The last section got a little extreme with the general thematic analysis. But this time, I am going to stay strictly focused on what happens in this actual section. Or at least, that’s the goal.
I ended the last section at kind of an awkward break off point, but I’d run out of things to say so I just stopped. We were in the middle of a series of short scenes showing Alia spinning out after her ugly break-up with her boyfriend Angad Bedi following her confession that she slept with Kunal Kapoor. She has a long panicky night alone in her apartment, then goes running with her two best friends, then goes shopping with them and a few other friends but isn’t really engaged with them, then goes to work and gets angry thinking how she could do this better than the director, and finally stomps off and talks alone with her one male friend who is in therapy, asking about it. Thank goodness, because this girl REALLY REALLY needs therapy!
And then we go straight into another little scene of her with her friends. They are all hanging out in her apartment, joking about the food that Jackie made and about how funny it is that Alia is dreading going to Goa, since everyone in the world loves going to Goa. But, Alia points out, her parents are in Goa! Why would she want to be there? She has to go because of “Duty”. And they always ask her so many questions, what should we make you? What do you want to eat? Sometimes she thinks either her mother isn’t her real mother, or she has forgotten everything.
(Requisite song sequence for any time Goa is mentioned)
Interesting comments! It sounds like the usual kind of lame “it’s funny because it’s true!” jokes that they throw into the movie so all the young professionals in the audience can have a laugh, but it will come back up around later, this wasn’t just a casual comment. This is one of the “clues” to the mystery of what the heck is going on inside Alia’s head.
What I love is that the conversation isn’t entirely “Alia Alia Alia”. It goes back and forth between her complaining about Goa and the rest of the group teasing Jackie for trying to cook, and Jackie saying that she has decided she is going to work on herself and improve, and everyone else laughing at her. Jackie is such a great character! I would watch a spinoff movie about her, always being the baby, the happy fun one, and never really feeling pushed to “become” anything.
That’s kind of the sign of a good movie, when the other characters feel like real people with their own stories going on, not just tools to help the lead character move her story along. Jackie was my favorite, but really everyone in Alia’s life could carry their own movie. For instance, the scene ends when Fatty runs out of the room to throw up, and everyone assumes it’s because of Jackie’s food. Only to find out the next day, she’s pregnant! There’s a whole other story, a woman who has always “mothered” all her friends learning how her priorities change when she becomes a mother for real.
But in this movie, the Alia movie, the important part is right before the scene ends when Alia gets another phone call and then runs back into the room to do a celebration dance which everyone else half-heartedly joins, because Raghuvendra (who she identifies as Fatty’s friend, some stuff to unpack there in a minute) just got her hired for a 3-day music video! So, “No Goa! No Goa!”
Next scene is the gate of Mehboob studios. Hey! I was there! Not on purpose. We got lost wandering around looking for some museum and suddenly went “Hey! Does that sign say Mehboob Studios?” And then kept walking and went on with our lives.
And then we are inside the studios and Fatty and Alia are hanging around outside and Fatty is telling her she is pregnant. And it’s clearly happy news, but she is also conflicted about it, saying she doesn’t know how she feels exactly, and she “wants to kill her husband”. And she sort of walks away before they finish talking about what’s going on with her. Because of STUPID HOT KUNAL KAPOOR! That’s not combined, he’s not “stupid hot”, he is both “stupid and I hate him” and also “hot”.
It helps in moving the narrative forward to have Kunal interrupt the conversation, but they could have done it some other way. Doing it this way gives us a slight little hint that Kunal is a bit more focused on talking about what he wants to talk about instead of listening to what other people are saying (even when they are talking about being pregnant). And that he has got Alia a little twisted around, to the point of cutting off an important conversation with her oldest friend.
Right, plot! Kunal is telling her that he just got a New York co-production off the ground, he is filming there for 3 months, and he waits until the very end to let her know that he recommended her as the cinematographer. And he jokes about how it is just because she is “hot”. Come on Kunal! Getting her all emotionally twisted up by pretending you are leaving, and then undermining her professional confidence by “joking” about her only getting jobs because of her looks. He keeps saying he is just teasing her about it because it is funny how she is so obsessed with it. Well, bozo, maybe if you stopped teasing her she would stop thinking about it!
