This is going to sound really silly, but what “Phurr” reminds me of the most is “Kwaja Mere Kwaja” from Jodha-Akbar. Only with Diplo and sex instead of Rahman and God. (full index of JHMS posts here)
Previously, Basically Everything Happened! Anushka is a spoiled innocent and Shahrukh is the tour guide her family hired to babysit her while she traveled around Europe looking for a lost ring. After only a few days together, they are already in love without admitting it. They pretend that it is just a game, that they are playing at being boyfriend and girlfriend, but as the time gets closer that they will have to part (they think they have tracked down the ring), the charade drops away. Shahrukh bursts out that he can’t get used to this kind of closeness, and Anushka begs him/orders him to go back to the closest he has to a home, his apartment in Frankfurt that he has been avoiding for the past few years thanks to a bad break-up, and gives him absolution for all the things he felt he had done wrong. And finally, in the middle of a stressful situation when they are being threatened late at night in the street, and think that as soon as they get out of this, they will get the ring and have to say good-bye, Shahrukh says the magic words that unlock Anushka’s full potential, tells her that she is “worth it”, that she is “layak”, someone a man would want to have sex with, worthy of being loved.
Only, then they don’t say good-bye! They find out the woman, Natassha, who they thought had the ring, doesn’t actually have it. Which means Anushka has given Shahrukh her farewell blessing (“go home”) and he has given her his (“you are worthy of being desired”), and now they are still with each other. Their reaction isn’t dramatic, it is just kind of calmly trying to figure out where they go from here. Literally uncharted territory, breaking off from the tour group path they have been retracing to fly to Portugal, where “Gas”, the criminal Natassha gave the ring to, lives.
And then there is one small revealing moment, one of the few moments when we get a glimpse into how Anushka’s mind works and what is happening back home. She is on Skype with her sister, the same sister we saw casually talking with her right before she first really noticed Shahrukh back in Amsterdam, saw him arguing with an ex girlfriend and suddenly awoke to other possibilities. Back then, she was talking with her in that long relaxed way you talk to someone when you don’t really have anything to say, you just are afraid of breaking the connection. So long as she stayed in touch with her sister on Skype at all times, she wouldn’t really be “away”. Later, we saw her briefly talk to her father over the phone, confirm that she is safe and Shahrukh is watching her. That was him checking in, making sure she was still under control. But neither of these conversations really felt joyful, felt like she wanted to be talking to the other person. They were habit, or obligation, not a true connection.
And now we have a different not a true connection moment. Filmed in a really fun way. Before, Anushka had perfect Skype manners. Her earphones were in, her tablet was held just so away from her face, she was focused on the person talking to her. Not super focused, no real connection like I said, but politely focused. But now, we see her laying stretched out on the bed, hair falling over her face, arm falling in front of her, and the tablet lying next to her, not propped up, not so it can even see her. And her older sister sounding slightly confused asking what’s happening, why isn’t she coming home yet. And Anushka rolls her head back, hair still falling in her face, to say “I’m too sexy! I’m on my honeymoon!” Her sister gets even more worried, asks what about Rupen, Anushka says “I’m too sexy, even Rupen’s father would want me!” And her sister really panics and asks “Where is Shahrukh? Is he still with you?” And Anushka responds “I’m honeymooning with him!” and hangs up.
So, let’s unpack all the interesting things here! First, Anushka is doing such a great job of leading us into “Phurr” and her state of mind. She is in a state of a strange kind of ecstasy. Now that Shahrukh has affirmed her “worth”, that is all she needed to unlock her body, her mind, everything that makes her a woman, all at once. She doesn’t care who she is talking to, what is going on around her, she is lost in her own self. Her responses are filtered through this haze of change, she is hearing what her sister is saying on some level, enough to respond to it, but not enough for her responses to be the kind of thing her sister can understand or want to hear.
(Just wanted to put in a reminder that sister relationships don’t have to be like this. I think we can assume that Anushka and her big sister were never that close, not really. Probably a big age gap, her sister always saw her as kind of a responsibility more than a friend, and Anushka saw her as more of a scary adult than a compatriot)
And then there’s what this retroactively tells us about the past few days. Timeline again! She spoke with her sister in Amsterdam. Her father in Prague. Rupen the next morning in Prague. But then they went to Budapest, and she didn’t call home. And now they are in Prague again and she is finally responding to her sister’s call, but only because she doesn’t even care enough to avoid the call, her family can see her as she is now, anyone can see her as she is. And her sister is worried. This is what it took for them to be worried. Not her traveling alone in Europe, not her engagement breaking up, but her not calling home or responding to her fiance for two days. So long as they could talk to her, they knew she was under their control, still the same person they wanted her to be. It was the radio silence that alarmed them.
