Oh boy oh boy oh boy! I get to talk about my favorite part of the film! I’m SO EXCITED! Even though I kind of already went over this whole section in my first review. I don’t care, I’ll find new things to say. (full index of Jab Harry Met Sejal coverage here)
Previously, Shahrukh was hired by Anushka’s family to be her personal tour guide/babysitter while she traveled around Europe looking for her lost engagement ring. Anushka sensed something in him that made her curious and pushy to learn more. She followed him to a club, he dragged her home. The next night, she went to another club confident that he would follow her, which he did. And helped her when she needed it, running from a gang after she beat up their leader for molesting her. They hid, Anushka had a breakdown about how this is all her fault, and Shahrukh without even thinking disagreed, said that she did the exact right thing and should have done more. Then they hide again, and he touches her head and face to sooth her. Finally, they hide a third time and Anushka starts hysterically asking what to do if they are caught. Shahrukh tries to calm her down but doesn’t have a good answer, obviously as scared for her as she is for herself. After all of this emotion, he confronts her, tells her she should just go home, nothing good can come from staying. Anushka insists on staying and that you can find anything, even God, if you look. Shahrukh says he certainly wasn’t looking for her in a kind of reflective tone like he is beginning to realize how much she has already gotten to him and how “wrong” that is since he doesn’t think he is worthy. And then he leads her away to hide in an old building. She wakes up, afraid, in the middle of the night and goes to curl up with him where he is sleeping on the floor at her feet. In the morning, somehow her sleeping against his chest helps him regain his memories that he thought he had lost of his home, and he goes off by himself before she wakes up and breaks down.
Which is where I ended! But let us take a moment to do an emotional inventory of these characters at this moment. Anushka, as I see her, is on a journey from child to woman. Their first meetings, her demanding presence, the way she saw romance (an engagement in a restaurant is the epitome of romance for her), the way she saw sex (no worries, she is “neat and clean”, so nothing will happen to her ever), it was all very clear and childlike. But Shahrukh started to work on her and change her impressions of the world, so she leaped to puberty by the next day, asking curious questions about his life, following him to a club that night, trying to understand these new feelings. And finally, the night before, she jumped to young womanhood. Confident in herself and her body, but still not quite sure what she wants to do with it all. That breakdown could have sent her back to childhood, probably a smaller version of that is what has kept her trapped her whole life. Trying one thing slightly different, and if it goes wrong her whole family blames her so she tries to resist trying anything different ever again. It’s what happened with this ring, she loses a ring (that we learn everyone knew was loose to begin with), it is all blamed on her, her engagement is over, so she panics and tries to fix things, to make them go back to the way they were before. Only, instead of everything being blamed on her, Shahrukh says “no! You did everything right, you were great, keep it up.” That’s what’s in the background this whole time. She is terrified, yes, but she is finding the strength to work through her fears, to cling to Shahrukh’s reassuring presence that it will be okay, that she isn’t alone, and that she can do this. And it’s so clear to her that it becomes invisible. He says she should go home, that he wasn’t looking for her. And she doesn’t get that it is because she is clinging too much, putting him on a pedestal. Because she doesn’t even know she is doing that, it would be like being aware you are breathing. And that’s what brings her to sleep next to him that night. It’s not just a need for human companionship, and it’s also not because she is attracted to him. It’s because he is the one person who makes her feel better. And she doesn’t even think about it, it’s just what she has to do. And now she is finding that one person who she needs sobbing alone by himself.
But what about Shahrukh? Where is he at in this moment? He’s in a different place. Because he is old enough to be aware of what is happening inside of him, something that Anushka doesn’t really do until waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay at the end of the film. She is able to live in the moment and just be happy, but that’s a lot harder for Shahrukh. It’s the biggest way, I think, that we can see their difference in age/maturity. Shahrukh has been living within himself for a lot longer than she has within herself, he can recognizes changes in his feelings and thoughts that she is blind to within herself because she doesn’t know herself as well yet.
Shahrukh was already resisting traveling with her, and resisting taking a close look at why he didn’t want to travel with her. But after that first night at the club, with the way he felt the need to chase her out and make sure she got home, and especially the moment when he grabbed and held her and for just a moment they were two people, not a tour guide and client or a “bad man” and a “good girl”, he has to start taking a hard look at himself. That’s what we see in the little moment of them on the train together. He is awake, looking at her, thinking. She is curled up asleep, unconscious of everything happening. And when she goes to the club in Prague, she has a happy smile, knowing he is following her. But Shahrukh is shaking his head at himself, knowing he shouldn’t be following her, shouldn’t feel the need to follow her. During the chase, things move too fast for him to be able to think. He saves her at the club and then naturally drags her along behind him, trying to rescue them both. It doesn’t occur to him to leave her behind somewhere, or to split up. And when she breaks down, he isn’t thinking about her reactions at all when he says how he feels. Which is what makes it so perfect for her, he clearly isn’t patronizing her or trying to make her feel better, he is instinctively agreeing with her because his adrenaline is going too much for him to be able to lie. It’s the moment hanging by the boat, when she grabs his hand and holds it against her head, that’s when he starts to think again, get back into his own head, realize that he is feeling things he shouldn’t and she is probably feeling things she shouldn’t either (holding his hand like it is a blessing, not a curse). That’s why he is panicing so much at her “practically, practically” questions. Not just because he is as afraid as her for her safety, but because he is afraid of how afraid he is for her safety, and afraid of how much she is clearly counting on him to save her.
