Ha! I originally had a typo of there, making it “the heat of Alia’s dysfunction”. Which sounds kind of sexy, but also kind of sci-fi-y. And, maybe, this scene is “sexy” in that caring and sensitive men are always “Sexy”, but it’s not sci-fi-y at all. So I went ahead and fixed the typo. (part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here)
I left off with Shahrukh ending his second session with Alia, in which they grappled with her feelings of disgust and shame over her romantic relationships. Shahrukh gave her the tools to overcome that, to think of herself as a wise discerning person who is just trying out men to see who fits best. And, more importantly, to realize that she only feels “dirty” because she has internalized society’s judgments. If she lets that go, accepts that she is in control of her own like and attitude and shouldn’t worry about what other people think, she can be much happier. Having neatly knocked out all her romantic issues, Shahrukh moves on to nibble a little at another area, asking her to do “homework”, to spend at least 10 minutes on the phone with each of her parents before their next session.
As I mentioned in the last section, I don’t think Shahrukh actually wanted her to talk to her parents for 10 minutes, he had no grand plan for how this task would solve her mental issues. He just wanted to get a baseline of how messed up that relationship was by seeing how much of this task she was able to accomplish.
So, how much IS she able to accomplish? We see her riding in the back of a car, maybe on the way back from her Shahrukh session, and calling her Dad on her cell phone. And for color trackers, the car is all in grey and blue tones, and so is her father, standing in shadow next to a stone (I think) window. They have a sort of okay phone call. He says that his friend loved the ad she shot, she chats about that for maybe a minute, and then he says something about her Mom running around getting ready because “Kiddo” is coming. And Alia says something weary about “of course, her little prince is arriving”. And then abruptly hangs up. And glances at her phone to check how many minutes it was. Then we see her mother moving around, with one servant in the background picking up the living room and another one in the foreground who she is directing, telling them what to move where. She picks up the call right away, and Alia says something about being sorry she hadn’t called back before now. Her Mom is all clearly happy to talk to her, but also a little distracted, explaining that she is clearing out “Kiddo’s” room. Alia immediately gets a tense look on her face, and rattles off “okay, got to go now” and hangs up. So, sibling issues! I cannot relate at all! (no really I can’t, my relationship with my sister is the best in my life)
(Speaking of sibling and parent issues….)
Also, I can’t understand this backseat of the car shot. We see Alia riding like this a couple of times around Goa, and we saw “Fatty” in a similar shot back in Bombay. It doesn’t look like the back of a cab, just the back of a regular car. Is there some Indian version of Uber? Is it just “Uber”? And, if not, is it common to have a car-and-driver that isn’t exclusive to you but you call on sometimes?
I think it is after this that we see Alia at night in her room skyping back to Fatty in Bombay. It’s a scene that doesn’t flow naturally from anything before or after it, but I know it is fairly early in this section, so it might be here. Gauri needed to put it in because she wanted to insert a little mental health PSA. And she wanted us to know that Alia isn’t just forgetting her old friends and vice versa. It’s a nice scene, I guess, Alia is talking to Fatty on Skype about therapy and Fatty is happy she is going. And then Alka (Alia’s awesome maid) comes into the frame bringing a glass of milk for Fatty. Which answers a whole bunch of questions! Like, “is Alka out of a job now that Alia has moved? Is Alia just abandoning her?” No, of course not! The group took responsibility, and vice versa. Notice that Alka is bring milk to pregnant Fatty. I’m guessing she was extra eager to work for Fatty, and the group could honestly suggest it in this way, because Fatty is pregnant and needs someone to take care of her. And for reasons that are not made explicit but are implied through how they interact, Fatty isn’t close to her family of origin the way she is with her friends.
And then Alia is walking back up the path to Shahrukh’s house. Did I say that the first time we saw Alia in his office, before we went into the office, the camera took us through the gate and up the walk? Well, it did! We also got a couple of establishing shots at different points of Jackie’s house and Alia’s Bombay apartment. It feels like maybe it is more of a female thing? Wanted us to be oriented to the “home” spaces in a way that maybe more action and external oriented films don’t? And also being aware of the story these spaces tell about the characters. Alia’s apartment building was big and old and nice, which made it more believable when the conservative building management evicted her. Jackie’s house is warm and welcoming and a little kooky, with random pillows and blankets piled on the porch and strange bedrooms, and a crazy sign on the gate. And Shahrukh’s house is a sanctuary. Set back at the end of a long entrance path, no clutter around it, just some open sunny space and a few trees with some simple art installations hanging off them (mostly bicycle wheels). Alia walks up the path to find a note on the door directing her to the beach behind the house. And then we get a GORGEOUS shot of Shahrukh in sunglasses and linen pants and a soft blue shirt standing against a big open backdrop of yellow-white sand and blue water.
