This is semi-inspired by a conversation I had in the comments on the Rang De Basanti post with Shaily about what would need to change for Siddharth and Soha to end up together. Essentially, the whole movie except for the characters. Which got me thinking about all the Indian historical films that I really wish could have historically inaccurate happier endings.
Rang De Basanti. In the original, it all goes terribly wrong and sad for everybody in a way that resonates with the freedom struggle. But what if we took this same group of college friends and made things happen slightly differently?
Before the politics come into play, the biggest “conflict” among the friends is that Madhavan, who they idolize, is in love with Soha and she is in love with him. But, everyone kind of knows that Siddharth is in love with Soha too. Even Madhavan knows. He will never do anything about it, because he thinks Madhavan is by far the better man, but it is a little heartache for him, and his friends kind of join together to give him support over it. Just, watch this video, and even if you haven’t seen the whole movie, you will get what I am talking about.
And then a bunch of stuff happens and this unrequited love is just sort of there in the background as one of the many things that makes it an interesting film. But what if instead the unrequited love story took front and center?
Madhavan in this is the most decent guy in the world. And he is a fighter pilot. And his father, also an army man, died in the service when he was young leaving his mother a widow. Putting all of this together, don’t you think he would have some kind of plan for taking care of Soha if he also died young?
What if he died in a clean simple way? And left behind a letter to be delivered to Siddharth, telling him he has Madhavan’s blessing to marry Soha, Madhavan doesn’t want her to spend her life in grief the way his mother has, his last wish is that someday he will be a fond memory as her first love, but not her only love. Siddharth would have this weighing on him, not feeling like he has the right to interfere in the Madhavan/Soha love story even now that he is dead. Throughout the funeral and everything else, he would be looking at Soha, who wouldn’t even seem to notice him.
Until after the funeral, Siddharth and the other boys are over at Waheeda’s house helping with something (because now that Madhavan is dead, the other boys are always over there helping out) and Soha suddenly blurts out “so, when is our wedding?” Siddharth is shocked, but Soha, still kind of awkward and blunt in her grief, explains that she has been waiting for him to bring it up. Madhavan and she talked about this the night of their engagement, he made her vow to marry Siddharth after his death and she was there when he wrote the letter. It was her last promise to him, and she wants to carry it out and get it over with. The other boys immediately object. Sharman is all upset, how can they have a wedding when the funeral is barely over with? Kunal looks hot and understanding and doesn’t say anything. Aamir is furious, asks Soha how she can forget Madhavan so easily, how could she defame his memory like that. Siddharth kind of slowly moves over to stand next to Soha and answers for her, says that it is what Madhavan wanted and Soha wants to carry out his wishes, and that is all that matters. Which is a nice supportive statement, but also shows how he sees himself, just an extra in Soha and Madhavan’s love story.
So, wedding happens, the friends have come around by then and are the only guests in attendance, plus Waheeda. Oh, and before that, Siddharth kind of tells the whole thing to his father Anupam, who is supportive and explains he has known Siddharth was in love this whole time, and he knows his son has the strength to make a success of this marriage. So post-wedding, Soha and Siddharth move into his family mansion, Soha manages to be nice and smile a little at Anupam, but the “wedding night” is her staring at the ceiling in grief while Siddharth smokes and paces around outside.
The marriage continues in this cold kind of way. Soha does the proper daughter-in-law and wife things, Siddharth starts working at his father’s company now that he is a married man, but they don’t really connect as a couple. Especially because Siddharth feels like he doesn’t have the right to even talk to her, since she is still Madhavan’s in his eyes. Finally, the friends take a hand. They declare they are taking them on a honeymoon, all 5 of them together. They go off traveling and somehow manage to jolly Soha into being young and laughing and happy again just for a little while, which makes Siddharth happy too. And that night they arrange for Soha and Siddharth to have to spend the night together in the same room at the hotel. And Soha kind of indicates that it is time for them to have their first night, finally. She may not be fully over Madhavan, but she trusts Siddharth and is married to him now.
