Did you know today is World Book Day? I didn’t! Amitabh had to tell me. Amitabh’s twitter tells me about every holiday, along with every birth, death, and wedding in the film industry. Anyway, now that Amitabh has alerted me, this changes my plans for the Sunday post! Clearly, it now has to be book themed.
We had a long discussion on the Sanam Teri Kasam post about how romance novels have a lot of natural similarities with Indian film. I am tempted to just straight up remake a Regency Romance (or “wegency womance”, as I used to call them when I was 5 and wanted to know what my mother was reading). But while that could make a fairly decent little film, for a really great movie, we want to look at the really great books that inspired Georgette Heyer to invent the romance genre.
So, Jane Eyre! A story that is crying out for an Indian film remake! What with the strong female heroine, melodramatic plot, touching romance, huge emotions, and ultimate message that there is a responsibility to the greater society we must all follow.
(this is clearly the best screen version of Jane Eyre, and I will accept no argument!)
Jane: Kalki Koechlin (I’m not in love with this casting, I want someone visibly fragile who is also a great actress. I really want Rani, but I think she might be too old. Or maybe Mahira? I don’t know, what do you think? Dips is too beautiful, Kajol is too spunky, Juhi is too matronly, Alia isn’t a good enough actress yet, who else?)
Mr. Rochester: Shahrukh Khan (I am in love with this casting, it’s perfect, he is ugly and old and very very clever)
Evil Aunt Mrs. Reed: Daisy Irani
Kind teacher Miss Temple: Divya Dutta
Saintly brave school friend Helen Burns: Taapsee Pannu
Mad Bertha: Aishwarya Rai! I am very excited about this
Child Adele: Haarshali Malhotra, from Bajrangi Bhaijaan
Housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax: Waheeda Rahman
Beautiful Socialite Golddigger Blanche Ingram: Sunny Leone in a fun cameo
Drunken caregiver Grace Poole: Tanvi Azmi
St. John Rivers (handsome saintly minister): Siddharth Malhotra
Now, plot! In case you haven’t read Jane Eyre before, here’s a quick summary:
Jane is an orphan, raised by her cruel aunt who hates her. The aunt eventually sends her to a charity school where at first Jane is miserable, only finding joy through her friendship with saintly dying Helen. But then the school management changes, and good Miss Temple becomes the head teacher, and Jane loves it. She graduates, and answers an advertisement for a governess at a remote house. She takes the job, to find that her charge is a little girl Adele, and her only company is the elderly housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax.
After several weeks, Mr. Rochester, the owner of the house and Adele’s guardian, arrives. Jane enjoys talking with Mr. Rochester, and is distressed when she sees him seemingly falling for a shallow wealthy neighbor, Blanche. Finally, Mr. Rochester admits that it was all a game to get Jane to admit her feelings for him, despite their difference in age and background and everything else, they fit together. Jane and Mr. Rochester joyfully prepare for marriage, but at their wedding, a stranger interrupts to reveal that Mr. Rochester is already married!!!! To a madwoman Bertha who lives in the attic and who Jane has seen the occasional trace of, random fires etc.
Jane leaves Mr. Rochester’s house and wanders the land, eventually fainting from lack of hunger and being found by a kindly minister, St. John. She moves into his household and eventually, with his help, finds employment at the village school. They plan to marry, not for love, but so she can be his partner in his good works. Until Jane has a vision of Mr. Rochester and feels she must go to him and make sure he is safe and happy before marrying someone else.
She goes back to his village, and learns that the house burned down, Mad Bertha died in the fire, Mr. Rochester tried to save her and lost an arm and his sight in the blaze. Jane immediately goes to him and surprises him in his house that evening. Mr. Rochester resists her advances briefly, feeling that he has nothing to offer her now that he is blind and the house has burned down. But they come to an understanding and are married, and in an epilogue, Jane has given birth to a son and Mr. Rochester has regained sight in one eye.