And then we see Alia join him to walk down the beach. It is deserted, although there is one blue boat sitting beached on the sand, called the “Mother Theresa [Something]” Comment about Mother Theresa? Or just a coincidence because they needed that pop of color on the right side of the frame?
According to the Koffee interview, this was the first scene they shot. I can see why they wanted to start with this one, because it is really the heart of the film. And, because it is the heart, they made it just stunningly beautiful.
This is also the scene that Alia said Gauri made her reshoot because she was having a hard time getting out of the “OMG, it’s Shahrukh Khan!!!!” mindset. And it’s definitely a scene that only works if the two characters are on more or less equal ground. Because that’s what Shahrukh Khan The Therapist wanted from it, for Alia to feel free and safe and happy and open with him. That’s why he wanted this session on the beach to begin with.
Like I said, that “talk to your parents” was definitely a test of his thesis. And she admits that she was only able to talk to her father not her mother, and only for 4 minutes. This is after Shahrukh talks about how beautiful the beach is, and Alia acknowledges that she hates Goa, becuase it’s where her parents live and she spent her childhood. This whole thing just confirms any suspicions Shahrukh may have had about her parent issues. And Shahrukh reacts like “no big deal”, but in a way that immediately gives a little more warmth and casualness to their interaction, because he knows they are on hard ground and she needs to be kept happy if she isn’t going to run away. So he grabs her hand and gently hits it with his finger, pantomiming a teacher slapping her palm with a ruler. But it’s also the first physical contact I think they have had, and it’s casual, like he isn’t even thinking about it because they are so comfortable together, of course he can just grab her hand. And he does it so fast that she doesn’t have time to think either, and BOOM! New level to their relationship unlocked!
And then Shahrukh builds on that, casually asking what was happening with her parents, and she mentions that they were getting ready for her little brother Kiddo. And Shahrukh does just what the audience did in the last scene, little triggers of “sibling issues!” start going off. And he really gently moves in that direction, and Alia denies it immediately. But not in a “protest too much” way, just in a way that shows she really doesn’t have sibling issues. Phew! I hate movies with sibling issues, because I am just incapable of relating to them AT ALL! That was one of my biggest problems with Kapoor & Sons, I truly could not conceive of siblings being jealous of each other or have a hard time sharing things or taking the side of someone else against each other. On the other hand, while I have a great relationship with my parents, it isn’t shockingly freakishly close, so I am totally here for Alia’s mommy issues!
(I spent the whole movie thinking “but, why would you ever take your parent’s side over your sibling’s? That’s just not natural!”)
Shahrukh is here for Alia’s mommy issues too. He starts to get a hint of them when she is talking about her brother, and how she used to read to him from Tinkle comics, and would replace “Super Supandi’s” name with “Kiddo” when she read them. And that he says it is his favorite childhood memory. My first thought here is, this is not normal! I say that as someone who is shockingly freakishly close with my sister. But I don’t remember long times in childhood when it was just us, because Mom was always somewhere in the background providing adult emotional support and healthy stuff like that so we could just be kids. This story that Alia is telling, the little details of how she is telling it, it makes it sound like there were hours at a time when Baby Alia was in charge of entertaining Baby Kiddo, and their parents were nowhere around. And that this time without parents was the happiest time of Kiddo’s childhood, that’s NOT NORMAL.
But Shahrukh is a better therapist than me, so instead of jumping on this slightly odd story, he lets it go for now, and just asks “what is your favorite childhood memory?” Which is a much more productive line of questioning! Because Alia immediately stops and goes “ummmmm”. And I think this might be the first time we get little flashbacks to Baby Alia. Just quick flashes, a little girl looking out the window and hiding in a closet. But the light is all faded, and her face is all sad, so even in just a quick flash, we know something was really wrong in that little girl’s world. And then Alia shakes it off and asks what Shahrukh’s favorite memory is. And he looks around and says “Playing Kabaddi on a beach like this with my father against the sea.”
