Welcome back to DDLJ! I’m going to try my best to put up a post every Wednesday, we’ll see how I do. I already had to stop my box office posts when I got regular with Hindi Film 101, this may mean the end of birthday and/or trailer news posts. I’ll check viewership and see what the concensus is as to which are more important and based on that I may need to take another DDLJ break at some point. (All DDLJ posts indexed here)
I left off in the middle of a big moment in the last section. Shahrukh had appeared in the Punjab and, without a word between them, Kajol had understood what that meant and run to him. But, a moment later, her doubts intruded. What I want to show you in particular in this still is how little we need dialogue to understand what is happening. We are so involved with these characters by this point, we know what they are thinking without them needing to say anything. Just as they understand each other without words.
Kajol turns away and looks at the camera, unhappy. We, the viewer, know that she is suddenly wondering what will happen next, if she should take the leap and leave her family and have faith in Shahrukh. And Shahrukh knows that too, knows that this is his real test, if he can convince her to come to him again, not impulsively but in full consciousness, then he will have her forever.
It’s all in Kajol’s hands, and the camera tells us this. Kajol is dominating the frame, Shahrukh is behind her, an echo of her, trying to get her to turn.
She starts to turn, and Shahrukh’s figure begins to dominate the frame almost equal to her, but with her still in the foreground. The visuals tell us that he is beginning to work his way into her awareness, to win her over. The framing is half the story, Shahrukh’s face is the other. His eyes, his mouth, even his nose in some strange way seem to be yearning towards her, he is putting his all into this moment, knowing that it is no longer a game, no longer a practice run like the “Palat” scene, but life and death. If she doesn’t come to him this time, she never will again.
And then he moves back, with his hands in his pockets. Which is a brilliant choice, whether it was his or Adi’s. His face and his voice (well, the singer’s voice) and even the lyrics right here are telling us how committed he is. But he doesn’t want to frighten her off, or put pressure on her. So he is carefully keeping his hands at his side, now that she has finally turned, he is backing away slowly and keeping it casual so as not to scare her away again.
Notice, again, how Kajol is dominating the frame. Even in the earlier frame, Shahrukh in the dark colors faded in front of Kajol in brilliant white. Now, he is kneeling in the field, at a lower level than her, hidden, she is the one standing out in our awareness as the audience, just like Shahrukh, we are desperately anxious, waiting to see what she will do, what she will choose.
And Kajol repeats Shahrukh’s lines. But not back to him, to herself. This is a confession being drawn out of her, not a promise, but an awareness, an acknowledgement. While Shahrukh was telling her something she didn’t know, trying to convince her of something, Kajol is allowing herself to struggle through to a decision, to cross the line she has been jumping back and forth across ever since she was introduced, singing a love song to an unknown. For a woman in her situation, the most radical rebellion she can do is to fall in love. Even before meeting Shahrukh, she was primed for it, something inside was telling her that she was not made for a life of sacrifice, for a love marriage. And this is the moment when that thing inside finally breaks free, once and for all, never to be contained again. It is one last final struggle as she grabs her dupatta as though she is freeing herself, and forces the words out.
But once they are out, look at the smile on her face! The freedom, facing the camera fearlessly, dominating the screen with her decision.
And Shahrukh’s smile is not just “she loves me!” But “she has won, I have won, she is free”
Her next lines, as she takes his hands, acknowledge the truth, that she has crossed a line, there is no going back, her old life is dead to her now. Again, this is the most dangerous thing a woman can do, and the biggest thing she can do, to choose her own love, to admit to love outside of marriage at all. And now that she has finally fully done it, there is nothing else for her in her life.
“Let me die in your arms” is a romantic thing to say, but it is also a true risk for this couple. Look at the expression on Kajol’s face as we hear the line. It is not romantic, it is pained. She really has decided that she would rather die with him, than live a long life obeying the rules of society.
But, there is also a reward! Admitting to love opens up sudden vistas in their lives. the camera pulls back, they are no longer trapped within the fields of the Punjab, they can fly anywhere now that their love is admitted.
The very first part of the song is a marriage ceremony. Not just because it makes the fantasy acceptable, to put the marriage first. But because it confirms that this is a marriage, what we are watching now between the two of them. The courtship is over, they are making lifelong vows. Any fights and misunderstandings from now on, they won’t touch the core of it, they are together forever.
It also questions our understanding of what a marriage is. Kajol’s family is preparing for her to marry Kuljit. For them, a marriage is a huge family affair, the bride is on one side of the room, the groom on the other, both surrounded by their friends. They hardly speak before the wedding. The relationship is decided by their relatives without their input.
And now we have this song. A wedding is the two of them, with God, in a holy place. A marriage is the two of them together, laughing, talking, playing. And finally walking down the road, wrapped in each others’ arms, with the recurring refrain “I would die in your arms”. Only this time it is less about their imminent danger, and more about planning a lifetime together, ending with death holding each other.
It makes the marriage planned for Kajol feel suddenly blasphemous, wrong. Not just because she is in love with someone else and so on and so on. No, on a larger level, her family and the greater society have lost touch with what we call in Christianity “the sacrament of marriage”. I don’t know the Hindu terminology for “sacrament”, but I am sure marriage is supposed to be one. Not just about families shaking hands and a young man raping a young woman. But about something holy between two people, a bond that cannot be broken because God has witnessed it.
