I took a couple days off, because I had to go see Raees again which killed 5 hours (travel to the theater and back plus trailers), which was also my 5 hours when I could have been writing recaps. But now I am back! And hoping to get well into Shahrukh and Nawazuddin’s first mental duel. (part 1 here and part 2 here)
I ended the last section with the introduction of Mahira, Shahrukh’s love interest. It was an interesting intro, because we didn’t really get a “first meeting” or anything like that. We were just dropped into their already established relationship. But the more I think about it, the better it works for me, because this whole movie we have been dropped into Shahrukh’s already established life. And I think that is on purpose, I just read Baradwaj Rangan’s review and he complains that there is no “Mere Baap Chor Hai” moment, no one thing that turns Shahrukh’s character to crime.
But I think that is the point. There is no one thing that makes him a criminal, or makes him fall in love with Mahira, or be best friends with Saqib, or any of it. He was born and lived his whole life in one small place. There is no beginning and no end in that kind of life. He is a bootlegger because it’s what everyone does, it’s what he was raised in. He is in love with Mahira because she is there and he is there and what else would happen? His whole life was defined from the start, all the way through to the end. In this world, there just are no other options.
But you know who does have options? Nawazuddin! He is within a regimented system as well, he can be transferred, he can be ordered to do things he doesn’t want to do, but ultimately he has all the power while Shahrukh has known. It may not appear that way at the start, but that’s how it is at the end.
The other thing about Nawazuddin is that he doesn’t care about trying to fit in with the people around him. While Shahrukh is all about being part of his community and trying to lift it up with him, and working within the existing structures to try to accomplish that, Nawazuddin is all about shaking things up and following the rules without regard to the people.
Which is what this scene shows, in direct contrast to the warm and familiar world of Shahrukh, Nawazuddin is at his new posting in the police station at Fatehpura. And he is painstakingly reading through the law books on prohibition while outside his office, the female constable snores and snaps awake, and a male constable is so bored he is painting his fingernails (I really like that touch). Finally, Nawazuddin snaps the book closed and strides out into the office, and everyone snaps to attention. Nawazuddin is too cool for that though, he still speaks on a casual almost drawl, and then mentions like he almost forgot to bring it up until just now, “Oh, can you organize some ice, glasses, and fixings?” (the subtitles say fixings, I’m guessing it’s something similar in Hindi, which doesn’t explicitly say “alcohol” but we all know what it means). And then Nawazuddin stops and corrects himself “never mind, it will be too hard to organize.”
His eager to please sergeant immediately says that, not at all, he can easily organize it. Nawazuddin is pleased, and asks him to pull out a paper and a pen and write something down. What? Either his resignation letter, or all the alcohol depots for all the main players, Atul Kulkarni, someone else, and that new guy—Shahrukh.
When I was watching this scene, I saw this coming a mile away. Not because I am a brilliant intuitive movie watcher (although I am!), but because it is almost exactly what Aamir did in Talaash in a similar situation. New commander of a precinct, he asked if anyone could leak something to the press for him. Then suggested it might be too hard for them. And, once he had given them rope to hang themselves, brought down the hammer and told them that no press leaks of any kind would be tolerated.
(also, Aamir’s mustache was better)
But now, thinking about it, I am more struck by the differences than the similarities. Aamir played the scene as though he got no particular pleasure from what he was doing. It was necessary to set a tone for this very public case so that no more leaks would occur, so he used a shortcut in order to reveal how likely a leak would be, and convey the seriousness of his order against it. It was an egoless act, just part of his job as leader. And was calculated to provide exactly enough punishment to make sure no slips occurred, but not to cause fear or embarrassment.
In contrast, Nawazuddin seems to be trying to create as much fear of himself and dislike and misery on the part of his underlings as possible. He is getting enjoyment out of his mastery of them, out of how he is controlling the situation to get what he wants. And it makes me think back to his introductory scene. In two ways, first how he was kind of cruel and delighted in his cruelness with those he had to arrest. And second, how he clearly had a large squad who were along with him and blindly following his orders. Which seemed odd for such a loner as he was. But maybe he had terrorized them so much, in his own way, that they were ready to do anything in order to avoid his wrath.