Soha gets pregnant (of course) and things slowly get better after they return home. Siddharth comes home earlier from the office so they can have dinner together, plans little treats for the two of them like movies or day trips when he isn’t working. Soha is excited about the baby and increasingly happy in her life in general. And the friends are always around, helping to build the nursery and stuff, and also constantly teasing Siddharth and Soha and throwing them together and trying to make them kiss and so on. Until one day Siddharth comes home to find Soha sobbing, she runs to embrace him, and when he asks what is wrong, she can barely speak, finally indicates Madhavan’s garlanded photo, and Siddharth realizes it is Madhavan’s death anniversary. He comforts her and puts her to bed, and then goes out and smokes, and finally goes to Waheeda’s house and sits out front until she wakes up. And then tells her that she has to take her daughter-in-law back. Siddharth will take care of her financially for the rest of her life, and the child, but this is Madhavan’s child and Waheeda’s grandchild, not his. His only role was to get Soha pregnant, that is what is making her happy, let her go back and live with Madhavan’s memory as the child’s father and her husband, that will make her happier than staying with the living Siddharth. He is going away now, to make it easier for them, he trusts Waheeda to come and pick up Soha.
Siddharth goes off to Foreign for Business, and there is a sad song with Soha moving in with Waheeda with the help of the friends, them building a second nursery in Waheeda’s house, and so on. Until finally, months later, Aamir “casually” bumps into Siddharth in Foreign and seems strangely tactless, saying he really should come home and see the baby, so cute, everyone is over there all the time to look at it, Waheeda is so happy with her grandson and Soha is so happy with her son that she hardly misses his father. Although of course, she will always miss the great love of her life, a baby can’t make up for that. Siddharth, being the guy he is, accepts all these emotional blows and decides that he should go home, so Soha doesn’t think he is unhappy with her.
He arrives at Waheeda’s house, is nervous about going in, but then does. Waheeda blesses him and takes him in to see the baby. While he is looking down at the baby (a son, of course), Soha comes in behind him and bends down to take a blessing from his feet. Siddharth backs off, alarmed, and asks what she is doing. Soha says she has to take a blessing from the man who gave her so much happiness. Siddharth still looks uncomfortable. And then Soha says that sometimes you don’t realize how much you need someone, how much you love them, until they go away. If you love them enough, even their memory is so strong and bright in your mind that it is like they are with you always. Her son hasn’t missed his father, because his father has been there with them everyday. Siddharth is trying to be accepting and kind, but this is too much for him, and abruptly he turns to leave. Only to see as he is going, his own photo hanging over the crib! He asks “what is this?” And Soha says, “the image of my husband and my son’s father. He may not have been with us these past few months, but he was always here in spirit.” Siddharth looks all thunderstruck and surprised and says “But, you were crying….” Soha says “I was crying because I forgot. I forgot that whole day, I was thinking about you and I forgot about his death. It was what he wanted, his last wish had finally come true.” And Siddharth looks slowly happy for the first time and reaches out to embrace her as the camera pulls back to show the other friends and Waheeda watching and crying themselves. And then, Happy Ending Montage! Baby grows up, is joined by another baby, friends are always around as happy uncles, Waheeda is the grandmother always, and Siddharth and Soha smile and hold hands and are clearly always in love.
Next one! Asoka! I can’t STAND the stupid near misses and misunderstandings and mistaken identities in the “real” plot. And I know it’s a plot based on real history, but I don’t care, I would rather they had made it based on fake history and given me a happier ending.
So, keep most of it. Shahrukh is the most promising and angry and determined prince. Which is why his brothers and his father hate him, because he is a challenge to them. He is banished and goes off with his horse to wonder, pretending to be a mercenary. Meets Kareena, who is living in the forest with her young brother and old protective servant type. Shahrukh falls in love with her immediately, and teaches her to fight, because she wants to be able to protect herself. She falls for him as well, especially once she learns that she is really only an adopted child of her family (a royal family, her parents were killed which is why she and her brother are on the run), meaning that she is the same status as this lowly wandering soldier. They marry secretly, he goes to tell his mother of their marriage and then plans to return to get Kareena and her brother and bring them back to the palace, revealing his true identity.