Oh, and then song. They shoot the song sequence they were hired for, and Alia and Kunal are all flirt flirt flirt the whole time. And the color tone is all green green green. In my last post, I laid out the way colors work in this film, “yellow” is the Alia color, when she feels most herself. “Blue” and other cool tones are the scary colors, where she feels most alone and out of her depth. And green is when she feels uneasy, unnatural, spinning out a little. And Kunal makes her feel green.
Song over, celebration party at a bar! This is one of the scenes where they were really really playing with colors. With her little friend gang, Jackie comes running up to join them and hug Fatty and congratulate her on the baby, the two guys are there too, and all the color tones are yellow-y. And then Kunal shows up. And his arrival is a little odd. They are all happy and friendly with him, but he seems, I don’t know, too old somehow? And there is an awkward little moment when he says something about “ladies and one gent”, and the skinny gay guy has to remind him “Hey! Two gents!” I’m not sure if that was supposed to be about the gay guy healthily claiming his masculinity, or Kunal being a jerk. Probably both. Anyway, Kunal is quick to pull Alia away from the rest of the group and try to have a serious conversation with her.
He is leaving town, and he wants to convey two things before he goes. First, that the line producer for the movie is going to be an ex-girlfriend of his who is “very weird”. So that’s going to be awkward, but he wanted it out in the open. And secondly, that he really likes Alia and he wants them to get serious.
Alia tooooooootally blows this conversation. She gets all awkward and strange and doesn’t really respond to what he is saying. And then goes off to dance with the young guy who was kind of coming on to her earlier, who in fact asked her to dance while she was talking with Kunal and Kunal had to gently tell him “hey! I am here! We are talking!” Alia approaches him on the dance floor and initiates contact, and then they do sexy close-up dancing while Kunal slowly sips his drink and watches.
So, Alia is absolutely the one who blows up the relationship, but on watch 3 and 4, I started to notice how Kunal was kind of setting her up to fail a little. For instance, he interrupts this casual fun friends time at a bar to have this serious conversation. Of course she’s going to be a little thrown, of course she is going to have a hard time focusing. He is just concerned with what he wants to say and how he wants this conversation to go, he doesn’t think about how to make it easier for her.
Also, the age difference is oddly highlighted here. There’s the young guy who doesn’t even see Kunal, because he assumes they can’t be together. There’s the little awkwardness when he greets her friends. And remember the only one of her friends that he is really close to is Fatty? The most mature of them all? But, also, notice that Fatty doesn’t bring her husband along to these group hangs, because it’s not that kind of thing. It’s not about romantic partners or being serious, it’s about being young and silly. Which Kunal doesn’t want, he wants a serious conversation. And which Alia does want, she is happiest when spending time with her friends. While they may have seemed great together for a while, hanging out at work and in neutral spaces, when he invades Alia’s “real” life, he blows it up and just doesn’t fit.
Oh right, colors! Alia and her friend group at the bar are all in yellow. When she is talking with Kunal, he is still a little bit in the yellow light, but she is now backed by greenish shadows. Showing both that she is in an uncertain and scary place, and that they are out of synch now.
And then she hits the dance floor, and it starts out yellow, all Alia. And then she puts in her earphones and starts listening to the “Let’s Break Up” song she was making the music video for, and dancing with hot young guy, and it goes all sickly green and off. Oh Alia! You are so messed up in your little head! Running away into a distraction whenever you get scared!
And what makes this a great movie, is that we get a little reaction shot of Fatty, also clearly worried and thinking “Oh Alia! You are so messed up in your little head!” Her face doesn’t say “I’m sad about the break-up that I can feel coming”. It says “I am worried about my friend because she is sick”. I love that we get this little clue that Alia has friends who care about her and see what’s happening, and it doesn’t really need a big scene to explain it.
But Alia doesn’t sleep with the guy! Yaaay! That was a healthy decision, Alia! And also a good decision on the part of the director, goes back to the careful drawing of her as a character who is just beginning to be seriously troubled. She hasn’t reached the point of actually sleeping with random bar guys yet, just thinking about it.