Oh, and one final thing, notice that Shahrukh is barely noticed in his list of local suppliers. Shahrukh isn’t that powerful and isn’t that interesting to him either. At least, not at this point.
And then we see them take the truck that his constable arranged for them to find. Which is kind of funny, because they are so confused by the idea of the police actually arresting them instead of just going along with the trade. And then Nawazuddin declares they will have a party, and we get that awesome steamroller over the bottles shot from the trailer. And then a quick shot of Atul fuming over it all.
And then Shahrukh reading about it in the newspaper while his friends talk it over. I like it that we know Shahrukh is literate. This is not some uneducated “street smart” thug. More importantly, this is not a community where children are unloved and uncared for. Shahrukh and his friends, poor boys in a poor neighborhood, were still given an education and cared for. Going back to the whole glasses story, it’s a story of people coming together and caring. They may be poor, they may be a religious minority, but they are doing their best.
Oh right, and everyone is talking about how Atul lost a whole truck. And Sadiq makes the clever point “A sword is only looking for a neck”, as in, Nawazuddin could come after anyone of them next. It’s nice that Sadiq gets to make this point, and display not just his intelligence, but his mastery of words. Again, this is a community that has educated and cared for their children well.
While they are talking, a police officer pops up and tells Shahrukh he is wanted at the police station. And then cut to….Agneepath! The Amitabh one that is. Amitabh’s intro, one of the all time great intros for Amitabh and for heroes in general, is him slouched in a chair talking to a cop. In Zanjeer, he yelled at Pran that this is a police station, not his father’s house. But in Agneepath, Amitabh shows what it is like when a police station feels as comfortable as his father’s house. And that is the same effect Shahrukh gives here. He has no fear of Nawazuddin, and no worry about being in a police station. It is just something that he has to do and then he can go about the rest of his day. His attitude is kind of the same as mine when I am at the laundromat. It’s not home, it’s not pleasant, but I’m here often enough that I can settle in and make myself comfortable.
And because he is so relaxed, even when Nawazuddin “wins” by making Shahrukh talk first, he doesn’t really win. Shahrukh finally gets bored with the silence and leans forward with this great sort of casual shoulder hunch, like he wants to chat just to keep himself busy, but isn’t really invested in it, and asks if it is Nawazuddin’s photo in the paper. Nawazuddin says yes, it is. People tell him he is photogenic. It is a nice photo of him, by the way, and also a sign that Nawazuddin is a lot more interested in public appearances than Shahrukh. He may not mind being transferred over and over, but he likes having his name in the paper with a good photo.
And then he asks Shahrukh if he knows Atul. Yes, of course Shahrukh knows him, he used to work for him. What does he do now since he isn’t working for Atul any more? Business, Shahrukh does business. In the middle of this conversation, both of them kind of getting the measure of the other and seeing that they aren’t the kind to be scared of the police or subservient to a wealthy gangster, the phone rings. Nawazuddin takes down the information for a big delivery of Shahrukh’s while Shahrukh watches the chaiwallah split their tea in two cups. I’m not sure if Shahrukh is supposed to have heard the phone call, and if he did, if Nawazuddin wanted him to hear, if he had arranged this to try to scare Shahrukh off. But I am pretty sure, after seeing it three times, that Shahrukh doesn’t overhear and isn’t meant to. Instead, it is something about Nawazuddin’s attitude which tells him that his shipment is the next to get caught.
Which is why we see the next bit. Shahrukh telling his little story to his friends using the chai cups and pot. It’s interesting to watch, with the props and all, but it doesn’t feel like Shahrukh’s character is trying to put on a show, he is just trying to explain in the simplest way he can. He explains that the truck will arrive, and then will be unloaded onto 4 smaller vehicles. And sent on alone. And once he finishes his story, he tosses the teapot to Saqib who has to drop it because it is hot. Poor Saqib! Always stuck catching the hot stuff Shahrukh sticks him with.
