I loved the last bit of the last section, and the first bit of this section. But I am a bit ambivalent about the rest of it. (full index of JHMS coverage here)
Previously: Whole movie! Almost! Shahrukh and Anushka are in love, not just passionately in love, but deeply truly real-y in love. They somehow went from fighting strangers with a spark, to infatuated teenagers, to a couple on their honeymoon, to a couple married for years. That’s where they are now, a couple so bonded that it is as though they are one soul, and facing a separation. Only, not “really”. In reality, they are just a tour guide and his client who have been traveling together for a week and somehow got caught up in this wild ride which made them into different people, with a deeper relationship, every day. And now their time together is almost over. The ring that Anushka lost, the search for which was their excuse for this adventure, is going to be given to them the next day and then she will have to leave.
Way back in the scene I don’t like right before the interval, Shahrukh told Anushka that she had to promise to leave as soon as the ring was on her finger, no matter what happened. Anushka laughed at him then (which is why I didn’t like that scene), but that’s been their unspoken promise to each other ever since then. They could fall in love and be everything they wanted to be to each other, so long as she left just as soon as the ring was found. And it’s kind of helped their relationship to have this artificial deadline. Every time they think they have come close to the ring, it accelerates their closeness, brings about another epiphany. But that just means that every false ending is that much harder than the last.
And now let’s talk colors again! Our last scene was them in love listening to beautiful music with hands clasped at a tiny cafe. It was all suffussed with this beautiful deep warm intimate red. And now we are in a harsh black/blue. But the thing is, the black/blue was within the red and the red is within the blue. Not just that Shahrukh was in black in the club and now Anushka is in red sitting on a dark beach. No, the two colors have that relationship. Really deep reds can have a touch of blue in them, and really deep blues can have a hint of red. If it had been, say, yellow and black that were chosen for these two scenes, then we wouldn’t have that. But instead Imtiaz chose a red and a blue filter. And so we feel the shock and pain of leaving that cozy cafe and their hands entwined for this cold lonely beach, but we also feel somehow that the two are the same, that lonely cold deep blue was always within the warm passionate red, and that red passion is still here somewhere, muffled in the blue.
(See? In the color tones in this shot? The blue and red that somehow down deep feel related?)
But very muffled, because this good-bye they are preparing for seems about as painful as it could possibly be. And the worst part is that they are dealing with the pain separately. They are already preparing themselves to say good-bye by drawing within themselves, thinking about what it will be like tomorrow. That’s what we see in this moment, Shahrukh standing facing the sea, and Anushka sitting away from him, at a greater distance than I think we have seen her from him in about 2 hours (ignoring enforced separations like when she has to go to the bathroom or he goes to talk to “Gas”), kind of huddled in on herself.
Shahrukh is yelling to the seas, calling out “Hello India!” And then switches to Hindi/Punjabi to say hello to his home town. And then “Hello Kulwant Kaur! Sat Sri Akal! I still miss you!”
Now, time for us all to fight with each other! Because some of you see this scene as him admitting the great love of his life that he has never recovered from, and I don’t see it that way. We can all fight it out in the comments.
The way it happens is Anushka asks him who is Kulwant Kaur, if she was one of the people he met in the fields (or something like that, I can’t remember exactly, but a gentle way of teasing that he must have romanced and had sex with her). And Shahrukh jumps in to correct her, that it was a real romance, he only saw her/met her twice, and then she was married. But he has to miss someone, so he misses her. And he has never told anyone else about it, because “Kulwant”? They might think it was a man. Okay, I have my own interpretation of this whole exchange, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give yours in the comments!
Shahrukh is shouting, and Anushka is drinking wine and huddled up and sort of looking at him and sort of not. They are both so sunk in misery that they can’t even connect to each other any more, but still want to be around each other. Shahrukh’s calling out Kulwant Kaur, that’s kind of an opening in an odd way, she knows his other references, she knows about India and he has already told her about his home town. But now he is throwing in something/someone new. Leaving a space for her to ask about it. I think that’s why she asks, because she can’t resist one more small piece of information about him, and because he offered up that information. And naturally she assumes it is a love story, from what he said.