And even now, we see how little they understand what is happening. Her sister asks about Shahrukh as though (and someone in the comments pointed this out, I can’t take credit for it, if it was you, remind me and I will give you credit!) he is the designated adult. Anushka seems to have lost her mind, but they can talk to Shahrukh, he is the reasonable responsible one they hired to handle her. You can retroactively picture, I don’t know, Anushka having a tantrum in kindergarten and the family calling up her teacher and asking her to “fix” their daughter, to take care of it so they don’t have to worry or deal with it. Anushka is the problem, not the person to be talked to about the problem, but the problem that the adults have to talk about over her head, figure out what to do. I am sure this is also how they interact with Rupen, her father and her future husband and her sister getting together and talking her over.
(Toilet: a movie in which a woman’s issue was dealt with by a bunch of conversations between a man, his father, his brother, and his uncle-in-law)
And, even with Anushka straight out saying she is on honeymoon with Shahrukh, it still never occurs to her family that they could be falling in love! It’s a special kind of blindness, a blindness to their daughter as potentially a sexual being, and a blindness to the possibility that she could ever see a servant as more than a servant. Not just a servant, a Punjabi older servant. “Punjabi” meaning not just a different ethnic background than theirs, but a different religion (even if they didn’t notice the bracelet or see the Ik Onkar tattoo, they could guess from his name) and most likely a farming middleclass background. That’s why Imtiaz wanted him to be Punjabi too, I am sure, because of the unique kind of identity that is, with all these elements combined. If she was traveling with a young upperclass Gujurati man, maybe they would actually worry. But as it is, they just think she has lost her mind and needs to come home and be “fixed”, and that’s it. The nice Punjabi servant they hired will follow their orders and they can talk to him and have him take care of it.
(Same “impossible!” combination that makes Gadar: Ek Prem Katha such a wonderful romance. Because they have to look past sooooooooooo many differences and see the real person inside before they can fall in love)
And now let’s look at Anushka’s actual words! Her first reaction is that she is “tooooooooo sexy!” That’s the straight forward translation of what is happening with her. She is suddenly feeling powerful and sexual and perfect. All those things she has been searching for have come to her all at once. And yes, it is to feel “sexy”. But it is more than that, it is a comfort in her body and with herself, to finally feel like she doesn’t have to try, she doesn’t have to be anything besides what she is.
And then there is the “even Rupen’s father wants me!” comment. Which has sooooooooooo many layers! First, there’s the standard slang meaning, to add on “even your father” is an almost meaningless phrase to add slightly insulting emphasis. It’s a slangy casual insulting way of talking that the “old” Anushka would never have used about Rupen, or to her older sister.
Second, there’s what the slang meaning means. Anushka’s reaction to Rupen wanting her to come home is to toss off a comment about how sexy she is and how much he wants her. She doesn’t care to talk seriously or take him seriously, even Rupen has just become an element in her own self-discovery.
And then finally there’s the truth of it. Which is what her sister is reacting to. Because, yeah! Rupen’s Dad probably does want her, on some level. She is the perfect proper daughter-in-law, the whole family was involved in picking her out for their son, and Anushka is cutting right through that pretense, that she and Rupen have a “romantic engagement”, that this is anything more than an arrangement between their families, with his father having at least as much involvement in picking her out as he did. Only Anushka, and all innocent proper young girls, are so trained to be blind to their own desires and the desires of others so that they can be the sacrificial lambs. Picked out by mothers and fathers for their sons because they seem pure and young and fertile, handed over on their wedding nights to the husbands with no idea what is happening. And Anushka is pulling the curtain off of that. She is sexual and has desires and is worthy of being desired, and Rupen knows that and his father knows it and so does everyone else, and she has just now realized it.
(You see the odd way Amitabh is kind of wooing Rani on behalf of his son? That’s what I mean by the truth of the “so sexy even Rupen’s father wants me” comment.)