So, we definitely want to keep the childhood flashback for the Indian version, flashbacks to childhood to explain motivation are a classic way of opening the film. Oo oo! We can do fancy structure! Like Guide! Open with Kalki running out of an old Hawala in the middle of the night in the middle of a storm. She walks and walks and walks, finally stopping to rest and falling asleep in an old temple. And then the flashback starts with a voiceover from Kalki saying something like “this was not the worst time in my life”. And then flashback to Kalki in childish clothing being beaten by Daisy Irani and locked in the dark room where she screams and screams in hysteria. We get a little glimpse of her miserable childhood with the Reeds, being thrown into the dark room that terrifies her whenever she is punished, being sent to bed without supper, general misery. And then it is interrupted when she is suddenly informed that she is being sent away to school.
(This is Daisy Irani, Boman’s mom in Happy New Year and Shirin-Farhad, but not in real life)
She arrives at school, where everyone is forced to live a life of misery, because the humorous Priest who runs it has crazy ideas of the proper way children should live. Ideas which he never uses on his own family. Let’s say it’s Paresh Rawal. And all the little girls have to sleep on the floor, and eat small bowls of plain food, and so on. Taapsee is brave and helps Kalki, but eventually she falls ill, just like all the other children, and dies.
But, Divya Dutta/Miss Temple shows up at this point and supports and encourages Kalki, and also has a big confrontation with Paresh and throws him out, and then there is a happy song (20 minutes into the movie, have to have a song) with all the school girls dancing and singing for joy as they take in their new mattresses, and lots of food, and comfortable school benches, and free school outings, and so on.
(This kind of happy song)
But, with the happy song over, Kalki appears for the first time in adult clothes, a modest sari. Divya is helping her put it on, and explaining that now she is 18, she can no longer stay at school, but there is a wonderful job available for her with a gentlemen who wrote them asking for a governess for his young ward.
Kalki arrives at the remove village and is greeted by humorous village people. And then by sweetly dignified and supportive Waheeda at the hall. And also slightly disturbing Tanvi Azmi who is introduced as the woman who lives in the caretaker’s cabin at the foot of the garden. And adorable Harshaali Malhotra. Another happy song! Heck, a reprise of the last one. This time Kalki is the one leading it, passing on the same teaching techniques and love for little girls that she got from Rani to Harshaali.
And in the middle of it, as Kalki is walking along a village lane singing to herself, Shahrukh! He is riding a motorcycle, when it suddenly falls over. Kalki rushes over and insists on helping him, even though he says he is fine. She supports him all the way back to the hall, and the talk nonsense to each other, he accuses her of being a spirit, she says there are no spirits and she knows because she has looked, and so on.
At the hall that night, he asks her to come sit with him after the meal. They talk more, and we have a montage seeing that the household falls into a routine. Kalki teaches all morning, then spends time walking and reading by herself in the afternoon, has dinner with Harshaali, and then comes down later to sit on the patio with Shahrukh and talk.
Until the routine is disturbed by the arrival of Sunny Leone! She comes sweeping up in an elegant sports car, thanking Shahrukh for inviting her and calling him “Darling”. Kalki observes this from her window and her voice over explains that she was disturbed, but couldn’t even admit to herself why she was disturbed.
And at this point we come back to the present day, as we have been off and on through out, to find Kalki stumbling through a field, in the rain, falling and picking herself up, until she finally falls and doesn’t get up again. INTERVAL
Back from interval, we start with the flashback, leading the audience to build anxiety over what is happening to Kalki in the present where she has fainted. And it’s a boring part of the flashback, Waheeda explaining to Kalki that Shahrukh surprised her by announcing a house party, there’s Sunny, and a bunch of other random character actors, and she has to get extra help and it’s all very confused. Also, Kalki has been ordered to come down in the evening with Harshaali to watch a sangeet type show that all the guests are putting on. After a comicly bad classical singing performance from one over-bearing guest, Sunny winks at Shahrukh and suggests that she could dance for him. Shahrukh kind of half-smiles and says “why not?” And Item Number!
