I’m back! We’ll see how this goes. I’ve cut Hindi Film 101 down to once a week to give me a little breathing space, and I get to pick if it is Tuesday or Thursday. That should help. (DDLJ full index here)
In my last post, I talked about how the real revolutionary part of the film is not that Shahrukh refuses to elope and instead wants to stay and win over Kajol’s family, but that Kajol IS willing to elope and in fact suggests it. Shahrukh’s objection is only there so that we can be clear about Kajol’s desires. If that makes sense.
And the rest of this scene kind of repeats those same points to make sure we understood them. But with cool slight changes in framing to make it more obvious. We start with a middle distance camera shot, two thirds of the screen is field with only the central third being our couple. And sky is visible above them. The field is where they are now, grounded, the sky is the possibilities above them.
Once Shahrukh switches to talking of the present, not future plans. And the conversation becomes intimate, about their innermost feelings and beliefs and everything, the camera closes in. We no longer see the sky, and now the field is just a background for their faces which dominate the frame.
While I’m thinking about it, let’s talk skin tone for a moment!!! Kajol is on the darker side for heroines. Shahrukh is on the lighter side for heroes (“Fair and Handsome”) which means their natural tones are pretty close. For this movie in general, Kajol was supposed to be fairly unmade up. It signals both that she is uncomfortable with her sexuality, and that she is visually more traditionally Indian. Which are similar but slightly different messages. In this scene in particular, her minimal make-up adds another way, along with the natural hair and simple white salwar, that she is an essential spirit of the earth, the spirit of the Punjab.
Shahrukh, in this film, is slightly less layered with the pancake make-up than he usually was at the beginning of his career. I think because Adi wanted him to really use his face, to have full use of his micro-expressions. And so they both end up with a lovely brown skin.
What I want to show you particularly in this shot is how perfectly the brown skin works against the yellow flowers. And how the natural light works to pick it all out. There is such distaste for darker skin in Indian film, but instead of avoiding it, Adi embraced it and shows its beauty.
Going back to the dialogue, Kajol’s answers here are fascinating! I’ve been saying, all along, that Kajol as a character is believably stunted. Her trip through Europe was about her resisting that, trying to act like she didn’t need Shahrukh, or anyone, while at the same time being terrified all the time because she knew deep down that she did.
Not because “ooo, the little woman needs a big strong man”, but because Amrish Puri had raised her to be distrustful of anyone outside of their household and reliant on him for all decisions, to the point where simple things like renting a car, reading a train schedule, finding food, are hard for her. The trip through Europe was about Kajol learning that she couldn’t do those things for herself, but what she could do was trust her own judgement in who around her she could ask for help. This whole trip to the Punjab has been about her making her peace with a new awareness that her own birth family are not people she can trust.
And so, when Shahrukh asks if she loves him, she responds not just about her feelings for him but her feelings for him in comparison with her feelings for everyone else in her life. It’s not just that spending that time in Europe made her fall in love with Shahrukh, it’s that it made her fall out of love with her family. He forced her to grow up
And he knows it to. He knows this isn’t just about a love story, this is about a decision on how she wants to live the rest of her life, what she believes in. It’s something that I can really only compare to Mani Ratnam films. In every movie of his I have seen, he has such a graceful grasp of the way that a woman decides who to marry not just based on who she loves, but on who she is, who she wants to be, what she wants for her life. Whereas a man’s marriage is only one small part of his life, in Indian society, a woman’s marriage defines her forever. And Aditya Chopra gets it here, and passes that knowledge on to his character. Shahrukh knows to follow his “do you love me?” question with the equally important, “Do you trust me?”
His face here has this tiny tinge of surprise. I think he is playing it like he thought she would say “more than anyone else” again. Or a simple “yes”. And Kajol is playing it that way too, her face is slightly more conflicted, this is an admission that is hard for her too make and more than she thought she would be promising too.
