Well, here we are, the best part, which I have set aside in its own post for your re-reading ease. And my writing pleasure. And which also means that “Butterfly” gets it’s own post, Part 27, so we are BEATING BAHUBALI 2!!!! Be very proud. (full index of JHMS coverage here)
Previously: They fell in love and then had a fight and he sent her away back to get married, then regretted it and has tracked her down to her wedding. Only to learn it isn’t “her” wedding any more, she called it off and a different couple snapped up the venue last minute.
Shahrukh hugged the couple who gave him this news, and then kind of wandered off in a daze. And as he walked away, he saw Anushka in the distance, standing in the garden outside the venue. She noticed him noticing her and immediately started walking away. And Shahrukh leaped up on the grass, through a gorgeous circular design in marigolds, and back onto the walk, following her.
Let’s take a moment for how brilliant Anushka’s characterization is here, and for how brave she is as a character. First, the characterization. To show it to us in this way. No backstory, no big dramatic scenes. Just that the wedding was canceled and that she is here now. We know that the bride and groom don’t even know her enough to recognize the name. And she is standing not inside the party, but outside of it, by herself. And dressed, dressed really nicely. The filmmakers trusted us enough to think that we can sketch it all in for ourselves, we don’t need it explained. Just like Shahrukh, we see her and we know everything.
And then there’s the character itself, not just how she is presented, but the bare facts of what she did. For once, a heroine who breaks the wedding and the engagement just for herself, not for the guy. I don’t think Anushka broke it off because she thought Shahrukh might come for her. I think she did it because she didn’t want to marry Rupen. She didn’t want that whole life any more. And from what we know of her family, from the little hints in phone calls and comments, this was no small thing, to break this wedding and engagement. She finally stood up for herself against them all, broke all the rules instead of trying to follow them.
(Although sometimes you follow the rules and marry the guy you don’t love and he turns out to be Kunal Kapoor in a turban. So it’s not always a bad idea)
And now there’s the amazing leap here. To show up to a wedding, that she wasn’t invited to, dressed the way she likes and which she knows Shahrukh will like, and just wait with her heart in her throat to see if he comes. This is brave both because it goes so far, and because it doesn’t go too far. She did all of this, but none of it would matter if Shahrukh didn’t show up. And if he didn’t show up, he would never know. She had at least a few weeks to contact him, to tell him “I canceled the wedding, I want you”. But she didn’t do that. Because she didn’t know, for sure, that he wanted her. Or she didn’t know if he knew yet that he wanted her. So instead, she resisted and waited, and then came here for him and let him make the final steps.
Let’s also take a moment for the imagery. As Claudia pointed out in the comments, that marigold pattern is yet another circle in the film. But beyond that, I love that Shahrukh cuts right across it to get to her. He is drawn like a magnet to her by the most direct route, even if it means getting off the path and crossing right over the grass.
I also think it was brilliant that Anushka walks away at first. It means we get to see Shahrukh following her, one last time. But it also makes sense to me for the character in a lot of different ways. First, now that Shahrukh is here, she is suddenly shy and unsure and has to run away for a bit. Second, she stayed close to the venue to the crowded areas, so Shahrukh would see her (if he came). But now that he is here, she wants to get away, to give them some privacy for this moment, moving to a more isolated location.
And so Shahrukh follows and she leads until she finally finds a place that feels right and sits down. I love their first interaction. Shahrukh comes up and stands next to her, she kind of flicks a glance at him like she is afraid to look directly, looks away, and then back, and drops into the script she probably learned as a little girl to handle any social situation, asking “you want anything? Tea, coffee, cold drink?” Shahrukh says “no no, no formality.” There is the barest hint of a raised eyebrow and a smile in his voice. But in her voice, I didn’t sense a smile exactly, this ridiculous opening isn’t a joke, it’s just her being pure nerves and not knowing what else to say.
And then Shahrukh stands for a moment and loosens his tie. This is such a perfect gesture at the moment. He’s getting rid of that little bit of a costume he put on to get into the party, returning to more of his real self. He’s also loosening up, preparing himself for a fight that is coming, a fight with himself and with her. A challenge.
And then once he is ready, he starts. Just like in their break up, he is taking the lead in the making up. After she did the huge gesture, he is taking over and fixing the rest of it. And so he starts gently, trying not to scare her any more than she is already scared. He asks, “So, no wedding?” Anushka gives a speech that I am guessing she prepared. She couldn’t marry Rupen. He was a nice boy. And it turns out, she was the kind of cheap woman who would run off with a tour guide.