And then there’s the honeymoon comment. And you know, she is on her honeymoon! I realized when we were going back and forth in the comments on the last post about Anushka’s probably sexual experience and how she would be handed off on her wedding night with no knowledge, expected to somehow rise to the occasion. Well, that’s kind of what happened! She and Shahrukh were strangers. After “Radha”, they had the kind of strange strong bond you might expect from a wedding ceremony. Heck, she was even dressed in red! They spent a day getting to know each other, another night together, another day, and now he has awakened her to all her sexual desires at once, made her fully “ready”. This is a perfect honeymoon for an arranged marriage, for a girl like Anushka. Shahrukh is slowly breaking down her fears and insecurities, and now she is blossoming, ready for their life to begin.
And, although this isn’t important right now in this section, it is also a honeymoon for Shahrukh. To enjoy his perfect worshipful bride, who is there to make him happy, to care for him, to build him up and make him better. This is the kind of marriage he would have dreamed about as a young man, a woman who has endless faith in him, care for him, builds her life around him and only for him. And who he can care for, give him a reason to get up in the morning, be a better man, do good things in the world.
It’s hidden in their interactions, the fighting and complaining and all of that, it looks like a very “untraditional” love story. But it isn’t, not really. Two people thrown together by fate who come to an understanding, a woman who just needs her man and a man who just needs the love of a good woman.
(And now I want to watch Roja again! She lives and wants only her husband even after only a few weeks/days together, and he finds his greatest strength by thinking of her)
And now, finally, “Phurr”! The actual song. We go from Anushka hanging up on her sister to Shahrukh eating pizza on the floor and watching a soccer match on the TV, while Anushka pretends to pull dance. She has a big smile on her face. He looks mildly amused, and plays along, pretending to throw dollar bills at her.
Out of context, in the trailer, it looks like the most regressive disgusting male fantasy ever, a bored guy watching sports and drinking beer and eating pizza while a beautiful woman gyrates in front of him. But it’s not Shahrukh’s fantasy, it’s Anushka’s. That’s why he looks amused but not that interested. He is playing along to make her happy, but it’s not what he wants from her most. He would be just as happy sitting there eating pizza and watching TV with her sitting next to him, or doing anything with her sitting next to him. It’s Anushka who is enjoying the new confidence in her body, the moves that are sexual, but still her, still her awkward joyful enthusiasm. And dressed like she would dress, sweatpants and a t-shirt. Sexy, yes, but not “dress-up” clothes, just what she would be wearing anyway to sit there and eat pizza.
Let’s take a second for that pizza and the sweatpants. Remove the pole dance from it, this is a long time couple hanging out. No need for a fancy dinner or doing karaoke any more, it’s a good night just at home with take out in slumpy clothes. I can’t imagine Shahrukh doing any of this with Klara or any of his other women, just enjoying being with them and not doing anything in particular. And I really can’t imagine Anushka doing this with Rupen, or anyone else in her life. Being this happy to just stay home and be real, be in sweats and sitting on the floor, let alone the whole silly pole dance part of it. This isn’t what proper good girls do, they have cute little bed clothes (like we saw in her first hotel scene) and wear them while they carefully take on and off nail polish while talking with their sisters. And even that kind of behavior would be kept for the sister, once a husband comes along, you would never be like that.
So this is Anushka now. So happy with herself, and so completely caught up in herself and in Shahrukh. She needs nothing else than what is in this room. And Shahrukh knows that and is willing to give her whatever she needs from him.
Which brings us to the rest of the song. Brilliantly conceived, Anushka is listening on headphones to the song we are hearing on the soundtrack. And Shahrukh is carrying the ipod/tablet/whatever is playing it in his bag. She is literally attached to him, listening to the music he is playing her. It is a modern day version of Krishna’s flute calling Radha.
(See? But with an ipod and a Diplo)
It’s also a fairly explicit marriage reference. The bride and groom tied together as they circle the marriage fire. Only in this case, the circles are through the streets of Portugal. And the tie isn’t a scarf, but a headphone cord.
But most of all, it’s what it means for these two characters. Anushka is lost in an ecstasy that Shahrukh has given her, and he is taking care of her while she is in that state. Gently guiding her this way and that, giving her the bag and sliding her down stairway for a moment, taking her through a crowd and briefly removing the headphones so they can dance together. And so he can dance for her, in the middle of the celebration of the crowd, he does a Bhangra just for her, and then brings her in and teaches her how to dance.
(See how happy she gets when he dances? that’s why he does it)
I talked way back in the “Radha” section about what happens when Anushka is happy. Shahrukh gets strangely calm. Grounded, smiling, competent and content. His problem was that he was too emotional, too unhinged and sensitive and all of that. Anushka’s was that she wasn’t emotional enough, wrapped in cotton wool and protected from feeling anything inside of herself. And Shahrukh has fixed that for her, now she is lost in herself, and he is out of himself, focused on her.