As the Item Number ends, with flashing colors and lights and all, it faces in and out with Kalki in the present, her eyelids flickering, seeing the sun, blurry faces, hearing voices. And slowly we come back to the present to hear female voices fussing over her, and then her eyes open and through the blurriness we see, Siddharth Malhotra!!! All shockingly handsome and well-dressed and everything.
He explains that he is a doctor, she was found on the outskirts of his village, and brought to his clinic. Kalki looks around and sees the cozy clean environs of his village clinic, and then closes her eyes again, and goes back to the flashback.
In the flashback, the next day after Sunny’s blatantly romantic performance aimed at Shahrukh, Kalki is vaguely unhappy, especially after seeing Shahrukh and Sunny flirting over breakfast. She finally admits to herself that she will be very sad if Shahrukh and Sunny marry, she is already missing their talks together, and she will just miss them more after marriage. But before she can think more about it, she gets a letter saying that Daisy Irani is ill and she is needed back at the house of her horrible relatives.
She goes to talk to Shahrukh, who starts out all flirty, but then gets upset immediately when he learns she needs to take leave. He also gets protective, insisting on buying her a plane ticket and paying for a hotel, which she turns down, and they have a flirty bargaining conversation about how much she is willing to accept from him.
Kalki returns to Daisy Irani, who is amusingly terrible as a patient. But also finally admits her culpability in Kalki’s miserable childhood, and that she was jealous of the affection her dead husband had for Kalki. Kalki accepts this, but in voice over explains that the pain of her childhood was receding and she became more and more focused on the anticipated pain of Shahrukh marrying Sunny.
This fades to the present, where Kalki explains that she is finding her experience nursing Daisy useful, as none of the patients at the village clinic seem nearly as hard to take care of as Daisy was. Kalki is now helping Siddharth at the clinic to help earn her way. Siddharth gets one talky scene (do we really want to give Siddharth a lot of dialogue? No! We do not!) where he asks about her background and is understanding when she avoids the questions and clearly doesn’t want to talk about it, instead suggesting that she start fresh in this village, doing good works. Kalki says that she would love that, and would love to teach. Siddharth says that he might be able to convince the local landowner, Jackie Shroff, to fund a school for her.
And then we see Siddharth and Kalki go to talk to Jackie, and in the middle of their conversation, Jackie’s beautiful daughter Alia comes in to bring tea, and Siddharth and her eyes’ meet. Kalki’s voice over explains in a few words that she immediately realized the two of them were in love, a love that could only be expressed in secret glances, as Alia was destined to marry a rich man like her father and Siddharth was destined to devote his life to service. And, love song! Montagey style love song, with Alia and Siddharth looking at each other and looking away kind of thing. And it ends with Kalki saying she could recognize their love, because she had felt the same in the past, love for someone she thought she could never be with.
Back to Shahrukh! Kalki has arrived back at the hawali after Daisy’s death. It’s raining, and she walked from the train. She walks towards the house, when she is stopped by Shahrukh’s voice coming from underneath a tree, saying that she didn’t tell him when she would be returning, was she afraid he would send a car for her? Kalki says she didn’t want to be a bother, Shahrukh explains that he somehow sensed she would be returning anyway, that he was waiting out here for her.
Kalki tries to avoid the conversation, but can’t stop herself from going to him when he asks her to come closer. Shahrukh keeps talking, saying that she returned just in time, he has arranged to marry Sunny. The rain hides Kalki’s tears. Shahrukh keeps going, saying that Sunny wants to send Harshaali away to school, so he has found a new position for her, a wonderful family in Kerala. He has made all the arrangements, she will leave soon. Kalki agrees, says this does sound wonderful. Shahrukh goes on to say that he wonders if he will miss her while she is in Kerala, he missed her so much just now, so much he surprised himself, but perhaps when she is even farther away, he won’t feel her absence any more, the cord that connects them will snap. Kalki keeps looking away from him and hiding her tears, while Shahrukh does that head tilt kind of half smile look he uses when he is wooing a lady. Finally, he reaches out to take her hand, and Kalki snatches it away and stands up and says that it is enough! And gives an impassioned speech, that he can’t marry Sunny, he doesn’t even like her, they have nothing in common, he should marry her! Shahrukh watches this whole thing with a little smile, and then stands up and grabs her in an embrace, as lightning comes down and strikes the tree behind them. And fantasy love song!
