Well, I have now seen all the less controversial/hardcore versions of Swept Away. This one, the original We’re Not Dressing with Bing Crosby, Overboard of course, and The Admirable Crichton. Which was a JM Barrie play, so I haven’t “seen” it, but I have read it. Next step, the Korean TV series! (not really, I think I am done with this story for another 5 years) Anyway, isn’t it fascinating how consistent it is across cultures?
Let me back up to JM Barrie. Most famous for writing Peter Pan, but did most of his work as a play write. He wrote in the Edwardian era in England when people were beginning to experiment a little with the ideas of crossing class lines, but only as kind of a sexy fantasy, not in reality.
Thus, The Admirable Crichton! The idea of the play is that the perfect butler travels with his spoiled wealthy family on their yacht. The yacht capsizes and the butler ends up knowing better how to survive on the desert island where they find themselves than anyone else. Social structures are turned over, the butler takes charge and the family follows along. And the daughter of the family (of course) falls in love with him. But in the end, they are returned to civilization and he goes back to his appropriate role as butler. Ha-ha, wouldn’t it be funny if we lived in a world where social structures could really be overturned like they are on a desert island!
Fast forward a few decades, now we are in Hollywood in America and it’s the depression. No longer impossible to imagine social structures being completely overturned. Also, there’s Bing Crosby. And George Burns and Gracie Allen. And a performing bear (why???? Golden Age Hollywood was weird!). Anyway, same kind of plot, rich people’s yacht sinks, they all end up on a desert island, the lowly sailor who they have been bossing around turns out to be the only one who knows how to survive on the island, bossy spoiled rich girl (Carole Lombard, of course) falls in love with him. Oh, and Ethel Merman is there too.
(Watch this trailer. You will not regret it)
Both of these stories were more interested in the class concept. The idea being that the working classes are so abused by the wealthy in “normal” society that turning it upside down in a desert island situation would look extreme. For Barrie, it was funny, something the rich playgoing classes could laugh about, “ha-ha, imagine if we had to work for our butler!” For 1930s Hollywood, it was about the working class audience whistling and hooting as their hero takes the heroine down a few pegs. And then gets married to her in the end, because now we can imagine a permanent kind of social upheaval.
And then in the 1970s, Lisa Wertmuller got her hands on this idea. Swept Away isn’t an official remake of either of the earlier two films, but it’s the same idea. Rich woman, servant she abuses, shipwrecked together. It could even be that Wertmuller came up with the idea completely independently, there is sort of a natural progression, “I want a man and a woman in a situation with no outside forces to intervene. Shipwrecked!”
(don’t watch this movie. Very disturbing)
Only, Wertmuller took it and, because she is Wertmuller (I haven’t seen this film, but I have seen other of her movies in film classes) made it super super misogynistic and sadomasochistic. It’s no longer a class story, or if it is, it is classes represented by a man and a woman. It’s a story about a man complete dominating a woman and wearing her down until she desires him. And rather than ending with a happy permanent overthrow of classes like in the Bing version, or a graceful contented return to the original places, like in the Barrie version, it ends with this bitter return to “real life” in which they are both unsatisfied by their roles and changed by what they experienced but don’t know how to do anything about it. Really, just sounds like a movie I would hate all around.
Oh, and then Garry Marshall got his hands on it and somehow managed to turn this plot from disturbing to heartwarming. Because he’s Garry Marshall. The Overboard version doesn’t even have the desert island any more. Instead, we have the very-disturbing-if-you-think-about-it amnesia storyline. Which sort of traps her in an island of her own mind. But the ending is still the cheerful overthrow of society. Maybe it’s something about Americans? We can handle the idea of the lower class succeeding permanently?
(another fun one!)
Oh right, this movie! While it’s still no We’re Not Dressing (seriously, A TRAINED BEAR!!!!), it is right behind Overboard with my favorite of the adaptations of this plot. Partly because it takes so long to build up to it. And is so careful in how it draws the line between the romance plot and the class issues plot. It skates riiiiiiiiiight up to confusing the two, and then dances away from it.
Speaking of dancing, Ram Charan! This is his first movie (yes?) and it’s a great sort of audition reel for him. Dancing, romancing, comedy, and lots and lots of fight scenes. Including a very Rambo-influenced ending action scene.
It is also Neha Sharma’s first movie. And she is baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad. I know she doesn’t speak Telugu, but I’ve seen her in Hindi films too, and OH MY GOSH. Not a good actress. But strangely sexual, like, all the time! I’m not even attracted to her, and I can’t help noticing it. Even in her little cameo in Teri Meri Kahaani (love that movie, by the way), she pops up onscreen and I think “why is this woman so sexual?” Kind of good casting for this role, since we aren’t supposed to really see her as a person.
(Do you see it? Am I crazy? Or maybe it doesn’t come through in stills)
Prakash Raj is brilliant, of course. And Puri Jaganaddh is too, in his own kooky “should I feel guilty for enjoying this?” kind of way. Love the words written onscreen, love the funky character introductions, love the little moments of breaking the 4th wall like when someone references “filmi” emotions versus “real” emotions. The whole Puri Jaganaddh thing. Plus stalking. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Bujjigaddi or Pokiri, but more than Businessman.