Before moving on, so many thoughts about just this little set up! The first thing that leaped to my mind, in a way that makes me think Shahrukh must have been method acting SO HARD on this memory that he actually conveyed it to the audience, is that in real life this is the kind of thing he talks about doing with his father. “Watching a movie” by sitting in a traffic circle and seeing the world go by. Doing anything free and simple, and it felt magical because his father made it magical.
And, I don’t know, some ineffable something about how Shahrukh says the line here, it immediately fills in for me that his character’s father must have been that same kind of magical wonderful father, and must have also died young, leaving only these memories behind. Which fits with the character, but when he said the line, I was thinking more about Shahrukh-the-person than the character. Maybe something about a micro-expression of grief on his face that is the same micro-expression he has in interviews when he talks about his parents?
Secondly, Shahrukh must have had this half in mind when he moved the session outside, right? That there would be something sad and scary the would be touching on this week, and he had to give her a pleasant memory to help it go down. And get them out of their familiar location so she wouldn’t feel stuck on it in their next session. Like I said, this is the heart of the movie. And it’s Shahrukh giving her back her childhood. It may take several more sessions (and movie minutes) to fully play out, but this is the start. Teaching her again what it feels like to be happy and safe and carefree, like a child.
Third, do you think this is the first time Shahrukh the therapist has used this story from his personal life? I could go either way. It is the ideal therapeutic technique for her, and possibly for other patients with troubled childhoods. But maybe it is also too personal to share with just any patient? Maybe he knows it only works if the patient can sense it really is a special memory just for them?
More importantly than any of this, my god is the man graceful when he runs!!! He sort of primes himself, and then just dances into the waves, body perfectly balanced and straight, like he is dancing. It’s better than before when he was younger, I wonder if it’s because his knee is newly messed up? Like Gary Cooper was world’s best and most graceful horseman because his back was in extreme pain the whole time so he was incredibly aware of every movement of his body and the horse’s body?
Alia is not graceful. But she is believably returning to childhood. She sort of hesitates at the edge of the sea, and then just dashes in, and out again, and in again. Eventually with the kind of wild abandon that a little kid would have. I don’t know if that is acting, or just that Alia is only a couple of years removed from kid-dom herself and it was easy for her to naturally fall into it.
Finally, panting, Shahrukh sits down on the beach and Alia sits across from him. He pulls off his shoes and shakes the sand out, a very human thing to do. And he tells her a super human thing, starting with “parents should give good memories to their kids”. That part isn’t human, that part is scary. Because it is a statement that is going to bring her up against all her fears and outsider feelings and resentment. But he goes on to turn it on himself, to say that he hopes he can give his son a few good memories. Alia asks “You have a son?” And Shahrukh says simply but with obvious emotion that yes, he does, but he lives with his mother as is usual in divorce and Shahrukh doesn’t get to see him as much as he wants. There’s a careful balance here, he is letting out enough emotion that Alia knows this is a real thing he is sharing with her. But not so much that she feels an obligation to take care of him, to worry more about him than herself.
This is what I meant with the Kabaddi story. I think maybe it is just something for Alia. I think this scene is showing a real bond that Shahrukh is building, more than he usually does with a patient. Because she is such an interesting intelligent person, or because she is a sad little kid at heart that reminds him of his own son, or because her treatment requires a deeper connection, something unusual (for him) is happening here, I think. Although I also think he is in complete control of it and could easily stop if it stopped being therapeutic.
Moviemavengal mentioned to me that this movie reminded her of Good Will Hunting, and what that started me thinking about is how both Matt Damon’s character in that movie and Alia’s in this are unusually intelligent. They have all kinds of protections up around their emotions if they are approached on an intellectual level. But if you manage to come up from the side, through an emotional and friendship connection, then you can reach them.
And it works. Alia listens to him, and kind of looks back along the beach, and then says “I remember Shiera. My doll. My father gave her to me for my birthday. When I was living with my grandparents, I used to hug her sooooooo tight every night before bed.” Shahrukh just listens and takes a moment and doesn’t say “wait, why were you living with your grandparents?” Instead he says “You were shy?” Alia says yes and looks surprised. Shahrukh explains “Shy-Sheira, I’m a genius!” Alia says that her father used to call her “Keira-Sheira”. But she isn’t shy any more. Shahrukh clarifies “Fully Keira?” And she confirms “Yes, Fully Keira”. And Shahrukh just looks at her and asks “Are you sure?” He lets it sit there for a moment, and then stands and leads her back down the beach.