And this all leads into his attempt to send her way, to send her home. Thinking about it, that conversation they have (and this is not meant to be an insult!) is kind of like when the stray dog follows you home and the more you shout at it to leave you, the more it follows. He is trying to convince Anushka to leave, yelling at her to go away, and she is just looking at him with her determined eyes, sure that he will love her and care for her no matter what he says, sure that he needs her. And when he turns away, she follows behind, and he knows she is following.
(By golly, I am getting as much mileage out of these screenshots as I can!)
He tries to do his best with this new responsibility once they get to safety. He knows she is counting on him, so he gives her the best bed he can and curls up at her feet to keep her safe. But she won’t accept that, isn’t willing to leave it with just “if you need me, I will be here to serve you”, she wants more than that. So she goes and sleeps next to him. She doesn’t want someone just there to serve her needs, she wants to serve his as well, that is part of what she needs, to give to him. And that is what he feels while he sleeps. This person who loves him and wants to help him and be with him, it gives him back a lost bit of himself, and suddenly he can feel what he used to be years ago, back home in the Punjab before he became so lost. And so he awakes and goes off to cry. But what I find more interesting, now that I think about it, is what happens right before that. He sees Anushka next to him, tries to roll away, she curls up closer, he gets free finally and stands. But he doesn’t seem surprised. There isn’t the double take you would expect if they were really just tour guide and client. He knows that she needs something from him, feels something from him, that would lead her to come to him for comfort in the middle of the night, to trustingly curl against him. And in some way he sensed before he woke up that she was there, because he could feel himself settling in his mind once she was with him. That’s what the black and white to color shows, that something inside of him was fixed as soon as she was against his heart.
(One more time!)
And that’s why he is crying. Again, I don’t like the details of how the crying moment plays out, he is a bit too much overcome for me, and his dialogue doesn’t really work. But I understand what they were going for, he has suddenly had unlocked this part of himself that has been blocked all these years and it is all coming up to the surface. Anushka has been growing into a woman, but he is suddenly starting his regression to the innocent boy he was in the past. She makes him laugh, she makes him feel young and hopeful, and now she has given back to him his Punjabi identity, from when he was innocent and pure just like she is now.
And Anushka finds him. And looks stunned and confused. But not really afraid. She isn’t sure how to react to him crying, but she isn’t judging him for it or afraid that he can’t take care of her any more (this goes back to her not accepting him just laying at her feet the night before, she doesn’t want him to only serve her, she wants that but also more, to be a real person with him and for him to be a real person with her). However, she also isn’t confident enough in herself to react. Later in the film, if she saw him like this, she would immediately embrace him and say what comes naturally to her and know it would be the right thing. But right now, she is less sure of herself and what he needs from her. Something that is about to change over the course of this song right now!
But first, more dialogue! Shahrukh sense she is there and stands and pulls himself together, sort of. He is still a little shaken, which we can see by the first thing he says to her, asking if she had ever been to the Punjab. She shakes her head. Now, this is FASCINATING. It would be so easy to make the “Sejal” character a fellow Punjabi, make it clear that she is giving him back his identity by reminding him of their shared heritage. Or that she instinctively knows how to make him feel better because they are the same. But no! She hasn’t even been to the Punjab! Which isn’t surprising from what we know of her already. She is a spoiled city girl, she has probably been to Delhi in some highly chaperoned way, maybe to Chandighar, but she would have no knowledge of the real rural Punjab that runs through Shahrukh’s blood, not even from stories from relatives, it is completely alien to her. And Imtiaz made that choice on purpose. She doesn’t give Shahrukh back the Punjab because she is Punjabi, but because she is herself. Yes, still a “good” Indian girl of a very particular type, still able to understand and speak back to him the language he was raised on, it wouldn’t be the same if she were non-desi. But in addition, something about her heals him in ways neither of them fully understand, and which make no logical sense. How can this bratty city girl suddenly make him feel the wind through the fields? Fields she has never even been to?
(Well, not yet. I’ll get there eventually, but I love how easily she fits in with Shahrukh’s Punjabi heritage. Not because she feels at home there, but because she feels at home where ever he is. Like the lyrics say, “I am beautiful because you love me”)
I think that’s what Shahrukh is struggling with too. He is reborn somehow, but also puzzled that she is the one who gave birth to him, he keeps kind of studying her face, like he is trying to figure out what she did to him. And he keeps talking while he is trying to figure it out. Asking if she knows why Punjabi singers sing so loudly. Anushka kind of doesn’t respond, she is trying to figure this all out as well. Shahrukh explains anyway, tells her that they sing loudly because they have to be heard over their tractors. And then adds suddenly “I left home to go to Canada and be a singer”. Anushka still doesn’t know how to respond. I don’t think he wants a response from her anyway, I think he just wants to share this with her, this part of himself that he has kept hidden all these years. And then he really shares, suddenly bursts into song in front of her.
