DDLJ Part 19: Return to a Land of Gender Divisions!

Welcome back to DDLJ watch!  My new system is to pull all the screenshots, put them in order, and then write the post around it.  It’s working so far, but then I haven’t gotten to any huge discussion points since I started the new system. (part 18 here, you can go back from there)

In the last section, I got all the way to the interval.  Which is good, because it means there isn’t much I need to catch you up on, since everything kind of hits the reset button at the Interval of a well constructed Indian film.  And of course, as we have realized in this slow crawl, this is perhaps the most well-constructed film ever.

All you need to know at this point is that Kajol fell in love with Shahrukh in Europe, where they both grew up.  She admitted her love to her mother, was overheard by her father, who terrifyingly overreacted and sold the house and forced the entire family to move back to India, where he is going to marry Kajol off to a boy of his choosing, her fiance since childhood who she has never met.  Meanwhile, back in London, Shahrukh arrives thinking that this is a normal family and he can just talk to Kajol, talk to her parents, see what the next reasonable steps are.  Only to learn that the whole family has left the country, but Kajol left behind the bell she bought in Europe as a love token to indicate that she is waiting for him.  Shahrukh takes the bell and says “I’m coming, Kajol, I’m coming”, and INTERVAL.

 

Oh, by the way, the next section is going to get a lot into gender theory and feminist readings, as have most of the sections before this.  I know the obvious reading of DDLJ is about Indian identity and immigration issues.  Think of that as the melody.  Gender issues are the harmony.  And sometimes the harmony is more interesting than the melody.  More importantly, many many many people have already written about the melody, so if you want to read about that, you can go a million other places (most notably here, the British Film Institute book on the film).  And most importantly, I don’t think that melody is that interesting.  The central idea, that someone can carry India with them, not just leave it at home, that is interesting.  But kind of simple?  Not a lot of variations to it.  And stated pretty bluntly and obviously in the film, you don’t really need a shot by shot analysis to talk about it.  But gender issues!  That is buried deep deep deep in there, so deep you are only occasionally consciously aware that it is happening, but somewhere subterranean, it is changing your minds and your way of seeing the world.  And that’s what I find interesting to talk about, especially in this section, where we start to super dig into the female perspective.  Post-interval, the gender issues become less of a harmony, and more of a second melody.

 

The “Margaret Redlich Theory of Indian Film”, which is based on reading a million analyses and interviews and watching a billion films, says that the section immediately post interval, like the section before the first song, doesn’t really matter.  It’s filler, while people get their popcorn and so on.  However, in the best films, this section can still tell you something, even if it isn’t necessarily super super relevant.  It can kind of set the tone.

The tone of this section in DDLJ is “arrival in India”.  But not just “here we are, India!”  It gets into the whole unique experience of the NRI returning home.  Starting with the airplane taking off, just to set the stage.

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But once they are actually in India, it is all train travel.  And remember way way back at the beginning, Amrish was walking through London imagining Punjabi folk dancers and singers, showing how in his mind he was always bringing the Punjab into his bit of London?

They are back!  This time actually in India, as the train is passing.  But what is significant is that they are the same dancers.  Meaning this is not really happening, and it’s not even “sort of on a metaphorical level the spirit of India” happening.  This is Amrish’s vision of India, only now within the actual country.  But no more real than his vision in London.  This is what he wants India to be, how he sees it, singing and dancing and welcoming him.

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There are some really careful shots in this sequence to show how it both is and is not happening.  This one, for instance, with the dancers moving right to left through the field as the train moves left to right.  First, this is interesting just because the timing must have been murder.  Do you know what the most complex and expensive train sequence was in Sholay?  Not the opening action sequence (although that was pretty hard).  No, it was the love song, “Koi Haseena Jab”.  Because Basanti’s tanga, and Dharmendra on his bike, feet, and other modes of transit, had to be exactly synched up with the train they were passing along side.  It took days and days to film just right, and in the meantime that whole functional train line was shut down.

This shot here is the same kind of thing, to time it right must have been a bit of a nightmare.  But it was worth it, because it tells us so much in one shot.  Simple thing, but notice how the train and the women are going in different directions?  The train is moving “forward”, left to right, but the women are moving “backward”, right to left.  The train represents modern India, Kajol who is being carried on the train, and change in general.  And all of this is driving us forward.  While Amrish’s vision of the perfect Indian women are moving ever more towards the past.

But the bigger message is that it is Indian WOMEN who are welcoming him.  This section of the film, the entire second half, is going to be about women as actors in their own stories.  It is Kajol and her mother and her aunt and her sister who go through changes and make decisions.  And it is the struggle to control them that Amrish is fighting.

