In the first 3 sections, I covered Shahrukh’s rise from a small boy raised in a loving community in the poor side of a larger city, to a top bootlegger of the area. He stayed in touch with his roots, still visiting his childhood doctor and falling in love with and marrying a girl from the neighborhood. Even still living in his childhood house. But at the same time, he is becoming more and more powerful as his outside the box thinking leads to greater success of his bootlegging rivals. Specifically, it is his outside the box thinking in response to the pressure put on him by Nawazuddin Shah, a cop who seems to take a strange enjoyment in enforcing the rules, even rules that make no sense, like prohibition.
Now, Shahrukh has joined with “Damla Seth”, a Rajasthani (I think) smuggler who is helping him bring in new shipments of liquor by water. This new alliance alarms Atul Kulkarni, the older established bootlegger who was the first one to spot Shahrukh’s potential and encourage him as a child. Shahrukh made the first move by breaking off on his own, and ever since then, their relationship has been tense. Hearing that Shahrukh now has a powerful ally outside of the state makes Atul decide that it is time to call “Salim Shooter”.
(This is my highly educated and sophisticated way of identifying characters as potentially Rajasthani. If they have a funny looking turban like this, Rajasthan!)
One thing that just struck me is that both Atul’s character and the Rajasthani smuggler have the last name “Seth”. I assume that is a title or cast related name (because they all are), which means Shahrukh is also now aligning himself firmly on Atul’s level. Maybe not in terms of class, Damla is clearly a little more gritty and rural than Atul, but in terms of caste and the levels of society, Shahrukh is now moving outside of his own little neighborhood. And possibly that, as much as anything else, is what makes Atul decide that it is time to take him out. And, just to make this movie as Muslim as possible, they are doing it at Muharram.
Random additional information: Muharram is a Shiia holiday. It commemorates the death and suffering of Husayn ibn Ali (Mohammed’s grandson) and his followers. More specifically, it commemorates the grief of this death. While it is technically a holiday more for Shiias than for Sunnis, Sunnis celebrate it as well, especially in South Asia.
I guess in other religions a similar holiday might be Ash Wednesday or Passover. A day set aside for remembering and celebrating the survival of past suffering. But Muharram goes a little further than these other religions, it is an intense spiritual kind of torture, truly feeling all the pain and fear and suffering of those in the past (it was a terrible event, a small group isolated on the dessert, cut off from food and water, and slowly picked off, the survivors marched away as slaves). Processions in which the names of the dead are called out and mourned, and young men strip to the waist and beat themselves with chains to feel the pain of the loss are part of the standard celebration.
I find it interesting that Muharram was chosen for this film, both here and in the “adult Shahrukh” introduction scene. Like Ash Wednesday or Passover, this is not the “family friendly” or “all inclusive” kind of holiday (that would be Easter or Hannukah). This is a holiday that doesn’t get the TV specials or the children’s book treatment, it is only for people who are truly living the religion, not for outsiders who are interested in a generic experience. A clear stamp that this is not going to be a “secular” version of Islam, this is going to be Muslim all the way through.
And secondly, if Muharram is the theme of the film, that tells us right away that it is going to be about a man who does all he can for his followers, who lives his life as best he can, who fights as hard as he can, but who ultimately is remembered more for his sorrow and sacrifice than for his successes. And that there is value in this kind of story, value in the sorrow and the losses and the small sad lives, along with the big triumphs.
Okay, back to what we are actually seeing onscreen! Shahrukh is part of the procession, beating their chests and calling out the names of the dead. Up on a rooftop, Salim Shooter has him in his sights. But when he looks away and back, suddenly Shahrukh is gone! He has moved forward slightly and pulled out the chains he would use on his back, and instead is preparing to throw them and knock off the aim of the shooter.
Again, fascinating use of this festival! Shahrukh is protected by it, by the anonymous black clad crowd into which he disappears, by the banners that temporarily obscure him, by the chains he is carrying. His religion and his community are his strength and his protection.
Oh, and then chase scene. Chase Chase Chase. Fight Fight Fight. Don’t really have much to say about this, except for two moments. First, at one point Shahrukh is about to jump from building to building. And it really looks like he will be gracefully landing on a balcony. But instead he crashes through a glass door, landing on glass and cutting himself. This could just be an issue with eyeline matches getting messed up, but it also kind of feels like it could be thematic, this character has never had the easy way, of course he can’t just leap building to building, it has to be a big painful crash. And second, there is a moment when the bad guy is running down covered stairs and Shahukh leaps down onto the roof above the stairs, and then falls, and catches himself on the roof railing and swings in. And I am almost positive the exact same move was in Fan, which makes me wonder if Red Chillies was just being a little cheap and re-using some of the chase footage.
