Still not going to say “Bollywood”! I have taken a solemn vow! And even my addiction to alliteration will not sway me! But I am going to give in to my addiction to Fairy Tales and use it as the basis for a movie.
Beauty and the Beast is a fun story to re-invent, because it was an invention to begin with. That sounds stupid, what I mean is that unlike most fairy tales which were folktales written down by anthropologists and then turned into children’s stories, Beauty and the Beast has one identifiable author, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve who invented the whole thing in 1740.
Well, not the WHOLE thing, there were plenty of variations on the “beautiful good daughter forced to marry ugly man” story. Usually they revolved around him turning handsome in the night and her falling in love with her night lover. And then breaking the “rule” (usually something about using a candle to secretly see him and dripping candle wax on him), and losing him. Often encouraged by her evil jealous family to break the “rule”. But then her bravery and virtue wins him back.
What de Villeneuve did was modify the story to put in all those details about the merchant who lost his money and had selfish daughters and a good daughters. And then stole a rose for the good daughter, and the beast caught him, and she came to live in the beast’s castle where she was initially afraid, but then got to enjoy all his rich awesomeness. No night time lover, just a kind and generous heart slowly winning her over.
Basically, either version is a story about “suck it up and learn to love your husband!” Maybe he seems like a “beast” during the day, but at night sex is awesome! Or, maybe he looks like a “beast”, but he is really really rich and money makes everything better! And don’t listen to your relatives when they try to talk him down!
This is of course a vital message for Indian cinema as well, the “suck it up and learn to love your husband” message. My first thought was to go all out and really really followed the fairy tale format, down to the handsome prince and ugly beast duo-logy. But then I realized, that’s totally Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi! Mind=Blown. So I’m going to go another way, and focus on really really off the wall jodis. Because the point is for the husband to truly appear as a “Beast”, so we have sympathy with Beauty when she is initially uninterested in him. And we can understand why everyone else in Beauty’s family is so sympathetic to her.
Let’s see, part of the story is that Beauty has to go a far way away from her family after her marriage, so far that they don’t know what happened to her until she comes home for a visit. To me, that screams NRI marriage. But, remember the beast is supposed to be unattractive and life with him is supposed to be horrible. So let’s make Beauty the NRI! And Beast a low-class desi type. A gangster even! Who helps her father out of a jam and demands a bride in return.
Okay, I think that’s enough to start casting.
Anushka (or Alia) and Sanjay Dutt (or Anil Kapoor or Abhishek or Salman, I am open to suggestions. I’ll use Sanjay for the rest of the story, but take that as a placeholder). Two known names, but still a bit of an odd jodi!
Anushka and her sisters and her two cousin-brothers and her father Jackie Shroff and uncle Paresh Rawal all live in America. Her sisters have moved out of the family home and live in their own apartments in the city. Her cousin-brothers and uncle are hangers on who enjoy having Anushka wait on and take care of them. Her father loves her and is delighted that she stays home with him, and she loves her father. Anushka isn’t your typical “sweet homely girl” kind of actress, but that’s kind of why I love her in this role. She cooks and cleans and takes care of the house, but she does it all in jeans and a t-shirt while listening to modern pop music. And she talks a lot and smiles a lot and generally enjoys her life. There’s even some comedy business with Paresh Rawal and her lazy cousins, and she gives as good as she gets. Something like, although she’s willing to make them breakfast, she tricks them into bringing their own dishes into the kitchen.
The whole family gathers to say good-bye to Jackie, who is going to India on business for their import export. Anushka’s sisters and cousin-brothers make fun of the country and give Jackie a hidden money belt and a knife because they are so sure it is dangerous. Jackie tries to say that he will be fine, he did grow up there after all, and Paresh gives a humorous speech about how he grew up there too, but he would still never go back, and then exaggerates all the miseries of his life. Anushka laughs it all off and tells them to be quiet in public, but later that night, asks Jackie if he really has to go, because he has his heart problems and everything else, and he shouldn’t be off somewhere with no one to take care of him. He promises to take her with him next time so she can take care of him, and confesses that the situation is a little more dangerous than he let on, if this deal doesn’t go through and he can’t get the money he needs, they could lose everything. Anushka sweetly says that is fine so long as she doesn’t lose him. He is touched, and remembers it will be her birthday while he is gone. He asks if there is anything he can bring her from India as a gift. She says that her mother used to talk about the street gulab jaman, she asks that he bring her some.
