I left off with Alia’s depression song following learning that Kunal Kapoor got engaged to someone else and didn’t even tell her. And we come back to see Alia lying (laying?) on her bed while her friends are all gathered around helping her pack up her apartment. Well, her female friends. This is one of the many scenes that is entirely female, which is great! Because there are times when it is just for girls, and packing up clothes is definitely one of those times. I also love that Alka, the awesome maid, is part of the group. Not being ordered around, but working alongside them. Again, very female, long tradition of women of the household pulling together as a team, whether mistress or maid, for these big kind of jobs. Although there is one really interesting shot when Jackie is talking about her Goa house that her parents bought her and Fatty says “I wish my parents would buy me a vacation house”, and there is a shot of Alka smiling and packing up the clothes.
(Singing into hairdryers while wearing baby doll nighties in a dorm, is NOT, in fact, a realistic depiction of an all female time. Or at least, not in my experience. Maybe Indian forms have an all silk and sexy clothing code for night time?)
Not quite sure what to make of that shot of Alka. It could be the director commenting on her main characters’ unquestioned privilege. It could also be to show that this privilege doesn’t bother Alka, because she keeps smiling and working while they talk about how rich they are. If it is the second, it doesn’t feel like the usual “see! Poor people love hanging out with rich people!” unthinking thing. It feels more like, because they have such a healthy Alka relationship, the money stuff is all above board and obvious. It’s not “unthinking” privilege, it’s aware privilege.
Oh, and we get a lot of character information in this scene. Jackie is carefree, going from Bombay to Goa as she feels like it, with a luxury vacation house from her parents, but no parents around? Fatty is jealous, but is also clearly planning to stay settled in Bombay. And she is also giving some advice to Alia about mixing business and personal, now that she is stuck with this big break New York job that is tied to Kunal. And Alia is depressed about going home to stay with her parents for a month while she waits for the New York job, and about her Dad making her do a job shooting a restaurant ad.
So, Jackie is a rich girl who has never really grown up, and also doesn’t seem to have a lot of family around, more just money instead. Fatty is still acting like the “mother” of the friends group, but is already starting to break away with her own family, staying in Bombay with her husband and future child although she professes jealousy of Alia and Jackie going to Goa.
I wonder if the actors or the writer drew out a bigger background for these three than what we see in the movie? I could believe that all of them have issues with their family of origin which lead them to become such close friends in their “new” family. Jackie with her money and lack of direction seems like maybe loving but distant parents who give her money instead of encouragement. Fatty with her need to take care of everyone, and embrace of marriage and children younger than her two friends, seems like someone who was always looking for a happy family. Maybe a child of divorce? And then there’s Alia who was just looking for people she could count on, who didn’t remind her in any way of the ones who had let her down before.
Oh, and the button on the scene is Alia complaining about how she has to do this ad for her father, but who knows! Maybe it will be the turning point of her life. YES! FORESHADOWING!!!! SHAHRUKH SHAHRUKH SHAHRUKH!!!!
Oh, and song is back now. Alia is alone in her apartment, looking at all the furniture up against the wall with sheets over it (that answers the “was it all in storage or what?” question, only clothes and small things were hers, big stuff was the landlords.) And the final thing in the apartment was the little photo of Kunal stuck on the wall. She pulls it off and tears it up as the lyrics come up “Shamed Dil, is it your fault or is it my own?” Aha! That’s what’s really burning her about Kunal! She feels shame, and doesn’t know if she should blame her emotions or her judgement.I am so glad that this is her real problem. It’s not a “broken heart” like some lame classical heroine. No, it’s her self-respect.
She already felt bad about how her relationship with Kunal started, with cheating on her long time boyfriend. But if she cheated on her boyfriend and then started a long time relationship with the guy she cheated with, then it’s okay. It’s not just a horrible mistake to be ashamed of, it’s Love. But if Kunal gets engaged to someone else weeks later, that means she is a horrible girl who cheated on her long time boyfriend with a guy who just saw her as sex, not marriage material. And even worse, that means he might have also seen her that way at work, as just sex, not good at her job. So he has managed to poison everything that gives her pride in herself.
And, Goa! I think we get a transition shot of Goa airport? How easy is it to go back and forth from Bombay to Goa, anyway? The Internet says about 10 hours by car, and one hour by plane. And that there are A TON of flights every day. So I guess it is pretty easy? Which explains how Alia is able to pop back and forth a couple of times, and so are some other characters.