On the surface, this is throwing his words back at him, the challenge he gave her in their fight (thank you Molly for reminding me!). Was she ready for the lowest most disgusting version of what people would say about her? What she might, in the darkest moments, think about herself? And she is saying it calmly (well, a little nervous, but not angry). She can say those words and not be afraid any more.
But it also about her. She isn’t saying she broke up with Rupen so that she could be the woman who runs off with a tour guide, because she wants a tour guide. She broke up with Rupen because she is “this kind of woman”. It was about her, not Shahrukh, just her. And I think she knows he needs to hear that. That is why they broke up, the heart of it, he didn’t think she was brave enough to face this about herself, he didn’t want to be the person who turned her into that. And so when she repeats those words back, she is telling him it is okay, he doesn’t have to be afraid, she is ready.
And this lets him see his way forward. He listens to her and moves slightly closer and says “no no. no no. I came all this way, there has to be a wedding.” Anushka swallows and kind of nods and tries to be cool when she responds saying “how about an engagement now, and a wedding later?” Only her voice kind of goes thick and breaks in the middle of her talking. Which breaks through her cool. I think she is trying to take the pressure off of him, she is scared that he doesn’t mean it, ready to be rejected, for him not to go all the way. He doesn’t have to propose, they don’t have to be married, they can just be engaged for now if he wants. Just because she broke off her wedding, that doesn’t mean he has to marry her out of pity. But he rejects that, says “No, there has to be a wedding.” And Anushka tries to be light and breezy, asks if he has a ring. But she can’t pull off the light and breezy, her mouth is working and her voice keeps shaking a little and getting a kind of pure note of joy underneath it.
The ring question, if these actors were less skilfull and the film built less perfectly, would have felt cheesy and obvious. But instead, it feels like Anushka knows it is cheesy and obvious and is saying it because she can’t think of anything else to say, she is shaking with joy on the inside and trying to stop herself from crying or laughing, or doing anything that might break this perfect moment.
And then Shahrukh gives his speech. His speech, that I wonder if he rehearsed on the plane, while trying to clean himself up in the bathroom, while running through the airport? Or did it just appear in his mind at this moment? I think maybe both. I think he spent all that time running through ideas in his head, trying to picture the moment he saw her, how it would happen. And now, now that he is on the spot and it is all make or break for him, all of those ideas are suddenly coming together and he is working it out as he says it.
He tells her “I don’t have a ring. But I have something of mine that belongs to you. I have a certain lack/limit/void.” He slowly gets down on his knees at this point. It’s the posture you make when you propose, the proper posture that Rupen took and Anushka imitated when she was describing it to Shahrukh long long ago. But in this case, it is also the natural thing for him to do. He isn’t kneeling before her to propose, he is kneeling before her because he is acknowledging how much he needs her, and this is what you do when you suddenly feel how very much you need something, how very much you want something. He is worshiping her and begging her and praying before her and asking for her like a little boy in front of his mother, because it is all too much for him and it is literally driving him to his knees with the want of it all, everything she is to him.
From his knees, he tells her that he has this void. And he didn’t know it, but it is hers. She is the one that can fill it, that it was made for. And if she takes it, he promises to keep her always feeling worthy and beautiful all the days of her life.
In a different film, we would only have the first part of the speech. Shahrukh needs Anushka, she should be touched by how much he needs her, how much she is the one person in the world who can save him. They had that conversation already, him saying that she can save him, and her saying that she will. And later they had a different conversation, him saying that she has to take care of herself because he won’t be there to take care of her. Another film would have left it there. He needs her, and he will take care of her.
(Love Ghulam, love this song, but this relationship really isn’t much beyond “save me”, “take care of me”)
But this film goes a little further. Because these characters aren’t just the “bad boy” and the “poor little rich girl”. Shahrukh doesn’t need to be simply saved from his bad lifestyle, there is a real emptiness inside of him, true misery there. And the bond he feels with Anushka is more than her cleanliness washing over him, there is something unique about her that fills that special void within him.
But more than that, Shahrukh knows Anushka doesn’t just need to be “taken care of” by him, she needs and deserves more than that. Not just a man who will love her, who needs her, but a man who will give her what she most needs, the sense that she is beautiful and worthy. And this film knows Anushka too. She isn’t only a lonely rich girl slumming it. She was working through her own problems. Her own sense that no one wanted her, that she was un-wantable. That is what Shahrukh is promising, that fear and sadness will never come back into her life, he will keep her always knowing she is beautiful just as she is.