And then it all goes terribly wrong in a very frustrating way that I don’t like. So I am taking the same characters and situation and changing everything else entirely!
Kareena and Shahrukh get secretly married with her thinking he is a mercenary, yes! But, before he can go home, word comes that his mother and younger full brother were killed by his evil older half-brother, noooo! Shahrukh has a long angry night considering multiple options while wandering in the forest. Then he returns to Kareena and her brother and guardian just in time to save them from an attack. He fights viciously and without mercy, which disturbs Kareena, but he isn’t willing to listen to her concerns. And, when it is over, he declares that he is tired of them running and hiding, he swears that they will go back to her kingdom and he will win it for her and her brother.
Shahrukh is brutal in battle, puts the little boy on the throne as promised, and then tricks him (because he is just an innocent boy) into making Shahrukh his chief minister, running the country for them. Shahrukh declares that they should continue their conquests, not just be happy now that they have gotten the original kingdom back, but expand it. Kareena disagrees with him, they have a big (sexy!) fight about it. They seem to have made up, but the next morning she has left him.
Then Shahrukh continues his conquests, eventually coming close to taking over his own kingdom again. And at that point, he is injured, rescued by innocent Buddhist girl Hrishita Bhatt, her care for him ends up breaking her marriage, and Shahrukh marries her to make up for it, although he is also honest and tells her that he is already married and will always love his first wife first. Hrishita is okay with that, but not okay with all the violence, holds on to her Buddhist faith and tries to convince him to give up his constant fighting.
Finally, they take back his kingdom, in the process he kills all his remaining family. And then takes the throne. Only to suddenly break down as the emptiness of it all and all the conquests strikes him. Hrishita finds him and comforts him and he listens to the philosophy she gives him and really hears it for once. He places Kareena’s little brother on the throne, tells him to rule well, better than he could, with Hrishita to advice him, and goes wandering to find Kareena. Finally, in the same place where he first saw her, he sees a little boy, practicing sword fighting. He recognizes a move and asks where he learned it. The little boy says that his mother taught him. And she learned it from his father. And just then Kareena appears, more mature looking but still beautiful, sees Shahrukh, he holds up the practice sword he was using with the little boy, and then carefully throws it away, signifying to her that he has given up violence. Kareena starts to cry, they embrace, eventually pulling their son into their same embrace. Happy Ending! Not historically correct, but Happy Ending!
Mughal-E-Azam. I don’t care about Prince Salim and Anarkali, they can have their same doomed love story so far as I am concerned. No, Durjan Singh (Ajit) the noble Rajput and best friend of Prince Salim, and Anarkali’s spunky sister Surraiya (Sheila Dalaya), those are the ones who deserve a happier ending!
So, again, keep the situation and the characters, just change all the other stuff. Prince Salim is dreamy and emotional and drags his steadfastly loyal friend Ajit along with him, while Ajit keeps preaching restraint and duty. Anarkali is dreamy and emotional too, but too dreamy to ever think of acting. Her sister Sheila Dalaya is the one who tells her to just go for it, stop being so dreamy and afraid.
And so Ajit and Sheila have this immediate spark in their one and only scene together. Ajit is preaching caution and duty to Salim, and Sheila shows up and sings a taunting song to him suggesting that instead he (Ajit, not Salim) should just give in and admit the power of love. And I think all of us watching it immediantly went “Hey! Ajit and Sheila totally have an opposites attract thing going on!” But then the film swings back to the boring central lovers and forgets about that.
But not my alternative film! In my alternative film, it’s all about Ajit and Sheila. We see those conversations with Ajit and Salim/Dilip but with the focus on Ajit. He is pragmatic and doesn’t believe he will ever fall in love. He gets to explain further, say that for royals like himself and Dilip, love is a matter of duty like everything else, he expects that his father will pick out a bride for him someday and he will learn to love her, because that is his duty.