(Here is the chase scene in dolls. I continue to find this Paige Wilson’s dedication impressive, and the end results terrifying)
The end of the chase is the most powerful part of it. They end up on the back of a truck, fighting hand to hand, and Shahrukh hits him with wrench and he falls off the truck. And a group of anonymous black clad figures suddenly appear from no where and grab Salim Shooters body off the ground and pull him away. And then we cut to Shahrukh standing on the back of the truck holding a bloody wrench.
Remember how back two sections ago, Saqib said that they don’t kill, but Shahrukh said that they wouldn’t kill if they had no quarrel with someone? Yeah, this is kind of a big moment. It all happened so fast, the chase and the fight, and then those figures pulling the body away before Shahrukh even says anything to them. And he is standing there with his bloody wrench. We never learn if Salim Shooter was killed by the blow to the head, or if he was shot after he was taken away. We never see Shahrukh or his friends talk about what just happened. They crossed a line, but in the heat of the moment without thinking, just leaping forward all together.
After the chase, we go straight to Shahrukh, looking realistically banged up with bruises and cuts, and his friends playing Carom in their little courtyard. By the way, while I am thinking about it, remember when Shahrukh went to visit Atul to ask to start his own business? Atul was playing cards with sexy ladies on the back in a fancy in door room with plenty of drink to pass around. Now Shahrukh has reached that point, he could do that, but he prefers to play Carom in the same courtyard where he grew up. A different kind of gangster.
Nawazuddin has arrived to interrupt the game. He announces that they found the body of Salim Shooter, and everyone looks carefully uninterested. And then Nawazuddin sits down and grabs one of the pieces while everyone continues to be stone-faced. He explains that he is going to take out Shahrukh’s piece. And then, as he knocks all the pieces on the board into their holes, he names them after Shahrukh’s gang. And finally, knocks out “Saqib, your cover” and then “You”. And he has Shahrukh stand to be arrested. Again, Nawazuddin goes for the kind of showboaty behavior that just makes people feel bad and isn’t really necessary to get the job done.
Musa, in some anonymous room in Bombay, gets the word that Shahrukh has been arrested. This is the first time we get a sense that Musa is vaguely tracking Shahrukh’s progress. It’s not the top thing on his to-do list, but it’s on there. And when he hears that Shahrukh is arrested, he picks up the phone and calls his assistant, the pockmarked man. He is getting his legs massaged, and when Musa asks if “Raja” is there, he glances at the guy massaging, who must be “Raja” and says yes. Cut to the the same Raja sitting in the office with Nawazuddin’s big boss. This is the first time we are meeting the boss, by the way, and he looks kind of white. Which I don’t think has any particular significance, it’s just how the actor looks and he is the person they hired for the role. Just want to mention it in case you noticed it, like I did, and wondered about it.
Nawazuddin’s big boss tells Nawazuddin that he has to let Shahrukh go. Because this man has just confessed to being the killer, all by himself. Nawazuddin starts to take out his pen, and the big boss says they don’t need it, they already have the confession in writing. And Nawazuddin is set back on his heels and has to agree to let Shahrukh out.
I think we cut right from here to Shahrukh cooking. SO HOT!!!! A man cooking dinner for his wife! He is stirring on the stove and squeezing in lemon, and Mahira is watching, and sort of awkwardly asks “What did you call your Father?” Shahrukh isn’t getting it, and says sort of irritated “Auntie. What did you think? I called my Father ‘Father’, of course.” Mahira gets mad and walks away. Shahrukh picks up a spoonful of food and walks it over to feed to her to try to make up and Mahira asks “How would you feel if someone called you ‘Father’?” Shahrukh still isn’t getting it and just says “Why would anyone call me father?” And then, finally, gets it.
(Okay, cooking may not be sexy in Duplicate. But that is the only exception!)
Big smile, and he picks up Mahira by the knees, lifting her all the way over his head. Before finally lowering her by degrees and he spins until she is in his arms. Which is when the phone rings. Love this little scene, by the way. We don’t get many moments of the Shahrukh-Mahira married life, but they all kind of feel like this, and like their courtship scenes as well. This isn’t every important moment of their life, or even every moment of their life, but they are a few representative moments of a life that goes on and on even while the audience isn’t watching. Shahrukh goes home and cooks dinner, they fight, he picks her up, stuff happens.
