This is such an odd section of the film. It’s very hard to describe without sounding really really stupid and shallow. But it isn’t! If you go on this whole journey with these characters, it makes complete sense. (full index of JHMS posts here)
Previously, lots of stuff happened! In a very very short time span. Anushka stayed back after her family went home from a month long European trip in order to quickly look for her engagement ring which she lost. Her family insisted that Shahrukh, their tour guide, stay with her and babysit her. After 3 nights and two full days together, Shahrukh and Anushka had already become something more than just tour guide and client. Even though she was shockingly innocent and sheltered and he was shockingly not. By the 4th day, they had all but abandoned the ring hunt, were doing karaoke together and sleeping together at night (not having sex, literally sleeping together). Until Shahrukh’s friend Mayank surprised them and gave them a lead on the ring hunt, back to Prague where they first really connected with each other, to track down a stripper who might have lied and claimed the ring for herself from a cafe in Budapest. On the train there, Shahrukh bursts out that he can’t get used to this, they have to stop. And Anushka refuses to listen to him, instead pushing for more information about his life and then hugging him after he admits that for the past 2 years, instead of going to the closest he has to a home (an apartment in Frankfurt), he has just kept traveling, sleeping with women in order to have a place to stay. Because nothing he can say will scare her away or disgust her.
Speaking of disgust, now they are in a strip club! I talked about this a little in the last section, they are in a strip club together, the kind of place a sheltered wealthy young woman like Anushka would never ever have gone just a few days ago. And which Shahrukh would have entered all hot and dirty and sexy and probably seduced one of the strippers just to prove he could and regain his manhood. But now here they are and Shahrukh is only interested in the place in terms of how it might help Anushka find her ring, and Anushka is looking at it like an opportunity to gain data, considering whether “Natasha”, the headliner who is the woman that stole the ring, is more or less attractive than she is.
We cut somewhat abruptly from Natasha’s performance (which my consulting expert friend who does sexy dancing professionally tells me isn’t very good, and her costume makes no sense because you would never have a train that covers your bottom), to Natasha walking out of the club in street clothes. Really sexy street clothes, an exercise bra and low slung sweatpants and an unzipped jacket. Which works for the moment that is about to happen between Shahrukh and Anushka which requires her to still be obviously sexy, but really doesn’t make sense if you think about it. Why not zip up the jacket?
Shahrukh and Anushka follow her and Shahrukh calls out “Natasha!” but at the same moment a group of guys suddenly appear on the other side of her, seeming kind of threatening and saying “Natasha, Gas wants to talk to you.” Natasha turns away from them, then hesitates when she sees Shahrukh and Anushka on the other side. Shahrukh says quickly “we aren’t with them. Anushka will walk you home.” And Anushka goes over to her and kind of steers her away while Shahrukh stays back and faces the guys.
In a different movie, this would be a super macho moment, we would be ready for a big fight scene. But Shahrukh isn’t like that, he is a guide, he is all about arranging the situation. And he has arranged for Anushka and Natasha to go one way, and now he is going to try to arrange for this group to disperse, go the other way, otherwise be rearranged.
Only, notice that he isn’t really arranging Anushka any more! He tells Natasha “she will take you home”, but doesn’t say anything to direct Anushka, he just trusts her to do what he needs and work with him. Which she does, before he has even finished speaking she has moved over to Natasha and started reassuring her. We will see this for the rest of the film, the “Klara” interaction was really the last time they weren’t working together like this, from now on they move like a married couple of long standing, no need to say things straight out, they just know what is needed. In situations ranging from this stressful stand off with goons, to a wedding reception (more stressful than a late night goon standoff? I think so).
(I’ll talk about this more when I get there, but notice how Anushka is working up the crowd while Shahrukh sings, she isn’t just watching him, and he isn’t giving her clear directions on what to do, they just trust each other)
Plus, Shahrukh is treating Anushka as a grown-up. It’s not just how they are working together, it’s the responsibility he is giving her. Just a few scenes earlier, with Klara, he was trying to shoo her away. Now, he is counting on her to reassure Natasha and get her safely home.
And the Hindi returns! Shahrukh is talking to Anushka in Hindi, to give her “secret” directions, just like he has done all along, starting from that visit to the restaurant in Amsterdam when they had a huge fight without the staff knowing what was happening. But this time, the Hindi is understood by the “bad guys”. They are no longer alone in their little “Indians abroad” bubble. The last section was a tiny bit of the world intruding, but this is a lot of the world intruding. A reminder that the world is a dangerous place, at home and abroad, and Shahrukh has brought Anushka into danger. Not “exotic” European danger, but real grounded desi style danger. Danger from people who know their “real names”, if that makes sense.