Again, it goes back to that Europe trip. That whole time, Shahrukh was fighting to get her to trust him, at all. Which was partly because he had a crush on her, and partly because he was insulted that she so clearly didn’t trust him for no reason at all really, and partly because he was just a good guy and at a certain point he needed her to trust him in order to be able to protect her. And now, after fighting through that for the whole first half, here she is just offering him everything. She knows that she is not able to solve this situation on her own, and rather than fighting through independently, she is choosing to put the entire situation into his hands.
Now, after this moment of introspection, the camera angle changes. The sky, the future, is beginning to take over the story from the earth, the present that is enfolding them. But they are still dominating the frame together, they will face this future together as well.
And this must be a purposeful shift, because I have to say, they do not look nearly as good from this angle. Shadows under their eyes and all. Although, on the other hand, this is so refreshing compared to today’s botoxed and stretched and perfect faces.
Notice that as Shahrukh starts talking about his plans, Kajol looks down. She is worried, trying to hold on to the present. But he is looking at her, and into the future, and is confident.
She starts to look up again as he says he might have problems. She has just given him full permission to run everything in her life. Tried to make him into a new father figure, sort of. A new man who she can trust to take care of all the things she never learned how to handle. It’s better than before, because she picked him out herself. But it’s still not quite adulthood, she is still letting someone else handle it all.
And Shahrukh is saying she shouldn’t be satisfied with that. She should be aware of her own abilities and value them, as he values them. Again, going back to Europe, I mentioned in one of those parts that right now, at age 18-19-20, having spent her entire life going school-home-school-home with Amrish looking over her shoulder, she needs Shahrukh to do, well, everything. But give it ten years, when they go back on a family vacation, she’s going to be driving the car, yelling at the kids, figuring out the maps, whole deal. It’s not that she is born incapable, it’s that she never learned how to use her capabilities. She needs someone to help her with that.
And this scene is our clue that Shahrukh’s character is going to help her do that. We already saw him push her out of her comfort zone in Europe, now he is pushing her again. Telling her that he doesn’t want a little wife who follows him around, he wants a partner who can help him. Starting now. He may be taking the lead on the planning their next steps, but that doesn’t mean she has nothing of value to offer.
And the next shot shifts it again. He has told her that he needs her strength, that he doesn’t want to take control and lead everything forever while she keeps her head down (literally!) and just listens. And now he is shifting to a different level of the argument. Which kind of doesn’t fit at all with the conversation with Kajol or what she, the character, needs to hear. But it is what the audience wants to hear.
A film like this, so often it can feel like it forgets about the romance and turns into a thing between the two men, he has to defeat her father so he will “win” the girl. But the girl is kind of an afterthought after the father. Or the evil boyfriend or whoever it is depending on the film. But this is Aditya saying, clearly, “No, my hero is better than that. He is here because he loves her and that’s the only reason. For the girl, not for the competition.”
It also reassures the audience that this will have a happy ending. He gives the kind of declarative statement that we know, in Indian film, means it’s really gonna happen. Part of Shaila Nayyar’s brilliant argument in her “Oral Narrativity” paper is that in an oral narrative, to say it is to make it happen. Because in an oral narrative, there is more kind of blurring of the lines between your omniscient narrator and the character dialogue. But we don’t have to know all of that, we just know that there is a certain tone in the hero’s voice when we are watching a movie which means what they are saying is a magical promise that will certainly come true.
Okay, Kajol’s face in response is a little dopey. But I still want to keep it to show the difference in their backgrounds now. This scene started with the radical statement of Shahrukh being more connected to the earth than Kajol, kneeling within the field. But now we have gone back to normal gender roles. Shahrukh is up against the sky, the power of the future. And Kajol is against the background of the earth, growing things.
Or else I am reading way too much into this and it was just a matter of camera angles to get the one-shot of the actors. But I don’t think so!
And then we transition into the next section with another one-shot, Shahrukh’s face looking thoughtful as he repeats the name of her fiance over her head. But still against the background of flowers this time, along with Kajol’s head under his chin (and the kind of happy nuzzle of her head that follows this line which I didn’t get a screenshot of). It’s the visual reinforcement of that “I am here only for you” line. He may be about to trick another guy, but it’s not about the guy, it’s about the reason he is doing it.