Oh, and he has her pick up the phone, of course it’s for him. And it’s Musa. To tell him they found out who hired Salim Shooter. It was Atul, and Musa says “I give him to you”. And then hangs up. And Mahira can see something is wrong, she is asking Shahrukh “who was that?” and he can’t meet her eyes.
I mentioned in my SPOILER review how it kind of feels like Musa has been grooming Shahrukh, and this is part of it. And I am sticking with that. Musa is the one giving him this information, and telling him that it is up to him to handle it. It’s kind of a responsibility backflip. Shahrukh ends up with all the weight and guilt of taking Atul out. But with none of the control over it. Musa is “giving” him the job of doing it, with a strong implication that if Shahrukh lets this go, he will lose Musa’s support in future. And if Shahrukh does go through it it, then Musa has a killer on his side, a killer who is tied even more firmly to him by their collaboration with these actions.
And, song! It’s kind of an inserted item song. But it also fits with the general idea of Atul versus Shahrukh. When the trailer was released, I talked about how it felt kind of old school in that our hero was so clearly not interested in the item girl or the dancing around him. And that is even more the case seeing it in context. Shahrukh comes from a land of darkness and danger and only really trusting and letting go in front of those you have known your entire life. This place of strangers cheering and drinking and enjoying themselves together, there is completely “other” to him. And he is “other” to it.
The one thing I mentioned in my discussion of the trailer as feeling kind of “off” was that Shahrukh really does seem to be into the item girl a little, since he grabs at her hair when she drapes herself on him. Which isn’t very heroic. Only, now we know why he does that. And can I just say, PUMP UP THE BHANGRA!!!!
(Oh I hope this is included in the Netflix America package! All of America must glory in this beauty!)
Yes, he Ram-Jaane‘d her! Hid his weapon in her hair. And despite all of what my friend calls “haireography” in her dance, somehow this sharp little wooden hairpiece is still in place, when Shahrukh runs his fingers through her hair to find it. And just like in Ram-Jaane, I am not quite clear as to whether the dancing girl knew she was a plant, or if Shahrukh somehow snuck the weapon onto her head without her being aware, or if she just always goes around like that and somehow he figured it out.
The sexy song continues as Shahrukh goes in to see Atul with his hidden hair weapon in his hand. And the action sequence is just brutal, first he stabs a guy in the throat and takes his gun, then shoots two other guys, shoots some other people in the back, there’s blood everywhere, it’s not fancy and artistic, it’s more like going through a butcher shop.
In the little out of context glimpse we got in the trailer, I saw this as a toxic mixture of sex and violence, sort of glorifying a grindhouse effect. But it feels different to me in context. Like, Atul’s world is this sex and fun and glamour. But underneath it all, there is Shahrukh, fighting for his life, having his heart broken, bringing home to roost all the casual sins and cruelties that Atul has sent out from his ivory tower. In the end, when they are face to face and Shahrukh aims the gun at him, he’s not a demon come for vengeance or a killing machine, he is a man who has to do something he hates in order to protect himself and his people, not just from Atul who tried to kill him first, but from Musa, who will move in on their territory if he doesn’t see strength.
But there is a toll here. I like it that we get to see the aftermath, Shahrukh shaking over his bathroom sink with blood still on his face. And that the blood is still on his face, even earlier we saw him walk out of Atul’s place with blood on his face. This doesn’t feel like overly dramatic to me, it feels like he was in shock. And that the director wanted that gritty feel, that he didn’t get out of this fight untouched, that there was stains and dirt and all that got over him.
And I like how he interacts with Mahira. At first when we see her shocked face behind his in the mirror, I thought it would be a thing where she would yell at him or get scared of him or leave him. But when he turns and looks at her, suddenly it shifts. She’s not afraid of him, she’s afraid for him. And for them. Whatever he is going through, she is going through as well. They aren’t the “bad boy-good girl” kind of couple, they are a real married couple which means they are partners in everything, good or bad. And when he turns to look at her, we see that her fear is just part of his fear and his fear is part of hers and so on. He is just as afraid as she and the only solution is to cling together for a moment and try to find strength in each other.