And then he laughs in triumph and explains that this was his goal all along, to make her as obsessed and miserable as he is, he found himself thinking about her constantly, staying on and on at this family home in this boring village just for their evening talks, and yet she seemed not even to notice him. And so he decided that jealousy might awaken her, and brought in Sunny. Who has already left the house, they are not being married, in fact once he spread a rumor that he had lost all his money, she couldn’t leave fast enough. And now, instead, he is going to marry Kalki, and they will be gloriously happy!
And, wedding prep montage! Starting with Waheeda looking disturbed to see them embracing, then happy when Shahrukh tells her, and then the songs start, Harshaali is delighted, Shahrukh brings in jewelers and sari salesman and henna, and Kalki is covered and dressed and all fancy. And in the middle of it, Waheedaji and Harshaali do a little dance for her Sangeet, and Shahrukh smiles and watches in the background the whole time. But, the night before the wedding, Kalki is in bed looking at her wedding sari hanging on the closet door as the song fades away, and she sees a figure enter the room! The shadowy figure grabs at the sari hanging on the door and as Kalki stands and starts to go to stop them, a knife flashes and starts slashing at it, so she hides in bed, pretending to sleep. And then goes to wake Shahrukh in his bed (shirtless scene!) and be comforted. Shahrukh listens to her story and says all the right things, that it was a dream, that she is just nervous. But his face reveals that he is concerned. And then when he goes back with her to her room and they find the sari slashed, he declares that it must be Tanvi, they keep her on because she has worked for the family for so long, but her mind is really gone. But not to worry, tomorrow they will be on an airplane to go to London, and never return to this place again. Kalki is comforted for now, but still looks conflicted.
The next day, as they sit in front of the priest at the bridal fire, Kalki is looking appropriately serious and religious, but Shahrukh keeps glancing around and signaling the priest to hurry, like he is worried for some reason. Just as they stand to do the nuptial rounds, the door burst opens! Mohnish Behl is here!!!!
Mohnish orders the priest to stop, Shahrukh orders him to keep going, Kalki stands up and walks away from the fire, saying she won’t continue. Shahrukh snaps at her to sit back down, she says no and stares him down, and finally he gives in and says fine, he will tell the story himself!
And in flashback, we see young Shahrukh arriving in Madras for his studies. He was invited to the home of his professor, where he met the beautiful daughter, Aishwarya. She was delicate and graceful and innocent, never even leaving the family home, and he was enchanted. Small song number, of Aish during classical Bharat Natyam.
(I was going to say like this but more manic, but this is already plenty manic!)
He had no relations, so he shyly brought his own proposal for her, and was delighted when it was accepted. It was a traditional family, so they were never alone during their engagement, and it was only on their wedding night, that he learned the truth. He went to touch her, and she immediately started screaming and pounding on his chest and rending her clothes. He called for help, took her to the hospital, and then tried to reach his new in-laws. Who all refused his calls. It was only months later, after he had taken Aish to specialist after specialist and learned that she had a virulent form of schizophrenia, that Mohnish contacted him. Mohnish was Aish’s brother, away for studies during their courtship and marriage. He explained that this was all his parents’ plan to get their embarrassing daughter out of the house and married to a man from another state, so that they could hide the family madness and get their other daughter’s married. He, Mohnish, feels a responsibility for Aish and is ready to take charge of her. But Shahrukh could not bring himself to do it. The Nuptial rounds, falsely though he may have been tricked into them, still had a power. And so he brought Aish home, and gave her a place in the caretaker’s house, and brought in a woman to care for her, her old nurse Tanvi who is the only one she trusts.