Instead, Alia rides home with her friends, who are all a little drunk (except Fatty and the larger man who is driving) and giving their opinions on her and Kunal. Jackie, delightfully, says that she has 3 reasons that they are good together. First, and most importantly, “He’s good-looking!” Which is true! He is really really really good-looking! It’s almost worth putting up with the mild head games and unbalanced power-dynamic just to wake up every morning and look at that face (although I have one friend who claims he is no good because his face is too symmetrical. Is that even a thing? I think it’s not and she’s crazy).
(Yeah, she’s crazy. The man is perfect. At least, in appearance)
Secondly, great sense of humor! Which means good sex! And third on Jackie’s list, he can understand her work! They can have things to talk about. Which is when Fatty jumps in to point out that she is married to a computer programer, and they talk about lots of things, they have great conversations! And Alia just leans her head out the window and listens.
I like this scene as the two of them presenting the conflict going on in her head, it’s a fun scene and it’s a lot more clever than her voice overs. Jackie is presenting the pros side, all the reasons that Alia has been mooning over Kunal for however long it has been. He’s handsome, he’s funny, he’s part of her work life, it’s all very tempting, much more tempting than her boring restaurant owner boyfriend. But Fatty is a little more cautious, pointing out that there’s no reason to jump on him, there are other options out there. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t be in such a hurry.
And, grocery store! Jackie and Alia are shopping together, and Alia notices a display of “Ragu” pasta sauce on sale. She kind of smiles at it and Jackie notices and says “You looooooove Ragu. Take it! Don’t be pricey!” And Alia pretends she doesn’t care, but kind of smiles and buys it. See Kunal! If you hadn’t pushed and pushed her to commit on your schedule, she would have come around!
That night, Alia is looking at the photo of them together that Jackie took at the bar. And that funky voice over starts up as she picks up her phone and considers texting him. Through Skype, of course, because so far as this movie is concerned, phones are just a tool for accessing a Skype app. And people only buy things through ebay. What Alia is thinking about Skyping him is a note saying “I miss you”. But then the voice-over says “no, too needy, wait for him” and she sets the phone down. Her awesome maid comes by and hands her a plate of pasta and tells her “eat, eat!” And then notices the photos and gives her approval of Kunal, based on his appearance.
I really like this, the way Alia is coming around to like Kunal more while he is gone than when he was there. It doesn’t feel forced, one of those on-again-off-again things. It feels like it just took some time for her to get there, and him not being around to pressure her helped her make the decision. Plus she had a chance to get the opinions of the people who knew her best and whose opinions she trusted. And that is what is making her slowly able to trust Kunal and be eager for his return. Again, let her get there on her own schedule, and she will. But she can’t just drop everything and be what Kunal needs her to be when he needs it.
And then we are back at work! But there’s green. Noooo! Something bad is going to happen! Alia and two other guys are in a screening room working on the song video. They’ve got a frame pulled up with green rays going off behind a female silhouette. Alia is telling them to make it blacker, when her phone dings and she yells at them for not reminding her about Fatty’s doctor’s appointment. And then she picks up and tells Fatty she is on her way, but Fatty is already in a car, telling her not to bother because the doctor’s appointment got canceled and she is on the way to her to have “canteen vada pav”. Yet another nice little sign that Alia is a good friend, and that she can give to others, that Fatty asked her to go to a doctor’s appointment. And that she drops everything when Fatty calls to go meet her.
As she is walking down the hall outside the screening room, her phone rings again and it’s her landlord who has been trying to call her (there were little bits in other scenes of her ignoring her calls). She finally picks up and the scene cuts right as she answers. And goes to the canteen, where there is a big poster of Sholay in the background! WOOT! The requisite Sholay reference in every film! Done!
Also, Gauri mentioned in her interview how she was aware of keeping the budget low so this movie could actually make a profit. It occurs to me in this sequence that making Alia’s job film-related is a good way of keeping things cheap. All her work scenes are just shot at the Mehboob studios, no need for fancy locations or anything. I am assuming the hallway where she took the phone call, the room where they were working, and even this canteen are just places in the studio. Way easier to film there than to block off streets and film outside, or try to put together an office set.
Oh right, what’s actually happening onscreen! We cut from Alia talking to her landlord right to her reporting the conversation to Fatty. He’s throwing her out! Because the building association got together and decided only couples and families can live there, not single women. Fatty and Alia are similarly incensed by this, and furious, and Fatty points out that a better policy would be “no living with the in-laws after marriage”.