In Goa, we finally meet Alia’s parents. And their house, which is all blue and grey and white, no Alia yellow anywhere. And oh man, is this dinner horrible! Alia is super rude, slouched on a chair eating snack food and ignoring the fancy food her mother made. But her relatives are pretty horrible too. I already talked in my SPOILER review about how they get strangely giggly over the possibility of everyone in the film industry being gay and Alia slaps them down. And there is this constant undertone of concern over her getting married, at one point when she leaves the room her aunt and mother exchange concerns about how if she doesn’t get married soon “all the good boys will be taken”. Gaaaaah! The final straw is after they go into the dining room, there is a comment about how getting married before 25 reduces the divorce rate by 50% and Alia casually sets down her glass and declares “Good-bye, I’m going to stay with Jackie” while everyone stares after her.
On this first meeting, the only thing that seems unusual is Alia. Sure her family is really pushing her to get married, but all families do that! The only thing strange is her reaction, like she doesn’t even care about being patient with them or trying not to hurt their feelings. Especially strange since her parents are trying. Her father is all ready to brag about her job, her mother wants to make her something she will like eating. Even her aunt and uncle aren’t that bad, get them off the topic of marriage and they seem like they could talk pleasantly about all sorts of other things. So, what’s up with Alia? Why is she being such a jerk?
And, song again! Same song, “Go to Hell Dil”. Alia is back with Jackie, tossing and turning all night in Jackie’s very yellow and red house. See! This is where Alia can be Alia, can stop feeling like a jerk. But she still can’t sleep, we see her walking around all night, even peeking in on Jackie to see her sleeping soundly. The next morning she is sitting on Jackie’s front porch talking on the phone about her sleeping. She hangs up and says to Jackie “what’s the point of asking how I slept? What can you do about it?” Jackie just smiles and asks “bad night?” and hands her a cup of tea. And Alia smiles and says “getting better”. And then they joke about the cute “writer-type” fellow who just moved in next door. This guy never comes up again, so I am wondering if it is some kind of inside joke? Maybe he actually is one of the writers on the movie? Either way, I like that we are getting some more female-female type conversation, because yes, girls can objectify boys too.
Establishing shot, restaurant. Alia and her large-sized friend/assistant are there. Alia has sunglasses on and a strained look on her face. Her Dad introduces her to his friend as his talented daughter who works with all the big names. The friend is politely grateful to her for helping him, but Alia has no time for any of this. Again, she is being kind of a jerk. Because there is something about being with her parents that brings it out in her. She and her assistant go into the restaurant and start setting up. She bumps into a sign and asks for it to be removed, but it can’t because a big event is going on. National Mental Health Professionals conference. Yaaaaay! Alia!!! GET THERAPY!!!!
I guess the camera worker people are doing stuff in the restaurant area, so Alia and her assistant/friend go and sit down in the hall leaning against the wall outside the conference room. Her assistant digs a slip of paper out of his pocket and says “I did a shot breakdown, want to see?” And Alia immediately says “Don’t bother me, I’m sleeping”, so he just kind of tosses it away. See?!?!? Even the random assistant gets a personality. He was also the designated driver for their night out at the bar, he is always kind of sloppy and clumsy. And here, he did the bare minimum of work and didn’t really care when Alia didn’t want to see it. I am getting a vibe of a kind of go-with-the-flow guy, who knows his limitations and is fine with them. I also really like him from a gender dynamic side of things, he is male, and yet he is totally fine with being her assistant, because he doesn’t care as much about the work as she does, and he knows she is more talented. Healthy!
Also healthy, Alia listening to mental health professionals who are talking in the other room. The first two are kind of boring, talking in big words and confusing language. And then a lovely familiar voice starts talking being all casual saying “what is crazy? People would say I am crazy for showing up in torn jeans to this important meeting. But maybe I just need a good stylist.” Okay, Shahrukh, this is like phone sex, telling us what you are wearing before we see it.
(He looks kind of like this, but hotter)
And then the camera goes into the room and we slowly pan up from his feet to his face. And, the last time I saw it, as the camera slowly focuses on his face and he laughs and shows off his dimples, I heard at least three quiet female “oh god”s irrepressibly moaned through out the theater.