And it works! The truck arrives at a crossroads, is unloaded, and sent on. Nawazuddin stops it at a police block, they look through it, and it is empty. And then the camera stays out of focus for slightly a long time as we look at Nawazuddin’s surprised face in the background. Before finally focusing in on the cup of chai in the foreground that Shahrukh left for him. And Nawazuddin chuckles, and calls for a tea break.
(and again, I start thinking of Andaz Apna Apna!)
Again, he is enjoying this whole thing a little too much. Enjoying terrorizing his employees, enjoying getting his photo in the paper, and enjoying the little mental duel with Shahrukh. But meanwhile, Shahrukh has a lot more going on in his life. Maybe he leaves the half cup of chai as a little sign, but that was just the frosting on the cake of successfully bringing in a load of liquor and providing funds for his friends and neighborhood. He has a broader vision.
And part of that broader vision is Mahira! I don’t remember quite where this scene falls, but I think it is here. Mahira is walking down the street, and a group of loafers are sitting on a step singing “Roop Tera” at her. She goes up to them and offers that she will slap them once and shut them up for life. And Shahrukh is in the background watching. Of course, we all know he is going to beat them up, but I love the way the director played with our expectations about it. First we see Mahira in the old Parsi doctor’s office, talking about how her father is getting sicker, and the doctor getting out his pad to write something. When Shahrukh pokes his head in to say his eyes are paining. The doctor promptly orders him out and raises a cane at him and Shahrukh excuses himself and backs out the door. It’s really sweet, the way the whole thing plays out. Pretending that he is afraid of the doctor, and obeying his rules, just like when he was a little boy. Instead of acting all tough and reminding them that he is the big goon of the area now. And also the way Mahira is a little amused by his pretended fear. She isn’t in love with his big goon act either, she likes the little boy too.
(By the way, “Roop Tera” is still the sexiest song ever)
After Mahira finishes, the doctor orders her to go out and bring in Shahrukh. She goes out to see him standing on the balcony slightly moving his head. It’s a bit odd, but kind of fits with his awkwardness, that maybe he is trying to get over his embarrassment by kind of moving around. She calls him in, saying his number is next, and he gives her a bit of flirty eyes, and she clarifies that the doctor is calling him, it’s the doctor who has his number. Shahrukh goes in, Mahira gets her medicines, and then as she walks away down the balcony, she glances out and sees that the 3 “Roop Tera” guys from earlier are doing squats below. That’s what Shahrukh’s little head nod was, directing them in going up and down.
And then Uttrayan!!! That is, Kite Flying Festival! With fighter kites, you know, where you try to cut the string of the other kite. I feel the need to mention this because it’s not really a thing in America, even though it is in lots of other countries. And knowing that is kind of important to this particular sequence.
Shahrukh is controlling the kite, using the string to move it back and forth, while one of his followers is holding the spool and moving around behind him. Atul and guy-whose-name-I-didn’t-catch have come to see him. They are complaining about Nawazuddin, how they need to join together against him. And Shahrukh’s response is to agree that there should be a syndicate. But he will only join if he is allowed to lead it. Atul looks surprised. Shahrukh laughs, mentions that they have been friends for a long time, and so he will give him…..three weeks. Three weeks to make his decision. And to keep time, he tosses him the same watch Atul had given him back when he gave him only 3 days. And Shahrukh repeats the same words, that “time is going”.
And I finally realized what this scene reminded me of! Jodha-Akbar! Remember the first time Aishwarya’s father comes to meet Akbar? He is all dressed up in jewels and turban. and Akbar is in casual dhoti and vest. But he is riding on top of the elephant he just tamed himself. This is the difference between power you inherit and power you earn. Akbar had no time for the fancy tripperies of ruling, because he was too busy actually doing things. In the same way, while Atul and guy-whose-name-I-didn’t-catch are more nicely dressed and look cool and comfortable standing there, Shahrukh is always moving, always talking, attacking and enjoying and moving forward in life, even if all he is doing is flying kites. He may not have any of the inherited power of the others, but his power comes from within himself and his own abilities, which makes it that much more potent.
