I’m going to put up a full summary later, probably today or tomorrow. But in the meantime, here’s a review for people who’ve seen the movie, or are never planning to see the movie and don’t care about SPOILERS.
Brief Summary: Ajay, world’s coolest Sherpa, has a fling with a Bulgarian woman who’s been studying in India and joins one of his treks. She gets pregnant, he convinces her to have the baby, but then give it to him to raise. 8 years later, their daughter finds out about her mother and wants to meet her, so Ajay and the daughter go to Sofia, where the daughter is kidnapped by child traffickers. Ajay then spends the rest of the movie trying to find her and rescue her and has a bunch of action scenes. At the very end, Ajay has rescued his daughter (partially with the help of her mother), and he decides to leave her in Bulgaria with her very wealthy mother and stepfather. And then there is a last minute airport embrace, but between father and daughter instead of the usual lovers.
Like I said in my No Spoilers review, the main thrust of the film is fathers and daughters. Erika Kaar doesn’t want to have a child, not because she is a terrible person, but because she is about to go back to Bulgaria, and her country is a shambles, and she is already responsible for her invalid mother and younger sister and she can’t handle anything else. Ajay’s argument is that this child won’t need a mother, it will just need a father, and he can be that father, all by himself.
That’s the argument the film makes straight through, that fathers and daughters have a unique bond, separate from anyone else. It’s unusual, because if you think about father-daughter relationships in films, it’s usually about someone else. Most often about the daughter’s love interest and her marrying in general. Like, as though the daughter only matters to her father in terms of reproduction, or bringing another male into the family. And the mother is always there too, acting as the intermediary, the one who does the dirty work of raising the child while the father handles the big pronouncements and philosophy.
(This is the best possible version of that kind of relationship, but even here the plot focuses on the marriage part of it, and the mother is there as a third wheel to translate between the two of them)
But in this film, it’s not about that at all. Over and over again, it’s not about that. Ajay wants his daughter because he wants her, not the promise of grandchildren or a son-in-law or anything else, just his daughter. In Bulgaria, Sayyeshaa shows up, and is introduced as “like a daughter” to the Indian ambassador, and therefore his most trusted assistant at work. And then we see her at home with her own father, who is an invalid, who she rushes home from work to care for. And who gave up his own career to be present for her in her childhood. Sometimes there is a hint of a romance between her and Ajay, but that’s never what matters to her father figures. Her boss at work recommends that she help Ajay not because he wants to set them up, but because he trusts her the most. Her father helps her work through her conflicted feelings about Ajay not in terms of romance, but in terms of right and wrong. And in the end, she decides to help Ajay, not because she is in love with him, but because his love for his daughter reminds her of her father’s love for her.
Ultimately, the effort to keep it so strongly father-daughter related ends up making the plot a little too complicated. As I said in my non-spoiler review, it feels like we have a whole movie that is just the flashback. There is a full beginning middle and end to just Erika and Ajay falling in love, and then a whole discussion about Erika agreeing to stay 9 months until she gives birth and then leaving the baby with Ajay. And then that whole bit of happy childhood with the daughter, and fighting over her learning the truth about her mother, and then traveling to Bulgaria, and looking for the mother and not being able to find her, all of that stuff really isn’t needed. The movie proper starts once she is kidnapped in Bulgaria.
Last night, thinking about it after I got home, I came up with a simpler way to do it. Cut the romance, make it that Ajay meets Erika when she is already pregnant, or even just gave birth, and then he volunteers to raise the child. When they get to Bulgaria to meet her, have them find her easily but the daughter be kidnapped before they can meet. And then end with them meeting, no need for the tag about her choosing Ajay over her mother. This way you get to the truly jaw-droppingly good action moments faster, and you don’t feel so hit over the head with the message.
But now I’ve slept on it, and I can kind of see the point of all that stuff they put in. It’s about showing that the characters make choices, and they choose the father-daughter relationship over everything else. They had to make sure we saw that Ajay and Erika were in love, it wasn’t just a one time thing or an anonymous adoption. And yet he doesn’t just love his daughter, or want his daughter, as an extension of her. Yes, there are moments when she reminds him of Erika, but their life together is about so much more than that. Even at the end, when there is a possibility of a maybe romance with Sayyeshaa, he is less interested in that than he is in his heartbreak over leaving his daughter behind. And if there weren’t the possibility of a romance, than we wouldn’t know that his daughter was more important.
And it’s the same from her side, the daughter’s side. When she finds out about her mother, that her mother is still alive (Ajay and Erika agreed to tell her she was dead), she is focused on seeing her right away. She arrives in Bulgaria, and that’s still all she cares about. But as they keep searching and have a hard time finding Erika, slowly she loses interest. She drops the picture she made for her mother on the ground in order to run and grab her father’s hand. And that’s just the possibility of a mother she is rejecting, in case we missed the point, at the end of the film she rejects the reality of a mother as well. She could live in wealth and comfort with her mother and stepfather, who are shown to be loving good people. But she chooses her father instead.
The execution of all this gets a little Elektra complex-y, especially some of the songs, but I appreciate what they were trying to do. Most of all that it didn’t feel like they were trying to make it a competition between fathers and mothers. It’s not about that, it’s about acknowledging that parents love their children and children love their parents, and father or mother, that doesn’t matter. Ajay wanted a child and was ready for a child before Erika. So he became a single parent, and the only parent his daughter knew. Of course she would want to meet her mother, of course she would have questions. But also of course she would want to stay with her father. He is the only parent she has ever known, the one who loved her and cared for her. Any sudden mother-daughter bond wouldn’t have a chance to change that, there’s nothing about the mother-child connection that makes it inherently more valuable than the father-child connection.
(It’s not Elektra-y between Ajay and his daughter so much here, but between Sayyeshaa and her memories of her father)
And that’s a radical statement! That’s a really radical statement. And I’m excited to see a film making it, and I’m excited that film was made by Ajay Devgan who is one of the public figures most aggressive about showing how his bond with his own daughter is as strong or stronger than his bond with his son, than his bond with his wife, than her bond with her mother.