The last couple of sections were kind of downers. Everything was going wrong. Kajol was miserable, Amrish was angry, Farida was sad, and the world just felt out of synch. And now here is Shahrukh! Finally! To set the world spinning the right way again. (full index of all DDLJ posts is here)
I didn’t realize until I started doing this analysis how tightly this film is paced. The energy goes down before it goes up, every time. Between the “palat” scene and that whole earth shattering moment when Shahrukh says good-bye to Kajol at the train station, we had a random scene of the friends sitting talking at a restaurant, and then Kajol and Shahrukh riding the train. It’s not worthless scenes, it quickly gives us little clues of information, Shahrukh considers taking that photo of Kajol and then changes his mind, showing that he is struggling with his feelings. The shot of them separately on the train shows their conflict over their imminent separation. But it’s not a terribly complicated moment, or a dramatic or emotional one. It gives the audience a moment to breath and process what has just occurred, so that they are better prepared to appreciate the next intense scene which will add another layer of complication.
Think of it as putting together a complicated piece of furniture from Ikea (remember how I just built my bed last week?). You have to put together the frame first, then take a moment to move it around and understand how it is supposed to be oriented and all. And then you can do the next complicated part. That’s what Aditya is doing when he builds his structure in this film. There is some incredibly intense and complicated moment between two characters. And then he takes a moment and kind of wiggles this new situation around in front of us, let’s us see how it looks from this side and that, and then pulls out another delicate complicated powerful moment and carefully sets it down on the first, and we can see how they fit together, because we took that extra time to examine the first situation.
In this case, it is Kajol’s inner conflict over her engagement that needs to be wriggled about. And how everyone else feels about it. We had that emotional peak in the last section with Kajol and Farida talking it out and coming to fully understand the horror of their situation. And now we have a series of small scenes to show us that situation from every angle.
Starting with what exactly this marriage would mean for Kajol, who her potential husband is, how he sees her, and how she would be expected to act.
Kuljit (yes, this is the one actor in this film that is so distinctive, I can’t bring myself to call him Parmeet Sethi. He’s Kuljit! He’s always Kuljit) responds to his friends’ compliments for Kajol with claiming that it’s not the girl, it’s his own luck. That is, Kajol is gorgeous not because of anything within herself, but because it was Kuljit’s fate for her to be gorgeous, for his wife to be to his liking. Him him him him him. He’s not just gross, he’s another Amrish Puri. The women in his life exist only because he wills them into being.
Even innocent young Pooja Ruparel gets this behavior, he reaches out and pinches her cheek, breaking right through her personal space, and casually using her family nickname. Not only does this show great lack of respect for her, it is exacerbated when his reaction to her objection is to laugh and forget it. Her emotions are pointless to him, he doesn’t even see her as a person.
This scene is here on purpose. Aditya is making a family movie, he isn’t going to show anything too aggressive, Kuljit literally never even touches Kajol. But Aditya also wants to place in our minds the way he will/could touch her. And so we see him invading Pooja’s space, a moment that has no sexual connotations at all. But we follow it by this line of dialogue, which connects the two in our minds on a subconscious level. Just as he grabbed Pooja without permission and laughed off her upset, so is he looking forward to his first night with Kajol, and planning that her anger and objections will only make it sweeter.
And what of Kajol. While Kuljit is sitting there watching her, she is sitting there on display. This is how engagements and first meetings work, and we have become used to it, so used to it that it doesn’t even seem odd. Kuljit is sitting there with his friends, they are all openly studying Kajol and discussing her like a new car. And Kajol has as much agency as a car would, placed on a platform to be best observed, with no one asking how she feels about Kuljit, or talking to her at all. Another thing I didn’t notice until I did screenshots, this is another moment when Kajol hears the love theme, and has to cover her ears with her hands to shut it out. And no one notices! The bride is sitting there looking very very odd, and no one cares, because, well, no one cares! All she has to do is stay in the place they put her, with the decorations they gave her to wear, and no one notices anything else.
Well, most people don’t notice. We go from this scene, in the afternoon/evening, to the night time, the family is staying up singing and talking. Farida is going around serving food (another small moment to remind us of a woman’s traditional role). And Amrish is watching all this, the world he controls, with an oblivious smile. Everything is moving like clockwork, everything is happening as he desires, all is right in his world.
Until his mother tries to make him see that it isn’t really “his world”, the world belongs to everyone equally. She points out that Kajol doesn’t seem happy, she is concerned. This isn’t just a moment of pointing out that Kajol is unhappy, it is also a moment of pointing out that Amrish’s mother is unhappy because Kajol is unhappy. And Amrish can’t handle either of these things, people can only be unhappy when he gives them permission, and only happy when he gives them permission. He can’t just leave it, let his mother have her own emotions and his daughter have hers.
