Okay, I need to hurry through this to be finished by Shahrukh Week, starting on Wednesday (this time-posts on Shahrukh movies in which he mentors young women!). I am all the way past the Interval of ADHM, and my posts are slowly increasing in length, so I think I should be able to finish this thing off soon.
I left off at “Bulleya”. Ranbir had a big emotional confrontation with Anushka at her wedding, then stumbled off in shock to bump into Aishwarya Rai at the airport. Who recognized him as a fellow heartbroken person and got him to tell her all about it. And she gave him a book of her poetry, with her phone number written inside. 3 months later, Ranbir finally called her, having come to Vienna in hopes of meeting her again. The entered into a purely sexual affair, with Aishwarya confidently taking the lead and laying out the rules. But, right at the end of the “Bulleya” song which shows Ranbir focusing on his artistic growth, writing and playing music all over Vienna, and also the flourishing of their affair, we see that Aishwarya keeps turning to watch him as he walks away, while Ranbir never looks back to try to see her again. Danger! Danger!
Song over, Aish and Ranbir are standing in a gallery looking at a huge abstract painting. Ranbir says something like “This is art?” And Aish mentions that it is very expensive art, and that Ranbir is welcome to leave if he doesn’t like it. Ranbir immediately demurs, saying that he is not going to leave her alone with her ex-husband, and Aish smiles a little.
Taking a moment here to just look at their relationship as established by this exchange. This is kind of healthy, right? It’s mostly sexual, but Ranbir also is concerned for her, doesn’t want her to be alone with her ex, is willing to go to an event that bores him just to make her happy. And Aish is aware of and grateful for his sacrifice, but also not demanding it. In another movie, their whole “sex first” dynamic could be made into something sick or unsustainable. But so far, it seems kind of okay.
But then, SHAHRUKH!!!! AAAAAAA!!! I saw something about how in some theaters in India, fans set off fire-crackers when he showed up, scaring other patrons. That didn’t happen in my theaters, but there was light applause (possibly led by me).
(Dips reaction here is how I felt seeing him suddenly show up onscreen)
It’s a great cameo for him. It’s another triangle scene, just like the confrontation between Fawad and Ranbir and Anushka on the sidewalk back in the first half of the film. But a smart caring triangle scene. One that accepts and learns from the pain of this situation instead of selfishly fighting it.
Shahrukh and Aish immediately focus on each other. You can feel the history between them right away. And they are on the same wave-length, they both speak in poetic aphorisms, to the point that Ranbir comments on it, asking “did you rehearse this?” And Aish answers (or Shahrukh? This is a sign of how close their dialogue is, that I can’t remember who said what) “No, it just comes naturally.”
This is the first twist on that other Fawad-Anushka-Ranbir triangle scene. Anushka and Ranbir always had this, dialogue that was so close in style you could barely tell who said what. But Fawad and Anushka don’t have that, in fact Anushka can’t even talk in front of him. It’s not that their personalities merge, it’s that his over-whelms hers. In this way, Shahrukh-Aish = Ranbir-Anushka more then Fawad-Anushka.
But on the other hand, that deep painful history which excludes Ranbir, that’s the same with both triangles. Poor Ranbir is on the outside both times. Fawad didn’t care about that, he just saw his love for Anushka and hers for his and any outside consideration was beside his interest. Both in his angry confrontation with Ranbir in Paris, and his happy ignorance of Ranbir and Anushka’s pain post-confrontation at his wedding. Fawad is just a very self-involved person.
But Shahrukh is a better! He makes an effort to acknowledge Ranbir, and Ranbir’s connection to Aish, and that Aish in general is her own person and has a right to her own interests and happiness. Sure, he and Aish have this vibrant lifelong bond between them. But that doesn’t mean he owns her. His response to Ranbir isn’t to try to shove him away and show off his greater power over Aish. It’s to gently explain the situation and bring Ranbir into their little grouping of two.
(And somewhere in Vienna, modern day Madhuri is sitting crying because she keeps fixing Shahrukh up, just for him to go back to mooning over Aish again)
Shahrukh explains to Ranbir, when he asks, that unfulfilled love, one-way love, is still love. That it is even better, because he possesses it entirely himself, he doesn’t even need Aish around for it to be powerful to him. And that accepting that has lead him to happiness and creativity, the creativity they see around themselves now at his successful art opening.
Maybe Fawad and Anushka, years from now, could reach this level of understanding. If Anushka follows Aish’s example and starts speaking up for herself and slapping him down when he gets too possessive (in this scene, when Shahrukh makes some comment about getting back together, Aish slaps him down fast with a reference to his past unfaithfulness). And if Fawad learns to look outside himself, to respect the emotions of other people in the room.
