DDLJ Part 24: Kuljit! And Men as Feminist Allies

Yes yes, I haven’t forgotten DDLJ!  I skipped last week because of the Net Neutrality protest, but now I am back! (full index of DDLJ posts here)

The last section dealt with two issues.  First, establishing SRKajol as an permenantly bonded couple.  The whole first half of the film was about them slooooooooooooowly coming together after starting in very different places.  But now, going into the second half, we have to know that they are in the same place, that they are a couple bonded forever into one entity.  That was the point of “Tujhe Dekho”.  They are now in such perfect pairing, that even their fantasy is shared.

But the second half was clarifying exactly how this plot and planning and narrative would move forward with them as a pair.  Shahrukh will do the majority of the action, but Kajol will not be exactly passive.  She will be the inspiration, the strength, while he acts.  And we needed to see that at this point, because the rest of the film is surprisingly Shahrukh-heavy, considering most of the first half dealt with them equally.  But even when Kajol isn’t onscreen, we still feel like she is, because we know that Shahrukh carries her with him at all times.  Especially now, in this next section, when we see him, seeing Kuljit, as Kajol will see him.

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I mentioned that Kuljit’s intro was an odd kind of throwback to the Shammi Kapoor era of hero.  This section picks up on that even more.  It doesn’t feel like it belongs in the rest of the film, because it doesn’t belong in the rest of the film!  This is Kajol’s story more than anything else, and Kuljit’s world does not belong in her world.

This is Kuljit, galloping through a forest, the perfect old-fashioned macho hero.  He is tall, he is handsome, he can hunt and ride and fight.  He is the hero of his own story, a story where he is brave and adventurous and proud and all of his good qualities are rewarded by being handed a beautiful spicy bride.

And in Kuljit’s story, enters a villain!  Shahrukh, down to the black hat and evil grin.  He is here to trick our brave perfect hero, to joyfully steal from him.

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And we go from this moment of laughter at his evil to the tiger trap plan.  Which is, frankly, pretty silly.  And also belongs in one of those old-fashioned Shammi Kapoor style movies, not here.  But it is the plan that will work with Kuljit, because that is how his mind works.  Danger threatens, he survives, he becomes friends with the one who saved him.

And Shahrukh knows that!  He belongs in Kajol’s world, where there are grey areas and things happen slowly and in small gentle steps.  And from that vantage point, he can see Kuljit clearly.  He knows that to win him, he has to play the “villain”.  Not in front of Kuljit, but behind his back, do the blunt kind of plan that Kuljit’s version of a villain would do.  And then once he has won him over, he will be invisible to him.  That is, Kuljit will not even be able to conceive of the kind of person Shahrukh is, and the kind of plan he has, not even enough to be suspicious of it.  Heck, he probably can’t even imagine that Kajol could ever have fallen in love with anyone besides himself!

It is only once Shahrukh is brought into Kuljit’s group of friends that the world starts to feel a little more natural, because Shahrukh is now able to tilt it a bit his way, to put the weight back towards the human side of things instead of the posing old-fashioned film “hero” side.  And to make these guys seem like the lame country boys trying to be cool that they are, instead of the dashing heroes that they picture themselves to be.

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Notice the arrangement of the characters in this scene and the posture of the actors.  And the performance of the actors.  The other 4 are kind of heavy lidded and slouching.  Partly just to show that they are all a little drunk.  But also what that being drunk means.

Their life is sitting around fires with guns getting slightly drunk.  Shahrukh is sitting straight up, talking fast, and clearly thinking fast too.  He is slightly disgusted by them all, and also slightly bored.  He is kind of a higher level of human, looking at them all and not even seeing them as a threat, just sort of amusing.

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And notice how the east and west come together here.  Shahrukh mentions Stroh’s Beer and declares he has arrived to open a beer factory, and is looking to buy land.  He pulls on his western powers, branding, money, good times.  But he does it in a kind of dismissive way.  He is not making fun of the NRI who is all about brands and money, he is making fun of these slow locals who think that is all an NRI is about.  And what makes him literally roll his eyes is when the local tries to con him, to sell him on the “Indians are spiritual and holy” line.  He knows it is just as false and obvious as his gambit of “NRIs are all about money”.

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Where it turns into enjoyment is when he sees Kuljit clumsily trying to achieve dominance over him.  He seems amused both by the very idea of male dominance in this old-fashioned way, and that Kuljit thinks he can achieve it.