In India, Jackie gets off the plane, goes to the hotel, everything seems fine. He has a suitcase of money to pay for the diamond deal, and gets a call from the front desk, it’s an old friend from New York, who is also in Bombay and saw his name on the hotel register. Can they have dinner tonight? Jackie is delighted! At dinner, they chat, the friend says that he comes to Bombay regularly for deals, and Jackie confesses that he is here for that purpose as well, he has all the money he could raise in cash in hopes of a last minute deal in diamonds. The friend asks where he is keeping the money, Jackie says in the hotel safe of course. The friend says that is a terrible idea, you can’t trust these Indians, better to keep it in his room in the mini-fridge, no one would think to look there! And maybe put any other valuables in there as well, because the cleaning staff steals, of course.
Naturally, Jackie wakes up the next day to find the fridge empty, with a note from his friend saying he needed the money to go back to New York in a big way, so sorry. And he has taken Jackie’s wallet, his credit cards, his watch, everything. Jackie goes down to the front desk and explains, they understand and agree not to charge him for the night, but unfortunately he cannot stay there any longer, even the credit card he put on file is now canceled, they were told it was stolen. Jackie tries to explain that it was stolen from him, but there is nothing they can do. Although they do offer him a free breakfast before he leaves.
(Visit India! Everyone there is nice but the NRIs! Yes, that is my explicit point in this part of my fake movie)
Jackie eats his breakfast, hides from the diamond merchant who is looking for him, the desk clerk sees him and understands and covers for him, and then Jackie leaves, and starts wandering the streets randomly (sad song). Finally, he ends up in a bad area of town, looking at his old apartment (flashback of when he was there and happy with Anushka’s mother). He sees the gulab jaman dealer across the street and remembers her eating gulab jaman, and Anushka’s words. He orders gulab jaman, eats one, asks for a jar for another, and only then remembers that he doesn’t have any money and can’t pay. The gulab jaman seller doesn’t believe him, because he has a nice suit and everything else, he must have money. Jackie keeps trying to explain, a crowd gathers, and there are whispers about “stealing from a poor man”, “teach him a lesson”, and “wait until the beast comes”. And then Sanjay shows up! He confronts Jackie and slaps him and throws him down and then searches through his pockets. He doesn’t find any money, but he does find a photo of Anushka. He looks at it, and then says perhaps they can work out a deal after all.
And then the fairy tale thing happens. Sanjay takes Jackie back to a dirty dingy room with his gundas surrounding them holding guns. He hears Jackie’s story, and offers to buy him a ticket home, and wire him the money to make up for all his losses. Not a loan, a payment. In return, he wants Jackie’s daughter from the picture. Jackie says no no no, Sanjay insists, and says that if he does not agree, he will not leave this room alive. And he lays it on a bit thick about how he will be a good husband, only hit her once a day, buy her not just one, but two pots to cook with, and so on and so on. Jackie is getting more and more horrified and scared. But finally agrees just to get out of the room. Sanjay delivers him to the airport and slips him a suitcase of cash as a “down payment”.
Once Jackie is on the plane, Sanjay’s gunda asks him “what was that all about?” And Sanjay says “did you hear the story? He thought all Indians were thieves and all NRIs were honest. I just lived up to his low expectations for us. The plane ride should give him enough time to work it out.”
Jackie gets back to America and his daughters and nephews are angry because he didn’t bring them presents, but otherwise don’t care. Anushka is happy with her gulab jaman. Only later, she tries to unpack his suitcase, and notices he didn’t bring it back, and his rolex is missing as well. She asks and asks him, and he is about to tell her the truth when her older sister arrives to interrupt them and introduce her boyfriend and his father. It’s the guy who stole all his money in Bombay! And the sister is excitedly showing off how her fiance’s father gave him this beautiful watch to celebrate the engagement, and is funding the nightclub they are going to open. Jackie takes his friend aside, and they have a confrontation. But the friend argues “think of it as your wedding gift to them, through me, and let it go. Why end the relationship over such petty matters?” Jackie is convinced to let it go, but when Anushka sees the rolex and says that Papa had one just like it. And the fiance’s father panics and asks if Jackie told them that his watch was stolen in India. Those dirty poor Indians, they will take anything.