And I guess he is saying nice smart things too with his gorgeous mouth? About how mental health isn’t respected in this country, even his own family used to lie that he was a gynecologist, not a psychiatrist. That mental health was something to be whispered about, but why? The brain is a part of the body, just like anything else, so why be ashamed when it is damaged? And as he is talking, Alia is sneaking in the back of the room to see him, so his face is revealed to her at the same time it is revealed to us. Oh, and the back of the room where she is standing is all warm tones, down to the yellow color of the sari of the woman standing in front of her, surrounding her in a green jumpsuit. Yes Alia! Let mental health professionals bring you back to happiness!
And Alia looks at Shahrukh’s name plate and mouths “Dr. Jahangir Khan”. Interesting! This is, what, the 3rd time Shahrukh is playing a Muslim? And it’s not even a thing! Or maybe it is a thing and I was insulated from it? But no, pretty sure it wasn’t even a thing. Even with his first name being “Jahangir”, brutal Mughal Emperor/Dilip Kumar character. I wonder if the name was picked before he was cast or after? Even setting aside the Muslim thing, it’s kind of nice that he is named after a Dilip Kumar character since he has always talked about the connection he feels to Dilip.
(I love this photo)
And, office! The music is playing gently in the background, and she is looking around the room, which is filled with funky little things like a mallet and a metronome and a little metal knight statue. Plus a bunch of different chairs and sofas and pictures on the wall and all sorts of things. It’s much more cluttered space than I am used to seeing in movies, especially Indian movies. It’s kind of a consciously twee decorating scheme. But I’m thinking that is on purpose, not by the filmmakers but by the character “Dr. Jahangir Khan”, to relax and distract his patients. Through out the film, Alia is constantly fiddling with things, looking at things, moving across pieces of furniture, this is a little playground for grown-ups he has created, to make them happy and relaxed as they talk about hard things.
But Alia still isn’t relaxed. She is moving around the room, looking at the music, finally goes to the door and pushes them open, to reveal Shahrukh! On the other side! In SUNGLASSES! He calmly walks by her, not acknowledging that she was clearly on her way out, and asks her to close the doors behind them.
Shahrukh calmly picks up his notebook and sits down and Alia sits down across from him and rubs her eye and asks “So, how does this work?” And Shahrukh rubs his eye too and says “I don’t know, how does it work?”
Now, the last time I saw this movie (the 4th time overall) was also the first time I saw it with someone who wasn’t completely in love with Shahrukh (because he was married to my friend who is completely in love with Shahrukh and who dragged him along). And he pointed out that Shahrukh is flirting with Alia the WHOLE TIME in a way that is kind inappropriate and really dangerous for her mental health. I had sincerely never seen it, because I guess I am so used to how flirty Shahrukh is most of the time? But, he’s right!
(For instance, I don’t think Shahrukh is actively trying to seduce this poor innocent CNN reporter, but that is certainly the effect he is having!)
Right here, right at the beginning, the imitating her behavior and making a little joke about it, that’s not really doctor-patient stuff. That’s super flirty. In my post talking about what K3G might mean for Dear Zindagi, I talked about how Shahrukh turns his sexiness on and off like a spigot, and in some roles, particularly opposite younger women, it is just off off off. There is nothing between him and Kareena at all, or between him and any of the young woman on his hockey team in Chak De. But in this, it’s more like, say, that thin stream of water you get when you have no water pressure in your shower. It’s on, it’s definitely on, just not enough to really do anything for you.
Alia, meanwhile, is all off right here. Glasses on, hair tied back, sitting up straight, biting out her words. She does not want any kind of a connection, no matter how charming Shahrukh is being. Which is probably why he is being so charming, maybe? To break through her reserve and convince her to keep seeing him?
Although it’s pretty easy to get through her reserve. Alia’s issues are so close to the surface right now, that the smallest question is enough to bring them out. Shahrukh starts with asking why she is there, she answers because she can’t sleep, he asks if she has seen a doctor, and Alia says the obvious “I thought that’s what I was doing”, and Shahrukh kind of smiles self-deprecatingly and nods his head like “you got me!” Once again, a little flirty! Acknowledging that she got one over him, making her feel good, and also humanizing him. Once Alia goes on to say that yes, she tried the regular doctors with the pills and all of that, she still can’t sleep. Shahrukh then asks if there have been any big life changes, and Alia immediately hesitates and then says that yes, she moved recently from Bombay to Goa, would that be a big change. Shahrukh agrees that yes, that would be a big change. And he asks why she moved.
