I broke off actually in the middle of Alia’s first therapy session in the last section. To recap, Alia had to move back to Goa when her landlord kicked her out of her apartment in Bombay, she isn’t sleeping because of stress about her recent break-up and what it might mean for her career and what she should do about it, and she happened to overhear psychiatrist Shahrukh Khan talking at a mental health convention and decided to go talk to him. And I broke off right when he had gotten her attention with a cute story he acted out, so that he could reach his point of “Sometimes we think we have to take the hard path because it is the only way to achieve great things, but there are other options.”
(Unless that hard path is up the side of a waterfall, in that case you should absolutely do it because it will bring you to your destiny)
Alia seems to listen and really hear what he is saying. And then the session essentially starts fresh, now that he has her attention and she trusts his judgement, and she begins for real “My problem sleeping began when Raghuvendra got engaged.” Shahrukh asks, just to make sure they are past the facade, “your friend’s….?” And Alia says “No…mine” And as she continues “at least, I thought he was mine” the camera pulls back and we see Shahrukh leaning forward in a listening posture and Alia relaxing slightly into the chair as she starts to really talk to him.
And now that scene is officially over, so I can talk about it as a whole! I love the way Shahrukh as a character is both “acting” and “directing” the scene. He takes control right from the start by breezing past Alia as she is about to run out the door and asking her to close the door behind him, “directing” her. He sets the tone for their interactions when she starts off all professional by switching to a more casual human level. And then he takes her out of his picture altogether when he performs for her in his story, turning it into a show he is making for just the one audience member. And then he takes his seat again and turns it back into a show of doctor-patient through his attitude and location in a chair with a clipboard. And Alia responds by relaxing and playing her role in this doctor-patient scene. It’s masterful!
In my last section I struggled a little with how “flirty” and human Shahrukh is right off the bat. One friend I went with suggested it as unprofessional, but I don’t think I agree with that. Yes, it is definitely flirty, and he is taking charge right from the start and making it a personal connection, not doctor-patient. But on the other hand, he first met Alia when she was about to run out the door. He knows he has to work to keep her in his office, to do something that will intrigue her and make her relax.
And he is doing it “for her own good”. If he were a family member or friend, I would be mad at him for acting this way. But he is a therapist, so he is supposed to use behavioral stuff if it will help his patients. And he really is supposed to be able to tell when people are sick. Maybe his initial breeze past in the doorway was just trying to keep her in the room in case she needed help. But once they started talking, it would only have taken him a half minute into her clearly false “friend” story to see that she really needed help and as a doctor, the best thing he could do was use every trick in his book to keep her there and let him help.
(And I am okay with him shamelessly manipulating Preity too, because he is an Angel so he must know what to do)
And it worked! She relaxed and let him do his job in the end, by the time they were back to sitting across from each other like patient-doctor, she was ready to really talk. Which reminds me of something true through out the film. We don’t really see the meat of the therapy sessions, and Gauri makes sure we know that. Sure, we saw the fun charming bit with Shahrukh telling a story. But this slow pull back is letting us know that there is a whole 45 more minutes of the session we won’t be seeing where they keep talking, and Shahrukh maybe isn’t charming and funny, and Alia isn’t prickly and defensive, and it’s less amusing but more productive. The same thing happens over and over again. Gauri will give us an extra shot of them settling in for a longer talk, or open in the middle of a talk, to make sure we know these really are 50 minute sessions and that more goes on than just the exciting bits we are seeing in the film.
Thank goodness Alia relaxed and used this full 50 minute session, because there is a bomb waiting for her at home! She walks in the door of Jackie’s place, to see Kunal sitting on their couch! NOOOOOOO!!!!!
And Kunal is jerky and oblivious right from the beginning. This is the scene that made me sure I was correct in my initial “bad news!” vibe from him. Before, when they were kind of almost falling in love, Kunal seemed kind of charmingly confident and sort of sweetly pushing her to respond to his approaches. Now all that confidence and pushing is not sweet AT ALL. He has an idea of how she should react, and is completely blind to anything that’s not part of his vision. I can’t remember the exact order of how this scene goes, but I remember that the whole time Kunal is calmly untouched by Alia’s feelings and confident that he is in the right and she is in the wrong.
I think she asks what he is doing here, and he immediately puts it back on her, saying that she wasn’t responding to his calls. She asks if this is about the New York job, and he says “of course”, like obviously she should only be thinking about and worrying about the thing he thinks it is she should be thinking about, she should naturally be able to read his mind.