Shahrukh’s response I find really fascinating. First, he is quick to clarify that it wasn’t the kind of love story he has now, just sex, it was “true love”. But he says it with a kind of acknowledgement that this is a certain kind of “true love”, a pure and wonderful thing that he is proud he experienced. But something he has now outgrown. Or, not exactly outgrown, grown past. He looks back on it fondly, but it is not a pain for him, as I see it. And yet he is still proud that he was able to have it at some point.
It is the “I have to miss someone” line that is most important to me. This man is so lonely that a tiny little dream romance from his youth is all he has to cling to. If this was a Great Romance, if this was the one woman who broke his heart and destroyed his life, I would find it less sad, less meaningful. Interpreting it as, instead, this tiny scrap of a relationship is all he has to comfort himself on lonely nights, he is that starved for love, that is what makes it touching.
(Kind of like this. My favorite part of Citizen Kane)
And I think that is what is breaking Anushka’s heart as well. She doesn’t care about this woman, we saw in the Karla interaction that she has moved past jealousy and even curiosity about his past. She just wants to know about him, what matters to him. And learning that he has no one left to miss but this woman he barely knew, that is heartbreaking.
And it is even more heartbreaking when he switches to calling out for Anushka. He says it almost casually, that “Sejal” sounds better. After she is gone, maybe he will call to the seas for her. And then he does, “Sejal! Kaise Hai Tu?” He does it so well! The tone of voice and the words he chooses are just right. Because they are so carefully unpresumptive. A casually, “How are you?” Not a “I am missing you”, or “I love you”. Just calling out to her to keep that connection after she is gone. And, in this moment, telling her that he will think of her after she is gone, but without putting pressure on her to feel sorry for him. Only, he can’t stop his voice from cracking a little bit.
Which just makes it worse. Again, the heartbreak is in how little he has. He is going from this woman he saw twice as a youth, to a woman who he doesn’t even feel the right to say “I miss you” to in his dreams. One week of togetherness, a little laughter and a little comfort, and that will have to keep him going for a long long long long time.
I wonder what Anushka would have said after this? From her posture, and the crack in her voice, and the way she is drinking the wine, it feels like she is beginning to sense his pain as well as her own. Heck, that she is back to asking him questions, pushing away at him to try to get closer. I wonder if she would have said “Don’t call me over the seas, call me on the phone” or “I will miss you when I am gone, so much it will kill me” or simply stood up and walked over to him and embraced and comforted him.
But that doesn’t happen. Instead, suddenly, Shahrukh is hit on the head from behind and the camera tilts and whirls and we in the audience don’t know what is happening just as he doesn’t. And then the camera comes back up, we pull back and see from above two groups hustling them along, and threatening Shahrukh saying, “You will report me to the authorities? You will have me deported???”
The deportation threats really bothered me every time I saw this movie. Partly because that is such a real fear for a lot of people I know and love right now. And it’s not “ha-ha, take an airplane home!” kind of thing, it’s really bad. Scary, families torn apart, never seeing your children again and your children becoming orphans kind of bad. I mean, I got an emergency alert on my phone to call an INS office and ask for the release of someone as I was leaving the theater one of the times I saw JHMS (not someone I know, I signed up for a phone tree to get emergency alerts like this so I could call and complain as a member of the public).
(go here to sign up for the same thing: https://unitedwedream.org/action/join-us/)
They still bother me, and part of that is just the situation in which I am watching this film, which of course the filmmakers couldn’t have predicted. And shouldn’t have predicted, this is a massive global release that will probably be a cult classic for years. Why try to make it exactly right for one person in America in 2017?