Flashback over, Kalki is standing there listening, and it is clear that Shahrukh is telling this whole thing only to her, and when he ends with the big puppy-dog crying eyes, he asks “Can you blame me for wishing to marry again? To find new happiness? Is that so wrong?” Kalki simply asks “Can I see your wife?” Shahrukh gives his little bitter chuckle, and says “certainly! Let us all go admire my beautiful wife!”
Mohnish, Shahrukh and Kalki (thank goodness it was always going to be a small wedding, just them and the priest, so no guests to be embarrassed) go to the cottage in the garden. And Aish gets to put on a super fun performance of being mad, and trying to get at and harm Kalki, while Tanvi Azmi gets to give a super fun performance of holding her back and being disturbing and a little drunken looking herself.
And we fade from that to two little girls wrestling on the ground until Kalki in the present day comes up to separate them. She explains in voice-over that she is teaching again, and loves it. She has a small school, funded by generous Jackie Shroff, and a little cottage all to herself. On off days and in the evenings, she goes to the clinic and helps Siddharth, or talks with him, he is learning Assamese in preparation for traveling there to found another clinic, and has invited her to join his studies. We see them studying together, but don’t hear any dialogue (Siddharth: Best seen and not heard).
She also explains that Alia is married now, it happened just before her school opened. Siddharth never said a word to stop it, and when she asked him why, he said that his responsibility to his patients came before his love. We see Siddharth nobly watching as Alia rides away with her new husband. And Kalki says, “That evening, he came to me and asked me to go with him to Assam, to found a school with his clinic. And he said we should be married, as the village people will accept us better that way. I told him I had to think on it.”
And we see Kalki, sitting in the dark, closing her eyes, flashes of Shahrukh appearing before her, until she opens her eyes, and she is back in her room in his Hawali, in her wedding clothes. Artsy transition!
It is clearly later the day of the wedding that didn’t happen. She gets up, and goes to the sink and wipes the blood off the scratches on her face where Aish attacked her. And then slowly takes off the wedding sari, and puts on the simple cotton one in which she arrived. She also takes off the jewelry and carefully stacks all the boxes together on the bed. And then she opens the door, to see Shahrukh pacing outside. He grabs her and holds her immediately, and then starts talking, telling her in a rough deep Shahrukh voice that it will be all right, it will all be all right, once they get to London. She listens and asks for some water. Scene change, now they are in the courtyard, where they used to sit and talk, and he is bringing her water from the well. He sits on the steps across from her and does a lovely monologue, explaining that they can go away, never come back, bring Harshaali with them if she wants, start a new life in a city like Bombay or London. And be married again, a registry marriage, his marriage to Aish was never even registered, it would be perfectly legal. Aish will be happy here, she never has to know anything about it. Kalki tiredly points out that she would know, it would be wrong to be with another woman’s husband. Shahrukh gets angry for a moment, declaring “I was never her husband! Not in any real way. I was meant only for you.” But then he calms himself and changes his argument. They don’t have to be married. But didn’t they enjoy that time of living together, just coming together in the evenings and talking? They could do that again! She doesn’t even have to take his money, he will find her a job in the city, he will move there too, they can be neighbors, and just talk. As he is saying this, he reaches out and holds her hand. Kalki looks down at the hands and says “Truly? Just neighbors?” And Shahrukh kind of smiles wryly and says “It will take practice. But a small piece of Kalki is better than no Kalki at all.” Kalki smiles back, but is clearly thinking, and finally says “I will think about it, but I must sleep now.” Shahrukh nods, but then when she stands, he suddenly reaches out and pulls her to him from behind, and deeply inhales and buries his face in her hair. Kalki closes her eyes for a second too and is clearly feeling the same things he is. But then stops herself, pulls away, and says “I must sleep”, and leaves him standing there watching her walk away.