Jackie has no choice but to listen to this argument and with his few minor contributions, suddenly it turns into a whole story of a cab driver ripping him off, the hotel bellboy stealing his suitcase, and so on and so on until dozens of different Indians are implicated in a whole country of theft and dishonesty. And Paresh Rawal, being like he is, listens to this whole thing, and then turns around and tells it all to his friend, the editor of the local desi newspaper. And before you know it, story of “India-Land of Thieves and Crooks!” is all over.
(But, see, it’s not true! I think we can probably get some Incredible India promotion funds to help pay for our production costs, right?)
The news is reported even back in India, where one of Sanjay’s gundas brings it to him and says “isn’t this the man we gave a free ride home?” Sanjay reads the article, and then sets down his chai cup and calls his friend to him and says “you are going to America to remind our friend of his promise!”
And then, knocking on their door in America, is Sanjay’s gunda. Only he is in a fancy suit and tie and he is bringing a lien from the government giving him the right to take the house and everything else, since Jackie has failed to honor his contract with Sanjay. Anushka comes rushing out to ask who this man is, and he answers “your brother-in-law”.
Big family meeting. The evil older sisters are sobbing, but also arguing that Anushka is the best one to pay off the “debt”, since after all she “just” stays home all day. The cousin-brothers want to fight it in court. Parash Rawal is panicking. And Jackie is miserable. Sanjay’s Gunda (oh heck, we’ve all been picturing Arshad Warsi this whole time! Let’s just say Arshad Warsi) just stands in a corner and watches. Finally, Jackie goes over to Arshad and begs him, offers to bend down at his feet if necessary, anything to save his daughter. And Anushka, being a good daughter despite being modern and American, immediately rushes over and tells him he should never do that, anything is worth him maintaining his dignity, and she will go back with Arshad and marry Sanjay, she will hear no more about it.
Quick scene where Arshad lays out the conditions of the “marriage”. Anushka will sign a contract agreeing to be Sanjay’s wife for a year. She will go to India and live in his house and off his income. He will not touch her without her permission. But, she is not allowed to contact her family while she is with him.
Sad packing scene. Jackie can’t even watch, but the sisters and cousin-brothers and Pawash are there to re-assure her, tell her they will be fighting this in the courts, she will be back any day now. And Pawash is back on his “India is horrible!” riff, talking about how she should pack some plain cotton saris, and learn how to cook over an open flame instead of with a microwave, and all of that.
Anushka sadly says good-bye to Jackie, telling him to take care of himself and she will keep him in her heart. Then goes to the airport, waves good-bye to her relatives. Her sisters are wailing over how she has to take economy on the plane, because her husband has only sent a 3rd class ticket, she is trying to say it will be fine. And then, as soon as she is through security and alone, a guard comes up and asks if she is “Anushka, traveling to meet Sanjay?” She says yes and is taken away, scared, while the family can see but not hear. And then they take her through a door, and it is the tarmac with a private jet waiting for her! A young flight attendant comes up and says that her “husband” arranged all of this for her, and has sent some things to entertain her on the flight (tablet, kindle, new phone, whatever the product placement people at Apple will give us).
(Heck, if microsoft is sponsoring an interview series for Anupama, why wouldn’t Apple step up to pay for our movie?)
On arrival in India, she is met by Sanjay, who is back in his gunda outfit and language. He says that he is one of her husband’s many servants. She is nice to him, even when he takes her to a broken down taxi and apologizes for not having air-conditioning for her. He explains that her husband is very rich, but he likes to live a simple life, he hopes that is okay? Anushka says yes, she is ready for a simple life. And, on the way to the apartment, she asks him to stop for just a moment so she can buy gulab jaman from the street vender. Arshad watches her with a thinking face. He takes her to the same neighborhood where Jackie met Sanjay. And helps her carry her luggage up a dark back stairway. He brings her into a two room apartment, shows her the tiny cookstove and offers to make chai for her “just this once”. She steals herself again and says no, this is her house, she would be happy if he would be her first guest. And she makes it herself, burning her hand, but refusing to cry or complain, and serving Sanjay chai. And as he watches her walk into the room carrying the tray, Fantasy Love Song!
(Kind of like this from Saajan)
He comes out of it to have a sip of the chai, and then make a face because it is clearly horrible. But he lies to her that it is delicious. And then says that her husband will be arriving the next day, he is traveling now, maybe she should rest until he arrives? Anushka agrees, and goes into the tiny backroom with a mattress on the floor. Sanjay leaves, runs down the stairs and through an alley, and then around to a fancy new apartment building just behind. The Doorman does a double take when he runs in, and the other doorman pulls him aside and says “don’t pay any attention, that is Mr. Raj, he owns this whole building, but he has never lost touch with his roots. Why, he has even gone to my apartment for a meal to celebrate the birth of my daughter! But he would rather go out in those clothes than in his fancy outfits with bodyguards to protect him.”