This is mostly just plot purposes, getting her out of Bombay. But I LOVE that the thing getting her out is such blatant unfair patriarchy of the stupidest kind. “Stupid” like, illogical. If you are worried about immoral young women going around being immoral, the solution isn’t to make it impossible for them to live in any decent building. Also, would it be the same policy if she were a young man living alone? I’m guessing…NO!
Fatty listens and sympathizes, and then carefully bits into her vada pav and asks after Alia ends by saying “thank goodness I am about to start the New York film”, “So, have you heard anything about the film? Do you know when you will be leaving?” Alia says, kind of jokey that she will know “when The Man returns.” It’s a couple layers there, she is joking about the normal patriarchal attitude, but also kind of self-deprecatingly acknowledging that she has allowed herself to be trapped in that, she is completely controlled by Kunal right now, professionally and personally. Fatty kind of chews a second and then clarifies “So, The Man hasn’t called?” and then, dropping the jokey tone and getting real “Raghuvendra hasn’t called?”
Alia catches on that something is wrong and asks Fatty what she’s heard, what’s happening? Fatty takes a bite and then says “He’s engaged.” Alia just looks at her and goes “what?” Fatty repeats it “He got engaged.” Alia starts sort of stuttering out questions and comments “But, he was just here! He was just HERE!” and then she kind of tries to pull herself together and blink away the emotions “How? How did you hear this?” and then before Fatty can really answer (she says something about an Ajay who went with Kunal to New York to help with locations), Alia has moved on to “Who is it? Who?” And then, in one of the cleverest moments of the film and one of Alia’s best acting moments, she grabs a pepper off her plate and starts chomping through it. It’s such a brilliant thing, you can tell that she is trying to find anything to distract her from her heartbreak and the thoughts spinning through her mind, even if it is mouth pain. Alia also does this little thing with her nose, kind of sniffing and thinning her mouth at the same time. It’s a nice natural looking stress reaction, she does it off and on in this movie, and it was familiar to me from some of her other movies. And on watch 4 I FINALLY realized that it’s exactly what her father does! And now everytime she does it, I am just seeing a 60-something balding man hovering over this baby-faced 20-something.
(This guy. Very disturbing to see him peeking out from inside Alia!)
The camera stays in close-up on Alia as she eats through the pepper, and Alia does a phenomenal job with little micro-expressions, letting us see that she is in enormous pain, but trying to repress it. And then she kind of takes a moment and Fatty looks at her and asks “Are you okay?” Alia shakes her off and says “It’s fine. It’s just the pepper.” Fatty asks “Do you want to know who?” And Alia says “No” in a perfect “I am saying this very fast so I don’t start crying” tone of voice, and then stands up and walks quickly away from the table.
She goes back to the editing room, and both of the guys she is working with (one we haven’t seen before, possible cameo from actual editor? And the other is her large assistant/friend) look at her and clearly see that something is up. She snaps out for them to “play back” in that same slightly shakey fast voice trying to choke down sobs. And then she sits back and pretends to scratch her cheek, but actually wipes away the tears that have started to flow.
And, song! The beginning of “Go to Hell Dil” starts up as she walks into the same grocery store, finds the Ragu aisle, looks at the jars for a second, and then grabs two in rapid succession and throws them on the floor. I get distracted by how the sauce splashed on her nice white shoes. They looked so good! Alia strides out of the store, throwing money at the cashier on the way out.
Really cool color thing here! Alia walks away from the store, which is lighted up and yellow, and out into the grey street. We hold for just a second on this image, her walking away from the warm happy yellow and into the grey, just to make sure we fully understand what’s happening in her head.
This song is the one I talked about in the review, where you keep seeing women in the background. It’s not a big thing, just usually when we are on the street we always see men, because male directors think that way and women directors think differently. So Alia stumbles home past a female cop directing traffic, a woman in a sari with shopping, another in western wear, even the car driving by has a woman driver. And once she gets home, we have another montage of her trying and failing to self-sooth. And also trying and failing to sleep, moving from sofa to floor to bed, taking pills, trying to dance herself out, anything. And there are a couple of time lapse shots of the sun rising and setting around her. Poor Alia! Now I just want to take a nap.