And then she sits down on their awesome patchwork arm chair and tries to tell the Mt. Everest story that Shahrukh told her, only of course she completely messes it up. Kunal isn’t even trying to understand anyway, or have any patience with her process, he just wants an answer delivered the way he expects it. He finally asks if that means she is taking the New York job and she says “No! I am NOT taking it! That is my decision!” Kunal shakes his head and says something about “no wonder you are in therapy”, and Alia glares at Jackie (who has been sitting there this whole time just watching them go back and forth) and says “You told him?!?!?” And Kunal stands up and just TOWERS over her and says “Yes, and I don’t know what you have to be in therapy about! What problems do you have in your life?”
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this shot! This very well may be the main reason Kunal was cast in the film, for this one shot. He’s just so BIG. And so male! Tall, broad shoulders, confident sneer, he doesn’t even have to raise his voice for it to be heard. He’s so relaxed in his masculinity, so confident of his power that he wears it casually. And there’s Alia, pulled up to her full height and still not even reaching his shoulders, shouting so he will hear here, moving her arms like she almost wants to hit him, and he doesn’t even notice. To him, she is no more than a little fly buzzing around, an pointless irritant he is being kind by tolerating instead of swatting aside. And that line, “What is the problem in your life?”, with him standing there, this huge living problem dominating everything!
(Not a fly like this, because this is a male fly, so he would pay attention to it)
And here’s the malest part of it: she orders him to “Get out!” and he sits down and keeps eating the biscuit Jackie gave him. It doesn’t even register, hearing something he doesn’t want to hear. It’s not like “mansplaining”, it’s like “man-deafness”. Whatever it is, I have definitely experienced it and it is INFURIATING. Alia’s response is as good as any other, to throw a complete fit and keep yelling “GET OUT!” until he finally acknowledges hearing her. And Kunal’s response is predictably bad, to see this all as a sign of her “immaturity” and shake his head and be glad they won’t be working together. And Alia, finally, speaks her greatest fear “Aha! I am mature enough to have sex with, but not to work with you? Finally, I get it!!!” And Kunal leaves, shaking his head, worldview still firmly in place and unaltered. UGH!
But, backing up, thank goodness Alia said it out loud! I feel like, through the little bits in the song lyrics and other clues, this has been the biggest conflict all along. Was she always just sex to him? Was she, on some subconscious level, trying to sleep her way to the top? What does that say about her morals? What does it say about her talent? And if it wasn’t a subconscious prostitution of herself, that means she must have really fallen for a guy who only saw her as sex. What does that say about her judgement? Her ability to take care of herself? This isn’t just a broken heart, this is about SO MUCH MORE.
But right now, it is also about making the decision to turn down the New York job. Which, by extension, means a choice to slow down and work on herself for a while instead of running fast after outside reinforcement through success and accolades. Which she explains to Jackie in better language than she used with Kunal, when Jackie questions gently to make sure she is sure in her decision. This time, instead of trying to recreate Shahrukh’s story which made his point memorable to her, she just gets to the point and explains that sometimes we think the hard path is the right path because it is hard. But there is nothing wrong with taking the easier path when the hard path is too hard for us. And then there is a great moment when Alia hits her face and says “Oh! Why couldn’t I have said it like that when HE was here!” And Jackie gets up from her side of the room and walks over to sit in the arm chair with Alia and hug her.
And again, such great framing and use of actor’s size! Jackie is played by this tiny tiny woman. She and Alia together fit easily inside this big arm chair. And she is offering her tiny comfort and support to Alia against the memories of big scary Kunal in the room and her life. Together they huddle together and are happy, now that the huge powerful presence is removed from their lives. Blech Kunal!
(It’s not like this at all. But there aren’t that many representations of healthy female friendship to pick from)
Also blech, the return of the voice over! Alia is getting ready for bed, tying her hair to the side, putting on face lotion, (another through the mirror shot here), and finally crawling into bed and turning out the light. And there is a voice over added in saying “tonight I am going to sleep and sleep and sleepy.” Which I think we could have gotten better through just her facial expressions. But at least it is the last voice over, maybe because her character starts to open up more and more and say things out loud to other people instead of just in her head, so we can figure out what she is thinking without needing it.
And, dream! We see a bunch of construction workers in blue coveralls working on a concrete high-rise, and looking funny through a a funky camera focus. And then there’s Alia in a big flowing yellow gown standing and looking around with lipstick that I think is way too red for her skin tone, but I am willing to be convinced otherwise. She suddenly starts to slip, close up of her feet as she backs off the edge, and then falls! And then a really horribly unattractive close up of her screaming falling face.
Before moving on, can I just say how incredibly RIGHT I was about the color scheme? I don’t know why you should believe me on this, but I honestly didn’t remember how it played out in this particular scene until right now when I watched it in my head. I figured out that yellow=Alia and blue=things Alia is afraid of all on my own long before we got here! From the color scheme of all the other scenes. I am a GENIUS!
