Happy Wednesday/Thursday (it’s been a long week)! We have the scene this week which teaches all aspiring lovers a very important lesson: always ALWAYS start by winning over the little sister. (full index of DDLJ posts here)
My brother-in-law, a wise man, started sending me presents before he and my sister were even dating, back when they were still “just friends”. And now, 6 years later, he has continued that practice. Best gifts for all birthdays/Christmases, courtesy of brother-in-law. And thus their marriage continues to be happy and peaceful in all ways. And in this section, we get to see Shahrukh do this too! Along with other things.
This whole section is about Shahrukh showing respect. And it starts right at the beginning, as he enters the house behind Kuljit and others, he takes a moment to touch the nameplate and take a blessing from it. It’s a casual thing that he does when no one is looking. This is not for show or to try to win over the family. This is Shahrukh sincerely and naturally taking a blessing from a place/people he respects, the family of the woman he loves.
To expand this out a little more, Shahrukh said that he respects Kajol’s family, and that’s why he doesn’t want to elope with her. It sounds like a general patriarchy thing, he won’t “steal” a woman from another man, even a man he has never met, because of the bond of men or something. But this sequence here shows instead that it is a general love for her family, that he knows the woman he loves cannot be divorced from where she came from, and he respects them because they helped to give him Kajol. This, taking a blessing from her very house.
That opening sets the tone of what Shahrukh is thinking, but the next section swings it around and makes us start looking at Amrish Puri differently. Until now, we have seem Amrish in a position of control. Head of his family, angry store owner, beloved son of his mother, always in charge of everything around him.
But now, he is the father of the bride. He is greeting everyone with a smile and folded hands. Even the random young friend of the groom has to be greeted with respect. This is also the first shot in which Amrish is the same height as the people around him. We’ve always seen him alone, this angry man on the stairs, behind the counter, watching his daughter pray, sitting surrounded by his family. Even when talking with other men before he was always the center of the group. But now, in this shot, he is equal to Shahrukh.
The equality continues in the next series of shots. In London, Amrish was never uncertain, never felt hesitant about reacting in however he felt. But now, in India, he is cautious, uncertain, not wishing to move quickly and risk offending.
And Shahrukh is nervous too. Which is different! Amrish is the father of the bride, he has to be polite and welcoming and a good host to everybody. But Shahrukh is the guy there to steal the bride. He could not care how Amrish feels, he could have run off with Kajol to begin with. In a larger sense, as the person marrying the woman, usually in films he would be in the position of power. Laughing behind his hand at the old fool who doesn’t realize he has “stolen” his daughter. But again, respect! Shahrukh’s respect for Kajol extends to her father, he is nervous around Amrish not because of some kind of abstract respect for an older man, but because he wants Kajol’s father to like him, because he is Kajol’s father.
This odd power dynamic continues in the next sequence and leads to the misunderstandings. Amrish is concerned about being polite, about not accidentally insulting or forgetting a guest. Shahrukh is concerned about not being remembered from the London incident, about being extra polite and respectful so he comes off well in this first real meeting.
The conversation can’t move forward because they are trying to out-nice each other. Neither of them is ready to take control and thinks the other has control. Shahrukh thinks Amrish is trying to trap him and is squirming around to escape. Amrish thinks he has somehow made a guest uncomfortable and is trying to pin him down and take care of him.
And then Kuljit shows up! Kuljit has no hesitation. He knows he is in control. Look at the framing here, Kuljit dominating one whole side of the screen, waving his arms around. While both Amrish and Shahrukh are equally smiley and focused on him. Kuljit is the one with all the power here. As the groom, this older man he respected just yesterday at an unofficial meeting, now has to be extra nice and polite and be quiet while he is talking.
Later we will see a direct contrast of how Shahrukh treats Kajol’s sister versus how Kuljit treated here. But right now, in this moment, we get to see a contrast in how they treat Kajol’s father. Shahrukh is doing everything he can to make him like him, trying to be pleasant and eager and everything nice. Kuljit sweeps in and takes control, doesn’t bother addressing Amrish directly, takes everything for granted. This is an odd thing to say related to Amrish Puri, but there is no courtship, no wooing. Just like with the interactions with Pooja Ruperal, we get to see without really seeing how he would treat Kajol. If he takes control and doesn’t listen to her father, and to her sister, it means he won’t care for her. And in contrast, Shahrukh is treating even this difficult old man who he could easily ignore with courtesy and sincere interest and even fear of his displeasure, which tells us (as if we didn’t know) how he will be with Kajol.