But maybe this scene is an attempt to deal with that. “Gas” and his gang are attacking and confronting Anushka and Shahrukh not because of the ring or anything else, but just because of those threats. Not even because they are “criminals”, he wasn’t threatening them with any crime they had actually committed. Shahrukh broke the unspoken bond of the immigrant, to protect each other against the “others” because the only way you can survive is if you stick together. Only then it goes away in the next scene.
Well, first there is a small moment when they are being hurried through the streets and as they turn a tight corner, Shahrukh and Anushka are briefly able to see each other and their eyes meet. And then Shahrukh is taken and tied to a chair, still disoriented, looking around, and “Gas” says to him “she’s here, she’s right here, see?” See, by this point they are so clearly locked in as a couple, even “Gas” knows exactly what Shahrukh cares about the most.
I love this moment! First, did you notice this is the first time we have really been in Shahrukh’s head, not Anushka’s, since “Hawayein”? The perspective was strictly him for the first 15 minutes or so of the film, then switched to her when she overheard his argument in Amsterdam. Then went back and forth for a while (for instance, in the Amsterdam club scene we follow Anushka into the club, then watch him once we are inside the club, then switch to being with Anushka as she tries to hide from him, and so on). But since “Beech Beech Mein”, it has been the two of them straight through. Even when Shahrukh was speaking with “Gas” alone, we in the audience were constantly aware of Anushka waiting outside, and he shared all his knowledge with her almost immediately. Except for that one tiny moment when Anushka talks with her sister.
That tiny moment from Anushka, that was important, bringing us into “Phurr”, into the time when her awareness of herself suffuses both her and Shahrukh to the exclusion of all else. And in the same way, this tiny moment from Shahrukh is important. We are briefly within his head, and it is a confusing scary place, until he can see Anushka, at which point it all begins to make sense again. We need to be in his head now, because his fear and pain are now suffusing Anushka. He is completely focused on doing what is needed to keep her safe, aware of all the dangers around them, his own failure so far, and his own weakness, all of that. Whereas Anushka is purely focused on him, on his injury and fear and so on and wanting it to be better.
I’m not sure I am explaining this right. Let me try another way. Have you heard about this mapping study from a few years back? They tested men and women on their ability to understand spatial relations related to maps. Like “two miles from here in that direction is this thing, there is a stream over there, the highway is that way”, etc. And men were generally better at it than women. But, if they did the test in a matriarchal society, the women were better (study here).
(Unless you are a NASA scientist in rural India, in which case you are totally lost until a wandering seer gives you directions)
See, if you are raised in a patriarchal society, as a woman, you are trained to think small picture. Which isn’t even necessarily a bad thing! Someone has to think about what to give the kids for breakfast every day and how to paint the living room and so on. But then someone else has to complement this by thinking big picture about the kids’ college fund and getting a second mortgage and so on.
That’s what’s happening with Shahrukh and Anushka in this scene. Shahrukh is thinking big picture, he’s got this whole map in his head, how many bad guys there are, what kind of place they are in, probably trying to figure out how far they are from the hotel, what neighborhood it might be, if it makes sense to call for help. Ultimately, this is still focused on Anushka, the goal is to keep her safe and get her out. But he has all these moving parts he is keeping track of related to that.
But for Anushka, no mapping! She is thinking of one thing, that injury on Shahrukh’s head. That’s it. And all his actions to save them are meaningless to her except as they relate to his injury, to how he is putting stress on himself, dragging this out, showing his weakness, etc. etc.
You can see it in their exchange of glances. Shahrukh looks at her a little wild and then calms down and starts looking at everyone else and working his plan to get them out. Anushka, she just looks at him, almost pop-eyed in her intensity.