And I think it is after this little reminder that this is a real danger, that this is really bad what could happen, not just fun time any more, that Shahrukh cracks and admits the one thing Anushka has been waiting for all along, the magic words that will wake the sleeping princess inside. Which he knew, and has been resisting all along, because he didn’t want the responsibility of waking her.
What he says sounds terrible out of context, and even worse in the English subtitles. Shahrukh is nervously moving about, keeping focused on the bad guys, trying to sort of posture them into submission (it reminds me a lot of what the border collie we had when I was a kid would do when she wanted us kids to behave). He turns away for just a second to say to Anushka “you are worth more than her”, quickly like he needs to get this out but then needs to get right back to what he was doing. She has a big reaction, a huge delighted “WHAT?” And he says it again, still in a hurry and without looking at her, but he isn’t jerky enough to hold it back once he has said it once, he knows she needs the confirmation.
The 4th time I saw this, on the ride home, my friends were saying they had a hard time with this because it felt like rating women against each other, like “she’s a 9, you’re a 10”. Some kind of macho stupid objectifying thing. But I think that is the flaw of the translation. He isn’t “rating” them, he is valuing them. P in the comments finally gave me the Hindi word (thank goodness!), “Layak”. Which is “worth”, or “worthy”, or “quality”. Very different from a simple kind of rating system, it is asking “am I, taken by myself, worth your time? Am I worth anything to you?” It also, I think maybe, picks up on the diamond theme of the film. Anushka is valuing herself like you would value a jewel. Her value is intrinsic to her, but also exists in comparison with other objects around her. She already had the obvious lesson that her “value” is less than that of the diamond ring, her fiance was happy to break the engagement with her over the ring. That alone could have set off this quest to discover her “worth” on the open market. But the way she relates to Shahrukh, the way she wants him to want her and need her and to be able to be everything to him, that heightens it.
(Like this, she isn’t in competition with other women exactly, she is more weighing herself against the standards they set)
The first time this comes up is in a kind of confused unfocused way at the nightclub in Amsterdam, wanting him to say she was “worth it” without really thinking through what she was asking or understanding why she needed his validation. But when they met Klara, it came up again. Half-joking but half-serious. She knows she means more to Shahrukh than Klara ever did, that’s why it is a joke. But it’s also a little serious, because she knows she doesn’t mean as much to Shahrukh as she could, or she isn’t sure if she does or not. And him valuing her is tied to her value of herself as a person. Not just because he is a super sexy man, that’s what it was about in Amsterdam, but now it is a lot more than that. He is the one person in the world whose opinion matters to her, just like she has become the one person who matters to him. Her forgiveness of the Klara situation, her embrace of him in the train after he admits to having sex for shelter, it is healing him, it is the only validation he needs. And that’s what he knows she needs from him, that’s why in this high stress situation he finally gives in and says it. High stress in two ways, if they are able to get out of it alive, it is likely that Natassha will give them the ring within minutes and they will have to say good-bye forever. This could both be his last chance to say it to her, and could be saying it so late that he doesn’t have to fear anything coming of it.
That’s why we need this ridiculously convoluted plot set up here. We need Anushka and Shahrukh to confront the moment they have to say good-bye, and then get past it. Over and over. The moment on the train is the first time, Anushka giving him her final blessing and words of advice (“go home”). Now, Shahrukh is returning the favor, telling her what she needs to hear. But, it doesn’t end. They keep going together, as two whole healed people, into uncharted territory. Because of twists they can’t expect at this moment.
(If you have not read this book, READ IT IMMEDIATELY! It’s free on gutenberg. And it gets at the same idea. Our heroine thinks she is about to die, and so feels free to go after the completely inappropriate guy she likes, and he feels free to reveal more of himself than he would otherwise. This is less depressing, just a trip, but it is the same idea. There is an “ending” coming, so they are allowed to say things they would never otherwise say)
Woops, getting ahead of myself! Shahrukh talks the “Gas” gang down by pretending to be an immigration official. And, once he and Anushka are alone with Natassha, he calmly but firmly tells her that she has to give back the ring and slowly pulls her story out of her. In English, which he speaks very well but she seems shakier on. The story doesn’t quite hold up, she says that “Gas” gave her the ring and she threw it back at him. Which doesn’t fit the theory of a ring that she stole from the cafe in Budapest, but Shahrukh is so sure by now that it is the ring that he just blows past that. I wonder, is this a bit of fatalism? He can’t believe that they would be lucky enough to get more time together, that they won’t find her ring, that this good thing won’t be taken from him? And so he is sure that Natassha did take the ring and they are on the right track and it will be over soon.