But I don’t think Fawad will ever be able to do that. Fawad is kind of a golden boy jerk. Whereas Shahrukh, in this scene, feels more like someone who is aware of his frailties, but unable to fix them. Which is what makes him more advanced than everyone else in the film, and why Ranbir can learn from him. And Ranbir does learn, he embraces the idea of one-sided love as a learning tool, as something you can live with, and runs outside to call Anushka.
Remember in the last section when I was talking about that phone call between Anushka and Ranbir, where they were on opposite sides of the world and in many ways seemed like totally different places (she is in the morning in the sunshine on a residential terrace, he is alone in the middle of the night on a sidewalk), but the point was they were both ultimately alone, no matter how they tried to pretend that they had connections (him with wild partying people inside, her with the family who’s home she must be staying in).
This phone call makes the connection a little clearer. Ranbir runs out of a crowded social event, where he is with his current love interest, to call her from the sidewalk. And then we see Anushka, for the first time in almost half an hour of screen time and months of “reel” time, standing in a nightclub watching Fawad DJ. She sees Ranbir’s name pop-up on her phone and runs out to the sidewalk begging him “don’t hang up don’t hang up”! Just as she reaches a quiet space, the call goes away. Meanwhile, back in Vienna, Ranbir is staring at the phone waiting for her to pick up, and finally gives up and turns to go back inside. Just as Anushka finally redials and his phone rings.
I love this sequence! They are both surrounded by people, including the ones they are supposed to be in love with, and yet the tiny screen of their cell phone and that minor connection of a contact name popping up is all they care about.
And I love that this is the first time we see Anushka. Just like Ranbir had “blocked” her from his phone contacts, cutting her out of his life entirely, so had the audience been blocked from seeing her. It’s a very meta-statement about communication today. In an old-style film, this relationships just sort of drift away. The girl moves away, the boy goes into the army, and then years later they meet at a train station or a wedding and have another brief moment together before going back to their real lives.
(See how much easier this would have been if he could just have texted her “hey, waiting out front, c u soon?”)
But in today’s world, there is no real reason for a connection to ever be lost, not unless you choose for it to be lost. Ranbir “blocked” Anushka, and no matter how often she checked her phone or how much she tried to reach out, there was no way around that. He could go about his life pretending she wasn’t even a factor in it, until he chose to let her back in. And Anushka has to be ready for that moment, to grab her chance, or else she will be on the outside again forever. This whole idea is brilliantly covered right here, in the desperate eagerness to call him back before he blocks her again. And it is one of 3 slowly accelerating moments like this in the film, the first was in the last section when Anushka reaches out for the first time after 2 weeks spent with Fawad isolated from the whole world (her phone was turned off entirely, not just blocking Ranbir) to let Ranbir know she is getting married. Now this time, after months of separation when it was Ranbir who cut her off specifically. And the 3rd time, the biggest of them all, which hopefully I will get to in the next section.
Anyway, Anushka and Ranbir finally speak here, and it is great! She is thrilled to hear from him, and so happy she is crying. Ranbir seems tentatively happy too. And then it stays great, they text and email and call constantly, from sidewalk cafes and bridges through out Europe. Anushka is traveling with Fawad, Ranbir is with Aish. Both of them profess to be happy. But they are really only happy while they are communicating with each other. We see Anushka, alone and uncertain, watching Fawad at clubs or in their hotels at night. She is with him, but he isn’t really with her. And we see Ranbir, talking about how wonderful Aish is, but still feeling the need to send Anushka a photo of her, that same childish “look how hot my girlfriend is!” instinct he had when they first met, he hasn’t really progressed to appreciating her beyond the superficial no matter how happy he says he is.
And it all comes to a head when Anushka agrees to meet Ranbir and Aish in Vienna. It’s crazy awkward. It starts out sort of okay, Aish can see how eager Ranbir is to see her, and casually lets him know that it is okay, she knows how excited he is. That’s healthy, Aish has known since they met that Ranbir has this deep connection with another woman. And then Anushka arrives, and it is crazy awkward with her and Ranbir. She goes in for a hug, and Ranbir backs off and goes for a handshake instead, and she is all “oooookay.” Ranbir is trying to be so sophisticated, so “I’m over you” and it just makes it clear that he really isn’t.
Aish takes control and quickly greets Anushka, they exchange sincere compliments and comments about how Ranbir is such a hanger on. And they acknowledge that he has been sending Anushka photos of Aish, and she is cool with that. But then it gets awkward again at dinner. Every moment is Ranbir trying to show off to Anushka, and in the process obviously insulting Aish. The worst is when Noor Jahan’s version of “Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat” comes on, and Ranbir makes sure to quote the “Do not ask me to love you like I did before” line directly at Anushka, while his arm is tightly tucked around Aish. It’s such a shocking moment that Anushka has to do a little double-take.