Biiiiiiiiiiiiiig pause. Lots and lots of little start and stops in Alia’s facial expressions. Before she finally says that she moved to be with her best friend. She is having problems, with this guy. And then it starts coming faster and faster, while still always phrased as being about her friend instead of her, how this guy got engaged and it’s all tied up with a big break in her profession, and now she doesn’t know if she should just do it, just force herself to get through this job because it’s her big break, or if she should just say no, don’t do it, what to do, what to do?
Shahrukh listens to this whole thing, and then asks if he can tell a story. Which, of course, she can then narrate to her friend who is the one really having this problem. It’s a nice story, about his grandfather’s friend “Pyarelalji” who wanted to climb Mt. Everest. He got invited to join a group of Chinese mountain climbers, and he didn’t think twice about it, he just joined right up and started climbing with them.
As Shahrukh is telling the story, he is moving around the room, acting it out, even doing a little marching motion to show the mountain climbing, a marching motion which does a lovely job of letting us see his thigh muscles flowing under his linen pants. Again, it’s not very professional, but it is getting Alia to loosen up and get out of herself, to focus on something beyond her own head.
And to make her really focus, he tells the end of the story from behind her, leaning over the back of the couch. He explains that Pyarelalji got too far ahead of the rest, but when they were saying “watch out! Come back!” he thought they were cheering him on, because he couldn’t speak Chinese. Shahrukh is doing a terrible fake Chinese here, and Alia calls him on it, asking if he speaks Chinese. He asks in return, “do you?” and when she says “No”, he says with this great casual line delivery “then…this works.”
In the Koffee With Karan interview, Shahrukh talked about how this was a script heavy film, pages and pages of dialogue to memorize, which is okay with him, because he is a script kind of actor (Karan agreed), but Alia was even better, so good that he counted on her to feed him all his lines. And watching this scene over again in my head, oh my gosh is he right! It’s just so much dialogue, so much talking, and he can’t fall asleep on any line, it all has to be delivered just so, a little unexpectedly, a little uniquely, to keep the attention of both the audience in the theater, and Alia sitting on the couch.
Finally, Shahrukh finishes his story, on a kind of dark joke. Pyarelalji is trapped and calls for help, but no one can understand him. And then he is eaten by a snow leopard. Alia goes “What?” And Shahrukh kind of smiles and says lightly, but with a touch of ruefulness that somehow makes it funny “yeah, snow leopards don’t get much to eat on Mount Everest”. And then he goes and sits back in his chair, having gotten her attention he can return to being a bit more of the doctor. And he gives the point of the whole story, the advice he could have given her 5 minutes ago, but she wouldn’t have listened to him then, “sometimes we think to accomplish something great we have to take the hard path. But sometimes that means we take on something we aren’t prepared for, that is too hard for us.”
This is a lovely sentiment, and one that I think maybe young women in particular struggle with. There is this pressure to please everyone on the one hand, and on the other hand to prove the value of what you are doing when you do something that isn’t pleasing to everyone. Like, have you heard about the statistics for permanent injuries for young female athletes? Much much higher than for men! Because girls don’t want to let anyone down, and they will push themselves and push themselves through the pain until they blow out their knees or their hips or their elbows by the time they are in college. That’s the message that Shahrukh is giving here, that you don’t have to suffer through the pain over and over and over again just to prove something somehow, that it’s okay to say “no” sometimes, even when it feels wrong.
Here’s my problem though. This is the EXACT OPPOSITE of his advice in DDLJ! I actually looked it up to make sure I had the quote right:
“You’ll always come across two paths in your life. The right one and the wrong one. The wrong path will be easy to tread and it will tempt you. The right path will be full of obstacles. You’ll face countless troubles and problems. The wrong path will give you instant success and gratification. But you will lose in the end. If you chose the right path you might falter at every step. You might face dangers and difficulties. But eventually, you will win.”
So, why is it okay to take the easy path now??!?! I wouldn’t have compared the two at all except that it is Shahrukh delivering both contrasting speeches. But now that I have to compare them, I guess they do kind of work together. The key is in the “instant success and gratification” line. Which in Hindi is, I think, “kahm” and “khushi”, all nice and alliterative. And technically meaning closer to “work” and “happiness”.
Alia is looking for a shortcut. She is willing to put up with a terrible 3 month shoot, with horrible Kunal, because she sees it as a shortcut to success. That makes it the “wrong” path from his earlier speech. Because, while in the short term it seems “easy” to turn down this opportunity, it is actually the harder path. To go the long slow way around to success, instead of the short path that seems quicker.