them. And it is this kind of love which Aish can’t compete with. She breaks up with him not because he is in love with Anushka, she knew that all along, but because her heart is breaking since she knows they will never have together what he has with Anushka. There is something there that she just can’t give him, and he can’t give her.
And then there’s the end of Anushka’s marriage. What’s the point of that to the narrative? If she’s still in love with Fawad and not interested in Ranbir even after the divorce, then why? Well, to prove the point of what Anushka said way back early in her relationship with Ranbir, that friendship can’t end like marriage can, that love-love can just go away, but friendship won’t. Anushka is still “in love” with Fawad, but she doesn’t love him anymore, she can’t live with him, she can’t stand what he turned her into in her jealousy, and how he kept breaking her heart. She doesn’t feel for him what she still feels for Ranbir, because that kind of love isn’t transient, it will always be there, unlike romantic love, which can twist and turn poisonous.
And finally, why kill her off in the end? Why make us all depressed and miserable if the main point wasn’t death, but friendship? Well, how else would you end this thing? Karan wanted to make it absolutely crystal clear that no matter what happened, Anushka was never ever going to love Ranbir in that way. And there is nothing more final than death! Either her death or Ranbir’s that’s the only way to show that their relationship would never happen, not even 20 years down the line after the whole movie is over, it’s just not going to be a thing. The death also gives a reason for a lot of tearful declarations and big idea arguments and other messy things, but Karan could have come up with some other way to do those too, I don’t know, Anushka goes blind or something. The death was really needed, because it had to be final.
Although, notice, we don’t end with the death. Just like Geethanjali, we end when they are still alive, with their final decisions as to how they want to play out the end of her life, as partners, just the two of them. It’s not about the death, just like Geethanjali wasn’t, it’s about how you choose to live. And what values you place on the things in your life.
(the last shot of Ranbir and Anushka is even kind of similar to this last shot)
From the “art and artist cannot be separated” side of things, I was also really interested in what statement this film made about Karan and Shahrukh, since in interviews Karan has said it is based on his experiences in real life with unrequited love. Obviously, neither of them is dead. But Shahrukh is married, happily married, and probably more or less straight (sexuality is a continuum and so on). It’s never going to happen with them. And yet there has been 20 years of Karan writing movies for him, picking out his costumes for other movies, picking his kids up at the airport, being his closest friend. Heck, they produced this movie together! And Shahrukh stepped in at the last minute to play a cameo role, partly because they were all in London together anyway celebrating Shahrukh’s son’s high school graduation and Karan’s birthday. And what this movie is saying, if it is in fact saying anything about the real life situation, is that Karan is okay with this. Yes, it hurts, but after struggling through it all, he sees the value in the kind of love Shahrukh can give him, the love that isn’t quite what he wants, but is really so much more.
I don’t know if Karan is specifically making a story about him and Shahrukh here, but it does feel like it would fit almost more easily as a story about sexualities than what it is. I really like it as is, with Anushka holding firm that she just doesn’t feel that way for Ranbir because she just doesn’t, and there is nothing he can do that will make her change. But it would be simpler, and probably a more common situation, if it was a matter of gay versus straight. If there was some clear cut reason like that for one of them to be in love with the other, and the other not to feel the same way. And that situation, Shahrukh or not, I can easily believe Karan has been in.
Let’s see, what else? I guess that’s really it for the spoiler stuff. I want to talk about specifics of how the plot is built, and some general things about songs and performance, but that can go in my non-spoiler review and my summary. For now, I think I covered everything I wanted to talk about that doesn’t fit in those other two places.