Happy Tuesday! Another Nagarjuna movie this week. I think I might have some strange attraction to old men? People keep trying to sell me on Mahesh and Allu Arjun and even Naga Chaitanya, and yet I find myself drawn to old man Nagarjuna. He’s just so much more cool and confident than those younger boys! Although at least this movie is 15 years old, so back when he was only 42, which is almost kind of age appropriate for me! If you squint a bit and assume a husband should be a lot older than a wife.
It’s a cute movie! And works way better in practice than I thought it would just from hearing the plot description. It reminded me quite a bit of Nenunnanu with the idea of the romance happening between a couple that all the standard “rules” of society say would not be romantic. Which means they are able to live together and get to know each other with no pressure, and end up falling in love without meaning to or even thinking they could.
Spoiler, I guess? That this is a love story? I mean, it kind of is a spoiler! That’s what’s so great about this plot, that we get to see these two people get to know each other, never thinking they will or can fall in love. And once again it is Shriya Saran and Nagarjuna, who have excellent natural chemistry. Not like “so sexy they can’t keep their hands off each other” chemistry, but just sweet casual two people who get along and have things in common chemistry.
Also like Nenunnanu, they aren’t avoiding a love story because “ooo, society forbids it!”. It’s because their normal personal situation makes them think it won’t happen. You could have this exact same situation in a movie from any culture in the world and it would make total sense. It’s not one of those where you need footnotes explaining what is happening, it’s all just normal human rules.
And it’s also normal human appealing elements! For one thing, adorable small children! Who doesn’t love them? Really, this kid is shockingly cute. And not in a cloying way, like Little Anjali in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, but in a smart way. He doesn’t have many lines or need to do a bunch of big emotional scenes. He just bounces on the bed or gets hugged or does a little dance, and is generally adorable (as previously mentioned).
And a loving family. Okay, the loving family does get slightly cloying. But it’s not bad, it’s mostly, again, just human behavior. They love their daughter, they are sad, and then they meet their grandson, and are happy. Slight tinge of Rajshri in all the snacks and songs and happiness. But mostly it is just a large family that lives together and is happy together. And it’s not just family for family’s sake, it does tie back to the plot eventually.
Speaking of plot, SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
We open with an introduction to the big happy family. Which made me start rolling my eyes and not paying attention, because big happy families are so confusing! You need a diagram just to figure out how everyone is related. But, good news! We actually don’t need to know all those details! We just need to know that the oldest granddaughter was Gracy Singh (from Lagaan!) and she was deeply loved, and died a few years back, and the family has never recovered from the loss. Which is a totally relatable thing, you don’t need a big complicated Rajshri kind of family of your own to understand why they are all so sad. And extra sad now, because another granddaughter is about to get married, which is bringing it all up again.
The sons (father and uncle of dead Gracy) decide to invite her widower and his son to come for the wedding and try to heal this hurt. She eloped, and her grandfather (head of the household) blames her widower for taking her away to New Zealand where she died. But the younger generation wants to bring him back into the family.
Nagarjuna, in New Zealand, asks the advice of his friends and finally decides to go. At first it is great, the grandparents are all happy to meet the son. But the the grandfather head of the household finds out and throws Nagarjuna and his adorable son (he wears glasses!) out of the house.
This inspires Nagarjuna to finally tell his son the whole story of how be met and married and romanced Gracy. And here is where we get the first interesting twist! The romance starts following a nice but not terribly different kind of path. He saw her when she ran in front of his car. He started following her around. He first approached her jokingly, scaring her in an elevator at the mall into telling him whether or not she was married (she wasn’t). And then seriously, at the campus of her college where he was going to give a speech as “India’s Top Architect”. She thinks he is still stalking her and tells him off, but then is impressed when she finds out who he really is. And is really impressed when he says he won’t give the talk at all unless she agrees to have coffee with him. She doesn’t believe him, but then he doesn’t actually show up! Until she tracks him down and agrees to go out with him, and then he comes back with her to give his talk. It’s a little stalkery and a little bit high pressure. But I will let it go, since ultimately she really does like him. It would be one thing if they went out for coffee, she still didn’t like him, and he kept coming after her. But really, it was just blackmail into that first meeting, and then it turned into love immediately. But, like I said, nice and yet not original.