Meanwhile, Sheila gets to talk a little longer in her conversations with Anarkali/Madhubala. She says that she has no patience with love that bows to duty, what is the purpose of life without love? Love is the highest duty! She will never put anything in front of her love.
By the time Sheila and Ajit have their first meeting, the audience is primed for their conflict of views and we can fully enjoy this confrontation between Sheila’s fearless support of love versus Ajit’s dedication to duty. And then they keep meeting, passing letters back and forth between Madhubala and Dilip. But as they meet, without realizing it, their own relationship grows. They fight back and forth all the time, but Sheila finds herself dressing specially for their meetings, and Ajit finds his mind wandering in important state meetings to the last conversation they had.
And then Dilip and Madhubala mess everything up, as they are wont to do. Sheila learns her sister has been arrested and goes to the secret meeting place to talk to Ajit and try to get a message to Dilip. Ajit tells her it is already too late, Dilip is going to war to save Madhubala. Sheila is shocked, asks what will happen to her sister, can this end well? Ajit tells her he doesn’t think so, his father and all the important supporters have remained loyal to the king. Sheila asks about his own loyalty, Ajit says he doesn’t know, Dilip is his friend and his prince, but his father is his father. Sheila asks “and what am I?” Ajit doesn’t answer. Sheila continues “If I am anything to you, then let your duty to me weigh in the balance. I beg you, save my sister.” Ajit looks torn.
And then, of course, we see him doing that, saving Madhubala over and over again. After that first time, when he brings her to the camp, he sends for Sheila. The sisters embrace and Ajit and Sheila’s eyes meet over Madhubala’s shoulder and something unspoken passes between them. Sheila stays at the camp with Madhubala and before Ajit leaves for battle the next day, he comes to her awkwardly and asks if she will bless his sword. She immediately grabs it and slices her hand on it, saying that he can take her blood as blessing. He slices his hand in the same spot as she did and uses the mixed blood to give her sindoor (yes, this is super dramatic, but it’s Mughal-E-Azam, it is supposed to be dramatic).
In the battle, Ajit is surrounded on all sides, but fights bravely to save Madhubala. Not because Dilip ordered him to, but because it is what he promised Sheila. He brings her back safely, but is deathly injured himself. But does NOT die, because Sheila is there. While all the other stuff is happening, Sheila is hiding Ajit in her chambers and nursing him back to help without anyone else’s knowledge. Until she gets word that her sister will be freed and she and her sister and her mother can all live free so long as they never return to the kingdom. Ajit is healthier now, so she goes to him, pretending to be casual, and tells him that he can leave some jewels and things in gratitude, but it is time for him to go now, back to his palace life. He has his duty, after all. And she is just a servant girl, all she ever wanted was some jewels and flattery, that is love to her.
Ajit is confused and hurt, but leaves as she told him, to be welcomed back joyfully by his father. Only, he can’t forget Sheila. He finds himself constantly wandering to the places where they were together. Until he happens to see another messenger coming in secret. He comes closer, jealous, thinking it is another lover. Which is how he overhears Sheila being told where she and her mother should go to meet her sister in secret, and then leave the kingdom never to return.
And so, when Sheila and her mother and Madhubala run down the secret tunnel, around a turn Ajit suddenly appears, sword drawn, saying he cannot let them leave. Madhubala and her mother are terrified, but Sheila steps forward, asking if this is what his duty tells him, to terrify three women? Ajit says yes, because it is his duty to rule his kingdom and he finds he cannot do that. Without her blood on his sword, he will never be able to find victory, without her by his side to challenge his thinking, he will never be wise. And so, Madhubala and her mother can leave, but he cannot let Sheila go. She once said that love was the greatest duty, will she step away from her mother and sister and put her love for Ajit ahead of her duty to them? Of course, Sheila does.
And then happy end credits historical text! Ajit ruled wisely and well for many years with Sheila by his side.