Well, this is a let down. Nothing is going to be as good as the last section. Well, until I get to the last-last section. Anyway, this bit has some hard work to do bringing us down from the emotional high we just experienced. It does the job, but it’s not very interesting.
Previously, whole movie happened! More specifically, Shahrukh and Anushka had an amazing cathartic duet in which she sang and danced her heart out as a faithful loving Radha while he sang out his soul as a wild Punjabi boy, until they met in the middle with him admitting she is “his Radha” and her perfect Radha turning into a wild crazy girl to match his wild craziness. Only now, they are back to real life. Walking back to their hotel. And in real life, he is just a tour guide she barely knows and she is a rich spoiled girl who knows nothing about life or love or men and women.
Which is what dawns on Shahrukh seconds after the song fades out, and he switches from a carefree boy with a big smile and his arm around Anushka, to a responsible type, pulling his arm away from her. Anushka notices and immediately calls him on it, asking “what, will your wife get mad at me?” Shahrukh corrects her “no wife”. She asks “girlfriend then”, “No girlfriend”. Anushka says “right, you get enough action as it is” and kind of grins and nudges him like she understands the joke she is making (which just proves how much she doesn’t understand it). And Shahrukh is surprised into honesty and says “if I had a girlfriend, I would never want action.”
Pause!!!! Take a moment, we need to reflect on aaaaaaaalllllll of this. First, Anushka is teasing him about a wife? She really doesn’t know he isn’t married? It’s kind of a reminder of how their emotional closeness has leaped ahead of their actual knowledge of each other. Anushka follows him everywhere, calls his name when she is in danger, sings him into loving her by repeating her faithfulness as his “Radha”. But doesn’t actually know whether or not he is married, or anything “real” about him. And so there is this strange disconnect, the undercurrent between them is so strong, but they are struggling to catch up on top of it.
This is still something more than she would probably have done with a regular “servant” type, even on the surface level she is losing control a bit, needling to confirm that he is fully unattached. Revealing her interest in him not just as a sexy man she is curious about as part of her strange delayed puberty, but someone she wants to know if there is space in his life for something big, more than a fling. Oh, and of course this all comes up because she wants him to keep his arm around her, and this is the same person who was freaking out just two nights ago when he so much as grabbed her hand. Moving so fast! In the undercurrent, even if on top she thinks he might be married. Underneath she has gone from “don’t touch me!” to “keep your arm around me always”.
And from Shahrukh’s side, he is the one to pull his arm away. The crazy womanizer who warned her about himself, he is the one to resist physical contact. And to reveal be surprised into revealing that he kind of wants a girlfriend, that if he had one, he wouldn’t be chasing “action”.
(girlfriend girlfriend girlfriend! and now I have this song in my head)
Remember waaaaaaaaaaaaay back at the beginning I pointed out the dismissive way Shahrukh described boyfriends-girlfriends as more like brother and sister? And then flipped it a bit when talking with Anushka, accidentally revealing that he puts that kind of relationship on a pedestal, blames her boyfriend for leaving her alone? And now here he is. First, carefully removing his arm, uncomfortable because it WASN’T sexual, he was holding her like he would a girlfriend. Anushka is the one who has to push for that from him. And, without thinking, he admits that the “action” he has is just a substitute for the real relationship he actually wants.
What I find fascinating is that this is true in multiple ways. Sure, there’s the simple “sex in a real relationship is more fulfilling than one night stands” kind of meaning. But beyond that, his sex and one night stands are about hiding from his depression, regaining his lost self-respect, a whole bunch of issues that he could just as easily medicate with alcohol or drugs or any of the other bad self-medication options. Having a girlfriend would mean he didn’t do that, because it would fill the lonely hole inside of himself that he is trying to distract himself from.
And Anushka realizes that. On the surface, she may not even know for sure whether or not he is married, but she “gets” him on a deep level that no one else does. She immediately figures out “you’re lonely! That’s why you were crying”.
It’s a brilliant line, because it is such a shallow diagnosis, but it is also correct. She can’t conceive of the depths of his unhappiness, his homesickness, his actual clinical depression. But, on the other hand, he is lonely! She’s right! It’s just a kind of deep loneliness she isn’t mature enough to understand yet. But she can sense it, again it is in the undercurrent between them, she knows he needs someone and she knows she can be that someone. Consciously, she can only label it as “loneliness” now, but she will grow to be able to fully articulate and understand what, for now, she can only intuit.
And then she makes her bargain. Offering, so long as they are traveling together, to be his “girlfriend”. So he won’t be lonely. And again, such a shallow understanding of the situation. That this little band aid she is offering will help. And that it won’t hurt her to offer it, that “boyfriend-girlfriend” is a clear label that won’t cause any confusion or possibly go too deep.
Let me back up and clarify something. In America where I am, “boyfriend-girlfriend” has all kinds of impossible shadings. It can be someone you live with for ten years. It can be someone you just started dating a month ago and it’s mostly just sex. It can be someone you are planning to marry. It’s a very general term, as general as calling someone “friend”. It means what it means to you.