And then twist! A second girl is introduced! Shriya! With a meet cute and everything. Nagarjuna rushes up to her at the train station with flowers, apologizing for being late to meet his “GM’s sister”. She is too charmed to really respond, and then of course he sees another older woman down the platform who is clearly the one he really wants, takes away the flowers and rushes over to her. But gives Shriya a rose as an apology.
Moments later, Shriya is met by Gracy, her cousin. NOOOO! Complications! Especially when Shriya immediately starts gushing to Gracy about how she just fell in love at first sight with a wonderful guy.
But the film zigs when you think it’s going to zag. Instead of this turning into a conflict between the two women, or even a long drawn out misunderstanding, minutes later, they see Nagarjuna at the outdoor cafe where they are eating, and Gracy identifies him as the man she has been seeing who she thinks she might be in love with. And Shriya basically just smiles and says “oh shucks” and immediately shakes it off.
Although there is a little game they play with the audience, not the first time they will play it. Shriya says “let’s test him!” and then walks over to Nagarjuna and asks to speak with him. She pulls him aside and tells him she has fallen in love with him, at first sight. NO!!! Shriya!!! Don’t make a fool of yourself/be disloyal to Gracy!!! Only when Nagarjuna says he is sorry, but he is already in love with someone else, Shriya laughs and says “It was only a test!” and then introduces herself as Gracy’s cousin who is very happy about their new relationship.
On my over-analytical view of the scene, I think clearly Shriya did fall in love at first sight. But the film doesn’t play the game of saying that love at first sight also makes you miserable at first sight and obsessed at first sight and all the rest of it. Just like Nagarjuna was in love enough to follow Gracy around, but there was still a difference when they finally had coffee and started to get to know each other, Shriya was in love, but was able to shake it off and bury it once she knew it conflicted with her cousin’s love story. Because it was just a first meeting, it shouldn’t have been that meaningful. Although there was still enough of sneaking feeling bubbling up within her, that it was good for her to tell him the truth and get it out. And, who knows, maybe if Nagarjuna really had responded to her, said “I thought I was in love with someone else, but after meeting you, that’s all changed”, maybe we would have gotten a regular triangle.
But instead we get something completely different! Nagarjuna and Gracy are in love, but Shriya is there too. As the supportive third wheel. Not trying to force her way in between them, but just there as their friend that does things with them. And when it comes time to make a decision, when Nagarjuna has to leave for New Zealand for his new job, Shriya is there to support their decision to elope and run off together, because even if Gracy doesn’t have her family any more, Nagarjuna will be her new family.
All of this is why, when they meet up again in the “present day”, Shriya and Nagarjuna come together as old friends, as pseudo-family, but would never ever think of each other as a romantic possibility. I was originally interested in this movie because of Gracy, and one of you warned me in the comments that it’s not really Gracy’s movie. And I didn’t understand what they meant, but now that I’ve see it, I do!
In Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha, for instance, Preity has as much or slightly less screen time as Gracy does here. Only while she is onscreen, it is definitely her love story. And even after, her friends and her house and her everything else are still there, she is this living presence in the film. The whole narrative thrust is about Salman letting go of Preity so he can see Bhoomika. But in this movie, Gracy is always a supporting character, even during the part where it is supposed to be “her” love story. From a narrative side of things, it is always about Nagarjuna and Shriya as co-leads and how their relationship builds. I guess a closer comparison would be Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Only Karan was nice enough to give Rani a few really significant scenes so she could make her mark, even if she was never really a co-lead and it was always Kajol and Shahrukh’s story. But in this movie, while Gracy is cute and their love story is sincere, she doesn’t get the big emotional moments that Rani has in Kuch Kuch, she just feels like another supporting character in Shriya and Nagarjuna’s story.
And so in the “present day”, after Nagarjuna has finished his flashback story to his son, the big excitement is waiting for Nagarjuna and Shriya to meet up again. Now that he is trying to make peace with Gracy’s family, that is a possibility! And it is super exciting when it happens, he calls her up at her hospital job and immediately they are back to the same casual warm joking relationship that they had when Gracy was alive. No drama, no stress, they are family and friends and share the bond of both having shared memories of Gracy. There is a really well done moment, when they first come face to face again, Nagarjuna is smiling and excited and talking to her, but we don’t hear what he is saying, just soft background music, and Shriya is just smiling and watching him, and finally sinks in to put her head on his chest, and Nagarjuna kind of smiles and pats her head. Nagarjuna is happy to see her, super happy, but not doing anything he wouldn’t do for an old friend/cousin of his wife. Shriya is less able to control herself and more aware of her feelings, and has to touch him. But again, comes right up to the edge of the appropriate interaction with her cousin’s husband/an old friend. She doesn’t embrace him or say “I love you”, she just wants to touch him.