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When we finally see our family again, within the train car, there is the same forward/backward divide.  Amrish is facing backwards, towards where they came.  And he is clutching Pooja Rupural to him and trying to train her to see in the same way.  But Kajol and Farida are looking towards a terrifying future in India, not a happy Indian past.DDLJ66

You can see it in this exchange of glances.  Everything in Amrish’s mind may be happiness and song, but only because he is forcing everyone to go along with that vision.  He takes a moment from talking to Pooja, to look across at Kajol and Farida and give them a warning look, to remind them not to look to far or think too much.DDLJ67

Farida responds by glancing at Kajol.  It is not a glance of “I wonder what she will do next” but a glance of “I am afraid of what she will do next”.  And Kajol doesn’t even notice.  Amrish may be trying to drag her back with him to the past, but it isn’t as easy as he thinks, she is staying like a rock in her own mind and her own vision.  Also, notice that Kajol is the only one wearing orange in this scene, the color of India.  While Farida is wearing blue, the color of the Sikh religion.  Amrish may control them, but it is the women who are the center of the culture.DDLJ68

And that is what the next visuals in the song show us.  Those young woman Amrish is imagining, the ones running to the past, they are part of the land, another aspect of nature, something to be appreciated but also controlled if possible.  See how they are reflected in the water here?  DDLJ69

And here, moving with the plants in the field?  Not seperate from the elements, but connected to them, one with them.  In a way the male dancers of Amrish’s vision are not.

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But Kajol is resisting it.  She does not want to be just a plant in the field, moving with the wind, waiting to be harvested.  She is still holding firm to her own individual identity and control.DDLJ71

Once they arrive at the family home, again it is women who take center place in this experience of India.  Amrish’s mother, his aunt, the wife of his friend, even the daughter of his friend who he has never met before, are lined up to greet him at the door.

Aditya Chopra must have done this shot on purpose.  It doesn’t even make sense in the narrative, to have a young woman from next door be part of this event, she is too young and too unknown to him to have reasonably been invited.  But Adi needed the blocking of 4 women at the door way in order to fully obscure the men behind.  He wanted that, that Amrish is being welcomed into a household and land of women, there to serve and worship him.DDLJ72

Notice in the reaction shot how happy Amrish and Satish Shah look?  And how unhappy Pooja, Kajol, and Farida look?  Amrish and Satish see the surface, women who are there to love and bless them.  And they also see that “magic” connection, the women and the fields and the spirit of India.  They are putting on this vision their own idea of how magical and perfect it is and always will be.  And Kajol and Pooja and Farida are seeing how magical and perfect and loving they will be expected to be.DDLJ73

Amrish’s relationship with his mother in this movie is fascinating.  Someone was asking in the comments of the Bahubali reviews, why Bahubali is such a perfect husband.  And my response was that it is because he respects Anushka’s opinions, always.  He doesn’t minimize or ignore them, he listens and responds and treats her as a thinking person.

This is what Amrish does NOT do.  Ever.  He is a loving father and husband and son, so long as you don’t mess with his view of the world, so long as you fall in line.  The moment when he sees his mother and stops her from crying, there are two ways to interpret this moment, both bad for Amrish.  First, he can’t stand to see his mother cry, but he will make his daughter cry?  He has so little sense and respect for her, versus his mother?  So hypocritical!

And second, he wants her to stop crying because it makes him uncomfortable.  He doesn’t want to think about her tears and her sadness, it messes with his worldview.  He wants her happy, in the background, so he can move forward and not think about it.

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That moment at the doorway, female and male are united on the outside of the door.  Kajol and Farida and Pooja Ruperal are arriving along with Amrish, and Satish Shah. But as soon as they are inside the house, just like the women who greeted them who were all lined up together across every line (family, generation) but gender, male and female go BAM!  Into opposite corners!

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This doesn’t even make logical sense, wouldn’t his crying mother want to spend time with Amrish, her son?  But it is so ingrained, so “natural”, for us to see the genders divided in this kind of social situation.  This is why Kajol felt so “unnatural” and ill at ease through out the first half of the European trip.  She didn’t know how to interact with men, didn’t understand a situation in which the genders could naturally mix and flirt and have fun and there was nothing wrong with that.

Even the room, this very traditional Punjabi farmhouse space, is set up this way.  The sofa and lounging area is set up for the women (in their heavier and more restrictive clothing), while the men are standing up on the “fun” side of the room with all the toys and games.

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This isn’t even necessarily a bad system.  It can be good to have situations where the genders join together for mutual support.  But it is very different from the structure of the places where we saw our characters in England.  Well, structures for Kajol and Pooja.  Remember, way way way back at the very beginning of the film I talked about how Amrish was the only member of the family who existed fully out in the world, we saw him walking the streets and at work, but never in the kitchen or anywhere else in the home besides the front room and entrance.  In contrast, Farida existed fully within the home, we never saw her outside of the kitchen, bedrooms, and backyards, and only briefly in the front room.  The older generation is re-creating, as best they can, the traditions they are used to from back home.

But the younger generation is adrift.  Kajol has learned the “correct” behavior from her parents, but it doesn’t work in the world she is living in, there is no way to function without interactions between the genders.  And so she has to choose to either cease to function (which is in essence what happens when she tries to travel through Europe without trusting a male person anywhere ever), or reject the entire system (which is the decision she is struggling with now).