But my understanding of Indian culture/Anushka’s character is that for her “boyfriend-girlfriend” is a very clear specific label. As clear as saying “I will be your driver” or “I will be your lawyer”. Doesn’t mean it can’t still get messy, but at least the starting point is clear to both parties because it has a single accepted meaning. “Boyfriend-girlfriend”, in Anushka’s world (which Shahrukh will understand), means holding hands and going on dates and calling each other on the phone and having little jokes together. It does not mean kissing, it does not mean having angry emotional arguments with each other, it doesn’t even mean having intense personal conversations that last through the night. All of that is for after marriage. Or never (if you are a good wife and repress repress repress all those messy needs).
This is what Anushka (and all upperclass Indian young women) are trained for their entire lives. To be sweet and pretty and keep their man happy at all times. And so she takes on Shahrukh without fear. She knows what this job is and she knows how to do it. And she knows that he knows women of her type well enough to understand her offer.
Taking the deeper metaphysical side of things, Anushka has been trained in these skills all her life so that she is ready for Shahrukh. Just as all his womanizing and sexing and stuff is because he had to be ready for her. They are the exact people that the other one needs to be whole.
And then they get back to the hotel, the “real world” and that perfect understanding starts to slip away from them. Shahrukh casually orders expresso from the guard at the gate as they enter the courtyard, a reminder that he really isn’t the simply Punjabi farm boy any more. And Anushka is thrilled to discover that her fiance has messaged her, finally! 5 Whatsapp messages! She asks to borrow Shahrukh’s phone to call him, saying it will be a “short call”. And then when Shahrukh starts to try to get away so he doesn’t have to listen, she pulls him back and tells him to sit next to her.
It’s an interesting little moment in the way Anushka plays it. Asking for his phone, making him sit there and listen, it could be a return to her lady of the manor sort of attitude. But Anushka plays it like a friend. She asks for his phone with a kind of begging expression and clarifies “short call”. She isn’t just expecting this from him. And she doesn’t mention money, which before was her go to argument when she wanted something from him. Plus, I don’t think if he was just a “tour guide” to her that she would ask for his phone. It’s a very personal thing to ask (as I talked about before, it is his constant escape and home and privacy). But you can ask from a friend. In the same way, I didn’t see her asking him to stay while she talked as “I want you always at my beck and call”. Again, it is what you would do with a friend, it’s rude to ask for their phone and then chase them off. And besides, she likes him, she wants him to be a part of this conversation.
But Shahrukh is unhappy. Not because he is being taken advantage of, or she is being rude to him. He is unhappy because she has immediately switched back to innocent girl in love with her fiance, instead of the woman who was thinking about him and reaching for him just a moment ago. And he is uncomfortable listening to them talk, but trapped since she has his phone.
I’m uncomfortable listening to them talk! Because this isn’t the Anushka we have come to know. She is all croony “5 Whatsapp messages baby! You miss me so much?” She isn’t sexy or funny or loud, she is playing the role of the perfect fiance again. We don’t get to hear his side of the conversation, but from her reaction we learn that almost the first thing he does is send her a photo showing the ring in Budapest and giving her a new direction on where to look for it. So, he has finally called her and she is being all sweet to him. But he still isn’t asking her to come home. No one wants her to come home. Everyone in her family is in semi-agreement that an expensive diamond ring is worth sending her off through Europe alone to search for. Shahrukh is the only one saying “just buy another one! You should be home with your family, you aren’t safe here”. Even at this early stage, he is the only one who cares enough to really insist on that argument. Which both shows how worried he is about her already, and how little everyone else in her life cares about her (versus caring about an antique ring).
Oh, and then there are two sort of obvious moments. Which are okay, but feel a little beneath the standard the rest of the film has set. Anushka pauses her conversation to show Shahrukh the photo her fiance sent of her with the ring in Budapest. And says “Budapest! We have been wasting our time in Prague.” Which you can see Shahrukh kind of wince at internally, that this whole huge life changing night they just spent together is immediately swept away as “wasting our time” once Anushka talks with her fiance and turns back into the “proper” girl she should be. But what Shahrukh doesn’t register is that she paused her conversation with the fiance in order to share this information with Shahrukh. She wants to bring him into the conversation, into even this part of her life. And she does it in a quick return to “real” Anushka. Phone Anushka is sweet and delightful. But when she turns to Shahrukh, she whacks him on the chest and thrusts the phone in his face, not the retiring sweet “ooo, baby!” kind of girl that her fiance knows.
As soon as she is done with the phone and hands it back to Shahrukh and starts to try to “facechat” her boyfriend, Shahrukh pretends to be getting a call and walks away. To find a waiter waiting with his espresso. He looks at the waiter and says, in Hindi which of course the waiter can’t understand, “What is happening to me? Why this woman?”
So, what felt clumsy to me was the very explicit “we have been wasting our time in Prague” line, and now Shahrukh actually speaking out his internal conflict. Not horribly so, the “Prague” line is undercut by everything around it, Anushka casually asking for his phone, keeping him with her, clearly she may say Prague was a waste of time while caught up in the moment, but the changes that happened still affect her. And this moment here, it’s a good use of Hindi. He knows he won’t be understood, it’s really just talking to himself and this is the kind of thing you might say if you are talking to yourself. And in addition, since Hindi is his “home” language, it would feel natural to say these kinds of things in Hindi, so natural as to be almost like just thinking them. But still, it’s noticeable.
And it leads us into what feels like the first really not quite right section of the film to me, the “Hawayein” song and the scene after it. I still think, after 4 watches, that they weighted the scale a little bit with these just so they could have a dramatic interval point, not because it completely made sense for the characters.