Back in the present, Kalki voice overs “That was the last time I saw him. I left that night, taking nothing with me but the clothes in which I arrived. And now I am faced with that chance again, to take a marriage without love.” And suddenly, Shahrukh’s voice! Calling her name! And saying “I love you!” Kalki’s eyes pop open and she irrepressibly calls back “Shahrukh! I love you too!” But then the voice fades away, and she is left to wonder.
She goes into the deserted classroom of the school in the middle of the night, and pulls up a computer, and searches for Shahrukh’s name. She finds articles discussing a “terrible accident”, but no details. Cut to Kalki getting on a bus, and back in the clinic, a not left on Siddharth’s desk “I’m sorry, I have to go to him. I can’t turn my back on my love.”
Back in the village, she goes straight to the Hawali. And it is gone, a burned out ruin. As she is looking at it, Waheeda calls to her. And then runs and embraces her. Kalki asks what happened, and flashback! Waheeda tells it, there was a fire in Shahrukh’s room, he awoke in time to get out, but as it spread through the house, he insisted on running back over and over again, because he knew Aish must have started it and be trapped inside. In the end, they were found together in the rubble, his body protecting hers. Not that it made a difference, she had died of smoke inhalation long before he found her. Shahrukh survived, barely, but one arm is scarred and useless, and his sight is gone. Now, Waheeda lives with and cares for him in the caretaker’s cottage where Aish used to stay. Harshaali had to be sent away, as no one has the time to care for her any more.
Back in the present, Kalki notices that Waheeda is carrying a bag, Waheeda explains that she was just getting fresh milk in the village to take into Shahrukh. Kalki asks if she can bring it instead. Waheeda easily gives permission.
And then the famous scene, Kalki calmly bringing in the milk, hesitating when she sees Shahrukh’s scarred face and sling, then coming forward. Shahrukh noticing that her tread is lighter than usual, that she smiles different, and finally calling her by name and grabbing her as she passes and pulling her down into the chair next to him. Adorable conversation, where he starts by holding her and professing his love for her, and then controlling himself and correcting that of course she can’t love him, he is now old and injured (but he still keeps holding her). Kalki goes along with this with a teasing smile, yes he is much older than her, and not terribly handsome. Shahrukh suggests that perhaps she might marry him out of pity, after all a small plain thing like herself couldn’t get many offers. Kalki says that in fact she does have an offer, from a very intelligent and virtuous man. Shahrukh suggests virtuous, but perhaps not that handsome? Kalki says no, very handsome, very tall, very pale, very young. Shahrukh suggests that she might want to perhaps leave his chair, as he should not be sitting so close to an engaged woman. Kalki declares that it is true, but she thinks it is acceptable to sit so close to a woman to whom you yourself are engaged. Shahrukh asks in surprise if her fiance is here with them now. Kalki says yes. Shahrukh looks around, tries to address him, and says “You are a very very lucky man”. And then keeps going, saying that he should always care for Kalki, better than Shahrukh could, who drove her out into the world with nothing more than the clothes on her back. He would have given her everything, this house, his fortune, and left her life forever. But she didn’t know, she left instead taking nothing with her. Kalki is crying now, and so is Shahrukh. She finally reaches out to put her hand over his lips, and tell him that her fiance is in the room, but it is not Siddharth. It is a different man, an older man, who is not that tall and not that handsome, and yet she loves him so much, has loved him for years, and just can’t give him up. Shahrukh finally figures it out, and reaches out to hold her again.
And, happy ending! Over the end credits, another very small wedding with a modest sari and no jewelry this time. And Harshaali and Waheeda dancing around together. And then a flash forward of photos showing the new baby playing with Harshaali, and Shahrukh getting bandages off and his sight partially back, and finally all of them Waheeda and Shahrukh and Kalki and Harshaali and the baby playing together under a framed garlanded photo of Aish.
So, what do you think? I am happy with Shahrukh, but I’m still not happy Kalki as Jane. And I would also be willing to be argued out of Siddharth as handsome St. John.