Oh, and INTERVAL. With Alia’s eyes popping open as she wakes up. Which is kind of a cliffhanger, because we are wondering what this dream means and what’s happening and all that. I guess it’s enough to get people back in from buying popcorn. Would have been slightly more cliff-hangery to end with her opening the door to see Kunal there, but it would have been a less true ending to the first half of the film. This way, she is done with her job conflict, done with her Kunal conflict, done with all her Bombay stuff, and ready to deal with the Goa stuff that is at the heart of it all.
We come back to a kind of cheesy repeat of the eyes popping open scene. And we return to her in Shahrukh’s office, talking about the dream, and wearing possibly my favorite outfit of the film. A short yellow dress (yellow!) with a red flannel shirt over it, but a flannel shirt with this cool cut so it kind of fits around her shoulders, and then has these huge cut out slits on the sides. Anyway, she is narrating the part of the dream we saw as the camera cuts back to it in case we forgot, scary ugly construction workers, falling, and then something we didn’t see. She lands in a puddle, and a bunch of women dressed like new brides point and laugh at her, and she looks up and her camera is swinging just out of reach.
Alia finishes narrating the story, and ends with “I woke up at 4am and went straight to take a shower.” And Shahrukh asks “why a shower?” Which is BRILLIANT! Both by the character, and by the scriptwriter to make this argument. Because what he is leading towards is that she felt dirty for some reason, why did she feel dirty? Why was that the biggest reaction to this dream?
And then he pokes her about it to see if he can get a reaction. He asks if Raghuvendra was tall and handsome, and when she says yes, he points out that means she likes tall and handsome men, not short and strange (and he does this great little hand wobble and face twist when he says “pasand nahin” about them). Alia is thinking about this and says without seeming to realize she is talking out loud “yeah, and Sid was tall and pale too.” And Shahrukh says “Oh, there was a Sid too!” And Alia IMMEDIATELY turns defensive.
I honestly don’t think that Shahrukh was trying to say anything judgemental here, even as a mind game. I think he was being purposefully neutral to see if Alia would read criticism into that, which would confirm for him that the criticism was coming from inside her own head. And I also think the script was being careful here, to show a healthy neutral way for older men to respond to young women’s romantic affairs, “You are beautiful, of course young men will come.”
But Alia is all messed up in her head, especially after confronting the idea that Kunal was just using her for sex and she let him, so she way way overreacts. Yelling at Shahrukh, putting all kinds of things on him that he isn’t saying. And when she finally finishes her yelling, she sits back down on the couch, and Shahrukh stands and goes over to sit on the arm of the couch next to her, instead of in his therapist’s chair.
Now, two things here. First, moving to the other side of the room makes for a better framing for this part of the scene, with both their heads fitting in the same frame. And second, from the character side instead of the filmmaker side, it means he is giving up his position as doctor, again, and relating to her as a person. Because he knows it is a better way of getting through to her.
So, Shahrukh sits next to her, sulking on the couch, and asks “Have you ever bought a chair?” Alia says yes, she has. And Shahrukh asks if she just bought the first chair she saw? No, of course not. Right! And then Shahrukh puts on another one of his little shows, getting up and moving around the room from furniture to furniture, explaining that some chairs are comfortable, but look terrible. Others are beautiful but “hard on the bum” (with some punching at his butt cheeks for emphasis). Until, finally, you find that one chair that is just right for you. And he sits down in the sideways chair on the other side of the room (I’ll get back to this in a second). And then stands up and walks back over to sit next to her on the arm of the couch as she puts it all together. “So, dating, it’s all just trying out chairs? It’s fine?” And Shahrukh says yes, it’s superfine in fact! And Alia pops up and starts striding around and putting it together that she felt dirty because of the brides looking at her and laughing! That’s what made her feel dirty, them pointing and judging. And then she sits down and says “wow, I wish everyone could hear your chairs theory!” Which felt really clunky and I kind of rolled my eyes about it, the old “line of dialogue to underline social message” blah blah. But then Shahrukh calls her out on it! Asks “but, why?”
(This doesn’t have anything to do with anything, it just popped up when I image searched “Shahrukh chair”. Isn’t AbRam cute?)
Oh man, this is beyond just “clever”, this is like really really advanced social philosophy. And done in a really really advanced way. We got suckered in, just like Alia. We thought “well, I feel dirty because society is judging me, fix society and I will stop feeling dirty” was the answer. No! Shahrukh points out, that means society is still driving the car. Forget society entirely, let it go. That is the solution.
