No young women really in his orbit in this one, but that’s part of what I find so interesting. That just 16 years ago, it was all about the male generations handing things down to each other (Amitabh to Shahrukh to Jugal Hansraj/Uday Chopra/Jimmy Shergill). And now we are in a space where the future is a young woman.
Mohabbatein! The movie I cannot spell (so many many vowels)! Which spellcheck wants me to change to “Mountbatten”, which just brings up so many cultural issues that it makes my head hurt. Oh! I can tie this together! “Just as Shahrukh in Mohabbatein used his love affair with Aishwarya to defeat her male relative Amitabh, so did Nehru use his love affair with Edwina Mountbatten to defeat her husband and bring independence to India.” Nailed it! And Indira Gandhi is, obviously, shirtless Uday Chopra.
(Clearly the same person)
Right, back to the actual movie, not my imaginary movie. Mohabbatein, in film history, is considered the movie in which Aditya Chopra successfully transitioned Amitabh Bachchan to a new role in Indian film. He’d been flailing for the past few years, trying father roles in Major Saab, and comic roles in Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, but nothing was really working.
(Amitabh in a Govinda movie. Let us never speak of this again)
Aditya chose to confront the issue directly. Amitabh, the old authoritarian angry powerful figure, against our new age hero, soft and loving and sensitive Shahrukh. And they are fighting for the future, if it will be more self-sacrifice and devotion to duty, or if it will be “selfish” pursuit of happiness and love. And is the pursuit of love itself a rebellion? As worthy as any larger social point that old-school Amitabh may have fought for?
Behind this argument between the new and old hero, is a bigger argument about the state of Indian society and culture. Back in the 70s, it was all about massive public movements. The Emergency, strikes, police actions, etc. etc. But now, in the 90s, it is about the personal. Religion, marriage, jobs, that kind of thing.
There are a lot of flaws to the execution of this idea. For instance, we never get a sense of why Amitabh might be right in his attitudes. If we got a speech from him about how it is important to society in general for the students from his school to graduate pure of heart and motivated to improve the world, that would help put in context his “no love ever!” rules.
And of course there is the costuming. When the dialogue explicitly talks about how the heroine dresses so much more “modestly” than her classmates, it is kind of important to actually dress her more modestly than her classmates!
(Oh look, now she’s dressed sexy! No wait, that’s the exact same outfit she’s been wearing for the rest of the movie, except now the dialogue is saying it’s sexy)
And then there is the general sense that Aditya didn’t have quite enough plot for any one romance (or even two!), so he decided to smush together 4 romances into one movie, with a generous topping of cross-generational conflict to hold it all together.
Also, all that ghost romancing and dancing and all is just weird! Shahrukh! Get over her and move on with your life!
(Shahrukh! She’s DEAD!!! Also, you are supposed to actually put the sweaters on your body, not just wear them draped around your shoulders. If you want something around your shoulders, just give up and wear a shawl)
But I don’t want to talk about any of that. I want to get back to the cross-generational stuff. The idea of Mohabatein is that Shahrukh shows up, representing the young love-loving generation, and confronts and defeats Amitabh’s older generation. And their battle is fought over 3 young men, Jugal Hansraj (so sweet!), Uday Chopra (so shirtless!), and Jimmy Shergill (so Jimmy Shergill!). The young women that these young men fall in love with are basically secondary to everything else that is happening. They exist to be a challenge for the 3 boys to overcome with the assistance of Shahrukh. Their only interactions with Shahrukh, who is the heart of the film, are through interactions with the men.
More over, the young women have no greater inner life or purpose besides love. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, I mean, it is a love story after all. The young men don’t have much of an inner life either. Young people in general, back in 2000, only existed on film to fall in love with the assistance of their elders.
That’s kind of the point of Mohabbatein. To use Shahrukh to force Amitabh to acknowledge the new generation, and the new life, where young people exist only for love. If this were an Amitabh movie, now that I think about it, the female characters would actually be stronger.
Look at the problems they have in this film! Shamita Shetty, feeling pressured to sexualize herself in a way she doesn’t want. Kim Sharma is in a semi-abusive relationship with a jerky boyfriend. And of course Preeti Jhangiani is a widow, kept locked up and separated from society by her father-in-law who is under a delusion that his son is still alive.
In a classic Amitabh movie, he would take these women as his “sisters”, he would beat up Kim’s boyfriend, laud Shamita’s “modesty”, and give a big speech dramatically rescuing Preeti from her life. Of course, they also wouldn’t have a very big role in the film or many scenes, their issues would be dealt with in passing before Amitabh moved on to bigger and better societal concerns. But at least the hero would help them personally, instead of leaving it to “love” to save them.
Now in 2016 Shahrukh is still using “love” to save young women, but he is saving them directly, and interacting with them directly. And his “love” isn’t just about “marry who you want”, it’s about “love yourself, believe yourself worthy of love, find love that exists for you in the world and celebrate it.”
Back in 2000, I don’t think there could have been a movie about Shahrukh mentoring 3 young women. I don’t think Shahrukh was quite at that point yet, able to step back and be believably fatherly. But I also don’t think Hindi film/Indian society was there yet. Heck, there wasn’t even a leading female director in the industry! This was before Farah and Zoya and Reema and Gauri. Who could be expected to tell this kind of story, with a woman at the center and a man to support her?
And would society have accepted that the “future” part of this story is a young woman? There have been such seismic shifts in how Indian looks at its women just in the past decade, suddenly, now, the idea that the future of young India, the person worthy of Shahrukh’s concern and interest and life lessons, the one who is now taking up the position of younger star against Shahrukh’s older hero (the same position Shahrukh had against Amitabh in 2000), is a woman. That’s remarkable! That’s exciting! And looking back to the past and what came before just makes it even more exciting.