Okay, I missed a really really important line back when Shahrukh and Alia first met, and I remembered it decided not to bother going back and dealing with it, and instead just waiting until now. Shahrukh introduced himself as “Jahangir Khan” but invited her to call him “Jug”. She made a bad joke about “can I have a drink of water from that Jug….Jug.” And then introduced herself as “Keira” and he asked if he could call her that, and she said “Yes, I only have the one name.”
(Also, this song kept going through my head. Akira-Keira are way too close)
But, AHA! She does not have one name at all! In fact, that is her problem, that she has so many Kiera’s inside of her and they are being ignored. Her friends and parents call her “Koko”. That was Kiera the little girl, the firebrand with the temper tantrums and no self-control. When her friends say it, it is a reminder that they met her back then and taught her how to love and trust again. When her parents say it, it is a reminder that they only see that part of her, they part they can’t trust or respect. “Kiera” is what she is called at work, who she wants to be, mature and respected and intelligent and put-together. “Kiera” is what Shahrukh calls her through out, what he sees her as too. But she can’t be “fully Kiera”, this fully realized person, until she handles all the stuff coming out in the “Koko” side of her life.
And where is that stuff coming from? “Kiera-Sheira”! This is what Shahrukh has been waiting for, a hint of the sad little girl he can see peeking out from inside of the “Kiera” mask, and what caused “Koko” to emerge in the first place.
And this is also how, I think, Gauri structured the narrative and Alia thought of the character. “Kiera” is her at work and in therapy. “Koko” is her with her oldest friends and family. And “Kiera-Shiera” is her when she completely breaks down and loses control of her emotions. VERY IMPORTANT! Can’t believe I forgot about it until just now. Oh well, this is the pay off scene for all that anyway, so now’s as good a time to talk about it as any.
After their beach discussion, Alia goes to talk to her mother. This scene is so good, that it is painful to watch, kind of like a Cassavetes film (the father, not the son. The son’s movies are painful to watch for a whole other reason, like eating an entire cheap grocery store cake in one sitting).
Alia is standing way back in the doorway of the kitchen, kind of hiding behind the fridge. And as she stands there and talks, she keeps reaching out and twisting the magnets on the fridge upside down. This is something we saw from her early on, when she first arrived back in her apartment and immediately turned stuff on it’s side. Even after her first Shahrukh session, part of her getting ready for bed was turning a turtle on it’s back.
I thought at first it was an OCD thing, but it’s simpler than that. She is just trying to take control of her environment in some way. It’s the same as when I (along with half the women in the world) start fiddling with my hair during a conversation, only more extreme. Alia’s discomfort is so great that she needs a bigger way of controlling her space.
Alia’s Mom is at the stove, cooking, and she keeps cooking while Alia is standing behind her. But it doesn’t feel like she is ignoring Alia, more like she is so uncomfortable with her that she needs something to do with her hands. Alia has a hard time talking to her mother at all, and her mother has a hard time not talking, or feeding, or doing SOMETHING when she is with Alia.
Alia forces herself to ask if her mother knows where “Shiera” is. Her mother says “who, what?” And Alia immediately goes on the defensive “My doll! The one you gave me for my birthday!” Her mother is still moving quickly, the camera is situated over the sink area, so we can see her mother’s face as she works and Alia hiding behind her, but they can’t see each other. And her mother dominates the screen, moving briskly around using all the space of the foreground, while Alia is huddled back in the frame, and barely allowing herself into the room.
Her mother finally turns and says “Well, it must be somewhere, in the store room maybe.” And then she holds out a plate and tells Alia to taste it, it’s “Binko” (I think), her brother’s favorite dessert. And she must have seen Alia’s face because she quickly adds, “And I am making coconut laddoo for you! Your favorite! See, I didn’t forget.” And Alia bursts out, “you just want to make me fat!” and runs out of the room.
Oh, that hurts so much! That whole scene. With Alia reaching out for proof that her mother loves her, remembers her childhood, cares about the “Kiera-Shiera” inside. And instead learning that her mother has lost “Shiera”, doesn’t even care enough to know where it is.
And her mother reaching out with the most basic mother urge, to provide sustenance. The simplest and easiest way to show love to a child. And being constantly rejected, even when she tries her best. That “eat something-I don’t want to be fat!” argument, that’s a parenial one for all mothers and daughters from all places. Or else the reverse, mother says “don’t eat something”, daughter does. But it’s almost always food, the first bond between mother and child, and the most powerful weapon.
