Okay, back to work! Ish. I’ll still be taking things slow, but I need to do something, and I also need to finish all my thoughts on ADHM before I get too far from the last time I saw it.
The last part ended with the song-that-wasn’t. Anushka and Ranbir are on a getaway to Paris together, trying to mutually overcome their broken hearts. Anushka’s long-running heartbreak from leaving Fawad, which essentially destroyed her life (lost all her friends, her sense of identity, her happiness), and Ranbir’s semi-heartbreak over breaking up with Lisa Haydon. Their friendship has been rapidly getting closer and closer, and the final touch is in their shared run/dance through the streets of Paris while listening to “An Evening in Paris”.
And then it’s time for another Bollywood dream! Dancing on a mountain top! We go straight to beautiful Alpine scenery, as a soft yodel floats over it, and then the camera slowly swings around to show Ranbir, in a Captain America t-shirt, looking super modern and silly in this romantic environment. A nice commentary on how today’s youth culture doesn’t really fit with that pre-irony (not my phrase, it’s from Loins of Punjab) tone of the traditional love song. And then Ranbir is interrupted by Anushka leaning out a window of the lodge and yelling at him to come up and help her.
This next scene is cute, Anushka greeting him with a pile of sari and a demand that he help her put the thing on! And then both of them watching a youtube video, and Ranbir helping her tie it. But what I am more interested in is what it says about traditional Indian film femininity.
We are so used to seeing our women perfect, and perfectly turned out. Once the tomboy grows up and falls in love, she will naturally put on a sari and look beautiful and perfect, because all a woman has to do is wish to be beautiful, and she will be. This trope has been confronted plenty of times before, even by Karan himself with Kajol’s first botched make-over in KKHH. But I like it here because of how it is positioned within a larger discussion about created film fantasies. Karan is putting the responsibility for this vision of effortless femininity squarely on filmmakers, and the whole filmi culture. Anushka wants the “fantasy”, what she has been promised on film, but as a modern young woman, she doesn’t have the tools to get it, even to the point of not knowing how to put on a sari.
The sequence that follows goes on to question the filmi fantasy in other ways. Anushka successfully gets her sari on (with the help of Ranbir, who makes a joke about how if he walks around her one more time, they will be married), and they go out to the mountains to do the dance scene from Chandni.
Ranbir is playing his father, which at first I thought just meant wearing a sweater. But then I started to notice, Ranbir is just standing there. Because Rishi used to just stand there, at least by that point in his career. He would stand and smile, and the heroine would dance around and around him, and lean on him, and do everything.
I think Karan wanted us to notice this, to see how Anushka has to learn how to wear a sari, to dance in the freezing cold, to trip and totter and still try to look graceful, while Ranbir gets to just stand there and be adored. This is her “fantasy”, to be beautiful and graceful like the women on film. But the reality is that these women worked darn hard to look like that, while the men got to just stand there. Maybe this fantasy isn’t the best fantasy to have, maybe it is damaging to her sense of self to never feel up to the women she sees onscreen? More interesting for this film in particular, maybe we should cut Anushka’s tortured difficult character some slack, and not be as sympathetic to Ranbir’s problems, since all society expects Ranbir to do is just stand there, while Anushka is struggling to live up to a lot more.
Oh, and then they switch to a different Chandni song and a different mountain top, covered in snow this time. Ranbir, in jeans and a black leather jacket, is getting more and more stiff and shivery until he finally falls over. At which point Anushka, in her chiffon sari, who has been doing all her dance moves perfectly, comes over and kicks him saying “YOU’RE cold!!! Look at what I am wearing?!?!?!?” Which is hilarious, and just underlines the point I was making above, about how women are expected to always be perfect, even in extremely difficult situations, where as men are so unused to difficulties that they whine and fall over at the slightest problem. And yes, this is a theme that will go through this whole movie, as for once Ranbir is stuck in the usual position of the wailing heroine, and handles it with a lot less grace then, for instance, Rani in K3G.
And then that night, they have one of the most revealing conversations of this whole film. One that was used in the trailer several times, because it is also a striking image. The two of them, frozen after their day on the slopes, are huddled in front of the fire, sharing a blanket. Interesting, isn’t it, that attempting to recreate filmi romance has brought them closer? Not because of the “romance” of it, but because of the impossibility of it, the effort of mere mortals to live up to film heroes, just makes those mortals feel their mortality more.
