Woo! I’m gonna finish in time for Dear Zindagi week! Really, the end-end goes remarkably fast. Although it still has the patented “Karan Johar doesn’t know how to end a movie” touch.
At the end of the last section, Aishwarya had broken up with Ranbir, telling him she could feel herself falling in love with someone who didn’t love her, and she had to cut it off, for her own health. This inspired Ranbir to run to Anushka and make a similar plea, begging her to let him go, to be the strong one and not respond even if he reached out. And from that pain came beauty, as he recorded the title song “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”.
Backing up a moment, I was really struck with the contrast between the scene between Aish and Ranbir and Anushka and Ranbir. Ranbir is surprised, and a little disappointed, by Aish’s breaking up with him. But it doesn’t really hurt him. He hardly appears to care. Which is exactly why she is breaking up with him, because he really doesn’t care.
But look at Anushka! She is almost as torn up by this whole thing as Ranbir is, just like she was almost as destroyed by their confrontation before the wedding as he was. Just like she’s been saying all along, she loves him. She love love love love loves him. She can’t stand to see him in pain, and she can’t stand to be separated from him. She just doesn’t happen to love him “that way”. But she still loves him, and their “breaking up” is killing her. But she also loves him enough to do what he asks and stay away.
Okay, now I get to leap wildly forward, just like the film does. We start with Ranbir recording the song in an empty auditorium. With that amazing long take. But then it goes to a youtube video, the views and likes increasing, then live performances advertised on facebook, in small clubs, and finally in a big performing space. As Karan said in his interview, this is a more believable route to fame for a singer than the “Rockstar!” fantasy that other films are peddling. A viral youtube video, small live performances, and a slowly building audience. Although, I do have this voice in my head going “Does he only sing the one song? Are his performances just 5 minutes long?”
The song montage ends with Ranbir walking backstage at the last performing venue. He sees Fawad, and tries to walk away from him, but Fawad comes running up to greet him. See, there must be a missing scene! Something that bridges the distance between their angry confrontation in Paris and their friendly interaction here and in the “Cutie Pie” wedding song.
Fawad is eager to talk to him, Ranbir forces himself to be nice, and then finally manages to drag out a question about how Anushka is. And Fawad looks surprised, and says “you didn’t know?” My goodness, Fawad is an unaware jerk, isn’t he? Ranbir is kind of too emotional and too available, and Fawad is the opposite. I can see why Anushka gravitated to Ranbir to help recover from Fawad. Fawad’s whole attitude in this conversation seems to be “oh, you’re emotionally devastated? Isn’t that interesting.” He explains that Ranbir’s love “won”, Fawad couldn’t stand up to it, he just didn’t have it in him to be that kind faithful. Oh please Fawad! Like Anushka should have just accepted him “as he was” and not expected him to stop flirting just because he was married. Oh, so demanding! Anyway, he explains that she left him 2 years ago, he doesn’t know where she is now, although he heard she was back in London, not with her family.
(I’ve heard a similar argument about Raj Kapoor, “he can’t help falling in love”. And I don’t buy it with him either! Raj! You have a wife and a family! Stop fooling around with Vyjantimala!)
And finally, Ranbir’s puppylike eagerness pays off. Not that he “won her over”, but that he is last man standing. Difficult damaged believing-herself-unworthy-of-love Anushka keeps driving people away. But Ranbir won’t be driven. He will be there for her, as long as she needs him, whenever she needs him.
Which is why he rushes to her “favorite place in London”, the rooftop with the “crooked” LOVE sign that she took him to on their first night together. Backing up a minute, isn’t it significant that on that very first night she took him to her favorite secret place? At the time it didn’t seem so unusual, but now that we know Anushka, as a very private person who likes to hide her hurts, that was a sign right from the start that Ranbir was someone special to her.
And quick montage, of Ranbir staying there, huddled in his coat and hat, all day and all night until finally he wakes up to see Anushka standing there, smiling at him. This is what I mentioned in the last section about the slow build of the 3 breaks. The first time, Anushka disappeared into her romantic fantasy for two weeks, cutting herself off from everyone. The second time, Ranbir used the magic of technology to block her, and then to unblock her from his life. This time, they were completely cut off from each other in every way for 2 years. And their reunion came not through technology, but through the meat-world. Ranbir making the kind of sacrifice that says more than any words could, and any fancy technological shenanigans. Knowing where she would be, and waiting there until she showed up, because that was all he cared about.
And Anushka’s reaction says more than any words could either. She is thrilled, but not shocked, to see him. Surprised, sure, but the idea of Ranbir knowing her private place, and waiting to see her there, that isn’t outside of her realm of possibilities. That’s the kind of bond they have.
And also part of that bond is that they can say anything to each other, no need to hold back. And so Ranbir bursts out with his long list of complaints, waiting for 2 days, freezing, starving, and not able to go to the bathroom in case she showed up at the worst moment! And Anushka bursts out with her emotion, which is a simple “I’m so glad to see you!”