Anushka wants to say yes, really can’t say no to this. But she is still trying to take it slow, to make sure this won’t be taken away from her, to make sure it is something that is real and permanent and right. And so she brings up, in a careful way, the one unspoken thing. How does he know she is “worth it”. Worth all he is offering her, keeping her beautiful always, and giving her his emptiness to take care of? Worth taking this silly inexperienced childish woman as his partner in love and live forever and ever. And yes, this is the phrase they have used before for sex. And yes, it is about sex. But about so much more than that. He has a whole life before her, a life of experiences (sexual and otherwise) that have turned him into this difficult desirable man. And she is asking, one last time, is this what he wants? This woman who knows nothing about anything. Is it the dream he wants or the reality?
She asks the question and then looks at him with her face shifting a little with the effort of keeping it still. Her mouth is working a little as she tries to think of something else to say but her mind is blank. There is so much in her right now, she is trembling with eagerness but not sure what to do next. Not sure what happens next. I don’t think she ever got past this part in her fantasies of this moment. She knew the things she could say, she dressed in her new clothes, her “real” clothes, mature colors of rich browns that bring out her eyes and her hair, but still in the somewhat youthful style of the Salwar Kameez, with a simple hair down her back and simple eye make-up, the version of Anushka that she likes best and which she knew Shahrukh would like best. She found the perfect place to sit outside, where he would be sure to see her if he came, not inside where she would have to make small talk with wedding guests. And then he arrived, and she found herself dropping into meaningless “tea, coffee?” before bringing out the line she knows she has to say, telling him that she broke the engagement because she is indeed the low woman he accused her of being, giving him his opening. But now he has taken the opening and what’s next? Should she keep talking? Try to remember the other words she practiced? Reach for him? Kiss him?
And in that moment of hesitation, that’s when Shahrukh takes her by surprise. He gives it a moment after her statement. It isn’t an impulsive response to what she is saying, it is something he knew he had to do and he was waiting for the opening. And here it is. The moment when words aren’t going to be enough, when he has to somehow show her how he feels about her. Not after an evening of emotions like in Portugal, a fumble in a secret bedroom, but here, in public, the right way. And he has to do it the right way, so she knows how he feels, but also knows he doesn’t want anything more from her than she can offer. That what she can offer is all he wants, because it is her.
(Another time when he had to do it just right to show her he truly wants her, without scaring her off, without going too far too fast)
And so he leans up, ever so slightly above where he already was beneath her, and puts his lips against hers, coming together not in a passionate overpowering moment, but in a gentle fit. Her mouth is slightly open and his adjusts to that, moving his softly against hers. The lips meet first, because they had to, because he couldn’t wait one more second for this kiss. But once they do, his hands come up to cradle her head, to hold her safe as she loses control. The camera moves away from their lips to show Anushka’s hand grasping the ground and releasing. This kiss isn’t about the kiss itself, it is about what it means to Anushka, how it is overwhelming her and embracing her at the same time. And then we see one last shot, Shahrukh ending the kiss just they reach the ground. This was just a taste, not the full course. An appetizer to make sure she enjoyed the flavor.
And he wasn’t sure she would enjoy the flavor. It’s in his face as he sits himself up. A kind of half relieved, half ashamed, and a little in shock kind of expression. I said in the comments on a much earlier post that this kiss was a test for them both, but mostly Shahrukh. He had to give her just the right kind of kiss to make her feel excited and happy and loved and safe all at once. It wasn’t like in Portugal, when it was all mindless excitement. This is mindful now. This is the start of their life together. It has to go just right, or it could still all fall apart. He has to hold himself back so he doesn’t go past what she is capable of experiencing, while still letting her know she is truly desired.
And he still doesn’t know, for sure, if he succeeded. He has to know something, all his experience has to tell him that the way she is laying down, flat out on the ground for another minute, means she is overcome. But it is possible it was no good, he has to give her that silent look at she sits up, not sure if he still has the right to meet her eyes. Anushka is sure, now. She can’t speak, but her face has stopped trembling, there is sureness in her eyes. And she gives him a completely “Sejal” style of approval. Two thumbs up. The kind of response a little kid might give, but in response to a very womanly emotion. She has refound herself, the person she was on their travels, and now she knows exactly what to do. No more shaking voice and rehearsed words. Instead, she reaches for him as he reaches for her, and the camera slowly pulls back on them embrace. And then the slight moment when they shift closer together. Because they just need to be close to each other.
What makes this kiss so heart stoppingly wonderful is that, for once, we don’t end on the camera fading away. Or the sun setting. Or anything else like that. We end on this, the moment after. They kiss, and it is wonderful. The kiss is exactly what it is, a moment of confirmation that their relationship can be full and rich and rewarding in every way. But it isn’t everything they want, it isn’t even what they want most. What they want is this, to just be together, forever always.
And I am going to leave them there, together, for just a moment. And put the final post, the “Butterfly” post, up in a little bit.