This is also another moment when you have to ask yourself “is it that he is mouthing platitudes that don’t fit this situation, or is it that we have stopped being aware of how false these platitudes are?” Remember way back when they got the letter in London saying that Kuljit was grown and the marriage to Kajol should happen soon? Kajol ran from the room, and Amrish was thrilled that he had raised such a “sharam” daughter even in evil London. But Kajol ran from the room because she was terrified and miserable and trying to prepare herself for an empty life with a strange man. Only, isn’t that what “sharam” is? A girl so entirely unprepared for marriage, that she cries, faints, runs from the room, at the thought of it. And this is being a “good” father, raising a daughter so stunted is to have no way of handling a marriage, and then forcing her into it anyway. Which is what Amrish is saying when he says “she’ll adjust”. Adjust to what? to living in a strange land with strangers for the rest of her life? To spending her days serving food and hiding in the women’s quarters after living a free life in London? Is that an “adjustment”, or is that Stockholm syndrome? Or merely giving into depression so great you no longer feel the need to rebel? And is this what we have all been trained to accept as “Indian tradition”?
(usual disclaimer that of course not all arranged marriages are like this, but the situation does lend itself to abuses when you have an oblivious father like Amrish, and there is no easy way to prevent those abuses within the socially acceptable structures)
As a poor wittle manbaby, Amrish is naturally incapable of fixing what he sees as a problem all on his own. So he goes running to a woman to clean up after him, confronting Farida and terrifying her into promising to make Kajol start smiling more or “she will regret it”. Again, all of this was purposefully put in place after that phenomenal scene between Farida and Kajol. They talked about how a woman’s needs will never be respected, she is always just there to serve men. And now we see how that happens, from 3 generations. Kajol, as the young bride, is there to be a body for her husband. Amrish’s mother, as an old woman, is there to constantly reinforce a vision of a happy home, everyone is happy, everyone will adjust. Any small moment of worry that is expressed must be immediately silenced so the man can go back to happy contemplation of his place in the world. And then there is Farida. The middle generation. Trapped between the two. She has to solve the problems of the younger generation in order to soothe the worries of the older. This is the life of women, this is what Kajol and Farida were talking about, not the big moments of sacrifice, but the little grinding ones that happen minute by minute for your entire life.
Now, you are reading this thinking “Margaret, you’ve lost it, you are reading way too much into this, it’s just a normal family moment.” And you are thinking “There is no way Aditya Chopra actually had a reason for all of this! It’s just a coincidence that it lines up this way.” But tell me this, did it ever seem odd to you that Kajol went from telling her mother she would be fine, she would marry Kuljit, to running off to Shahrukh? There is no intervening dialogue scene for Kajol, no big moment that might change her mind.
It’s these little moments. The ones she isn’t even there for. But which she doesn’t need to see because she has been seeing them her whole life. A wife’s job is to pander to her husband’s every need. Kajol’s potential new husband is disgusting. But more than that, can Kajol truly cut the love out of her heart, the spirit out of her soul, and live like that? Pandering to every need of this person she doesn’t respect? She made that promise, and she tried to keep it. But she couldn’t, any more than a fish can live on land. And that is what the audience knows too, thanks to what we have seen. We have spent over an hour and a half with Kajol by this point, we know her. And we know that, no matter what her father says, she will not be able to “adjust” to this life. And no matter what her mother promises, she will not be able to “forget”. It is against nature.
Speaking of nature, SO MANY SCREENSHOTS!!!! Because that is what this sequence is about, nature bursting forth. Kajol’s nature first. Notice, when she wakes up hearing Shahrukh’s music, her hair is wild here. Curled, loose, a little tangled. Her make-up is minimal, her outfit is simple. This scene is going to be an iconic image, and it starts from here. Kajol, not the dressed up bride object she was in the last scene, but earthy and real, a person, with no artifice obscuring her.
Kajol is at her most natural, her most in tune with the world. But the world around her is barren. The sun is rising behind her, life is coming into being. But around her are still leafless trees, a dirt road, nothing growing.
Until, finally, she enters the field. Remember when they first arrived in India? The women in the field? How I talked about Amrish’s vision of Indian womanhood, in tune with the land, part of it? And how Kajol is resisting that, unhappy, on the train, not breathing with the earth? Well, here she is in tune with the earth.
So in tune that for a moment she is almost hidden by it.
Small detour for a moment. When I was writing a grad school paper on Bombay, I looked up some of the objections to it. One of them was that Manisha was shown eloping while carrying her prayer rug and Koran, which was disrespectful to them. But to me, that was the most respectful moment. In the world of that film, the elopement and marriage of Manisha was a good true right thing. And the fact that her religion was there with her, supporting her, showed that it was a good right true religion.