I hate Shahrukh’s actual scheme. Like I said, a little too raw for me. Shahrukh pretends to be a government agent, says that he has been “tracking” them, and throws around accusations of them being in the country illegally, not having a gun license, etc. One by one, the gang gets spooked and leaves. Which would be funny if I weren’t sitting there thinking about the fundraiser my church is having to raise bond for a 20 year old woman sitting in jail after fleeing political persecution in her home country. There are two things that make it slightly okay for me. First, Shahrukh goes back and forth a little between a straight up immigration official, and tracking them as actual criminals, indicating that they are aware of some master plan or something. So it’s not just that he is feeding on their fear of deportation, there is also a fear of their real criminal activities being found out. And second, Imtiaz made sure to put in a speech for “Gas”, in which he explains the economic desperation which has driven him to leave home illegally, losing everything in the floods, coming here, only to struggle again.
Anyway, Shahrukh’s plan works. Until finally Gas and he and one other guy and Anushka are the only ones left in the room. And, finally, Shahrukh is able to get Anushka untied. I don’t remember exactly how that plays out, but I think he doesn’t actually directly ask for it, again “Gas” understands him and Anushka and knows that is what he will want most of all.
I do remember what Anushka does. As soon as she is untied, she bursts out of the chair, knees “Gas” between the legs, and runs to Shahrukh to look at his injury. I wish we got a close-up on her face at this moment, so we could see her emotions, but then we would miss the full body effect of her lunge out of the chair and efficient attack of “Gas” followed by immediately refocusing everything on Shahrukh.
This is what I mean by her “mapping” being so limited. She doesn’t care about “Gas” (besides one quick revenge attack on him), she doesn’t care that they are trapped in a dangerous place with dangerous people, she doesn’t care about anything at all besides treating Shahrukh’s injuries. Shahrukh, now that she is freed, is still thinking big picture, saying they should get out of there, eyes moving back and forth as he plans. But Anushka’s whole world is him, she is blind to everything else.
Which is what makes her terrifying! I mean, this is why women are terrifying in general, right? That small map effect. If your child is sick and needs to see the doctor, you aren’t going to think “well gee, the healthcare system is flawed, there are probably other children who need to see the doctor more, let me sit down and logically consider all angles”. No, you are going to make a huge scary scene until they are terrified into seeing your child. It’s not just that right at that moment you do not care about anything else besides your child being in pain, it’s that the doctor’s office knows it too, there is a certain wildness in the eyes which tells them “yeah, I am not reasoning with this woman, she is completely out of control and only wants one thing, and the only solution is going to be giving it to her.”
(Actually wasn’t thinking of this scene when I first wrote that, was thinking of the time my mother so scared a doctor that my Dad had to bring me to the next appointment and apologize for her. But hey, I got the good pain medication! So it was all worth it.)
That’s why “Gas” and his gang are terrified of Anushka, not because she kneed “Gas” in the groin, but because of how she did it, like she didn’t even think about it, there was no logical “I will disable him so we can escape” sort of thinking, she was free, but she paused to make sure “Gas” was punished for hitting Shahrukh because he deserved it. And yeah, she probably would turn on any of those other guys if they crossed her or, even worse, seemed to be harming Shahrukh in any way.
Which is kind of what she does, Shahrukh is trying to get her to leave, and she is looking at his injury and snapping for “Water, WATER” because she has to clean him up before anything else. And the guys are hustling around doing what she says, because it is terrifying. And then even when she has water, she snaps “antiseptic? Antiseptic?” But, see, she isn’t mad when they don’t have any. This is a strange kind of rational/irrational anger. She isn’t going to waste time being angry if they truly can’t help, she is going to move promptly on to the next step.
This is the thing that people often don’t get about this kind of anger. In this state, revenge is a wasted emotion. Achieve your goal, then move on to vengeance. This is also what the movie Mom got so beautifully. She didn’t run out looking for vengeance for no reason, that’s just plain stupid. She took care of her daughter. And when she saw that the continued existence on this earth of these people was hurting her daughter, THAT is why she killed them. To kill them out of anger, that’s ridiculous and pointless. No, you kill to protect.