But mostly it just made me want to go back and watch We’re Not Dressing again. It can’t be as odd as I remember, can it?
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The meat of the story is in the island part, that’s kind of the “hook”, the unusual bit of the film. But like I said, it is how it is set up that really makes it interesting. We see in detail how our hero has been downtrodden thanks to his place in society. His father was killed for witnessing and reporting a crime down by a wealthy mob boss, his mother put in the hospital from the attack. The doctors won’t treat her without money, another rich man pays off our child hero to take the blame for an attack his own son did and go to jail in order to earn money for his mother’s operation. Much much later, he learns his own uncle stole the money and never even gave it to the hospital.
See??? Class issues! His father was killed because he tried to do the right thing but was powerless. His mother died because the hospital wouldn’t help without money. He gave up his own childhood to spend it in jail so a rich man’s son would be free.
He comes out of jail tough and determined and always ready for a fight. Because society made him that way! The lower classes have to be violent because they have taken on all the troubles of society that the upper classes try to avoid.
And only at this point is the romance introduced. And, again, it is introduced with a class situation first. A car hits Ram Charan’s bike. He chases the car on foot, it tries to get away, he breaks through the glass, and only then sees that the driver is a beautiful woman and decides to let it go. Later, Neha is telling this story to her father Prakash Raj who immediately explains that it is a class issue. Those with bikes will always blame and be jealous of those with cars. And he is right! Ram Charan, as a lower class warrior, is always going to be quick to fight for his rights, because he has learned that he has to be after the whole father killed-sent to jail-lost his whole family thing.
The stalking romance that follows is kind of separate from the whole class thing in an interesting way. Neha represents both the love interest for the film and the symbol of class oppression. But not simultaneously. From the moment she is seen in the car to the moment she arrives in Bangkok, she is simply a love interest.
But, when Ram Charan gets a job in Bangkok and ends up working for her as a tourist guide, suddenly it is all class and no romance. Which is stated explicitly in the dialogue several times. He no longer finds her attractive, he no longer likes her, because of how terrible she is to the people who work for her.
And so, by the point they are shipwrecked together, all of this complicated class/love thing is kind of in two parts. We can see that he slaps her and humiliates her because of his class anger. But he remembers her mother’s death anniversary and saved her from the bad guys in the first place (and while on the run from them ended up on a desert island) because he loves her.
And when Neha returns his love, it’s not because he humiliates her. The humiliation makes her a better person in general, which makes her open to understanding his love. But humiliation alone doesn’t make her love him, if that makes sense. She isn’t “in too” being humiliated.
And just in case we missed that, in the middle of this section, Puri Jaganaddh cuts back to our humorous character actors, one of whom is finally letting loose on how much he hates Neha, despite having spent all the time before this talking about how much he loves her. And the other humorous character actor (I don’t care enough to look up his name, but I know I’ve seen him before) points out that we shouldn’t make assumptions based on what we think the situation is, like assuming that this guy really did love Neha. And so, the audience gets a lesson, we shouldn’t assume that Ram Charan is tormenting Neha because of some sexual/love/possession thing. It’s not that at all.
Okay, I’m not going to say this movie is all a-okay with male-female stuff. There is the stalking romance, the “if you just love her enough she has to return it’ idea, the way all the female leads are incredibly sexualized all the time, and the fact that Neha does eventually fall for Ram Charan. Oh, and that as soon as she falls for him, she is all in and ready to leave her father and follow him anywhere (I wouldn’t mind that so much except that her father is Prakash Raj, and he is THE BEST). There’s also a couple of moments when our hero “chooses” not to rape her, which is good that he doesn’t do it, but a bit odd with how it is handled, like he has to explain why he made this choice besides just saying “because it is wrong.”
I think what might bother me the most, or at least tied with the rapey stuff, is way at the end when Neha has run away to be with him, and Prakash Raj, to get her back, offers him his mother instead. Who is NOT dead and Prakash Raj somehow magically tracked down. And Ram Charan takes the trade, and everyone understands. So, first, a mother is always better than a love interest. Which I don’t really like, there is a whole “minimizing the woman you are sexually attracted to” vibe there. And second, it is a “trade”. Like, Ram Charan has possession of Neha and then gives her back to her father. No consideration of what she wants, as an independent person, and that maybe that should be driving this exchange.
Oh, and then it’s all pointless anyway, because Neha is kidnapped by, coincidentally, the same people who killed Rama Charan’s father who he has been trying to chase down all this while, and Prakash Raj asks Ram Charan to bring her back. This is maybe thirty seconds after the whole exchange of mother for lover. And then we get a 20 minute Rambo-esque chase scene through the jungles of Bangkok with Ram Charan freeing himself from handcuffs, fighting barehanded, hiding in mud, etc. etc.
And then the movies over! So, we got a whole bunch of fight scenes, some cocky stalker love scenes, a strange and very memorable desert island sequence, and Prakash Raj. Which I guess is enough for a first film!