I’m just assuming this is going to turn into multiple parts. Shivaay I’m going to knock out in one looooooooooong post, but this movie is a lot more interesting than that one. If you aren’t down for a detailed shot by shot moment by moment discussion, you can check out my quick spoiler review and No Spoilers review I already wrote for ADHM.
We open with an awkward shot of Ranbir’s back and legs and he comes over to sit in a chair, and some ambient noise as he fiddles with his microphone. A voice off screen asks if he is comfortable and ready, and then starts an interview, establishing that he is a successful musician with hit songs, even non-filmi songs to make it more impressive. The interviewer confirms that many of his lyrics are written by his friend Saba, and he agrees. And then she hints around about his songs being about heartbreak, has be ever experienced that? And Ranbir adjusts his glasses and there is just the faintest hint of music in the background going “Ali Ali Ali Alizeh” and he says “yes”.
(Last song to release, and turns out to be my favorite!)
This is a very clever opening. Not the interview thing, please, I’ve seen that some trick in dozens of films. But how it is used. First, by using such a shockingly stripped down visual and sound mixing and all of that, Karan is telling us right away that this is not a “Karan Johar Film” like we’ve been used to. If you remember, the same talking head type of opening was used in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. With Amitabh and Jaya talking about love for their children. But in that case, they were against a plain backdrop, and carefully posed with their hair and costumes just so, the sound was mixed with no ambient noise and with the slightest hint of background music, and there was no interviewer we could see. This was a heightened reality, where even internal monologues are artistically lit and perfectly edited. ADHM is going to be a different kind of movie from anything Karan has ever done before, uglier and realer at the same time.
I also want to take a moment for Ranbir here. Karan is directing him and using him a little like Farhan used Hrithik in Lakshya, for the same purpose. Both movies are coming of age stories, and the directors knew that a good coming of age story starts with a weak protagonist. But they also knew that the audience isn’t going to feel much sympathy for a weak protagonist. And they knew that the point of a good coming of age story isn’t where you are going, but how you get there. So both Lakshya and ADHM start with the hero at his most mature, almost restrained. Ranbir is in earth tones, speaks softly, wears glasses, carries with himself a sense of calm. Just like Hrithik at the start of Lakshya, an army officer, dignified, reserved, deep thinker. What keeps you watching is knowing that this dignified serious guy is hidden within the goofball we see at the beginning. And it only works because Ranbir (and to a lessor extant Hrithik, there was a lot of hair-acting in that movie) does such a good job playing the serious guy here at the opening, drawing us in right away.
(Preity also has some hair-acting here. The real tragedy is, when her hair is better, Hrithik’s hair is long and stupid. And now that it is short and military and sexy, here’s is all odd and Barkha Dutt like)
And then bam! Goofball! He’s standing near the bar at a party, sort of vibing to the music, but not too much, like he doesn’t want to embarrass himself. Looking around but not really making eye contact with anyone. And he notices Anushka, who is absolutely making a fool of herself! She’s doing dopey dancing, hand pumping and getting down. Not sexy, more just goofy. She sees Ranbir watching her, and signals to him to come dance. Ranbir looks around, like she must mean someone else, so she points and beckons almost impatiently. And we cut straight from them dancing to them making out and backing into a room and onto a couch, taking of their clothes. Only, in the middle of it, Ranbir hugs her, like around the waist, and nestles his head onto her breast. Which is weird! Even just seeing it as an audience person, it looks weird! And Anushka starts to kind of giggle. And then he kisses her, and that’s weird too! Sort of a peck, not sexy at all. Anushka shoves him off and says “it’s over”. He tries to protest, and she says no! That kiss was strange, and that hug was like you hug your family! She grabs her clothes and pulls them on, running down the stairs.
One of the reviews I read describes their first meeting as Ranbir being a playboy, and I can’t believe they missed the point that much! The point is, Ranbir is awkward and strange and immature, and Anushka is weird and abrupt and has a hard time relating to people. They both usually put up an act of being different, but somehow right from their first meeting, they never act with each other. Even while they are trying to make out, they are telling the truth to each other, Ranbir is admitting that he feels weird because he has a girlfriend and he just had a fight with her, and now he is cheating. And Anushka casually says that she has a fiance, but she doesn’t care, because she doesn’t even really like him, it’s just because it’s what her parents want.
The reason Anushka picks him out to begin with is that he is awkward. She is dancing by herself, being herself, and she notices someone over by the bar who seems to get her, to like her dancing, and to be a little lonely himself. And that’s the reason she puts up with him too, after the make-out session fails. He follows her down the stairs like a little puppy, and there is this great moment at the foot of the stairs when she tells him to just go away, it’s over, and he spins away, and then spins right back when he realizes he doesn’t have anywhere else to go in the party and goes right back to following after her. Anushka finally stops and starts talking to them, and this is the first time they start quoting Hindi films to each other. “I don’t like jokes.” “I don’t like you”. “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai“. Even doing the little finger nose touch thing from KKHH!
The filmi references keep coming all movie, and what I love about them is how non-cynical they are. This isn’t cool hip people who are into movies for the kitsch factor. Or sensitive people who are only into the really arty stuff. Or even just people who know the movies because they are just around but don’t really care about it. These are two people who really truly love the films, the popular embarrassing silly films.
Karan talked about how personal this film was to him, and I think that’s part of it, the way these movies serve as a secret pleasure and support for these characters. Karan says that when he was a fat little kid, he used to pretend to be into the fancy foreign films, but secretly watched the big crowd-pleasing ones over and over again. They were too meaningful to him to be talked about in public, it was a strength and comfort he kept to himself until he became old enough to be comfortable with who he is and really own it. In this movie, it’s not that the shared love of films brings them together, it’s that they both found films as comfort in lonely childhoods, and that’s what brings them together. It’s a symptom, not a cause.