Something similar is going on here. Amrish wants Kajol to give in to the power of India, the land, the growing things, the family, everything around her. And she just can’t do it, she is out of tune with herself, and therefore not in tune with anything around her. But now, now that her love is bursting forth, suddenly she is part of the fields. Over and over in this sequence we see that. India is good, the land is good, the people are good. They are there supporting her in this moment, saying “yes, daughter of India, yes! This is what you want and this is what you should do and this is what I want for you! I will embrace you in my fields and hide you and nurture your love, because it is natural and right.”
That is why we have those separate shots. Kajol entering the field, Kajol almost hidden within it, taken into the earth, then Kajol resting, breathing, feeling at peace with the world. And finally, Kajol taken to a higher plane, this strength she is feeling allowing her to confront her destiny. A cow.
No, not really. A sacred animal of India which is giving its approval to her romance by wearing her bell. And which is tying together her European love story to her Indian identity. Tying Shahrukh’s identity too. He is the one who had the bell, and he is the one who chose to put it on the cow, to tie together their shared half-identities as European and Indian, and thereby tie together the two halves of their relationship, not just a European fantasy, but something here, in a world where she never expected to see it.
(this is also, by the way, one of my consistent fantasies when stuck in a stressful family situation. What if I went out to the parking lot for fresh air and there was some romantic wonderful person who only cared about my happiness waiting to whisk me away from it all? I’m guessing I’m not the only one who thinks that? Heck, look at the ending of 16 Candles!)
And then the wind starts. I don’t know how they did this (helicopters?), but it is brilliant. Just as the first line of the song starts up, this wind sweeps through the frame, from left to right, heralding Shahrukh’s arrival, sweeping the power of it through the frame, through the grass, through Kajol’s hair that is floating at one with the grass. The whole world is moving to his tune, literally. The tune of love.
And we get one moment of Kajol standing like a Goddess, dominating the world around her, but a part of it as well, with the power of Shahrukh flowing over and around her.
And then there is Shahrukh. As much a part of the earth as she is. Among the flowers, almost hidden by them. He is not trying to dominate the earth, the way all the men in the Punjab have so far, with their standing and big gestures and ordering people around. No, he is bending down, within it. This is the first moment of the film when Shahrukh enters a woman’s realm. Long before the kitchen scenes, the singing scenes, everything else. It is here, his first appearance in India, buried in nature.
In Anupama Chopra’s book, she talks about an earlier draft that had dialogue here. Kajol asks “Why did you come?” Shahrukh says “Why do you think? I love you!” and Kajol says “I love you too!” Essentially. My copy of the book is still packed so I can’t check, but it is something like that.
And then as they filmed it and worked through the scene, they cut all that. Because we truly don’t need it. We know everything, just like Kajol does, just from his presence, just from his half smile and open arms.
This is the first moment in the whole film when Kajol smiles. She has such a distinctive smile, so open. And her face is so incredibly flexible, she can show any emotion on it. Anger, laughter, cockiness (Kajol’s face presents “cockiness” a whole lot on film, doesn’t it? Not what you usually expect from an actress!), and she has gone through a lot of them in this film. We’ve seen her happy before too. Enjoying herself while drunk, chattering with her friends, talking with her mother, playing with her sister. But we haven’t had this pure natural smile before. This moment of “everything is right and perfect”. This is the first time we got that, the camera lingering on her face as it opens up. And that’s why we don’t need dialogue. Shahrukh opens his arms, Kajol wants to go into them, that’s all we need to know.
And that moment! That iconic moment! Only, their figures are so small here. The sky, the fields, it is all so big, and the people are almost lost in them. All of nature is alight, the sun has come out, and these two small people are just one small part of it, going to their destined goal just as much as it is the goal of the flowers to blossom, the sun to rise, the trees to grow.
Small moment I noticed here. The way Shahrukh lets his hat and guitar fall once Kajol is in his arms. It’s not immediate, that is, it’s not a reflex. He feels her in his arms, and then he gently sets down the symbols of his cool guy persona, his outer trimmings, so that he can hold her, the one thing that matters. It’s a little bit of business they had to solve, because Aditya would have wanted that shot with the guitar on one side and the hat on the other for balance when he had his arms out. But then Shahrukh would need to somehow get rid of the props in order to embrace Kajol. But I bet it was Shahrukh who chose how he did it, chose to make it gently deliberate instead of thoughtless. Like, he always kind of knew Kajol would run to him, this wasn’t a surprise that shocked him into dropping things. But he also didn’t hesitate to let them go for her sake.
Okay, that’s it, take a breath, go rewatch your DVDs, I will be back for the full song on my next post, next Thursday. Or Wednesday. I haven’t decided.