Kuljit alone is enough to give a contrast between the men. But bringing in Satish Shah to this scene, that adds something else. Now it’s suddenly Amrish and Shahrukh against the world, in their own odd way. See how Satish is dominating from the back just as his son is dominating from the front? And poor Amrish and Shahrukh are trapped in the middle, trying to make nice and put up with these big loud people around them. This is the beginning of the redemption of Amrish Puri. Showing him in a situation where he isn’t quite in control, making us sympathize with him.
Okay, in the previous shots it could be a coincidence, but Shahrukh in red and Kuljit in white-ish here? Feels really realy like a marriage photo. Heck, just having Shahrukh in red in this scene. Partly it makes him pop against the background, especially in that artificial kind of red surrounded by simple silk kameez colors. But it also feels like it must be on purpose, the white of the groom with the red of the bride on top, symbolizing the way he combines male and female energies.
This next shot is just so we can admire their amazing expressions. Kuljit with his total confidence, Shahrukh with his total amusement mixed with disgust. With Kajol’s family, he wants them to like him, he tries, he is sincere. But with everyone else in this crazy society, he can barely maintain his patience.
And then we have the women on the other side of the room. As in the last public event at this house, the men and women are separated. But what I found interesting is how Farida has been made invisible. Amrish is there to greet the male guests at the door. The women enter, and then split off to go bless Kajol. Once again, Kajol is sitting on display, there to be beautiful and looked at. But she is joined by her younger sister and her mother is not present. The young marriageable (or about to be marriageable) women of the family are set aside in their own space. It isn’t just about the ladies party and the men’s party, it’s about putting their young women are display.
Which is how Kuljit treats them. He isn’t rude or unpleasant particularly in this scene. But his attitude is kind of “here’s the house, now let’s continue the tour by looking at my bride, and then I’ll go show you where we can get some drinks”. Kajol is just part of the scenery, a landmark of note. He is being formal with his new friend at this somewhat nice event, nothing actively wrong, but he still isn’t really connecting with her as a person rather than an object.
Versus Shahrukh! Who, even if he weren’t playing this whole game, would still be a little nicer. He takes a moment to make sure he gets the name right.
Greets her formally and makes eye contact.
And continues to maintain eye contact even while Kuljit tries to take control and make it all about him. Actually, let’s look at this for a second. Kuljit is being dominant, saying that Kajol should like Shahrukh because of what Shahrukh did for Kuljit. And he is playing the tall card again, plus grabbing Shahrukh around the shoulders to exert power over him. But what he is missing is that the real power is in the eyeline between Kajol and Shahrukh. Kuljit doesn’t see this whole other angle of power between Shahrukh and Kajol that doesn’t even include him.
And he still doesn’t see it here. Kuljit is watching Shahrukh be amusingly nice to young Pooja Ruperal. But he misses Kajol’s face watching him. That’s the real audience Shahrukh is trying to impress, and it is working, and Kuljit doesn’t even notice it, because he doesn’t notice Kajol as an independent person.
Okay, let me back up to why you need to suck up to the little sister. There’s three layers to it. The first layer is that you are showing you care about someone who isn’t usually acknowledged as important. This isn’t like him making nice with Amrish, where you can explain it away by saying “well, he wants to marry Kajol respectably and he needs her father’s permission to do that.” It doesn’t matter what Pooja Ruperal thinks of him if he wants to marry Kajol, the younger daughter of the family has no power over that. So he is being nice to her just to be nice. It shows that he is a good guy who cares about people and wants even the little sister to like him.
The second layer is what makes such a contrast to Kuljit. Kuljit ignores Pooja, disrespects her, breaks through her boundaries to pinch her cheek, and doesn’t even notice how much she dislikes it. It shows how he feels about women, he doesn’t respect them or listen to them, or think he has to respect or listen to them.
