No, I think it was definitely better. Boys and Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana did a great job of capturing how love can strike suddenly and without explanation when you are very young. Happy did a nice job of showing how two people can grow to care for each other simply through propinquity. But this movie hits that sweet spot of two people who are really made for each other, who help each other grow and change into better people.
(Although Boys had the best music.)
I did a whole blog post about this type of film a while back, using DDLJ as a prime example. They are kind of like the American rom-coms, where the hero and heroine spark off each other because they are so different, and they fight and fight until they realize they are in love (Two Weeks Notice, Something’s Got to Give, Houseboat, Bringing Up Baby and basically anything else by Howard Hawks). These are fun stories to watch, because they thrive on character. Instead of the usual bland cookie cutter perfect hero and heroine, we get ones with exaggerated treats that, oddly, make them for more “real” than the usual perfectly perfect hero and heroine. Plus, the chemistry between the leads is always better when there is some difference built in for them to spark about.
But the little added feature you get in Indian films, is that often the hero and heroine are so young, their “differences” are more like “traits they need to outgrow”. And those little “sparks” between them serve to accelerate that growth. That’s what we saw in DDLJ as Shahrukh made Kajol more carefree and she made him more responsible. Same in Socha Na Tha. In Jab We Met it was the reverse, Kareena taught Shahid how to loosen up a little and let himself be happy, and he returned the favor by teaching her how to get over a broken heart. That’s also what we get in this film, Siddharth and Genelia both need to grow up a little, and their interactions help that process along.
Before I watched this movie, someone in the comments warned me that it was more about parental relationships than just a love story. And that’s true too. Siddharth’s relationship with Prakash and, to a lessor degree, Genelia’s with her father needed to change. And the children needed to be the ones to force that change. So there is kind of a 3 step process to the plot. Boy and Girl meet and fall in love. Boy and Girl change because of their love story. This change forces Boy and Girl to change their relationship with their families. The American love stories usually stop after the “fall in love” point. But it’s much more interesting to get a little glimpse of what comes after the love story.
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I don’t know if this was on purpose or just a coincidence of how the film was structured, but it takes a little bit to realize just how “different” our hero is. We start with him flagging down a two-wheeler to ask for a ride, wearing hip modern clothes and carrying a backpack, he seems just like any other young rom-com hero. And he still seems like that even as he starts telling his story and we get a flashback about how his father always gives him more than he asks for, instead of what he wants. He wants a bike, he gets a motorcycle. He wants a cool t-shirt, he gets a fancy button down in the latest style, and so on and so on. Okay, whatever, young man rebelling against his father is nothing terribly new.
But then the flashback continues and we see him with his friends complaining about he always thought there would be two things in his life that he could control, his career and his choice of wife. And now it is nearing the deadline his father set him and he hasn’t found either of them. Again, not THAT unusual. But then his friends (male and female) joke with him, pointing out that they have all already made love matches and he hasn’t done anything. Okay, that’s a little different!
But it doesn’t really click until after his first meet cute with the heroine when he is trying to track her down on her college campus (which used to be his college campus) and we hear the principal talking about how Siddharth was the best student, never looked at girls, never skipped class, always did his homework. And then it clicks!
Siddharth is a goodie two shoes! A nice one, with nice friends, and a sense of humor, and an understanding of why his life is like this. And no judgement for others (if anything, jealousy for how they live their life). But still very much not the flirting rebel we are used to from our film heroes. Instead of living his life like he wants, he has been living the life his father wants, and existing on small rebellions like getting drunk with his friends and secretly planning to start his own business. Really, everything he does is secret. He has his secret dreams and his secret life and soon he has his secret love. But he puts on an act of not wanting any of those things, of being happy with his restricted life as his father’s son.
And then there’s Genelia. Who has NO secrets. Who holds nothing of herself back. Which sounds good, but it brings up its own set of problems. She runs into dangerous situations with no fear, she shares secrets that can get her into trouble, and she argues with her father when he tries to stop any of this behavior.