While huddled in the blanket, Ranbir says something about how Anushka really really likes him, doesn’t she? And Anushka kind of smiles and acknowledges that she really does. He is her best friend. She knew right away, that he would be her best friend. And Ranbir responds with a similar attitude, telling her that when he was in school, he had a hard time, because he was different and weird. But he didn’t mind, and he didn’t want to change himself, because he knew someday he would meet someone who wanted him just like that. And then he awkwardly brings up the possibility of her being attracted to him. Anushka immediately rejects this idea, and then, surprised, asks if he is attracted to her. Ranbir admits to a small amount of attraction. Anushka quickly spins back to her previous point, that he is her best friend “Best best bestest friend!” And she adds that friendship is better than love anyway. Because love hurts, and can end, but friendship will last.
Okay, I want to talk about this conversation in 3 parts. Well, 6 parts, 3 parts from Ranbir and Anushka’s conflicting perspectives. First, the beginning when Ranbir asks if Anushka likes him and she confirms that he is her best friend, and she knew he would be right away. I think they both understand the current relationship correctly here, they are on the same page, but they may not fully realize the context it has for the other. Ranbir knows Anushka likes him, because she keeps calling him and inviting him places and asking to hang out with him, and being super happy when they are together. And Anushka agrees, yes, she did like him right away.
But what Ranbir doesn’t seem to fully get, what even the viewer may not fully understand at this point, is how important it was to Anushka to like someone, to find someone she felt happy and comfortable with. This isn’t just about her having an instant connection to Ranbir, it’s also about how connection-less her life had been, about how alone she is and how hard it usually is for her to open up. Finding someone like Ranbir, who she just plain likes, was a miracle for her.
And from Ranbir’s side, he desperately needed someone to like him. His mother left him, he doesn’t know why (there must be a small part of himself that thinks there is something about him that drove her off). Now, his father gives him money, but no time. He has a girlfriend who puts up with anything he does or says because she wants his money, possibly just one in a long string of girlfriends like this. We caught a glimpse of his day in a montage earlier, going to MBA classes, sitting by himself in the cafeteria. This is a guy who is not used to being liked, who isn’t even fully sure what it feels like to be liked. To have someone validate his value like this is a miracle to him.
And then there’s Ranbir’s story. Isn’t that an interesting view into his youth? Not just that he was always strange, but that he was comfortable being alone and lonely and waiting for someone who would like him like that. It’s kind of noble, but it’s also kind of self-centered. To say that you don’t have to change for society, you are special, you are different, and one day that will be appreciated. Over the course of this film, we see that Ranbir does change himself. He learns to truly engage with people, and adjust to their needs. It’s a bumpy process, but he gets there by the end. And that kind of makes his Anushka relationship even more special. The one person that he doesn’t have to choose between altering himself, or shutting out. The one person who really truly likes him with all his oddities.
Also, my goodness does this make me feel bad for young Karan! This is another one of those parts that reminded me distinctly of comments he has made in interviews. About being chubby, being ashamed, hiding in his room and watching old movies. And finally “coming out” in all his glorious styled and stunning self only after KKHH hit it big, he lost a lot of weight, and he felt he was “worthy” of being seen. I hope this film means Karan has made his piece with himself a little more, found strength in loneliness and idiosyncraticy. And I am sure he does have these friends in his life now, whether it is Farhan or Shahrukh or Manish Malhotra or Ayan Mukherjee, people who love him just as he is and don’t want him to change, people who truly honestly like him.
(This is not a happy young man. Also, Shahrukh! So hot without even trying!)
And then there’s the end, Ranbir’s approach and rejection. Both of them hiding their true feelings, but still understanding each other. Ranbir is so casual about it, and downplays his own emotions, simply saying that he is a little attracted to her. But Anushka picks up on it, that her response is going to hurt, and is quick to emphasis that he really is her best-best-bestest friend. And Ranbir appreciates that, and backs of without a murmur or sign of hurt.
It’s only at the end, where Anushka tries to explain why friendship is better, that she loses him. Really, this is the argument they will have again and again, for this whole movie. Anushka trying to explain that love, passionate romantic love, really can destroy people. And that there is a value, a different but equal value, in friendship. And Ranbir listens, but I don’t think he really understands.
(Maybe she should have just shown him this?)
And it’s going to get a lot harder for him to understand when they get back to Paris. They arrive back at the hotel, and right away Ranbir suggests that since they are having such a wonderful time, they should stay an extra week. This is the first time he has taken the lead in keeping them together, and Anushka delightedly agrees to it. And you can almost see the wheels spinning in his head, “maybe after a week together, she will change her mind. She will love me for real.” Oh Ranbir!
They go out that night, to a club, and this is what I mentioned in my last post about money. Now they have spent a week together, and are planning another. They have shared their fantasies and confessed how much they mutually mean to each other. And that means money is no longer a thing with them. Anushka casually orders Ranbir to pay for their drinks and then forgets about it. Very different from their first night together when she pushed aside his credit card and insisted on paying herself.