Sanjay runs into the elevator and out again in a gorgeous modern luxury apartment. He passes several surprised servants, and goes into his own fancy luxury bedroom, then opens up the shutters of a small window and looks through it across a tiny breezeway directly into Anushka in the room across the way, where she is holding her photo of her father and sobbing. And he says something about “how could that snobby b—– have a daughter who is such an Angel?” And then he picks up his phone and orders all his assistants in, because they have work to do.
Humorous montage of workmen and tailors and everybody tip-toeing around while Anushka sleeps. And when she wakes up, not only has the small apartment been transformed with furniture and paint and new kitchen equipment, but there is a new door, which, when she opens it, brings her into the luxury apartment. Where Sanjay is waiting to greet her. Still in the guise of her husband’s servant.
Sanjay gives her a tour and secretly sees and is pleased by her reactions. She meets all the servants and Sanjay tells her that her “husband” has become aware that his lifestyle was not appropriate for a young wife, and hopes that his changes will please her. And if there is anything else she needs, he has left all these credit cards for her to use.
Shopping montage song! Anushka, with Sanjay behind her holding shopping bags, goes and buys a bunch of stuff. And, at the end, she also tries to buy stuff for Sanjay. But he turns down all the fancy clothes and stuff and instead is just happy when she buys him a new gunda type outfit.
(Happy shopping song kind of like this)
Anushka and Sanjay are moving furniture around, putting it where she wants it. Sanjay is super patient and kind. And then she makes him terrible chai and he drinks it, but secretly pours it in a plant. And asks if there is anything else she wants, now that they have re-decorated the house and bought clothes and so on. She says no, but she would like to talk to her husband once, to thank him for being so kind.
Late that night, Anushka is on one of her new computers, looking at photos of her family on Facebook, when she gets an instance message. It’s from her husband! INTERVAL
Sanjay-by-email explains that he is stuck working in Singapore for longer than he expected, but he hopes his staff is treating her well. She writes back, and so on, and so forth. Happy falling in love by email song! But Sanjay keeps delaying coming home and meeting her in person.
(Like this, but with less stupid emails)
One day Sanjay-the-servant catches Anushka crying and asks why, is there anything he can do? She confesses that her family is preparing for her sister’s wedding, and she is missing them. Sanjay-the-servant promises that he will send her home for the wedding without thinking, and Anushka immediately says “No no, you can’t go against your boss’s orders! You’ll get in trouble!” Sanjay is now in too deep, so instead of backing up and saying “I meant Sanjay-the-rich-guy will send you home”, he keeps going with his natural instinct and tells her that he can do anything to keep her happy, it’s worth it, even if he doesn’t see her again (now he is getting into the “truth” since he isn’t planning on making her come back to India once she is home again). Anushka finds herself unconsciously snuggling into his chest as he holds her, and then catches herself and gently pulls away. Sanjay walks out of the room wiping away a tear, while Anushka looks all conflicted.
Falling in love song! Sanjay helps her plan for America, buys her ticket, helps her pick out wedding gifts, and Anushka makes him eat the food she has cooked with her own hands, surprises him by taking a picture with her cell phone then looks at it late at night, and gives him a new gaudy gold chain as a going away present. Song continues as Anushka gets on the plane, looking at his photo on her phone, arrives in America to be embraced by Jackie and Pawash and her evil sisters and lazy cousin brothers. She goes up to her room and puts on her fancy wedding party outfit, then looks at herself in the mirror and pictures Sanjay in his tough guy outfit smiling at her and giving her the “OK” sign with his hand.
And we go right into a big wedding song! Just like in ADHM, song and then song! Anushka is dancing around with her sisters, and picturing Sanjay dancing with her. It’s a Baadshah remix type thing, typical wedding song lyrics, but with a rap beat and break and all of that because Sanjay is all “street”.
(Like this song I love from Patiala House, but with Sanjay and Baadshah instead of Hard Kaur)
Wedding over, Anushka is giving all her presents to her sisters. They are jealous of her wealth. And Pawash Rawal is listening in and is jealous too. He calls up his lawyer and says that they should stop disputing the contract and instead agree to the marriage, and then get a big settlement in the divorce. Then he goes to Jackie and says that he sees how happy Anushka is, Jackie should talk with her, find out if maybe she wants to be married for “real”. Why should their initial prejudices and miss-judgements spoil her happiness?