Meanwhile, Anushka is dancing around them, thrilled, still flying that Shahrukh has finally confirmed that she is “worthy”. Not just that, but more “worthy” than this hyper sexual woman in front of them. At least, more worthy to him. We never, before or after this, see Anushka try out her recently discovered sexuality on anyone else. She just has no interest in anyone else, I don’t think she looks at Natasha and thinks “objectively speaking, I am sexier than her, I could work at a strip club”. I think she looks at her and thinks “Shahrukh thinks I am sexier than her, I am ‘worth’ more than her to him”. And Shahrukh knows that. He has known it all along, as soon as she started following him around, that this is what she was waiting for. So he is patient with her celebration, with her taking “selfie” photos with Natasha, even suggesting a place where she will find better light for the photos (showing his tour guide experience). He is happy for her, but it doesn’t actually change anything for him. See, remember, he has found her “worth it” since way back when, since that first time he looked at her face in the car, couldn’t stop staring at her legs in her hotel room that first night, held her in his arms on the bridge. He just hasn’t said anything, has been afraid to say anything because of what it would do to her, how she would change, and what meeting that “new” Anushka would do to him. I don’t think he would have said it if he hadn’t been so sure they were about to say good-bye forever, that he would only have a few minutes with this “new” Anushka that he had created. Because he didn’t think he deserved to enjoy this “new” Anushka. This was a good-bye gift he was giving her, just like her good-bye gift of telling him to go home.
Only, it isn’t good-bye. Natasha, after all the photos and Shahrukh’s gentle pressing (also, notice how non-sexual this interaction is. Just as Anushka is coming into her own sexuality, Shahrukh is losing his, he could easily flirt this out of her, but instead it is a completely friendly but businesslike conversation), finally explains that she gave the ring back to “Gas”, she broke up with him, he says “I own cafe, I am businessman, NO! He is criminal”, so she broke up with him and gave the ring back. Great line delivery here by the way, much better than the usual standard of “random white woman in Indian film”. Anyway, “Gas” is now in Portugal, traveling between two cities. And Anushka looks at Shahrukh and says “Portugal? We didn’t go there on our tour did we?” And Shahrukh looks thoughtful and distracted and says “No, we never did.”
Boom! Metaphor!!!! They are now literally going into uncharted territory.
Pause here for geography refresher!!!! The tour Anushka took started and ended in Amsterdam. This is well-trod territory for her, and it turns into well-trod territory for the characters. Anushka barely breaks out of her spoiled rich girl shell, and Shahrukh barely breaks out of his bad boy attitude. And then Prague. A place they are both less familiar with, just one stop on the tour where they only spent a day. It’s a little freeing, Anushka can spread her wings and be something slightly different. And Shahrukh can react differently to her, he doesn’t look at her and see that little girl from the tour quite as clearly as he used to. They start to change in Prague. Next, Budapest. Where they arrive as different people than they were before, the train journey changes them. Anushka asks Shahrukh to “be Rupen”, but notice she is no longer exactly “being” Anushka. She isn’t reacting the way that she reacted back then when Rupen was there, she is something different. And the day they spend together there changes everything, they are now in between, friends instead of work clients, friends who are starting to fall in love with each other. And then back to Prague. Back on that same train where Shahrukh started to realize he was falling in love but in new circumstances now. And back to a sleazy club, but as different people, people who aren’t chasing one another and playing games, but who are standing there together. This is supposed to be the full circle of the journey. Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest, Prague, Amsterdam for her flight home. With the validation Shahrukh has just given her to return her as a new woman, and the validation she gave him earlier to help cure him. But instead, now things are different. They are spinning off in another new direction.
I wonder, is this also a new direction for the film? There are those rumors that an original draft had them not ending up together. From the film we got, I can’t see how that could have ever happened. For both their characters, could Shahrukh have recovered from losing her, and could Anushka recover from being without him?
But perhaps the original film ended here. Back in Prague. Shahrukh is able to go home now, with her help and blessing. And she knows her “worth”, knows she is worth more than the diamond her fiance put above her, will return ready to do battle for what will make her happy, not just what her family wants. And that would be a nice bittersweet ending, the two of them changed to better people from being together, but not necessarily together. That would be a different meaning of the “Jee Ve Sohaniye” song, that they wish happiness for the other even if the other is not “theirs”.
Only, this is a different film. And so it takes a turn, and our perfect circle shoots off in a new direction, after it is “all over”, after the characters have done what they needed to do for each other, they are still there with each other, waiting to see what happens next.