I am spending a lot of time setting this up, because something is about to happen which makes sense, to me, if we have aaaaaallllllllllll this background in mind when it happens. But which otherwise might be a little stupid. See, they don’t have antiseptic. And Anushka can tell, with her panic heightened senses, that they are telling the truth. So she orders them to give her her bag and dumps it out on the table, hard. In a way you would never normally treat a bag, only she is so crazed right now that she isn’t thinking about anything logical like “my wallet is going to split open, my lipstick might break”, she is just dumping it out so she might be able to find the one thing she wants and doesn’t care about the rest of it. And that is when she finds the ring. Yes yes, it was in her purse all along.
A couple of things here. First, on second and third and fourth watches, I confirmed that this was the same purse she had at the airport at the beginning. But she changed purses off and on since then. So I think we can assume that it fell off at the airport, right before the loss was discovered. She hunted through the bag and didn’t see it. Later, she transferred her wallet and make-up and other basic essentials into another bag, and then another, as she changed outfits and situations. And now she has happened to return to this same bag. It’s not exactly been with her all along, it’s been packed in a suitcase or thrown in the back of a closet part of the time. She hasn’t had it with her every day with a million opportunities to search through it. She may not have considered searching through it after that first hunt at the airport.
So, why is she finding it now? Well, it’s that panic. The way she shakes that bag out on the table is the way you would never normally treat something unless you were so crazy that you lost all common sense. I’ve lost plenty of things and I haven’t shaken out my bag like that. I’ve emptied it item by item, felt along the seams and the lining, gently shaken it, but not like that. Heck, I just recently thought I lost my driver’s license, and all I did was empty my bag piece by piece, and then put it back together again. Because the fear of having to stand in line for 3 hours and possibly go through the hassle of filing a police report was not quite enough for me to lose that instinctive “be careful of the things you own so they don’t break” sense.
What’s important is that here we have Shahrukh with a bleeding head and it is making her insane, so that she throws around this bag, no doubt shaking the ring loose from inside the lining or a back corner where a simple search wouldn’t have found it, but when her fiance threatened to leave her forever, she didn’t do this kind of a search. That I find believable, and interesting, and probably on purpose. She had it with her all the time, including that moment when she ran out of the airport. Yes she was scared, yes she was panicked, but not enough. Not as much as she is right now. And that panic has been lessening and lessening their whole time together, “Rupen” has been fading from her mind, this whole ring quest has become a matter of routine, not desperation. So why would she bother to go back and hunt through the purse again?
Earlier she said that you can find anything if you search for it, and this scene is proving that. If she had really wanted the ring, down deep, she would have found it in that first instant. She would have fallen on the floor and dumped out her purse like it had no value next to the thought of losing her fiance. But, it did have value. The standard social norms held sway over her, the silly invisible norms we all have like not shaking your purse out on the airport floor.
(Speaking of airports, that’s what’s important about the grand airport finale moment in films. That you are willing to run and run and break through security and make a fool of yourself, because nothing else matters but getting to the person you love. All the other petty little rules of society are forgotten)
Let’s take a moment for the ring itself. It’s a great prop, we only see it for a moment, but it looks exactly the way it should look. Heavy, old, valuable, gaudy, and not at all something that Anushka, either the “new” Anushka or the old one, would want. It is one big large diamond with a necklace of smaller diamonds around it set in old gold.
(It’s not exactly like this, it’s even gaudier with a band of diamonds around the central diamond. But the effect is the same, something huge and impractical, not something you would or could wear every day)
The “old” Anushka, the silly innocent girl in the red coat, she would want something bought just for her, something like her “romantic” restaurant engagement, not terribly thoughtful or meaningful, but at least a gesture towards something different. A new ring for a new relationship, instead of an old ring that was always going to be more about Rupen’s family heirloom than being Anushka’s own. But Rupen didn’t care enough to even do that, you can look at this ring and see a whole story of the old family ring that Rupen was given and told he should hand to Anushka, with neither party really being considered as individuals.