In this same first night together, when Anushka and Ranbir discover they have the same filmi shorthand they can communicate in, they also discover in a few casual lines of dialogue that they have the same empty lives. No family in this movie. In a few lines of dialogue and a quick cut, Karan establishes all we need to know. Ranbir’s mother left when he was 2, Anushka says “you must be close to your father then”, and there is a quick cut of Ranbir at one end of a long silent dining room table. Anushka says of her family, “4 girls, usually the youngest is the most loved, but not in my case”, and we get a quick cut of an older couple with 3 young women lined up behind them, all glaring in disappointment. In a lot of movies lately, where people are trying to be “hip” and “young”, they will have the young hero and heroine complain about and disrespect their parents and live their own lives. That’s supposed to be the “modern” thing, but it’s really the cowardly thing, to say that it’s just young people out growing family responsibility, not to acknowledge that sometime it’s the parents’ fault. Plus, I hate those young people.
(I hate him SO MUCH here! And it’s the hero introduction song! And I never quite get around to forgiving him for the whole movie. Just answer the phone when your mother calls!!! How hard is that!!!)
This is a radical shift, an acknowledgement that sometimes it’s NOT all about loving your parents, but rather about trying to deal with what happens when your parents don’t love you. It’s just a quick moment here, but don’t miss it, because it explains everything that happens before and after. These are two unloved young people, who feel unloveable, and they have suddenly found in each other someone who can give them the unconditional support and love they have never had before. Oh, and also Anushka makes a great joke about how Ranbir’s Mom was supposed to be Mother India, but instead she was Milkha Singh! And Ranbir gives her a look and says “come on yaar, it’s my mother! Not cool.” Actually, that’s kind of important too. Anushka can’t handle emotion, she makes a joke of everything. Probably most people stop letting her in, because they think she’ll make a joke of it. But Ranbir is a little different, he tells her to stop and trusts that she will. And she does.
They end the night sitting on a rooftop, behind a neon sign, and Anushka explains that this is her favorite place in the city, because it’s the only place that knows that “Love” is crooked, and points to the sign where the letters are miss-shapen. And she explains that her love is crooked, when she was in school in Lahore (I think this was supposed to be Lucknow, and they changed it post-protests) she fell in love with a DJ. Music was his life, he was all “sufi-like” about it, as she describes it. And he was her life, she lived and breathed him. She thought he loved her too, and he “never bothered to correct me”. And then he went off with an air hostess, and she came to London, where she fills her day with classes in French and dance and everything else she can sign up for.
Oh, one other thing that comes out in this first conversation! They are both very very rich. I am sooooooooooooooo happy to have a film acknowledge the wealth! Most movies either feel like they are selling some kind of fantasy that all NRIs step off the plane and immediately become millionaires. Or like the filmmakers are so rich and so oblivious, they don’t even realize that their characters don’t live like most people (FARHAN). But this movie puts it up front. Ranbir’s Dad is super rich, Ranbir was sent to London because he is supposed to be getting his MBA, but he isn’t really interested, and his gorgeous girlfriend is probably just using him for his money. He’s a specific type, and Anushka figures it out right away. Anushka, on the other hand, specifies that her father is rich, she is “wealthy”. Which also checks out, her apartment is nice, but a little smaller and older than Ranbir’s. She doesn’t have to work, but she doesn’t have a private jet (like Ranbir does). Okay, so I would still consider this rich, but it’s nice to have a movie acknowledge that money is a thing that exists and there are levels of it in the world, and these particular people are on the very highest end.
(Oh these poor very very wealthy people with their very very wealthy problems! I’m so WORRIED about them! Truly, the most important story the world has ever seen!)
At the end of the night, they agree to arrange a double-date to see who has the most attractive significant other, his girlfriend (who Anushka claims must be a gold digger, because she calls to make up for their fight even though she wasn’t in the wrong), and her family arranged boyfriend/fiance, Dr. Faizal. It’s an odd conversation, talking about how hot their dates are. But it makes sense if you think of both of them as grown up unloved funny little kids. They don’t think of themselves as attractive, they think of other people as attractive, and still find it kind of amazing that these other beings are willing to spend time with them.
Of course, Ranbir and Anushka are attractive, both of them are just beautiful people. But they aren’t perfect looking people. Anushka has strong features and a long lean body. Ranbir has soft cheeks, and dewy eyes and a soft body (although an excellent back, I always notice it in his shirtless scenes, very well proportioned). And in this movie, they are styled and dialogue-d and directed to emphasis how not-perfect they are. Anushka wears pants and long loose comfortable tops. She isn’t trying to be sexy, or elegant, or anything but comfortable and herself. And Ranbir is trying too hard. Clothes that don’t seem comfortable on him, a little bit too hip and expensive, not matching his innocent eyes and open smile. It wouldn’t be super obvious, only we already saw him in the opening sequence in his mature avatar, with clothes that look like they were grown on him and glasses and no shifting or nervousness. Anushka has, I don’t want to say given up, but decided it’s not worth it to try to pretend to be anything but herself. Ranbir isn’t there yet, but that’s part of what he admires in her, that he can see she is what he is in the inside, but is afraid to be on the outside. That’s why he watched her dance, because he was jealous of how she was. And that’s why she noticed him because she knew he was the same on the inside, and was just too scared to show it.
Okay, I’m tired, I’m going to stop here. A full 8 minutes into the movie! Like I said, many parts to this recap.