But Shahrukh does! He pays attention to Pooja, he has brought a gift just for her, he is smiling at her and genuinely enjoying spending time with her. Oh, and even though it is a gift with a message for Kajol (the miniature bell), it is also one that Pooja sincerely enjoys and when he gives it to her, he maintains eye contact with her, not looking at Kajol until after Pooja looks away.
And then there’s the third reason. The big sister-little sister relationship is super super important, even if it doesn’t get the big social push that the big brother-little brother relationship does. If you want a big sister to like you, be nice to her little sister because that is the apple of her eye. She thinks her little sister is wonderful and will like people who think the same thing. She also thinks her little sister is fragile and precious and will like people who treat her well and take care of her. And she thinks her little sister should always be happy and have everything she wants, and will like people who make her happy and give her what she wants. Seriously, I have gotten SO MANY PRESENTS from my brother-in-law. Like, sometimes more than he gives my sister. Because a gift to me is kind of a gift to my sister.
That’s what’s going on here. See Kajol’s face when Pooja likes Shahrukh? That kind of doting joy? That’s not because Shahrukh is being cute, that’s because her baby sister likes him and she is happy when her baby sister is happy.
In “real life”, Kajol is a big sister. And her little sister spends an awful lot of time with her husband, working on his production company, going to premieres with him, etc. etc. I have to wonder, is Kajol nailing this expression so perfectly because in “real life” at this time she was being courted through her little sister?
And then Kajol’s face shifts to Shahrukh. Here is the 4th reason it’s important to be nice to the little sister. It shows you really really understand the big sister. Beyond the whole respecting women, making her like her, making a point of understanding this bond, there is the understanding of this particular person. I am sure there are some sisters out there who don’t care whether or not their sister likes their boyfriend. But Kajol isn’t one of them. We saw that all the way back when they were walking in Europe. We came in at the end of that conversation, remember? When Kajol was telling Shahrukh all about her family? He listened, and remembered, and knows that Pooja Ruperal is really important to Kajol. And that’s what’s getting him the love eyes now, that he cared enough to remember and understand how big a deal it is for Kajol that her little sister has to like him.
One other thing that I am super aware of on this rewatch is that Shahrukh and Pooja are experienced scene partners! He was just in King Uncle, where Pooja was the star and he was just the younger sibling of the lead, and now their positions are reversed. But they also had a song together, and a few scenes already. This isn’t something where they had to get comfortable with each other first or something, Shahrukh doesn’t have the awkwardness of learning how to interact with a child actor, they are both pros who have done this before.
One final thing that just occurred to me. Remember how Kajol and Shahrukh met? With him hitting on her a lot? And her being all “ooo, a threat!” just because he was talking to her? Well, this is another response to that scene. Kajol saw him as out of control and bad and rude and so on. Shahrukh saw himself as just acting like a young man flirting with a young woman, they are both grown up and on their own, what’s the harm in taking a shot? But here he is with a slightly younger woman, in a formal situation surrounded by family, and he knows exactly how formal and respectful to be. Again, it’s not that he was an out of control flirt (which we already sort of knew from how kind he was to Kajol once she was really reliant on him), it’s that Kajol wasn’t aware of what was normal behavior between men and women on their own and didn’t know how to handle it.
And then he meets Kajol’s eyes again when he says good-bye. Through out this scene, Kajol’s eyes have been the focus. They are in the center of the screen, and we have been seeing in the background how she looks from one to the other of them. And finally he turns and aggressively meets her eyes again, just as he did when he greeted her at the beginning of the scene, to close the circle and acknowledge that this whole thing was partially for her benefit, a message of his love for her.
Kajol doesn’t get a terrible lot to “do” in this half of the movie. But just like the line in the mustard field when Shahrukh says he can only do this if she is with him, if she is his strength, there is a way that she is there in the background, acting without acting, through out. She is watching him, she is responding to him, everything he does is part of a performance for her. And if she weren’t watching, he wouldn’t be doing it. We see that over and over again.
It’s not just about Shahrukh only doing it for her, we in the audience are constantly looking for her reaction as well. What Shahrukh is doing only makes sense, only has meaning to us, if we can see how Kajol reacts to it. And that’s why the ending shot of this scene isn’t Shahrukh smirking away at his successful meeting of his girlfriend’s little sister, but rather Kajol smiling at what a wonderful boyfriend she has and how happy she is now that he and her little sister like each other.