This is where the acting is so great.  See how Kuljit has his arm drapped around Shahrukh, pulling him in and down?  This is the sort of awkward blunt dominance that made Kuljit the Alpha of his pack of boys.  And see how his eyes are still heavy-lidded and his face kind of tired and sagging?  His brain is slow, only this kind of animalistic dominance makes sense to him.

But notice how Shahrukh’s face is alive and amused.  He is an alpha too, but an alpha of a much more advanced pack.  Shahrukh runs Karan and not-Karan because he is the smartest and funnest of the three.  He doesn’t need pure physical power, he has something better.

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And he immediately uses that something better to easily take Kuljit’s pack away from him, without him even realizing it.  First, he matches Kuljit’s physical dominance by struggling up from his embrace and grabbing him in the same way, but tighter, matching him.

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And then he builds on it.  Kuljit, while they are embracing, suggests that he stay with his family, and orders one of his lackies to grab Shahrukh’s bag and throw it in the jeep.  Shahrukh offers a modest demur, and Kuljit is a bit too quick to jump on it.  Which is a sign of how completely Shahrukh has already dominated him, Shahrukh was expecting a slight push back in response, but Kuljit just obeys immediately.  Shahrukh has to quickly backtrack, explain that no, he does want to stay with Kuljit after all.

And then, in my favorite part of the scene, just to test out his total control of this group of idiots, he casually points out that the lacky is still there, he hasn’t gone to get the bag yet.  Not only is Shahrukh ordering this guy around, he is doing it right in front of Kuljit, which is just about the most casually dominant thing you can do, order around someone else’s “guy”.

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My second favorite part of this scene is Shahrukh’s expression at the end of it.  It’s this great combination of “what’s next?” and “can you believe these guys?” and “what am I doing here with these losers?”  It’s similar to the “I hate these people, get me out of here!” feeling, but a little different because you are in control and know you can leave whenever you want, so you are kind of just enjoying the experience for now.

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And then does get out of it, all of this toxic masculinity, and is brought back to Kuljit’s house and introduced to his family.

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Remember how I talked about a few sections back when Kajol’s family first arrives, how the room always divides into men and women?  We are seeing that again with Kuljit’s family, on Shahrukh is on the female side of the room.

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Even when the men come over to him, he resists allying himself with them.  He stays in the front plane of the space, with the two women, not in the back.

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And as soon as he can, he aggressively pulls himself away from the men, with a look of disgust on his face.

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He stays even farther away, adding on a pained smile, when the men attack the women.  He knows he is supposed to be joining in on this, but he can’t.  And he also can’t fully join the female space, much though he wants to.

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The first time he smiles with anything approaching naturalness, a sincere desire to connect with this other person and make them feel good, is when he is alone with Mandira Bedi.  She is still there, offering him sweets, he takes one, than another, and once his hands are full, he just reaches out to take the whole tray with a smile, not because he is making fun of her, but because he wants to make her feel good, to do whatever it is she wants him to do right now, because that is the kind of polite caring person he is.  He isn’t making fun of her, he isn’t ignoring her, he is trying to build a connection with her as another human being deserving of respect.

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And that’s why Mandira loves him, right away.  And why we, the audience, love this character so much as well.

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And now here’s the part where I go off on a crazy tangent to try to explain what I mean! There is a larger question in movements by oppressed people if a member of the oppressive class can ever truly be part of their movement.  Does their very presence oppress those around them?

That sounds extremist when you write it out like that, what are the goodhearted oppressors supposed to do, after all?  Just wander off and die?  No!  Of course not!  But you have to recognize your position as “ally” not as “leader” or even “member” of the movement.  I’ll put it another way.  If you are the only man/majority race-ethnicity person/upperclass person/majority religion person, in a room where everyone else is not in that privileged position, then you need to shut up and sit down and listen to what they are saying.  And let them make their own plans and take their own choices because it is not your place to decide what they should do.  And the more extreme version of this is for you to gently excuse yourself when talk gets past what you are able to comprehend based on your experience, because they are probably self-censoring in order to make it understandable to you.

