Well, this is an okay section. But the poor thing is stuck between two really great sections. So I am feeling a bit “oh let’s just get this thing over with!” about it. (full index of JHMS posts here)
Previously, lots of stuff happened! Essentially, the entire movie. Shahrukh is a tour guide that Anushka’s family hired to take her around Europe looking for a lost ring. It was just supposed to be staying back a couple days, but somehow within only a few days they went from guide and client to Anushka having a crush and Shahrukh being over-whelmingly attracted to her but holding himself back. And then somehow the closeness their urges brought them to turned them into friends instead just servant and mistress. Only for the world to intrude on their thoughtless joy in each other when it looks like they are going to actually find the ring. They prepare to say good-bye, Anushka gives Shahrukh absolution for his past sins and tells him to “go home”. And Shahrukh at the last minute admits that he finds her “worthy”, that he desires her. Only, then they don’t say good-bye. They learn that the ring is still not there, they have to go on another journey to Portugal, where they never visited on the original tour. And in Portugal, in the last section I covered, Anushka came into her own, went with the joy of her discovery of her body, of Shahrukh’s attraction to it. Until, finally, she came out of her trance to discover Shahrukh standing there in front of her.
This whole movie has been Anushka growing up and Shahrukh growing down. He had to let go of his bitterness and sadness and guilt and return to being that clean happy balanced person he was at some point in the past. And she had to grow up into the woman she was meant to be. And sexuality was a big part of that for both of them. Anushka had to learn that her body was desirable, that she didn’t have to be ashamed of it or afraid of it. And Shahrukh had to learn that he was more than just a desirable body, that a woman would stay with him and chase after him because she wanted to take care of him, to drink coffee with him, to sleep curled up against him at night.
And now here they are, journey over. Anushka has gone through her final metamorphasis and come out on the other end, a woman. Shahrukh has gone through his long dark night of the soul and come out the other end of it, a healed man. So, what’s next?
(that’s his face, “what’s next?”)
In my last section I talked about how this section really changes the film, it’s from here on out that I feel like the happy ending is the only possible ending. “Harry” and “Sejal” HAVE to end up together, because they already have ended up together. To separate them after this would just be wrong wrong wrong. They already are a couple in every way that matters.
That’s what becomes increasingly clear in this little bit here. They are sitting at a cafe when the song ends. Sitting like a couple. I don’t know exactly how they are doing it, but they are more of a couple than they have ever seemed before. Maybe it’s something about the way they are looking at each other without looking? They are past that “let’s consciously stare into each other’s eyes” point that they had on the train in “Hawayein”. They like looking at each other and know they have the right to look at each other, but there is no desperate urgency, because they have their whole lives to look. That’s what feels different, I guess. Even though the plot is telling us that they are about to separate, the body language isn’t saying that any more, it is saying “we are together, and happy, but there’s no drama or mystery about it any more, it’s just easy and our lives.”
And that’s why there is a particular kind of pain when the restaurant manager comes out to get Shahrukh, interrupting their time together, and tells him that “Gas”, the man they were looking for who might have the ring, is here. Shahrukh stands and Anushka stands with him, kind of reaching for him, and he kind of gently pushes her back, tells her he will go see him, she should wait here. Anushka is worried, says “he’s a criminal”, Shahrukh tells her not to worry, but we can see he is scared too. And even the restaurant manager looks at them, kind of slightly sympathetic.
It’s not “I am afraid for my life”. And it’s also not “I am worried for you” exactly. It’s more, “I am worried for us”. Anushka is worried about him because if anything happens to him, it will break her. And Shahrukh is worried for himself, because if anything happens to him, it will break Anushka. And Anushka is worried about him because if anything happens to him it will break her and that will break him all over again. This is what people get at when they argue “don’t shoot me, I have a family”. It’s not “like me, I have a family! I am a good person!”, it’s “if you hurt me, you will hurt them, and I can’t take them being hurt like that”. There is a weight of responsibility that is different from just loving someone, an awareness that you are linked to someone else, that harm to yourself is harm to them is harm to you is harm to them and so on and so forth. It’s all tangled together, which is what Anushka and Shahrukh’s body language is saying here. One isn’t comforting or holding back the other, they are just sort of mutually patting at each other, each simultaneously both moving forward and back and staying in one place.