Yes! Thank you Gauri! This is exactly what has been bothering me with some of the other films which are supposed to be progressive, but just end up going around in circles. If you say “we should support the rape victims by helping to hide their shame”, then you are still saying they have something to be ashamed of. If you say “we should help abused wives by teaching their husbands to be better and take them back”, then you are still saying the happy ending is fixing the marriage. The only solution is to reject it entirely, to just refuse to even consider the judgements of society. Don’t know how that all fits with the Ram and the washerman story, but I will let people who are better versed in Hindu philosophy figure it out for me. Maybe that only the very tippy top people in society should care what people think because it is their job to be a good example? Something like that.
And after blowing her mind with this, Shahrukh insists on getting his chair back, telling her that she shouldn’t get too comfortable in “his” chair. A nice little casual joke that also brings back their position as doctor-patient both in terms of the power he carries from his chair, and about how she shouldn’t get too comfortable with “his chair [metaphor for male romantic partners]”. And once they are back in their respective proper places, he gives her “homework”, and says half-jokingly that he is very serious about his assignments. She has to talk to her parents, on the phone, for ten minutes each. Alia starts to protest, but he refuses to listen, and tells her they are out of time. Alia pulls out her phone and proves that they have 20 seconds left. Shahrukh flutters his hand and moves his eyes and says “look! Look there! And there! And then there!” And Alia asks “what, what happened?” and Shahrukh says “20 seconds” happened, just as the timer goes off. And Alia grumbles and grabs her bag and stomps out, and Shahrukh chuckles and says “Homework, Kiara! Homework!”
Before moving on, two personal stories here. First, I have bought a chair, and I didn’t try it out at all. I just walked right into the Salvation Army and bought the two cheapest ones and then tried them out when I got them home. So I guess I should have an arranged marriage to whoever takes the smallest dowry? Or gives me the largest one? It worked out too, they are great chairs!
(Kind of like this, but nicer and orange. And two for $5!)
Second, my grandmother did that “look look!” thing. My Mom and Uncle didn’t want to get up for school, so my Grandma ran upstairs and shouted “quick quick! Come down stairs or you’ll miss it going by!” So they come running downstairs saying “What what!” And of course the answer was “The day! Come quick or it will go by before you see it.” And then they both said “oh Mom!!!! Come on!” and had a very grumpy breakfast. It only really works one time too. But it was memorable, because I have heard that story over and over again from all parties involved.
Now, back to the movie, there’s an important line we need to talk about here that I want to come back to and highlight. Way at the beginning of this scene, I forgot, Alia is moving around the room talking about her dream and she sits in a chair that wobbles and squeaks. It did the same thing when she was sitting in it while killing time waiting for their first session. This time Alia pops up and says “What is with this thing?” And Shahrukh says (and I think I memorized the line exactly) “It only does that when you really really like someone and can’t do anything about it.” I’ll be coming back to this at the end, but there were a couple of things I noticed right off the bat.
First, it’s in English! Thank goodness, so I don’t have to parse the Hindi meaning. But I wonder if it is in English because “Like” isn’t exactly the same as the closest Hindi option, “Pasand”. Shahrukh uses Pasand later to indicate what kind of man is to Alia’s taste. And my impression is that “Pasand” is a little more “taste” side of things than “love” side of things. Like, it’s more about disgust versus delight than hate versus love. In many situations, the two words “Like” and “Pasand” are synonymous, but to use “Like” here, means that Shahrukh isn’t necessarily talking about attractions of the body. He is talking about something possibly both less and more than that. “Less” because it isn’t necessarily about someone you are attracted to. But “more”, because it implies a kind of real bond that “Pasand” only indicates that there is a possibility for. To “Like” someone is an active emotion, whereas “Pasand” feels more like a passive reaction to someone.
Secondly, “can’t do anything about it” is a very open statement. I initially remember it as “can’t have them”, which is a very clear statement of singular possession. You want something unique from this person, really you just want this one person. But “can’t do anything about it” is something else. That just says you “like” someone, but can’t stop liking them, or can’t start liking them more, or can’t spend more time with them because you like them. It could really mean anything at all. And BELIEVE ME I will be talking about all the things it could mean when we get to the end.
And the other point about this scene before we move on, and I was just talking with Carol about this in the comments of the last part, I don’t think Shahrukh’s “homework” is what it looks like on the surface. It’s not about Alia being healthier by talking with her parents. If that is where her problem is, she’s clearly not ready to really deal with them yet. And if that’s not where her problem is, what good will it do to talk to them? No, I am thinking this is a test on Shahrukh’s part, not of Alia, but of his hypothesis. If she does have problems with her parents, her reaction to this will tell him how serious they are. If she doesn’t have problems, it still can’t hurt to talk to them.
So, how will it turn out? Does she have parental problems? Tune in tomorrow for the next part!