And then there’s the reveal, when Anushka pulls off her head to reveal a bald cap and announces that she has cancer. I have many thoughts. Let me list them:
- My goodness that’s a terrible bald cap! Or else a ton of hair, I guess that’s more accurate. Anushka’s head just looks way way too big, with all that hair buried under a cap.
- A friend complained that it was inaccurate for her to lose the hair on her head but not her eyebrows. My understanding is, first, hair loss from chemo is unpredictable. And second, sometimes when the hair starts to go a little patchy, people choose to shave their heads and be done with it, which would create this “fake” looking effect with the head bald and the rest of the hair on the head untouched.
- Cancer is kind of a lame reveal, but cancer is just plain lame anyway. It happens, it happens to a lot of people, if you are choosing a cause of death, it’s way more common and “real” than plenty of other movie deaths. So why not use it?
But my big thought is, without even talking about it or explaining it, this reveal tells us exactly how much Anushka loves Ranbir. He begged her, BEGGED her not to contact him, not to return any contacts he made, to be the strong one so he could be happy. And here she is, dying, with her family still estranged and her horrible ex-husband completely uninterested. And she still doesn’t reach out to the one person in the world she wants most of all. Because it is best for him, because he asked her not to. But look at her face in this scene, when he finally shows up on his own, and she can stop resisting. She’s just so happy to see him! Just like she says.
And she’s still happy even while he is sobbing. The next cut almost feels kind of cheesy, to show Anushka smiling and rolling her eyes while Ranbir sobs and sobs in a toilet stall. But that’s how it would be, right? She’s been living with this for a while, and right now she’s happier than she’s been in years and the rest of her life looks pretty great, with her best friend, the one person who loves her, to support her. Poor Ranbir is the one having a hard time of it, he’s the one who just found out.
But he gets over it, or at least figures out a way through. The next morning Anushka orders oatmeal at a restaurant that is also a bike store? I’m confused. Anushka turns away from ordering to see Ranbir sliding into the chair across from her. And then pulling off his hat to reveal a matching bald head. Anushka keeps a carefully straight face, and Ranbir calls her out on it, asking why she isn’t having a bigger reaction. Anushka points out that Ranbir makes the bald head look good (which is true, mostly because he has less hair under the bald cap so it isn’t quite as malformed). Ranbir laughs and asks if she wants to give him a try, and crawls across the table to sit on her lap, and they both laugh and laugh.
See, that’s healthy! Joking about being attracted, laughing, being happy. Just enjoying being friends together. Which is what the next little bit is about, a montage of old classic film songs as Ranbir takes her out to sing at a club, brings her music at the chemo room in the hospital, and generally makes her happy. I can’t remember all the songs in this bit, but 3 stood out for me.
First, I think he does another Rishi song, one of the ones from the Medley from Hum Kisise Kum Nahin.
I don’t remember the others, but there is a quick montage of them enjoying themselves listening to happy songs. By the way, this is another song sequence that must have been cut. We even saw a lot of it in the trailers, ice skating and dancing with Anushka on a chair, and the steampunk hats and all that. But instead we get this pretty nice series of moments with a variety of songs, tying back to the idea that is threaded through out the film, of old-school Hindi film music as a source of strength and joy in trying times.
Until we get to the end. Another silent disco, this time a courtyard with older couples waltzing with headsets on. And as Ranbir and Anushka go to sit down, “Kal Ho Na Ho” starts up gently in the background. It would be a bit too much, but it cuts off suddenly after only a few measures. Ranbir stands and holds out his hand to dance with Anushka. She shakes her head no, but then he puts on her ear phones and “Lag Jaa Gale” starts up.
Anushka smiles, and stands to waltz with him, but as the song continues, her face crumples a little, and you can see that suddenly it is too much for her, and then it is too much for him. And it’s a relief when the scene cuts and we can escape the song saying “Come embrace me, because we may never have another night together in our lives.” Hindi film music may be their escape, but it is also the straight arrow to the heart of their pain.
The next scene starts off seeming like a relief, a change of pace. Anushka is sitting in bed, eyes closed, bundled in a sweater. Ranbir comes over to bring her tea, and her hot water bottle, and then climbs under the covers with her and gives her one of his hugs. And then kisses her forehead. And then turns his head and tries to kiss her lips, and Anushka gently pushes him away and says “no”.
And then the MOTHER OF ALL FIGHTS!!!! Ranbir bursts out in frustration, it’s not like he wants to have sex with her, or anything, he just wants her to give him a little! And Anushka bursts out that she can’t, she just can’t!!!
I can see both their sides a little. Ranbir is grieving and trying to be happy and comforting at the same time. And all he wants is a little affection, a simple kiss on the lips, and Anushka reacts like he tried to molest her.
But really, Anushka is in the right. She doesn’t “owe” Ranbir anything, she doesn’t owe any man anything. If she doesn’t want to be kissed, she doesn’t have to be. But that’s not even her main point. Her main point is something a lot more specific and loving. And she leaps out of be and follows Ranbir around the apartment and tries to make him listen! And, for once, finally, to understand!