Here’s a real life example that I bet all the nice male commentators here have been through and had to figure out what to do.  If you are in a room with your female relatives and no other men, and they start talking about something completely female like, say, menstruation pain, do you a) leap in and tell them that they are doing it wrong and don’t fully understand this issue; b) sit there quietly knowing you have nothing to add to this discussion and trying to be invisible; c) leave the room because you can tell your presence is making everyone else feel slightly uncomfortable.  C), right?  Or b).  But never a).

That’s what a good ally does.  Even if you think you have the answer, you wait until the last possible moment to offer it, because you know this is not your fight.  To the point that if you feel your presence is somehow impeding them finding that answer, you remove yourself.  The message should be, “I will support you in whatever you decide, but it is your life and your decision to make.”

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(This is the issue some people had with Dangal.  It didn’t look like an ally sitting back and letting women take the lead in their own fight, it looked like he was showing them the way.  I don’t agree with that because of the specifics of how the film was done, but I do agree with the underlying argument that a plot isn’t feminist if a man takes the lead in it)

Now, that’s what you do if you are alone in a room with a bunch of people who aren’t like you.  What if you are in a room like Shahrukh is here, that is split between two sides, and you really don’t like “your” side.  Can you move to the other side without making a big deal about it?  Or take up their cause against your “own” side?  No, you can’t.  Because that is still someone else fighting their battle for them.  So instead you stand awkwardly in the middle, trying to convey sympathy and support to the people you like and hope that they will find the strength to stand up for themselves.

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(This is why To Kill a Mockingbird is a brilliant brilliant book.  It shows people struggling with this issue, when it is their place to step in and when it isn’t their fight.  How can you be an ally without going outside the boundaries?  But also without holding back?)

If Shahrukh weren’t constrained by his own needs for his Kajol plan into spending time with Kuljit, he never would spend time with him.  We see that in the first scenes together.  He is disgusted and amused and has no use for these people.  I can picture a whole lifetime of Shahrukh being the smartaleck (sp?) on the playground who takes down the bullies by confusing them, but only if he has a good reason because otherwise he doesn’t even want to bother with them.

But in the second scene, when he is holding back as the macho men spew macho-ness everywhere, I think that is just what he would do no matter what.  He wants to express his disgust with them, we see that in his twisted smiles, but he won’t because it isn’t his fight.  All he can do is provide an alternative to the women, a man who uses his strength to support them and make them feel happy and comfortable instead of uneasy and useless.

That’s why Mandira Bedi falls for him, and that’s why the female audience loved and loves DDLJ so much.  It shows us that it is possible for a man to be supportive and kind and all of that, to feel an instinctive disgust at men who take for granted the power they have over others.  But without leaping in and fighting our battles for us.

This scene feels very different from the earlier scenes in Europe when Shahrukh was teasing and tormenting Kajol.  But they are all of a piece.  He is treating women as people, as equals, as human beings.  When he first meets Kajol, he refuses to treat her as a precious thing he has to respect, he teases her just like he does the other girls, and like he does his male friends.  Because she is strong and powerful, she can take care of herself (unlike Mandira Bedi here who is clearly fragile both emotionally and in terms of the power she has, and who he treats very carefully and kindly).  Shahrukh doesn’t treat her as a woman, he treats her as a person, and his treatment of women varies person to person, just like it does with men.

And so on and so on right up to the scene we just had in the mustard field.  Kajol asks him to elope.  In a traditional film, he would either say “yes, my mission is to serve you” (Mujhse Dosti Karogenutty Hrithik), or “no, you’re wrong, I’m ignoring what you just said” (Kabhi Kabhi jerkface Amitabh).  But in this film, he respectfully disagrees, and convinces her.  They talk it out.  He asks if she trusts him, doesn’t take it as a given.  He doesn’t see their gender difference as meaning that one view is more or less valid than the other, they are both people.

And all of that human connection, that natural normal way of being, is what rises up in distaste when he has to spend time with Kuljit.  And his distaste comes out in over warmth towards Mandira Bedi in an effort to make up for the horribleness of the people around him (just like when I was extra friendly to the counter person at the bakery yesterday to make up for the previous customer being rude).  And Mandira responds to it, both to his friendliness, and to what inspired it, his unwillingness to be seen like the other men around her.

And I respond to it!  Watching this scene now, after having dealt with jerky customers and difficult grad school professors and church committees and everything else, the idea of a men who doesn’t leap in to save me, but also makes clear his distaste and disagreement with all the other men around and support for me, that’s fills a very specific want.

