Oh boy! Moving right along, I’m like a whole 5 minutes in! Which wouldn’t seem like a lot, except I’ve been working on my DDLJ scene by scene, and that is sooooooooooooooo much slower. And here I am, only on part 2, and we are already past the opening credits! Woo-hoo! Lightening speed! (although, in case you were wondering, no DDLJ today, skipping another Wednesday. Partly because this post took up a lot of time, partly because getting only 6 hours of sleep because I am seeing JHMS every night is not in fact conducive to clear thinking) (full index of scene by scene here)
In part 1, we met our hero, Harry/Shahrukh. Through song which really sketched in all the background we need. He has lost the sense of what it is like to be normal, to be human. His life is always in transit, never connecting with a person or a place. And his job involved an added layer of inhumanity, always acting the perfect polite servant helping his tourists instead of revealing his real self. Which we see at the end of the song when he waves a bitter good-bye to the tour group and then immediately strips off his jacket, his tie, and his whole “good boy” look to drop into the “sexy bad boy” he really is.
Which is when Anushka, our heroine, stops him. The goodest of good girls. And the most boring of good girls. She is all loud and eager and angry when she doesn’t get her way. Wants him to take her back to the hotel so she can look for her engagement ring. Shahrukh doesn’t want to because he is sick of these boring needy people making demands on him. But he has to give in when she threatens to call his boss, making him even more resentful.
And now here they are in his car listening to his music with his “real” self sitting next to her. And he can’t switch back so suddenly to his perfect tour guide persona, he has to stay uneasily real with her. While she is still confidently fake with him.
When talking about Baadshaho yesterday, it came up that you could argue the “older lower class guy saves and seduces upperclass woman” trope can be applied to this film. But, I don’t think so exactly? In this scene, Shahrukh is listening to the radio and Anushka can’t identify the language. When he brusquely tells her it is French, she isn’t sure whether or not they are in France, and when she learns they aren’t, she is surprised that French songs are played on the radio. And finally, she declares she took French in school and leans forward and is delighted when she can translate a word here and there and starts singing along. This is not classy behavior.
Anushka is rich and spoiled, but she isn’t sophisticated. She is babyish really, throwing a tantrum until Shahrukh helps her, then proudly showing off her minimal knowledge of languages while at the same time revealing vast ignorance of, well, everything. And this is also a sign of class.
If Anushka were home, in traditional clothes, in their ancestral village, that would be one kind of class. She doesn’t need to know French or where countries are in Europe, because she is beyond that. Or, if she were in Europe, speaking perfect fluent English, calmly accepting fancy foreign language songs, that would be another kind of class. And this isn’t even an Indian thing, this is consistent for all cultures, class is all about comfort. That is, being comfortable and confident with your place in the world. And you can either remain in one place and be perfectly fitted for that place, or you can travel everywhere and be fitted where ever you go. But Anushka isn’t that. She is revealing herself to be a petty parochial school girl type. This is part of what Shahrukh resents about his tour groups, he isn’t taking around the leading members of society, people who can converse about art and culture and really appreciate what they are seeing. He is taking around nouveou riche (I have no idea how to spell that) types who want to brag about a European trip but without ever really interacting outside of their little bubble.
That’s why Shahrukh hates them all, and that’s the hate he is transferring on to innocent Anushka. Because she is innocent. We don’t need any backstory (although it would have helped! Where is Anushka’s “Safar”?) to know that really. We just need to know she is a young woman traveling with a large family group and her fiance. That’s not the person who is yelling at the tour guide, who organized this superficial look at Europe, who is part of a whole “money-equals-bullying” kind of attitude that is killing Shahrukh. She is just a young woman who doesn’t know any other way to be and is being herself. Well, herself as she was trained to be by her family.
Oh, and one other thing about this scene. We see them traveling in cars a fair amount in this movie. And this is one of the few times that we see them in profile instead of head on. The camera is telling us that they aren’t traveling in the same direction, as it were. Anushka leans forward to listen to the radio, happily sings along, looks out the window on her side of the car. Shahrukh puts on sunglasses and looks anywhere but in her direction. Well, except for one moment I will get into later.
Anushka doesn’t even care about him at this point. That comes in the next scene. She has told him that she needs to go back to the restaurant where they had dinner the night before because that is where she had her “romantic proposal”. And once they are in the restaurant and she starts to describe her “romantic proposal”, she is suddenly aware that Shahrukh doesn’t actually think it was that romantic. Probably the first time in her life she has been aware that there is an alternative perspective to the one she was raised on, the way everyone around her thinks about things. It’s a small thing, but when they were arguing before, she just didn’t hear or understand why he wouldn’t want to help her, she was so caught up in her own problems. But now, when he sarcastically repeats “romantic proposal”, she feels the need to justify it, to say “it was! It was romantic!” She is hearing him, finally, and he is making her doubt herself.
And Shahrukh is increasingly aware of her, and it is making him hate her! He doesn’t hate her in a sort of general way, but in a really specific way. She is so casually unaware of anything anyone else might want, of how to have some give and take. He offers to buy her coffee, his treat, and her response is “no, too much caffeine”. He sits down and she remains standing. He tries to explain why he doesn’t want to travel with her, and she declares that none of his reasons make sense, she will pay him, it is settled. We can kind of see why he raises a middle finger at her when she turns away.