(I knew I could find an example of this! This is the way it feels when a marriage breaks apart, very different from earlier in the film when they were just in love and separated. There’s an extra madness and wrongness to it when a couple this bonded falls apart)
And everyone can see it, can see that this is a real couple, not a young couple in love, but a pair that is locked together forever. That’s why the restaurant manager gives them a moment. And that’s why I just can’t imagine a version of this film, past this point, which doesn’t have them end up together. Because they don’t just need the spiritual connection, they need each other, right there, every day, or else they won’t feel whole.
You can see the weight of separation as soon as Shahrukh leaves Anushka. He is moving slower, his face is kind of blank and serious, it’s not like he can’t function, but there is something missing, some pain inside right away, even though he was just with her a second ago. And he reacts a little slower too, “Gas” comes out and it is a desi. Shahrukh is kind of confused, looks back at the restaurant manager to confirm instead of moving right into the discussion. Partly, sure, this is surprising, it seemed like we would be meeting some master criminal type instead of this sweet little desi guy. But compare it with how quickly he has taken control of every other situation up until now, there is something just slightly crippling him at the moment, slowing his mind.
The “Gas” interaction is so great, because it is what desis abroad do. Desis like Shahrukh and “Gas”, not tourists who are about to return home, but exiles. They recognize that in each other right away, and “Gas” is delighted to share his “real” name, the one the white people can’t say. Shahrukh responds that he is “Harry”, without needing to explain that “Harry” is his white people name too, because it is so obvious.
I still think the title, “Jab Harry Met Sejal”, is stupid. But the name “Harry”, on its own, is not a contrivance. It should be “Hari”, right? A common nickname for a common Punjabi name. Or “Harinder”, his full name isn’t that long or hard, back home he might have gone by the whole thing most of his life. But at some point sometime he started going by “Harry”. And now it is his identity, his full identity. Unlike “Gas”, he no longer feels the need to share his “real” name and an explanation, only the new name and new identity is left. New, but integrated.
Going off on a tangent for a second, Claudia in the comments said that the tattoo Shahrukh has is meant to be an Ik Onkar design. But it’s an incredibly elaborate one. It’s not like Akshay’s Khanda tattoo on his hand in Patiala House, where it was small, but clear. And also always right there in front of him, a constant affirmation and reminder of a simple identity. This character is different, he wears his Sikh identity as a complex relationship, and he keeps it inside, hidden beneath his shirt, not the first thing or even the 20th thing you would see. It is for him, inside, not for the outside world to be aware of.
(This is a simple version of it, just the letters for “Ik Onkar”. Shahrukh’s tattoo, which we never see clearly, is a complex elaboration on it)
That’s what Shahrukh’s identity has become, something hidden away and kept deep inside. But all the more important because of that. He doesn’t have a Khanda on his hand to tell the world who he is, but inside his shirt he has a whole world of faith that no one sees. And we can expand that to his Indian identity. He is “Harry” now, just Harry. “Harinder” has been left behind to the world. But inside, “Harinder” is stronger than ever, is coming out in random ways like his visions of Punjab fields as he walks through European cities, washing his hands with water Indian style while eating take out (one of my favorite little moments from “Safar”), and doing Bhangra in the middle of a street. Anushka is making it come out more and more, but it was always there, inside.
This is a version of the NRI we don’t usually see in Indian films. Because it’s an uncomfortable reality to face. Sometimes moving away doesn’t mean the casual acceptance of two identities that we see in Shahrukh in DDLJ. Sometimes it means a split personality that can never really be resolved. And I can tell you, from the perspective of a 6th/10th generation American, it never does resolve fully. My family is American, sure. That’s the primary identity. But how do you resolve that with singing the German version of “Silent Night” every Christmas, with forgetting and calling potato salad “kartoffelsalat” every once in a while, with all of the things that still make us “German”? You can’t really explain it, and it never fully goes away, you just either learn to live with it or you don’t. And some people can’t live with it, especially people like “Harry” who somehow are never able to find and make new roots in their new country. If he had met Anushka ten years ago, married her in Canada, had kids, bought a house, joined the PTA, all of that, then it would be different. But somehow, that never happened for him. Because sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes the NRI experience isn’t something wonderful and perfect and easy, sometimes it is just a pain that never really ends. And, as I said, even many generations later in a completely acclimated family, there is still some small kernel of unresolved something.