Meanwhile, Nawazuddin is finding a lack of strength. He and his superior (the white looking guy) are at Atul’s night club looking at the aftermath. Nawazuddin wants to go after Shahrukh, but his boss blames him, since this happened on his watch. And instead tells him he is being transferred. INTERVAL
I thought this was just a good transition point for the year forward leap that comes post-interval. And it is that. But on watch 2 and 3, I also started thinking about the point where we leave both men. Nawazuddin has just lost everything, again, this time because of Shahrukh. He follows the rules, he puts people in jail, he does everything right, and it keeps falling apart for him. Meanwhile, Shahrukh isn’t even thinking about Nawazuddin or anyone else. He is focused on his inner turmoil, and his community (represented by Mahira). While Nawazuddin is going off again as a lone wolf, Shahrukh has people all around him to help him through his problems.
We come back from the interval to Nawazuddin’s voice over again. I think this might have been a mistake. It puts us in Nawazuddin’s perspective, which makes it harder to see that Nawazuddin is not an unreliable narrator, but he is a prejudiced one. He describes Shahrukh has having come to be all powerful, buying over all his enemies with “pyar and paise”. We see Saqib delivering shirt boxes filled with money to the chief minister. And then a color TV to the opposition. And finally, Shahrukh sitting on a bench in his neighborhood while a dozen women of various ages and religions sit in front of him asking him to give them money for sewing machine so they can support themselves if the mill closes. Shahrukh listens, and then looks off to the side where the postman is delivering mail. And then turns back and says he will buy their sewing machines. And place their first order! For bags. The subtitles say for a thousand bags, but that can’t be right.
Now see, Nawazuddin sees this all from the cynical side, that Shahrukh is buying goodwill. And yes, he is doing that. But he is also protecting his people from the government who have always brought them down. And giving the women in his neighborhood a way to support themselves while still protecting their self-respect. Just like when he was a child and the doctor pretended they were “cheating” the apothecary by slipping him cash, which was better than just accepting charity.
To balance it, we see a little glimpse of Shahrukh among his own people right after Nawazuddin’s little speech. He is getting phones installed in his house, dozens of phones. Mahira asks what they are for, which makes her seem a little naive. Shahrukh plays along, tells her they are for her, so she can always reach him, so he can run errands and do whatever she needs. Mahira kind of buys it but kind of doesn’t, and looks back at Saqib to check, Saqib is cracking up and tells her that it is for delivery orders. Shahrukh is making a face at Saqib not to tell and when Mahira turns back at him angry, he keeps talking to Saqib asking why he had to say that, someday when he is married he will understand, wives are terrifying, etc. etc. Mahira is backing him up pushing at him, telling him that he shouldn’t say such things, that he shouldn’t be talking to Saqib, etc. etc. Until she finally pushes him into his office and onto his office chair with a thud. And then she stamps her foot down on the seat of his chair right between his legs and flops him straight up. And then she smiles, reaches down, and pulls off his glasses and asks “Did I scare you?” Shahrukh kind of smiles and chuckles and nods, and she smiles back and says “Battery Saala.”
This scene is SO CUTE! It gives us this nice little idea of how their household of three (Shahrukh, Saqib, Mahira) functions. Shahrukh tries to tease Mahira, Saqib sides with her, Mahira pretends to be angry just because she can, and Shahrukh loooooooooooooves it! It’s super sexy, and kind of makes me suspect that this is what Shahrukh likes in real life, you know? He’s always had such great chemistry with dominating women. Kajol, Anushka, Rani. Even heroines who aren’t usually that “spicy” tend to turn a little bit scary in their films with him, Dips in Chennai Express, Kareena in Ra.One, Juhi in almost everything.
But in terms of character, it’s also nice. Because we see that he doesn’t actually get off on power or violence or any of those things that Nawazuddin is attributing to him. The two people closest to him, Saqib and Mahira, have no fear of going against him. In fact, it’s almost a joke how unafraid they are of him. And that’s what he wants, he likes it when his wife scares him and his friend stands up to him. At least, right now (this scene will play out in a different way at the end of the film. Remember it!)
Oh, and song! “Zaalima”. It’s a terrible place for a song, we haven’t even seen the baby that was supposed to be born now, we were right in the middle of a build up for Nawazuddin to come back, and now we are taking a break for a love song? And a fantasy love song at that, not even one that would move their story forward.
I suspect there are two reasons it feels so odd stuck here. First, and most importantly, this is 10 minutes after the interval is over so we need a song to tell us it is time to get back inside. So even if it really breaks up the flow of the scenes, they had to shove it in here. Second, I wonder if originally they were thinking of more of a “real” song that would continue their story, but then the whole ban thing happened and instead they had to do a fantasy song shot overseas.
Either way, it’s a song! Which means it’s a good break point in the film, so I am done for the night and I will be back tomorrow!