And this is why they are so good for each other! It’s not just that their behavior rubs off on each other, it’s that Genelia needs someone to protect her, and someone who teachers her to be afraid. And Siddharth needs someone to protect, to teach him to be strong and fearless and take the lead.
Sure, their first spark is all about how their behavior is complimentary. Siddharth is such a natural follower, that he needs a girl who will make the first move when they meet, who will invite him to have coffee with her on the other side of the city, who will immediately exchange phone numbers and suggest outings. And Genelia is so talkative and pushy, most boys might not put up with it. That’s one of the things she likes about Siddharth, that he mentions those traits as things he likes, not things he wants to change.
But then as time goes on, he does start to change her and vice versa. Siddharth, who never did anything wrong before, sneaks out of his house in the middle of the night to make sure she is safe when she gets a late night urge for street corner ice cream. He lies to his father about where he is going, he plays tricks with the phone to be able to talk to her. That’s all great, she is teaching him to be fearless.
But what is really noticeable is when she teaches him to be angry. That sounds like a bad thing, but it is a skill he needed to learn. His father had always fought his battles for him, Siddharth had no training in how to stand up for himself. But he cares about Genelia too much, and her behavior is too dangerous, for him to just stand by. When a classmate is aggressively disrespectful to her, he thrashes him. When she suggests something dangerous like going out late at night, he yells at her not to do that. Even when he finds out she has been gossiping about their relationship, something that isn’t strictly dangerous but which makes him unhappy, he stands up for himself and demands that she stop.
And Genelia changes too. It’s harder to see, because most of the film is from Siddharth’s perspective, not hers. We know how Siddharth feels because we see him with his friends telling them how he feels. With Genelia there is a little more guesswork. But besides seeing how immediately friendly she is with Siddharth (something she seems willing to do with any person she meets), we see how apologetic she is the first time she fails to show up for one of their dates. And how sad and scared she is when he yells at her. A level of concern for someone else’s feelings, and fear of their anger, that we have not seen her have even with her own father. Not that it is great for a woman to be afraid of her romantic partner, but it is good for this particular character, who has rushed headlong into danger over and over again, to have someone who is capable of holding her back.
Going back to that scene where Siddharth beats up the boys. Genelia tells him not to, tells him that they are her “friends”, it is okay. And that seemed a little odd to me at that moment, because what they were saying wasn’t really “friendly”, and her face didn’t look like she was taking it as just a joke. Much later in the film, she describes the fight to Siddharth’s family and acknowledges that they were teasing her and that now they call her “sister” and are very respectful. So Siddharth was right! And Genelia was in denial. She saw the whole world as her friend, to the point of ignoring her own feelings about how she was being treated and just accepting whatever happened. She needed someone to stand up and take care of her and remind her that she is worthy of being taken care of.
Again, we don’t get as much time with Genelia, but it’s not a huge leap to consider that growing up as an only child in a single-parent home made her lonely and more eager for friendships outside the home. And that her father’s struggles to relate to her, his over-protectiveness when he was home combined with absences when he was at work, made her extra firm in telling him not to worry, and in denying to herself that he had anything to worry about. And therefore the resolution she needed was to learn to respect her father’s concerns and the way her actions could affect others.
See, this is the lovely second movement of the love story that you don’t get in American movies! In an American movie, it would have ended after these two different people met and spent time together, and had a few fights, and then confessed their love. But since it is an Indian movie, the love story isn’t just about falling in love, it is about growing up and how love is part of that process.
I suppose this is kind of the “hook” of the film, that after they all in love, Siddharth talks to his father and convinces him to let Genelia come live with their family for 7 days to see if she wins them over. It’s kind of an unusual idea, not the “living with the family and winning them over” part (that’s in every other movie), but that the son would be brave enough to ask for this and the father would be willing to give it.
But this is also the part that I kind of found the least interesting. I liked Siddharth and Prakash, and I liked Siddharth with Genelia, but the rest of the family I found kind of boring. Sure, she wins them over, more or less (mostly by telling them stories about Siddharth), but it wasn’t very exciting.