This is also when she explicitly threatens to call his boss. I miss-remembered yesterday (I’m sorry!), but a second watch reminded me. And Shahrukh has a very dramatic reaction, stopping on his stomp out after refusing to help her any more, and turning back immediately, chastened. In yesterdays sequence, it was just an implied threat, but this time it was explicit. And she is triumphal in her “win” over him, which just makes her seem more childish and un-understanding.
What is really interesting is the details of her complaint. She specifically says that he committed a fraud by pretending to be someone else (nice calm helpful tour guide) when he is completely different. Which is the theme of the film, that they have both acted differently than who they really are inside until just now.
And, we are seeing, Anushka is a bit of a fraud too. Through implication. Again, I really wish she had gotten her own “Safar” type sequence, something to quickly establish her life pre-film. But we sort of get that here when she describes her engagement. Her “romantic” engagement, with her fiance, and his entire family watching. In a restaurant, that’s what made it “romantic”. This is a woman who is so sheltered that her idea of romance is a proposal in a restaurant instead of a living room. And yet here she is fearlessly ordering Shahrukh around and confidently confirming that yes, it was “romantic!” Like Shahrukh, she has two faces, the sweet girl who would want the family proposal, and the demanding aggressive woman who likes enforcing her power. And like Shahrukh, I don’t think either of them are the “real” Anushka. She isn’t sweet and simple and innocent, but she also isn’t really aggressive and bossy. She is somewhere in the middle. And Shahrukh isn’t the tired safe robotic tour guide, but he also isn’t entirely the rude bad boy type. He’s something in the middle too, the “real” Shahrukh. But they have to bring out the worst in each other before they can find the best.
That’s what this scene is, the worst of the two of them. Anushka is somehow both naive and demanding, Shahrukh is rude and angry. But they don’t give up on each other. Partly for plot reasons, Shahrukh really doesn’t want her to complain to his boss and Anushka knows her father will only pay for this extended trip/search if Shahrukh, who he trusts, is her guide. But partly because I think, already there is something there that is drawing them together.
Ready for BIG THEME discussion? Through out this film, we constantly see Shahrukh following her, her following Shahrukh. The two of them seem to be tied together by an invisible cord, which becomes visible in “Phurr” (Anushka’s ipod cord). I think what Imtiaz is getting at here, made explicit in the tagline “what you seek is seeking you”, is that beyond their personalities meshing and all of that, there is something on a deeper level which makes them truly “made for each other”. That’s why everything seems to move so fast, and kind of illogically. After this meeting, Anushka could have complained to her father instead of Shahrukh’s boss, gotten him to agree to have someone else be her guide. But, she doesn’t. Somehow she insists on it being him. And Shahrukh could have changed back to the polite tour guide, he kind of does towards the end of this conversation after her threat, but then snaps back to bitter “real” Shahrukh pretty quickly. Sure, it might be a little hard for Anushka to convince her father to let her stay back with someone he doesn’t feel he knows, and she really wants to stay. But it wouldn’t be impossible. And it might have made Shahrukh even more depressed to have to snap back into being “fake” after allowing himself to be real with her. But he could have done it. This whole artificial situation is part movie magic, but also partly because there is something in each other they just can’t resist.
And then we move on to the next scene! Which is as close as we get to exposition and explanation in the whole film. And is also kind of a boring scene. Boringly shot too, Shahrukh and the comic relief friend guy standing by a river in matching light colored shirts talking. Not a lot of fun colors or anything on screen. Plus, no one in the real world has ever stopped and had an intense conversation standing on a sidewalk. And yet in films, constantly!!! Because it’s a lot easier to film that two people talking over coffee or sitting on a sofa, the way you actually talk in real life. It’s especially noticeable because every other scene up to this point in the movie has had really interesting blocking and use of space. You can tell it is a film shot entirely on location, and they wanted it that way. They moved into interesting cafes or museums or alleys in Europe, and took advantage of the different space. In the last scene, they are on opposite sides of a table, with Anushka standing most of the time and Shahrukh sitting. There is a couch behind, which at one point Anushka looks underneath, and a mirror above the couch which occasionally reflects one of the other so we can see both parties in the conversation. All of this isn’t, like, the most imaginative blocking in the world, but they are using the space. Anushka and Shahrukh are out of synch both because she is vertical while he is horizontal, and because they are on opposing sides of the frame. As the argument continues, Shahrukh goes up and down but Anushka stays determinedly standing. There is even a cool low angle shot that emphasize when Shahrukh finally literally “stands up” to her. And, bonus, the location has a neat mural on the ceiling, so the low angle shot doesn’t give us boring empty space above/behind their heads, but something interesting filling the rest of the frame.