Oh, and then the sexy bit. Shahrukh has won his kite duel and broken the string. He celebrates with his friends, but then they start to laugh behind his back. He turns to see what is so funny, and they tell him “You cut the wrong kite!” And he sees Mahira standing with a group of girls and a broken string, looking upset. He looks at them, and then takes the string of his own kite in his mouth (which, coincidentally, shows off how full his lips are), and with a little pop of the teeth, breaks his own string and his kite goes flying into the air.
One thing I want to point out about this little bit. Well, two things. First, notice that Mahira was the one holding the string, not the spool, for her group as well. Both she and Shahrukh are natural leaders. And notice how quickly Shahrukh changed from business to romance. And it didn’t feel like a big change, it felt like this is his life, romance and business and kite fighting, it’s all just part of the community he lives in, all at once.
And then song! It’s a sweet love song, and as I mentioned in my full SPOILER review, it also feels very boy and girl who grew up together. There’s no shyness in their interactions, no hesitation. They know each other too well for that.
While the song is nice, it is also the most confusing timeline part of the film. Shahrukh clearly gave a 3 week deadline. And now we are seeing him and Mahira celebrate all sorts of festivals and even getting married, and the whole 3 weeks have somehow slipped away somewhere.
While the timeline may be confusing, there is a really nice edit at the end of the song that helps in clarifying the connection between Nawazuddin and Shahrukh. We go straight from Shahrukh’s wedding to a groom in a police line-up. And this is the first sign that Nawazuddin is a little unfair in his attitude to Shahrukh. His constables have rounded up informers from all over. But as soon as Nawazuddin learns that the groom is from Shahrukh’s area, he is quick to pick him and drag him into his office first. Even though Shahrukh is less powerful than the others. Just because there is something about him that makes Nawazuddin want to get him, once and for all.
And it is this eagerness that drives Shahrukh to ultimately become the most powerful. The groom (by the way, super clever thing with the 3 “Kabuls” making him an informer instead of a groom) calls up Nawazuddin to tell him that Shahrukh has a big shipment coming in, if they can stop it, he will be out of business. And Nawazuddin immediately throws up roadblocks all over the state. We see Shahrukh sitting on the back of his motorbike, flipping a matchbook into a bowl while Saqib paces in the background, worried about how they will get their shipment in, if they can’t get it through, they will drown. And Shahrukh says no, they won’t drown, they will float. And right before the cut, we zoom in on the match book Shahrukh has been playing with, to see that they are “Ship” brand matches. Okay, that was a cool cut.
(Hey! It’s a real brand! That’s cool.)
And then we see the point of a tattoo needle as it taps against someone’s neck, adding on to the small star, one of many on his neck. Is there some significance to this I am missing? It is just such a strangely specific thing to focus on in the introduction. And then we pull back to see this is a Rajasthani. And I am guessing kind of an extreme and low class Rajasthani from the signifiers? Did I read that right? And therefore someone who can relate better to Shahrukh, with his willingness to accept everyone and care for his people, than to the police or the more high class gangsters. He agrees to talk the alcohol by sea, and he and Shahrukh embrace.
And then we see Nawazuddin, struggling with a confusing roadblock on a bridge, while Shahrukh and Saqib sail through underneath. Pausing to turn back and signal their pride to him with that little hand gesture of upraised arms and fists, that I think is kind of the equivalent of the middle-finger in America? Yes?
We go from this casual friendly earthy moment to something different, Atul standing alone in his fancy stained glass house. One of his informers runs up to him and tells him that Shahrukh has now joined hands with the Rajasthani. He is getting too powerful. Should they call “Salim Shooter”? Yes, they should.
Okay, that’s it! Shorter than my last few posts on Raees, but I covered a lot more ground (I think?).