But, TWIST! It wasn’t supposed to be exciting! It was never about Genelia getting to know the family or vice versa. It was about Genelia seeing how different Siddharth is with his family. After the fairly quick 7 day period we see covered in the film, there is a big confrontation scene in which we are primed for Prakash to issue his decision and for Siddharth to decide if he will stand up to it or not. But instead Genelia pops in and declares the whole thing moot because she doesn’t want to marry Siddharth any more!
Which makes the last segment fall in to place and explains why all the conversations between Genelia and Siddharth felt more exciting than anything else going on. Because they were exciting! Those were the scenes that would actually have an effect on the narrative.
Earlier, we saw how good it was that they were changing each other. But now we are seeing how they have changed to much. Siddharth is turning into a tyrant, constantly yelling at Genelia for mistakes she isn’t even aware she is making. And Genelia is turning into a doormat, constantly apologizing and trying to change herself. Once the love story entered the family home, the pressure was just too great and they lost track of themselves.
Which is where the Prakash Raj piece ties in. I love how clear the film was that he was an indulgent dictator. He really did just want the best for his family, and was inordinately proud of giving it to them. And, as I was just mentioning in my post on 3 Idiots, this is a good thing when your children are small! Children are stupid, they truly don’t know what is good for them. But you have to find the point at which that is no longer true and let them go out and make their own choices and their own mistakes.
But his love and effort to do the best for them has been twisted until he can no longer tell when he has gone too far. And the same thing is happening with Genelia and Siddharth. Genelia is trying her best to please him and it is turning her into a different person, because she thinks that is what he needs. Siddharth is doing the same thing, yelling at her and declaring that it is best for her to be a certain way. But Siddharth is more stubborn about it, because he has been raised by Prakash, and so he refuses to give up and admit he is in the wrong and this isn’t working. But Genelia can.
What is really interesting is how the ending of the two main characters is directly opposite. Siddharth, after Genelia leaves, finally stands up to his father for the first time, tells him that he isn’t happy and he needs to be free to make his own choices. But Genelia tells her father that she made a mistake and she will no longer make her own choices, but follow his. By seeing the poor choices of another father, she is finally able to appreciate and respect the decisions of her own.
But even if the decisions and wishes are respected, that doesn’t mean you just give up and blindly follow them. That’s what makes Siddharth so different from other heroes, and his father so different from other filmi fathers. He never for a moment stops caring about his father’s happiness, never sees him as some enemy to be overcome. And his father never stops caring about his happiness either, never gets stuck on family honor or any other outside force that might effect his actions.
The best song of the movie, I think, is the wedding song. Well, the whole wedding sequence. Remember how way back towards the beginning we learned that all his friend group had love marriages? I never really thought about how that might have played out, if their parents objected, but then we learn about it here, at the wedding of his last friend. The fathers shake their heads over how they feel railroaded into this, their feelings not even considered, the son just brought home this girl and declared he would kill himself if he couldn’t marry her.
And then, on the other side of the temple, the young people are talking about how old people never give them a chance, they just object to any love match just because it is love. And, okay, the visual is a little one the nose, Siddharth standing out in a white shirt on the sons’ side and Prakash on the fathers’ side. But I like the message, that there are plenty of love marriages, but usually they are accomplished with anger and resentment on both sides. Siddharth needs to appreciate that his father is giving him a chance, and Prakash needs to appreciate that Siddharth is giving him one as well.
And then the song just drives it home. There are two repeated visuals that are just delightful. First, the young people dance together as a group, then leap up and throw handfuls of marigold petals in the air, which then fall down on them. Essentially, they are blessing themselves. Right? Marigold petals are the thing you throw on the bride and groom? But they don’t need anyone else to give them permission or blessings, they are doing it for themselves.
And secondly, while the young people are dancing, the camera constantly has an obstructed view as older guests solemnly walk back and forth in front of it. This is the disconnect, the young people dancing and celebrating while the old people can’t even hear that music.
The “happy ending” of the song is the same as the “happy ending” of the film, Genelia dragging Siddharth’s mother in to sing with them, and the song changing into something everyone can enjoy. In the same way, Genelia’s father and Siddharth’s father are invited to be a part of their love story and, eventually, find joy in that.