At the end of the meal, Anushka goes out to the sidewalk, and Ranbir chases after her. This cut is a little abrupt, and the emotional shift is as well. It works all right, I mean, emotions are sudden and shocking. But I bet this scene was supposed to come after another scene with Fawad there as well, to serve as a bridge between dinner at Aish’s apartment and suddenly a conversation out on the sidewalk.
Anyway, the argument is basically Ranbir bursting out “WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME?!?!” And Anushka trying to make him understand that she does love him, really, just not like that. But Ranbir isn’t in the mood to listen, can’t listen. At one point he gets so aggressive that Anushka takes a step back into the street and I have visions of Jab Tak Hain Jaan and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna and am sure the resolution is going to be another dramatically convenient car accident. But no.
(So. Stupid. He’s throwing away gum?)
Anushka finally breaks away from him, and leaves, and Ranbir has to go back inside, emotionally drained. He sees Aishwarya in the bedroom, and goes up behind her to wrap his arms around her and she snuggles into his embrace. And then Aish gently pushes him away and sits on the bed, while he stands above her, and tells him “it’s over.”
This scene is really good, but also something is funky with Aish’s eyes in it and I am super distracted the whole time by how red they are. Either the fake eye-lashes were irritating them, or she was using something to make herself cry, or she was just exhausted with keeping her eyes open that wide for that long to convey emotion.
Setting that aside for the moment, the rest of the scene is very good. It is the same situation as the scene Ranbir just had with Anushka, but without the anger or resentment. Aish takes control of her own destiny and her own life. She lets Ranbir know she is falling in love with him. And she knows he will never love her. And she can’t handle that pain again. So she has to let him go, and live his own life. Ranbir momentarily tries to argue, but Aish is firm and in control, as she has been through out, and sends him away.
On the street, Ranbir pauses a moment, and then starts to run. He runs and runs through the streets of Vienna, just like every hero always does, but for a different reason. He finally reaches Anushka’s hotel, and pounds on her door. And I am all ready for another dramatic declaration of love, or a fight with Fawad, or something. But instead, Anushka comes out, and he begs her to let him go. To be the strong one, to not respond even if he weakens and reaches out again. To let him grow up and give her up. And Anushka, tears also in her eyes, agrees. And then Ranbir goes outside, to suddenly physically collapse against a light pole in front of the building, just a few feet away from the woman he loves, and separated forever. And Anushka goes inside, out to the balcony to look at the man she loves, the one who should be able to give her every happiness, and Fawad turns to smile at her, and she can’t quite smile back.
You know Beaches? This is the moment when I realized this movie has a lot more in common with Beaches than with another romance movie. Beaches (in case you have somehow managed never to see it) is the story of a friendship between Geena Davis and Bette Midler. Very different personalities and backgrounds, but they meet by chance as children and become pen pals. Over the years, they have random moments of closeness and occasional estrangements. At one point, they meet up after years since they last saw each other, both of them now married and apparently happy. And they have a huge fight. After it’s over, they both go home with their husbands who both say some variation of “what do you care about a friendship, you still have me!” And both women look at the men like “huh. You know, I am just now realizing that you really aren’t enough for me.”
(Beaches! Which will either make you cry and cry, or make you laugh because you are a cynical heartless person. Also, interesting how it uses songs to evoke emotion the same way Indian film does, and how it has the emotional and relationship based narrative instead of logical)
That’s the look Anushka gives Fawad here. Not that she is suddenly in love with Ranbir, but she is seeing clearly for the first time that Ranbir fills a gap in her life that Fawad doesn’t even come close to touching. That her perfect love story with Fawad isn’t giving her all that she needs from him.
And song! The title song, which we see Ranbir sing first in a recording, a close up just on his face that very slowly pulls back to reveal the stripped down orchestra behind him, the large performing space where they are recording, and even the cameraman who is filming them. It’s an invisibly showy shot. We aren’t supposed to be thinking about the camera movements, we are supposed to be thinking about the slow expansion from the inner pain which is leading Ranbir to write and sing this song, to the glorious flowering of art that came out of it. And Karan does it, I didn’t notice this camera movement at all until the second time I watched the film. It all felt very smooth and naturally and understated. But it is hideously complicated! One long take, one huge camera movement, and it all has to match perfectly with the playback track. Let’s take a moment to admire while I get my strength up for the last section.
(Okay, the trailer version only gives the very beginning of the pullback. But I bet you didn’t notice it at all, did you? It felt like the camera was still and in extreme close up the whole time)