Jackie goes to have a heart to heart with Anushka. He asks her if she is sure she doesn’t want to marry her “husband”, since he treats her so well? And Anushka confesses that she does like him, maybe even love him, but she is in love with someone else. And she tells about Sanjay, who doesn’t talk well and doesn’t look handsome, but he is so kind and takes such good care of her. She would rather live in poverty with him, making him terrible chai that he pretends is delicious, than live in wealth with her mysterious husband.
Jackie is off course awesome and sympathetic. He tells her that he just wants her to be happy and he trusts her judgement. They will talk tomorrow after the wedding ceremony and work it out.
The next day, Jackie is sitting with the father of the groom at the wedding reception. He makes a comment about how he understands that Anushka ended up with an even better husband, and surely the party will be even larger for her reception. Jackie (because he’s an idiot) confesses that maybe not, that engagement may not work out. Love can’t be predicted. And he looks over at Anushka who is looking at a photo on her phone.
Groom’s evil father (who? Oh! Vinod Khanna! And we can get Rahul to play the fiance!) goes over and sneaks a look at Anushka’s phone and sends the photo of gunda-Sanjay to a contact in India.
(Unless he’s still busy on The Americans. I’m a season behind, does anyone know if he is still on it?)
In India, Sanjay is sitting in a cafe in his old neighborhood when someone comes up and asks if he knows this woman (with a picture of Anushka). Sanjay is cautious, so he says no. And they hit him, and ask if he knows her now.
Fight scene! Because of the initial question, Sanjay assumes they want something from Anushka, so of course he fights and fights for the woman he loves. Although, in reality, they just want to beat him up so he won’t hang around Anushka any more and she can be free to marry right Sanjay.
Sanjay is in the hospital after the fight, but he refuses to let Arshad or anyone else tell Anushka. Anushka keeps calling and calling, now that she is ready to confess her feelings with the support of Jackie, but he doesn’t pick up. Her sisters keep trying to distract her, but she won’t forget Sanjay. Finally, she sends a message to her “husband”, email-Sanjay, asking if he can tell her anything about servant-Sanjay, and saying that it’s not his fault, anything he may have done was just for her, he is the noblest and greatest mans he has ever known. Arshad sees the email when checking business stuff for Sanjay. He sends her a message as email-Sanjay, saying that servant-Sanjay was fired, then beaten up, and is now in the hospital. Email-Sanjay is very angry with servant-Sanjay, and if she ever speaks to or of him again, Email-Sanjay will throw her, and her entire family, out on the street.
Anushka doesn’t hesitate a moment, and instead rushes to the airport and then from the airport to the hospital, only slowing down when she asks for Sanjay’s room and then notices as she goes down the hallway that there are all these important people in suits rushing in and out and it is a fancy private suite. She walks into the hospital room to see Sanjay, sitting up in bed with a suit on over his sling, having a video conference in fancy English with another powerful suit man. He doesn’t notice Anushka until he has said good-bye, and then doesn’t know what to say. She walks over to the bed, and sits down all surprised. She finally says “so, this is the real you?” And Sanjay says “no! The real me is Sanjay-the-servant. I’m from the streets, once I got rich I learned to put on an illusion of a handsome prince, but in reality I am a beast. A beast you could never love. I hoped you would forget me while you were gone, but I should have known your honesty would not allow you. So I am removing you from your promise, go, live your life! Forget about me!”
Sanjay looks away, and doesn’t see Anushka’s smile. Until she leans forward and says “thank you, I came here to ask you to let me go, because I am in love with another man.” Sanjay lets out a manly grimace but doesn’t let her see it. Anushka asks if she wants to see a picture of the man she loves. Sanjay says “if it will make you happy” Anushka says “it will”. And hands him the phone. And of course, it’s Sanjay! On the phone! The photo he didn’t even know she took!
And, big smiley embrace! And WEDDING!!! Back in America, Jackie embraces and welcomes Sanjay, evil Vinod Khanna sulks in a corner, Anushka and Sanjay do a little reprise of that wedding song she imagined him doing with her earlier. Happy Happy!
So, what do you think? Any casting comments about Jackie or Vinod or Arshad? And Sanjay or Anil or someone else? What about Anushka, is she good?