I know people who really really hated this part. It’s not just that the singing came out of nowhere, it’s that it is such perfect singing. He doesn’t sound like a tour guide who hasn’t sung in years, he sounds like Shahid Mallya, you know? It breaks the reality of the film. But that’s the point. Song sequences are fantasies, this is how his singing feels inside, and how Anushka hears him. Perfect, powerful, beautiful. Plus, I mean, it’s supposed to be kind of good. I don’t think we are supposed to believe that Shahrukh’s character was a fool to run away from home. That his singing was so bad he was deluding himself. Sure, the career obviously didn’t pan out, but he had to have some drive inside of him to make him leave, and an actual talent and love for singing would do it. We are supposed to be seeing him suddenly let loose with a talent he has hidden, and not allowed himself to enjoy all these years.
And after he sings, he turns to Anushka and asks “Do you sing?” He still seems slightly “off”, he is asking the question with this odd mixture of intensity and calm. Like he really wants to know the answer, but also isn’t really sure why he needs to know the answer.
Anushka is delighted! She gets this big smile on her face like she has been waiting for him to ask her just this thing, like she has a delightful surprise she wants to share with him, and tells him that at every family event and birthday, she was the one who they made sing, she knows lots of songs!
I love this moment so much! Again, it tells us about Anushka’s past. Being forced to sing at her family events, and being proud that she could do that one thing right. It feels the same as her pride in her Indemnity Bond and being able to handle the legal matters for the family. She is an odd strong personality who they don’t want around all the time, but in these few areas at least she knows she is doing what they want, she has skills that are useful.
But also it feels like she is delighted to find something she and Shahrukh share. That there is something she can show off to him with, something that she meet him on as an equal. And so when he orders her to “sing!”, she does it with gusto, dropping right into a perfectly practiced little piece, with the hand gestures and the eyes and everything.
(This is what it is supposed to be, sort of. You learn your song, and you learn the little graceful movements that emphasize the lyrics. Only, Anushka is so enthusiastic that her movements aren’t graceful or little)
And again, it’s a slight break, because this isn’t the voice of a casual singer, this is Sunidhi Chauhan. But then, again, this is a fantasy. This is how she feels that she sings, and how he hears her. And, again, it is also just on the edge of reality. I know this girl, my college roommate was this girl, they could really know how to sing. As a “proper” wealthy Indian girl, you have to learn either singing or dancing. And really learn it, it’s a sign of status to show that your daughter was able to take music lessons for hours every day, she didn’t have to do housework and there was plenty of money to pay the teachers, and now you can trot her out and prove your wealth and your “culture” and make her a more valuable commodity on the marriage market (I am sure if she had married boring fiance, her in-laws would have had her singing at every occasion as well so everyone would admire their “proper” daughter-in-law), so this isn’t just bad singing everyone puts up with, if you really want to show off, it has to be real trained singing.
Anushka seems much too clumsy for dancing, which is probably why they stuck her with singing, and were glad when she seemed to have some ability in it. But they never had her sing for the joy of it, it was always to entertain the family, to show off her “culture”. That’s why her gestures are so practiced and her little song so sweet. It’s the kind of singing you want from your daughter as a show of what she can do, not the kind of singing you do for yourself out of pleasure. But at the same time, she is so pleased with it, and her voice is so strong and loud, she can’t quite be contained within the boundaries of this kind of song.
(Like this, with a wife instead of a daughter. She can’t work outside the home or have friends or do anything else. But classical singing lessons, that is an acceptable proper wifely thing, just like it’s an acceptable daughter thing)
And that’s what Shahrukh is calling out to her. He is still a bit in shock from his emotions, I don’t think he would have let himself get this flirty with her otherwise. But when she finishes, he tells her “sweet. Sister-type. But can you do it with a little [grrrrr]”. It’s a joke, he knows now that she wants to be more than sister-type, that she can be more than that. And that she won’t get offended or misunderstand his challenge. Plus, he is now making his first move to try to draw that “[grrrr]” part of her out of herself, instead of trying to protect her from it. After last night, the fight, the chase, sleeping together, and the magical transformation she gave him, he is no longer seeing her as just a child. And she is no longer feeling like just a child. She is delighted to sing for him, but she does it with a kind of awareness that it is a performance, gives him a little eyebrow wriggle when she is finished, instead of acting as though this is her “real” self, the perfect little girl singing the perfect little song.
Gosh darn it! 3,300 words and I haven’t gotten to the real song yet! Oh well, tomorrow. Probably. Unless I get bogged down again by, like, talking about a finger wriggle for a thousand words.