If you really want to see how engrained these roles are, look at this exchange between the two adult women.  The first thing they talk about after not seeing each other for 20 years:

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This isn’t the only moment like this.  I got kind of addicted to just pulling screenshots of dialogue lines.  Look at what happens when a woman tries to cross gender lines (notice the crowd of women in the background properly only interacting with each other):

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The introduction of another young woman, not by her name, but by her relationship to a man.  And the proprietary superior way the two men are interacting with her:

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And then our villain is introduced!  This is one moment that really feels kind of mannered stylistically.  Compared to the very subtle framing of the other moments leading up to it.  Suddenly, we have a tall guy taking over the frame, with a gun in his hand.  And notice the almost painful symmetry of what is surrounding him.  Two friends, two lamps, to plants, two pillars.  It must have been hard to restrain themselves from adding two guns, one in each had, just to complete the picture.

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Once we get a close up, it becomes clear that Kuljeet and even more so his friends have been heavily influenced by the Shammi Kapoor look.  Which I find kind of fascinating.  In character, it could mean that they are “bad boys”, but out of date bad boys, who are trying to impersonate someone who hasn’t been really cool for decades.  And it’s a sign that they are a mixture of wanting to be modern and forward thinking, therefore having lost the best parts of traditional culture (respecting women, not drinking, not shooting animals, not wearing multiple layers in an extremely hot climate), but still being backward.  Shahrukh, and the other boys we saw in London, they were truly progressive.  The cutting edge clothes and slang and everything else.  But also a modern view of women, of family, all that good stuff.  These guys, they are just the worst possible progressive/regressive types.

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Even Pooja can tell!  But more interesting to me than her understanding of their awfulness, is her openness in her reaction.  She gives Kajol and look and shakes her head “no!”.  Pooja, a child raised abroad and not yet inculcated into the system of society, naturally thinks “ech!  He’s horrible, don’t marry him!”  She doesn’t think “But wait, that would rend apart the very fabric of our society!”  She just thinks “This marriage is a terrible idea and you would be miserable in it, don’t do it.”  Pooja is still blind to what is happening.  She is seeing her father’s beautiful vision of the country (as we saw on the train), she is happy to play with her cousins and enjoy this new experience, but doesn’t yet see the cost.  It’s not stupidity, it’s innocence.  If India is wonderful and happy and loving, then of course Kajol doesn’t have to marry this horrible person, why should she?

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13 thoughts on “DDLJ Part 19: Return to a Land of Gender Divisions!

  1. This was really interesting!

    Can you elaborate on the part where you said that “Kuljeet and even more so his friends have been heavily influenced by the Shammi Kapoor look”. What exactly do you mean by that? Was Shammi Kapoor known for those kinds of characters or something?

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    • The hairstyles they have are the same as Shammi used to wear, plus the denim jackets. I hadn’t noticed until I looked at the stills, but it’s kind of odd how much they look like the hippest actor of the 1960s, even though they are in the 1990s.

      On Thu, Jun 1, 2017 at 11:52 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Yay!!!!
    I am so happy you decided to tackle the issue of gender, the place of women in this film.
    Keep going, it is always a pleasure to read you.

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    • thank you! Next section is the really interesting one, the conversation between Farida and Kajol.

      On Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 2:50 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Well, I can’t wait to read it because according to me Kajol was a bit passive in the second part of the movie, relying on Shahrukh, contrary to Farida who, for the first time decided to act up, stand up for what she thinks is right( in the measure of the limits imposed by patriarchy). To a certain extend she reminds me of Jaya bachan in KK3G.
        Anyway, thanks for sharing your analyses, your thoughts…
        Bye!

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  3. I always get a bit apprehensive when someone says she is going to apply a gender studies perspective to an Indian film, but you’ve handled it beautifully. The only disagreement I have with you is that these gender issues are buried “deep, deep, deep.” Heck, as your analysis of each shot itself shows, these ideas were very much in the forefront of the director’s/writer’s mind, and the portrayals of these issues were a deliberate choice.

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    • It might be the difference between the first and second halves. The second half, the whole NRI identity stuff gets moved to the background a bit, and suddenly gender leaps forward.

      On Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 3:58 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. So much to disagree. When you say “it doesn’t make sense” you’re undermining Lunjabi cultural mores and just plain ole’ Indian sensibilities. There no reason why the young woman shouldn’t be at the door?! She very well could for oil ceremony. I know because I have done it for my own granny.

    Forget gender studies. This is an example of why white people shouldnt review Indian movies.

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    • Yes, I am attempting to undermine cultural mores. I acknowledge that is how things are, but I don’t think it is a good thing. And I think it could be better.

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  5. Pingback: DDLJ Part 20: Farida Jalal Lays It All Out | dontcallitbollywood

  6. Pingback: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge: Scene By Scene Analysis in Exhaustive Detail Index | dontcallitbollywood

  7. Pingback: DDLJ Part 21: Shahrukh Arrives in India and All of Nature Greets Him | dontcallitbollywood

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