Oh, and then the happy family part is finished almost immediately. Really, that whole set up of the big family wedding and inviting Nagarjuna was just to get Shriya and Nagarjuna in the same place again. And to get them in a place they had never been before, to let them see each other as part of a big family instead of just on their own as friends of the same age. And to re-affirm their family bond, they aren’t just old friends, they have a closer connection than that.
And so the second half gets to build on that connection with an arrangement we wouldn’t have found acceptable or understandable if we hadn’t had this carefully built backstory. Shriya is coming to New Zealand for training, and she naturally moves in with Nagarjuna and his son. It’s not romantic, it’s not even “eyebrow-raising”, because they are old friends, they are relatives, and they have always interacted with the awareness that Gracy comes first for him. So why shouldn’t she stay with her old friend/relative/brother-in-law while she is in his town?
And thus we get SUPER CUTE ROMANCE!!!! She wears his sweater when she gets cold, she cooks his dinner, they have little jokes and games around the house, they skip that whole awkward “flirty” part because they already know each other so well, and they can just get to know each other as they really are as part of their real lives.
Oh, and there’s one other reason that this can never go any farther. Back when he first arrived in India, Nagarjuna bumped into Prabhudeva and they became friends. And Prabhudeva told his love story, he has been in love with this girl for ages, knows her family, stays with them sometimes, they are all in support of the match. But he wants to propose and woo the girl for real, not just have an arrangement. And, just as Nagarjuna is saying good-bye to Shriya from the train pulling away from the family village, he sees Prabhudeva come up and greet her and realizes that this is the girl he was talking about. So just at the moment that, maybe, Nagarjuna was thinking about how he might feel something more for Shriya, when his face seemed to change as he was waving goodbye, and her face was sadder than it should be for just saying goodbye to her cousin’s husband, that is the moment that Prabhudeva enters and Nagarjuna is given one more reason to shut it down.
So no matter how natural and easy it is to live together in New Zealand, they can never even allow the possibility of it being more than friendship to enter their heads. For many many reasons. Although, again, Shriya has a harder time hiding denying her feelings than Nagarjuna. And finally gives in to them and says she loves him, just in time for Prabhudeva to surprise her and overhear her and think she means him. NOOOOO!!!!!
And I guess here is where I acknowledge that, yes, this film was heavily influenced by Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Dead wife, flashback, adorable child, nice guy in the present day who doesn’t realize he has stumbled into a love story that started long ago. But it’s not the same, not just in little details like Shriya being a relative of Gracy, and getting back together with Nagarjuna through the family connection, but in the whole feel of it.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is about a passionate love story, two people who need to be thrown together in a way that will spark their romance and make them realize that they are not just soulmates, but also lovers. Rani is never more than a temporary obstacle between them, as she herself knows and says. But this movie is about two people who don’t have that amazing once in a lifetime connection. They just really really like each other and are drawn together. They need to be thrown together and spend a lot of time together in order to make that bond stronger and stronger. It’s not something that was there already before the film started (as it was with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, we never saw Shahrukh and Kajol meet, were just introduced to them as a pair). It’s only at the very end of the film that we come back to the same point.
Because of propinquity, their family connection, all the reasons fate brought them together, after having that significant time as friends in their youth, then sharing grief for Gracy in a special way since they were the only two who knew her as a young woman in love, seeing each other in a new way at the family wedding, and finally spending weeks living together as a family in New Zealand, now is when their relationship goes from “really like each other and kind of attracted” to “in love and can’t stop being in love.”
Just in time for the very dramatic finale! I kind of like the exact way it plays out. All the major players, Shriya’s family, Prabhudeva, and Nagarjuna go through the exact same series of flashbacks of small moments and all come to realize that Shriya is in love with Nagarjuna. It’s cool getting the slightly different perspective on all those little moments, and going back as a viewer at the same time as the characters to track the love story. And it’s also really nice that, for once, people are just smart enough to figure it out on their own, instead of having some big dramatic reveal of an old love letter on the day of the wedding or something. And it all ends the same way as Kuch Kuch, sort of. With the perfectly nice fiance (Prabhudeva this time instead of Salman) taking her to the man she really loves.