There’s the practical part of this song too. We see them going through a town, driving, on a beach, and Anushka in two separate outfits. They were told that “Gas”, the man they are looking for, travels between two different towns. So, presumably, they went to town A first, then rented a car and drove to town B. And Anushka changed clothes somewhere along the way.
We only see a snatch of the car ride, but it is a nice snatch. Shahrukh is driving, acting like that hired tour guide he used to be to her. But she is a different person now, stretched out in the backseat, reaching her feet forwards to that driver, crossing the invisible line between driver and passenger. In her slightly different outfit than before, even more comfortable for the car ride.
HATE her clothes her, by the way! Love them for what they say about the character, just think they are ugly for themselves. The first outfit isn’t bad, tiny white overalls with a tiny white shirt underneath. I’m not terribly fond of the tiny overall look, but I can live with it. And the character meaning is perfect. Anushka has, finally, found her casual happy sexual place. All along she has worn pants and short dresses, it’s something she likes. And now she is no longer trying to be more adult than she feels, to be anything besides what she feels. Overalls could have a youthful look, something she would have veered away from just a couple days earlier when she was so focused on being mature and adult and impressing Shahrukh. But now she is just herself, and overalls are comfortable. And practical. She finally matches Shahrukh’s look. His sneakers and light shirt complimented by her sneakers and easy to move outfit. She was on the way in Budapest, in that day time outfit of jeans and boots and knit hat, but now she has finally arrived, she is wearing what makes her feel free and happy. And the white shows us, in the audience, that. She has been reborn pure and happy. And, for the first time, she also matches Shahrukh perfectly, both in pure white.
(The overalls also allow for this cute little moment where she is no longer ashamed of her body, but also not treating it sexually, just as a funny thing that she can show off0
And then there’s the other outfit. Which is just UGLY!!! White short shorts with strange blue spangles all over them. Sleeveless peasant blouse looking thing. And another shirt tied around her waist. Great for the character though. It’s kind of consciously ugly. Not in the way her first nightclub outfit in Amsterdam was ugly, where you could see she didn’t know what she was doing and what she wanted. But like she liked the blue spangles, and the peasant blouse was lightweight, and the shirt around her waist was handy if she got chilly, and that’s all she was thinking about. It’s the clothes she wanted to wear, so she is wearing them. And they don’t even feel like clothes, she feels naked in them. That’s in how she is moving, feeling the air around her, stretching her arms out, waving in the breeze. She is light and free and open to everything. Floating in the wind like the scarf she borrowed from a dancer in the streets and ties round her wrist. Not properly round her neck, not draped like a dupatta, but free on her wrist. The clothes make no sense to an outside observer, but they aren’t supposed to make sense to anyone else, they are what she wants to wear.
And then we get to the end of the song. The really strange end. Anushka walks along the beach stretching to the wind, and sees Shahrukh standing in front of her stretching his arms (I assume this is supposed to be right after the car ride). Anushka sees him and walks up to him and starts massaging his back. He reaches back for her, not clear if he is going to grab her and pull her closer, or push her farther back. But either way, she takes control, knocking his arms away and making him just stand there and take it while she massages him. Later, in “Ghar”, we will see a second half to this moment, her flipping him around to face her and reaching out to massage his face for him.
Let me go back to that “Kwaja Mere Kwaja” comparison I started with. Sufiism (should there be two “i”s?), Shakers, Quakers, all kinds of religious traditions have the idea of the divine state brought on by music. It brings you to a higher consciousness, changes you. That’s what is happening to Anushka here. This musical moment is her slowly growing on the inside, like that kind of fever coma that comes before you are cured from sickness, or the way newborns sleep aaaaaallllllllllll the time because they are using so much energy just adjusting to the world. She had to retreat from reality for a bit, let Shahrukh take care of her while she went through this. But now she has come out the other end. And waiting for her, in front of her, is Shahrukh. Her destiny, her reward, the thing she has been working herself towards without knowing until now (and maybe not entirely knowing even now) that she was working towards it. Think of it as the vision after a spirit quest. In a sudden light, she sees him anew and knows that is what her whole life is about.
And she is ready for it now. That’s why she is slapping him away, taking control. She doesn’t want him to take care of her, she wants to take care of him now. It’s her turn to be in charge, she isn’t a little girl anymore, she is done growing up.