(Old Anushka would want something like this. Flashy, modern, clearly bought just for her)
And then the “new’ Anushka, the real Anushka that was hidden all along underneath the childishness, she wouldn’t want this ring. She wouldn’t want a shiny expensive new ring either, because she has learned to value herself more than that. She would want a ring picked out just for her that shows something about herself. Years from now, after the movie is over, if Shahrukh is visiting Old Delhi and finds a small delicate ring in an antique shop, not that expensive, but unique and lovely and something that reminds him of Anushka, that is what she would want. The ring equivalent of the Fado club they just visited, something beautiful he wants to give her which becomes more beautiful to him seeing her reaction to it. Not this huge heavy thing with the weight of family expectations and history that has nothing to do with them, and not some new gaudy thing that is only about value and show not meaning to the couple.
(Don’t know why, but I am picturing something like this. A ruby instead of a diamond, in an older setting, something practical that she could wear everyday. Something that she would like, but which the rest of the world wouldn’t even necessarily identify as an engagement ring)
It could be that all of this is going through Anushka’s mind, a realization that she doesn’t even like this ring, that it has become valueless to her. Or maybe she is just trying to process the shock of going from being entirely 100% Shahrukh focused to having this new idea confronting her. Probably a combo of all of that. I think what is definite in how the scene plays out and what her face says is that, at the moment, she is making no conscious decisions. She sees the ring, registers it, picks it up in her hand and almost slips it on her finger but not quite, holds it loosely. And then turns and says nothing. Instead, she goes over to Shahrukh and goes back to dabbing at his injury.
There is a lovely moment here where she slowly winds her scarf around his head. What it reminds me off more than anything is a wife putting on her husband’s turban. And I have to think that is on purpose, the way it is filmed with her holding the fabric in place as it goes around and carefully keeping it level. It’s just one turn around the head, it could have been done in a quick knot, and filmed without the loving capture of her fingers holding it steady. Anushka is his wife in this scene, more than ever before, and she is taking on a very specific wifely duty for him.
I said that every time they say good-bye and then end up still together, it deepens their relationship. That’s what is happening in this scene. Shahrukh is kind of muted afterwards. He has confronted his over-whelming fear for her, and her over-whelming care of him. He submitted to a loving intimate touch he probably thought he would never have. And now he has to somehow keep going, talk to “Gas”, look at the rings in the case that might be hers. “Gas” admits that all the rings here are fake, he doesn’t know which is the Budapest cafe ring, they are all the same. And Shahrukh slowly realizes that this probably isn’t the end, again. And he is so caught up in his emotions, he doesn’t notice Anushka’s. Because she has a much harder discovery, the ring isn’t in the case, but it is in her hands. I think the question is never if she will say “oh by the way, I just found it”, I think she is past that now, the question is if she will be able to confront within herself WHY she isn’t saying that, what has changed, and is this a change she can live with.
The way she is holding it behind her back for much of the scene is just right. It’s like she wants to let it drop, wants to let it slip from her fingers, but is holding herself back from it. And at the same time, can’t bring herself to slip it onto her finger, or put it back in the purse, or otherwise definitively keep it safe. And that is the same conflict in her head, and in her face. She wants to let go, to say to Shahrukh “I found the ring, but it doesn’t matter, I love you and I will throw away all my past life”. But something inside isn’t quite willing to let go yet. At the same time, it is equally impossible for her to say “I found the ring, I am leaving you.”
And then they leave the workshop in the scene I already covered yesterday, Shahrukh following and guiding her with enormous care. And as they enter a street car, “Yaadon Mein” starts. A song in Fado style, but in Hindi, just for them.
I will cover that tomorrow (or later today, depending where you are in the world), but I just want to point out one thing about it. This section here that I just wrote is my longest one so far. Not because this is a super good part of the film, but because it is a super confused part of the film. A lot of things happen in rapid succession with a lot of shifting tones. And at the end of it, the characters are exhausted and so is the audience. That’s why we need a song here, this song in particular, a slow beautiful love song where they just stand there and feel what they are feeling and don’t do anything else. They need that pause, and we in the audience need that pause, in order to understand where we have come on this journey.