Anushka rejects his argument that she should give in, not because she doesn’t owe him anything, but because she owes him more than that. She owes him honesty, she owes their relationship honesty. And to pretend feelings she doesn’t have would destroy what is between them.
And what they have between them is the only thing she has left in her life! That’s the big speech she gives, which ties together the entire film, everything that has happened for the past 2+ hours, and still Ranbir isn’t hearing or understanding it. Anushka is telling him that he is everything in her life, he is her home her family her world! He is all she has and all she wants. And just because she doesn’t feel this one little thing, this thing that is so small in the face of everything else, that makes him say it is worthless? That the greatest thing she has in her life is worthless?
This is the thesis statement for the movie. That privileging romantic love, fulfilled romantic love, over everything else, is to make you blind. Blind to the value of platonic love, blind to the value of unrequited love, blind to all the wonderful flavors and happiness in the world. This is a love story, just not the kind we usually see. Sometimes love, the biggest most wonderful love of your life, isn’t what you think you are looking for.
And, I’m sorry, but I have to go back to Karan and Shahrukh for a moment. Whether or not Shahrukh is the one Karan mentioned as his first love, his unrequited love from 23 to 31, certainly Shahrukh and his family are the most important part of Karan’s life. And there is no easy category for that. They aren’t blood relatives, but they are much more than just “friends”. And, despite the rumors, they aren’t lovers either. But they love each other. As Karan just confirmed again on global television last week. Karan has children and a “wife” and a best friend and everything else, thanks to what he has with Shahrukh. And that isn’t nothing. That isn’t something that can just be shoved aside because it doesn’t fit into the nice little boxes of society.
That’s what Anushka is saying here, that Ranbir can’t see the forest for the trees, he has everything in the world right in front of him, and he is destroying it because of the one small thing he thinks is missing. And the only thing that would truly destroy it is if she were to give in, if she were to bring ugliness into the purity that is between them.
Ranbir isn’t hearing her, he runs out the door, leaving her alone. But in the present day, he has a deeper understanding of it. We cut back to the television interview that set this whole thing off, and Ranbir explains “Love is the hero, and friendship the heroine. Love got mad and ran off, but the next day, friendship came back.” He understands that he doesn’t have just one feeling, but two, all mixed together until they can’t be separated. He is in love with Anushka, but he is also in “friendship” with her. And while his romantic love may have failed the night before, his friendship has brought him back to find her again. And to find a note saying she has left, returning to her family.
And it is his friendship that drives the ending. Early in the film, back on their Paris holiday when they were sharing film fantasies, Anushka mentioned her one unfulfilled fantasy. That she would be leaving at the airport and someone would rush to stop her. She said that she tried it twice, and waited, and he never showed up. Obviously, one of those times at least was Fawad. But I wonder if the other was her parents? Anushka looked for love from her lover, and from her family, and both times was left waiting.
But this time, friendship is driving Ranbir, and he is the first person in her life to truly love her. It’s epic, the classic run through the streets into a cab out of the cab in traffic and down into the train (woot! Same station and escalator that Kajol saw Shahrukh in during “Ho Gaya Hai Tujko”! DDLJ shout-out!). Finally, Ranbir goes running up to the desk at the airport, only to find out that the plan is already at the gate and boarding is over.
I kind of like this. Other movies get so caught up in the big reunion at the gate. But in this case the point isn’t the reunion. It’s that he tried. That’s all she wanted, for someone to try. For once, for someone in her life not to let her down. And all Ranbir needed is for someone to want him, really him, not the him he pretends to be but the person he is deep inside.
And in the end, it’s easy. All Ranbir has to do is call her, beg her to get off the plane, and tell her he is there waiting. And then the phone is cut off, their connection, one more time. And Ranbir prays over it, for the phone to come back to life again, to bring her back to him again for a 4th time. It doesn’t, but she comes back a different way, in the real world again.
Carried out on a gurney. For a moment, I thought this would be a lesson about how these connections aren’t respected by society, Ranbir not being allowed in the ambulance to ride with her. But they let him in after all, and he is able to grab her hand, and promise he will be there as long as she needs him. At which point Anushka gently pulls off her oxygen mask and whispers in Hindi “don’t let on, but I’m acting. I had to get off the plane somehow. You came to the airport for me.” Ranbir almost starts to laugh, hides it from the EMT riding with them, and instead bends down and touches noses to her and says “I friend you.” And she says “I friend you too.”
And that’s the end! No miracle cure of her cancer, no dramatic death bed scene, no winning her over to romantic love. No, just an acceptance that they are friends, and that’ enough. More than enough. Back in the present day, we can see what her friendship has made of Ranbir. No longer the dramatic young man who doesn’t know how to be in his own skin, but a serious quiet artist. Who asks if he can sing something to finish. And breaks into a beautiful acapella version of “Channa Mereya”. Just a few clear lines, and then the screen goes black. And “Ali Ali Ali Alizeh” starts up in the background as the credits role. Starting with, just in case you wanted to think a little more about the meaning of friendship, a credit role saying;
We love you