(You will either love this video and get all teary, or think I am very dorky for including an out of date Gujurati rap video that makes no sense)
That’s what is behind this scene, the two kinds of heartbreak together. Shahrukh and “Gas” are the same, they know that as soon as they introduce each others. “Gas” is eager to offer him “cutting” chai, to share their heritage. Shahrukh is eager to get back to Anushka, but lets him down easily, because he knows that pain and urge to connect. And then there is the bigger pain. “Gas” admits that he gave the ring to Natassha and she gave it back and broke his heart. And then starts to cry a little. And Shahrukh kind of changes his face, not sure what he does here, but you can see that he is feeling bad for “Gas”, and also bad for his future self who will be in that same state shortly. And “Gas” can see it too, there is an immediate second bond and trust between the two men. Two lonely broken hearted men exiled from their home. It’s no surprise that he immediately agrees to give Shahrukh the ring, tells him to come to his workroom the next day.
And the two heart breaks are related. In Anushka, Shahrukh has found his “home” again, has found himself, has begun to build back that identity he thought he had lost. And “Gas” had the same with Natassha, we know that just from this little scene, he thought he had conquered this new land, found a beautiful native girl who loved him and affirmed him. And now she is gone, and so is that affirmation.
That’s why Shahrukh is so thoughtful when he comes out. But not too thoughtful not to immediately come back together with Anushka, grab her hands kind of loosely with her grabbing back (again, they are equals now, entangled, one organism, not one pulling or following the other). And then he kind of moves them both away, while reassuring her that “Gas” isn’t scary, he is just kind of sad. And yet Shahrukh still wants to create a distance from him, because that sad broken man is what he fears for himself, that he will be crying to a stranger in a few days, that this beautiful love he has right now will go away from him. But it doesn’t matter, the change is coming down on both of them, and Shahrukh’s hesitation has communicated itself to Anushka. They stand side by side, looking into the future, and something shifts in Anushka’s face and suddenly she looks grown up, she matches Shahrukh, that kind of weary sadness is in both of them. And that’s when she gently nudges his chest and says “I want to take this home with me. My Queen-sized bed”.
Such a great line! And such a great moment! The big thing is “Queen-size bed”. Anushka is a Queen, and Shahrukh has shown that to her. Her thinking isn’t “King size bed”, as in, “what is important is that you are a king”, it is “Queen-size” as in, “what is important is that you make me into a Queen”.
Claudia in the comments is my little fact checker and confirmed that they have now slept together twice at least that we have seen, presumably every night since “Radha”. Claudia reminded me that we see a little glimpse of them sleeping right at the end of “Beech Beech Mein”. I remembered that glimpse, but I didn’t remember exactly when it was. What I remembered was HOW it was. They were on the floor. Again. Which tells us a whole story. During “Radha”, Anushka going to him was believable. They had to be sleeping near each other for safety, she got scared in the middle of the night and, only half awake, went over to him for comfort. It was kind of an “accident” in a way. But what we see at the end of “Beech Beech Mein” is an unmade bed and then, a few feet away on the floor, Shahrukh laying on a sheet and Anushka curled up against him. We don’t get to see the scene where it happened, but Shahrukh must have chosen to sleep in the same room as her instead of across the hall (as he did in Amsterdam). And must have chosen to make his bed on the floor near her, instead of on a couch or somewhere else that must have been available. And Anushka, as before, went to sleep with him. Shahrukh doesn’t feel the right to sleep on the bed, with or without her, he only has the right to sleep on the floor below her. Even now, when it isn’t circumstances forcing it, when she must have invited him into her room, he still isn’t taking a more comfortable place. And she is rejecting that, saying “I would rather sleep on the floor with you than alone in my bed.”
By the way, this is ABSOLUTELY a thing that happens in real life. I heard second hand some complaints from reviews about how silly it is, which just tells me that these people have not spent much time recently with confused young people. I haven’t experienced it myself, but the many young people friends I took to see this movie, saw these scenes and went “oh yeah, been there!” I assume it is less common in India? Just because there would be fewer times that a bunch of unrelated young people of mixed sexes are sleeping in the same room? But I really don’t know, enlighten me!
What my friends have told me (not just related to this movie, I have suffered through years of stories of romantic angst like this) is that there’s some guy or girl you have a crush on, and neither of you talk about it during the day, but at night you sleep together like this. On the futon at your friend’s place, or on the floor of a hotel room you are sharing with a bunch of other young people, or in their bed after they invited you over for a house party. It’s an unusual circumstance like travel or a crowded room, so you don’t have to really explain it or talk about it to each other, but it is there unspoken.
Only now Anushka is speaking it. And Shahrukh doesn’t even react. Somehow they went past the point where saying “Hey! Why am I getting out of bed to sleep on your chest every night and why are you sleeping on the floor of my bedroom?” would break the spell. It’s going to take a lot more than that to break them up.