Beyond the content of the song, there is the presentation of it. This was one of the very first Hindi films I watched, and the first time I encountered a song of this type. What I call the “shared hallucination” kind of song. It’s not a woman fantasizing about a man or vice versa. It’s about a couple so in love that they are traveling into a hallucination together, their minds and dreams and hopes and hearts have become one perfect thing.
Indulge me in a small detour to discuss these kinds of songs, because I find them fascinating. “Bol Ne Halke Halke” in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom makes the subtext explicit, after their song together, the couple looks at each other and says “we just lived 40 years in 5 minutes”. Although they just met, from then on it is as though they have already been married, already know everything about each other. It’s one of the reasons I love that movie, because it makes the subtext text, but somehow doesn’t disparage it.
The songs I am talking about, they are different from the mountain peak songs. Something simple like “Mohabbat Ho Gaye” from Baadshah, that is just expressing the feeling of being in love, a feeling both characters have. It’s not about the two of them having a meeting of the minds and souls, becoming one in all ways.
And then of course Karan took this shared hallucination idea and made it so much more complicated with his “Suraj Hua Madham”. There is the shared, and the not quite shared. Both of them are dreaming of a life together, but they are out of synch with each other, dreaming of their lover joining their existing life, not building a new life just the two of them.
Comparing with those other version just makes the superiority of the DDLJ version stand out. Clean focus on the two of them in this dream, with bare minimum of shots returning to “reality” to confirm that it is the two of them dreaming together, not just one of them. And no need for obvious tricks like in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, we know without need for words what is happening.
And finally we come out of it, back to the “real”, to find the two of them curled up together in the fields. Their closeness, and the way the camera frames them equally, tells us that it was a shared dream between the two of them. And their posture tells us everything about their relationship from now forward.
Throughout the first half, Kajol has been struggling to trust Shahrukh, to rely on him. And Shahrukh has been struggling with his decision to grow up and be the one she can rely on. He resisted all across Europe, trying to maintain his “cool guy” exterior, while taking care of her all the while. And she resisted, trying to maintain her “too smart and well brought up to trust a strange boy” behavior. And now that has been washed away. Shahrukh made his decision slowly, over the course of the first half, in small moments. The “Palat” scene, telling her he wouldn’t come to the wedding, finally in that conversation with his father, deciding to formally go after her. By the time he is here now, having come all the way to the Punjab and laid her heart at his feet, he is already far gone.
But Kajol, she resisted until just now. And here she is, eyes closed, head on his shoulder, his arm around her. Relying on him to have his eyes open, his back straight, his arm supporting her. She doesn’t need to do anything any more.
Oh, and by the way, I noticed on this watch that Adi must have really wanted this graceful effect on the return from the song. Look at the strain lines on Kajol’s neck! That must have been a phenomenally uncomfortable posture for her to hold.
She has shifted for the close up, looks more relaxed. But notice, it is HER who gets the close up here. This is still Kajol’s story, not Shahrukh’s. He is here to protect her and plan for her if she wants it. But the big decisions, they are still hers. And the huge internal debates, those are all hers too.
Shahrukh knows it is her decisions he is waiting on as well. And he knows that, although she is now his with no take backs, that doesn’t mean he can fully understand her yet. I love the way, in this shot, Kajol’s hair creates a wall between them, blocking her face from his sight. And the way Shahrukh looks so kind of concentrated on her, trying to understand and prepare himself for whatever will be the reason she pulled away.
After the way her family, mother father sister and grandmother, have been ignoring her feelings, or trying to force them to change, it is a wonderful breath of fresh air for us to see someone who is fascinated by her changing moods, cherishes them, loves her independence and her anger and her passion and everything about her. Wants her to be more herself, if possible, not less.
Kajol stands and we can see she is preparing herself for an announcement of a change within herself. They are standing up out of the flowers now, no longer embraced by the earth, but moving into the wider world, her decision (we can see from the visuals before any words are said), will be related to their next steps after this dream of love. Shahrukh knows it too. He is waiting, half afraid of what she might say. Not that he thinks he can really lose her, again, they are passed that point in their relationship. But that he is waiting for what new challenge she will set, him what new turn he will have to react to.
And then Kajol turns and says the most radical words in the film. There is so much critical focus on what Shahrukh does here, NOT eloping, that is what made this film so different from anything before. But what if you see that reaction as only there to give us a contrast with Kajol’s? What if it is not about the wild NRI boy refusing to elope, but about the “good” girl insisting on it?
Amrish thought she was so under control. Farida was less sure. But Kajol was never “controlled”, she was always her own person. Shahrukh knew that, all along he knew that. He is not surprised by what she says here, the only one in her life who would not be. And the audience is not surprised either, we know this character inside and out, and we know that she is more than just the rules and roles her family has given her.
This is remarkable! In any artwork. To create a female character who is so clearly a person in her own right, not just a reflection of the men around her. At the Women’s March, one of the favorite signs I saw was one that said “
Because she is someone’s daughter-Because she is someone’s sister-Because she is someone”
That’s what this film has done with Kajol’s character. Early on, she tells her father that while traveling she will never forget she is “Baldev Singh’s daughter”. But, we forget that. The audience. We don’t think of her in terms of how her actions will affect Amrish or Shahrukh or even Farida or Pooja Ruperal. We think of her in terms of how her actions will affect herself. And because we do, her decision here makes sense. Just as it makes sense for millions of women everyday who run away from their families for their own survival. Our actions, as women, are not about how they will look to society or how they will affect the men in our lives. They are about the right to make a decision as to what is right for our own lives for ourselves.