I’m just giving this as an example, but if you watch closely, every location in the film is used in a similar way. It’s not in your face and flashy, but they found a spot that would work for the scene, and then clearly spent some time figuring out the best possible way to use it. This is the kind of thing I am talking about when I say this is a very well made movie. And that if you concentrate, there are a lot of deeper meanings there. The dialogue of the SRK-Anushka scene gives some info, but if you watch close and look at what the camera is telling you, the costumes, the body language, there is SO MUCH MORE. Oh, and this is also the kind of thing that made me watch it and go “yeah, worth a scene by scene analysis series”. It’s not a throw away lazy “bad movie”. It’s a small odd movie, but it is very very well done.
(See? Mirror on the right echoed by the window on the left, actors’ posture and expressions telling us all we need to know in the scene, and so on and so forth)
Except for this one bit, with Shahrukh and comic relief friend talking in a boringly blocked and framed moment. The only thing slightly interesting is that we can see the window of Anushka’s hotel room over their shoulders. Only we don’t know yet it is Anushka’s hotel room, so that is kind of lost on us.
Dialogue and performance, also dull. They wanted to get a little bit of explanation out, and they put in fun things like Shahrukh pretending his phone was breaking up in order to entertain us, but really it is just clunky exposition. Although it does give us some mildly interesting facts about his backstory.
Based on this, and other clues we will get later in the film (and earlier, there is a glimpse of his passport in “Safar”), we can piece together a picture of his life so far. Ran away from a small village in the Punjab as a young man in order to look for fame overseas. Landed in Canada, presumably had a facility with language and obviously was naturally charming, and thus got a job in tourism. And all of this was years and years and years ago. And now here he is, after probably a decade at least of going from tour group to tour group in Europe. Terrified and yet also resentful of the boss who is controlling him from afar, his only connection with his homeland the tourists he has grown to hate. And because of that hatred, he is sabotaging himself, and now has 25 complaints against him. He is avoiding his boss’ call, but not willing/able to just tell him off the way he wants to. And his only friend in this strange land, someone who we will learn later is close enough to expect him to play the part of the groom’s family at his wedding, Shahrukh isn’t even really willing/able to relate to him either. He is talking, but Shahrukh is turning and looking everywhere but at his face. And looking everywhere but at the obvious solution, to just go and talk to Anushka and explain the situation she has put him in. His friend finally convinces him using the phrase “confess le lo”. Which I know, thanks to Hum Aapke Hain Koun, means “give confession”. It’s not an action he is suggesting, it is a gift. Which is accurate, is Shahrukh willing to give up a part of himself to Anushka?
(This movie teaches so much! “Le lo”, “de do”, all your pronouns and your Hindi relationship words!)
Which brings us to the next scene, Anushka and Shahrukh alone in a hotel room. Which has an outstanding series of props, blocking, etc. etc., all without getting out the realm of what you would naturally find in a hotel room. However, that is too long for this post, so I just want to give you one little teaser.
Anushka opens the door, Shahrukh is standing outside with very uncomfortable kind of almost aggressive body language. His head is cocked, his shoulders twisted, he looks kind of ready for a fight. And then we pull back to reveal Anushka in her bedclothes, a t-shirt and tiny shorts. And Shahrukh kind of looks down and reacts and then forces himself to look away. Anushka doesn’t even notice his reaction. So much so that she invites him into the room which kind of shocks him and makes him want to flee, until she insists.
So, what is up with that? Plus the moment I noticed earlier when he kind of looks at her in the car and then makes himself look away? And a bunch of other moments later on?
I think it’s that he is super super super super super attracted to her. In a way he isn’t used to. It’s not just about dominating and getting in and out and feeling alive for a moment (which seems to be what his sex addiction is with other women). It’s about being super attracted to this woman in particular.
Partly because she is her, the woman made for him, the one person he has been searching for without realizing it. But also, I think, because at heart he is a good Indian boy and he really wants a good Indian woman. But he feels like he doesn’t deserve it any more. We see him with two women over the course of the film, neither of them desi. And none of them terribly young or inexperienced. He looks at Anushka and sees the pure perfect virginal Indian bride type, what he was raised to idealize and still reacts to because of that early training, but no longer feels he deserves.
(This is his fantasy now. Not the exotic western women, but a simple Indian girl in Salwar. And he feels he doesn’t deserve her)
Beyond a general “hands off!” feeling that I think he would have with any woman of this type, there is also the way that Anushka proves herself, over and over again, to be more of a child than a woman. It doesn’t even occur to her that she is dressed provocatively, that she should feel awkward inviting a strange man into her hotel room. On top of her tantrum and refusal to respect his feelings earlier. He’s a decent guy, he is resisting his overwhelming attraction to her, and is kind of ashamed of it, the same way he would be ashamed of being attracted to a high school girl, someone physically mature, but not mentally, which as a decent man, he knows is wrong. That’s why he is so awkward and defensive about talking with her here.
Notice, he doesn’t even admit it to his friend. That’s why his friend can’t quite understand his full reluctance in their conversation. Shahrukh is turning this way and that trying to escape the hidden part of himself that is afraid to be alone with Anushka because he is afraid of falling in love, or being vulnerable, or being rejected, or of not being able to resist her. And Anushka doesn’t even know enough to be afraid, like a child playing with fire.