But in the middle of this new level to their relationship, everything changes. Because Anushka glances across the room and sees Fawad, at the DJ booth. This sequence is just phenomenal as a showpiece for Anushka. Right away, as soon as she sees him, she goes from smiling and dancing and loud and happy, to still and quiet, walking across the room to stand in front of him and just look, not even talk. Ranbir comes over to find her and at first all he can see is her, but then he sees her face and sees Fawad and realizes who he is and what is happening. And that’s when we cut back to Ranbir in the interview, saying that love is like a slap in the face. And then when a 3rd party enters, it’s another slap.
For the past few posts, I’ve been talking about how Anushka is broken, just beginning to put her life together, when she meets Ranbir. How this friendship is so important to her because it is her first real connection, outside of Fawad. All of that isn’t clear to the audience (or Ranbir) on a first watch. But the reverberations of these scenes here make it clear. Anushka immediately retreats to stunned stillness in front of Fawad. All her confidence and joy and personality are stripped from her. Those were all things that were hard fought gains of her time away from him. And one glance, and they are gone again.
We see 3 variations on this. The middle one is the most dramatic, but I think the last one is the best acted. This first one is just so-so, partly because they are in a club, so the lights are changing and music is blasting, and we can’t really see everything Anushka is doing with her face. But the middle sequence is back in their hotel room and we can see everything, and Anushka is really good. And so is the directing. It’s almost equally about stage management here as about acting choices.
Anushka keeps moving, almost running, the whole time. And keeps babbling too, saying she has to leave now, immediately, she can’t let him back into her life. She rushes around the room grabbing things and throwing them in her bag, talking about mundanities like “where is my hairbrush?” The camera follows her too, while Ranbir stands in one place, fiddling with his phone, trying to follow her with his eyes. The acting is great, don’t get me wrong, the way Anushka conveys someone who can barely function, who has had all her sense of self ripped from her. Her face is all tensed, like she can’t move to much or will start to cry, her movements are a little abrupt and graceless, like she can’t really feel her hands or feet. And her dialogue delivery is perfect, more sort of thinking out loud and thinking about mundane things because that’s all she can handle. There is one line I really liked, she is looking for one of her bags and says “why is this room such a mess?” She just says it in a vaguely irritated way, not angry or interested. But it perfectly shows how far removed she is from the self she was just a little bit ago. Before, this room was their sanctuary, their happy place. Now it is just a messy space where she needs to find her things so she can leave. And Ranbir is just a person who can help her go away. They were so wonderfully in synch just a bit ago, and now she has gone into herself and doesn’t even notice him standing there.
Until she falls down in grief and he reaches out to help her and comfort her. Honestly, I don’t think she even knows who he is at this point. It could just as easily have been a random stranger who reached out to help as she was sobbing on the floor. But right at the end of the scene, as the camera slowly goes in to show her twisted face, mascara smearing, and Ranbir looking scared and sad and shocked above her, she reaches out to grab his arm, like maybe she does have some sense of who is with her and she needs him.
So like I said, that’s the show-y bit. But the part after that, the less show-y part, is probably the hardest to act. They leave the hotel, Anushka still not really listening to Ranbir, just saying she has to go now, and there is Fawad. He grabs Anushka’s arm to stop her and Ranbir shoves him off, and Fawad pushes him away, asking who he is to interfere? Ranbir tries to shove him away again and Anushka stops him.
The content of what they say isn’t very interesting. Ranbir says Anushka should leave, Fawad says Anushka loves him, and he loves her, and he is sorry. But their postures are fascinating. It’s literally a triangle. Ranbir is standing back and in between the other two. Fawad is only looking at Anushka, and she is only looking at him. She barely even seems aware that Ranbir is there.
Anushka doesn’t really have any lines here, I think she says “I’m sorry” at the end, but that’s really it. But her face is amazing! Somehow, and I don’t know how she does it, but she turns into a teenage girl. It was after this scene that I started looking back at her previous comments and wondering exactly how young she was when she started dating Fawad. Because they way she stands and moves her eyes and watches him here, it all feels like a fragile teenage girl, one who doesn’t really have an identity yet and so wraps up everything she feels in one not-very-deserving boy. She is completely at his mercy, in a way Fawad will never be at hers. Or even Ranbir, Ranbir had something of himself before he met her, he said in that speech that he always knew who he was. Based on what we see here, I don’t think Anushka was much of anything before Fawad came into her life. I don’t think she had a chance to become much of anything until she got the strength to leave him. And now we are seeing all that strength being ripped away from her with just a glance. It’s heartbreaking! And I feel like Ranbir’s instinct here, to protect her, it’s not jealousy, it’s friendship. Because even if he loves her now, Fawad is still not good for her.
Darn! I was hoping to get all the way to the interval today. Oh well. Next post should go to the interval and beyond.