And that “you just want to make me fat”, I am just realizing as I write it out, that is a very teenage response. Really, the way Alia is playing this whole scene is like a teenager. Leaning against the door, playing with magnets, being snarky to her mom. And her mom is reacting like a teenagers mother. Being dismissive, and at the same time trying too hard. Not able to understand what is happening in her child’s head.
Another way to look at the structure of this movie, at least the way Alia’s scenes with her parents go, is her regression. She starts out as “Kiera”, cool and detached and witty grown-up Kiera. Now she is regressing back to “Koko” in this scene, difficult “Koko” from high school and middle-school the one Jackie and Fatty first met. And later, in the grand finale, she will have a massive breakdown as “Kiera-Shiera”.
But no matter how you watch it, it is just heartbreaking! Her mother is trying so hard to reach out, and (for reasons we don’t yet know) Alia is too hurt to let her in. Although we do get a sense that the hurt must be justified, because the mother’s efforts, something about her voice and her face is telling us, seem driven by agonizing guilt.
And then, to cheer us up, a light scene! In every way, brightly lit and happy content. Alia is at a bar with Jackie, telling her how her mother doesn’t even know where the doll is. And Jackie cheers her up by suggesting the toast Shiera “wherever she is”. And as they toast, music! And, Ali Zafar.
Now, I have seen this movie with 4 separate women friends. And all of them, plus me, saw Ali show up onscreen and immediately went “sleep with him, don’t talk to him.” Something about the neck tattoo, the guitar, the smarmy smile, he just screams “vacation fling”, not “relationship material”.
Also, I realized, this is the 3rd time I have seen Ali play a character who thinks he is cooler than he is. Not “bad” guys, just sort of funny smarmy guys. Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive, and now this. I wonder if his a James Marsden actor? Someone who really should be playing comic roles, but is too handsome to usually be cast in them. Anyway, he’s great here!
And his song is pretty good too! Catchy, nice light sound to it. And he does that thing where he maneuvers around the room flirting with all the women, but always keeping his eyes back to Alia. Not quite sure what he is supposed to see in her, maybe just that she isn’t interested, unlike all the other women. She also isn’t a European tourist in dreadlocks and/or a bindi, also like all the other women there. Blech! Never let me be those people when I am in India!
Oh, and I noticed on my third time, in the background while he is flirting with Alia and she is pretending to ignore him, we see Jackie talking to some other guy, getting a drink with him, being animated. But it’s way in the background, like you aren’t supposed to see it until the 3rd viewing. It’s just there to provide depth to the characters, to show that everyone has something going on while Alia is dealing with her thing.
And her “thing” in this scene is definitely Ali Zafar! He finishes singing and makes his way over to talk to her. Thank goodness, Jackie is there to help break the ice! She whole-heartedly compliments him on his singing, makes sure he knows that they are having a girls night (no boyfriends in the way), and then quickly gets out once Alia and he start vibing. And, the real sacrifice, when the guy she was talking to in the background comes up and says that Ali “killed”, she joins the other two in making fun of his uncool awkwardness. Aw! Jackie! You liked bar guy! Why are you giving in to peer pressure?
Ali, meanwhile, continues to exactly nail that guy who is just a bit too much. He is a bit too “cool, cool” in how he is talking, he is a bit too serious about his music, and his name is Rumi! No one is actually named “Rumi”, that’s the cool nickname you give yourself when you decide to be a permanent poet/musician/hippie in Goa.
But Alia is into it, which we can tell when she suddenly drops her wine-glass and he catches it. Another recurring motif! Alia gets clumsy when she likes a guy. But not all the guys are there to support her. Right in the first section, she talked to Kunal, and then almost knocked over the entire camera/lighting set-up with her purse. While Kunal was in the background, not even noticing. This time, she drops her wine-glass (a smaller reaction), but Ali is there for her, and catches it. They have good rhythm, he is supportive and helpful, she is interested, this is great!
And then he invites her, in Italien (oh yeah, he’s “that” guy, the one who thinks he is cool because he says things in other languages), to come hang out with him on the beach. And she goes. And it is all magical, a fire circle and he is helping her to strum his guitar while he sings, and then the kiss, and it is perfect! If only he weren’t, you know, “that” guy.