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19 thoughts on “DDLJ Part 24: Kuljit! And Men as Feminist Allies

  1. I wait with baited breath for these. Its like waiting for the next Shah Rukh film: I can’t wait for it to come but don’t want it to end either. I eagerly await your next edition, but want them to go on and on. This is such a great analysis.

    Like

    • I’m so glad you enjoy them! And I know just what you mean about the releases, I am having a super fun time with all the Jab Harry Met Sejal trailers coming out, but I am also aware that the film itself may not be as much fun as the trailers. Dear Zindagi was way better, but Raees was a disappointment.

      On Wed, Jul 19, 2017 at 4:59 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oppressor amidst the oppressed concept and then man amidst women example.. I see what you did there.

    May be more apt if you then cited issues caused directly by that very oppression like equality or sexism being discussed though instead of a biological thing that does not fully align with the argument or point you’re trying to make.

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    • I was looking for a universal experience, and I don’t know how often a man ends up in the room with a bunch of women talking about being sexually harassed, or not getting promoted.

      I think I originally heard this argument in the context of an African history class when talking about the anti-Apartheid movement. The same idea applies, if you are talking about the pain of apartheid, and a white person is in the room, s/he really needs to just sit there and listen and not try to take control.

      And here’s a mindblowing thing, talking about those biological issues is one of the underpinnings of all the political/equality thing. For some reason, women’s bodies have become a battleground of political issues. You are right, common sense would say that it’s not political, but it is and almost always has been.

      On Wed, Jul 19, 2017 at 7:15 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

      • Well I have zero political info and hence opinions but on a side note looking back growing up I always wonder how amazingly well the women managed to completely hide their hygiene products in the house so we kids never see them and ask questions. They are advertised on TV all the time but I never once saw it anywhere just lying around but only in supermarkets and pharmacies where of course I suppose they were so discreet I can’t remember seeing anyone buy either.

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        • Isn’t that true!! 😁 I’m considered badtameez in my family because I used to send my brother to get hygiene products for me. Now my boyfriend does that. 😂

          Margaret, the politicising of the female body debate isn’t happening in India as much as the west. Mostly because here what one does with their body is somehow everyone’s business! Both male and female bodies are moral policed.

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  3. Maybe u could watch this 2 short movies out of the 5 from 5 Sundarikal (malayalam), an anthology film about women
    1. Sethulaksmi ( best among the five but haunting ) with english subtitles

    2.Kullante Bharya( gud movie narrated by dulquer ) with english subtitiles

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  4. I find Kuljit completely honest in terms of characterization. That’s what punjabi boys from the pind did in the 90s. They’re still doing that today. I guess making him the punjabi pind boy was very deliberate.

    The bonfire scene, the drunk punjabi boys, the homely Mandira looking at SRK and immediately thinking “husband!!” is so very true!!

    The reason why the beer factory thing makes sense is because that’s exactly what happens in Punjab. It would make very little sense if it was set in rajasthan. But punjab has seen so much investment from NRIs that it’s the most organic reason raj could have given.

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    • Now I am picturing sweet shy Aditya Chopra forced to visit his Punjabi cousins and hating spending time with them, and then using that for fodder for Kuljit and friends.

      It reminds me some also of what country boys do in America. There’s not anything else to do in the country, if you aren’t interested in reading or thinking, so you end up going out into the woods and drinking a lot. I grew up in a slightly more rural area, and I knew someone there who talked about on the really big nights, the high school kids would drive two hours to go to the nearest mall, that was exciting. So then we asked what they did on less big nights. Drive to a dark parking lot and drink beer.

      On Thu, Jul 20, 2017 at 8:41 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

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

  6. “Person from oppressive class amidst oppressed people……”

    Margaret, this is why I like your blog. You know stuff and know how to convey it. Your analysis reminded about Gandhiji’s experience with oppressed people. Gandhiji worked very hard for rights of oppressed people, but they don’t consider him as thier own or as their leader. Ambedkar vehemently opposed to Gandhiji’s leadership saying he cannot be their representative.

    Gandhiji also might have your perspective in mind and hence he once said “I DO NOT want to be reborn. But if I have to be reborn, I should be born an untouchable, so that I may share their sorrows, sufferings, and the affronts leveled at them, in order that I may endeavour to free myself and them from that miserable condition”.

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