Welcome back to DDLJ watch! And this is a very very big scene. Not in terms of plot, but in terms of changing how we see our hero. (full index of DDLJ coverage here)
In my last section, I talked about how SRK was taking more and more the daughter-in-law role in the family. Trying to be nice and pleasing to everyone around. Getting what he wanted through being sweet and sympathetic, not dominating. This is the scene where that pays off, he is not just acting in a daughter-in-law manner, he is pushing his way into female space, “being” a woman.
What makes this interesting is that he is becoming a woman by using a very aggressive male manner. That is, he isn’t sneaking into the kitchen, gaining sympathy, passively going with the flow until he is accepted. He is forcing his way in, insisting on being included, making himself the center of attention. He behavior is no longer female, while the location he is in and the actions he is doing are. Only when he is in a male space doing male things (feeding pigeons, anything with Kuljit) does his behavior turn female. There is a balance between the two gender identities at all times.
He sneaks into the kitchen almost in disguise, as one of the types of men that would be allowed in this female space, a servant/deliveryman. In the same way later he will interact with/as a sari salesman. So he comes in behind two other dialogueless men carrying sacks of wheat.
However, once he is inside, he tosses of his disguise, revealing himself to be a man with a similar station to the women there. Literally tosses it off, setting down the bag he came in under, and also metaphorically, explaining that he received the wheat as payment of a family debt from a friend of his father’s. A very “landed upperclass farmer” type of thing to happen, he is clearly one of “us”, not just a half-seen servant type who doesn’t matter.
And he uses this new power he has affirmed to insist on joining them. As a mere “servant”, he could have been ordered off. Or if he had approached it as a “woman”, with the obedient “Nameste” and bowing and so on that he did with Amrish, they would have also been able to order him away. But he is approaching his demand to be treated as a woman with male behavior, taking control immediately, taking the tray away from Farida and insisting on it.
This is the thing I was hammering on about with Ki & Ka. Just because you are filling a role that is traditionally done by a woman, it doesn’t mean you stop behaving as a man. And just because you are filling a role traditionally done by a man, doesn’t mean you are necessarily behaving like a man. Shahrukh, in the kitchen cooking, is acting all man. Drinking beer around a fire with Kuljit, he is acting all woman.
This scene is handled so well in terms of camera movement and changing shots. For the whole first minute and a half, we were just seeing Shahrukh trick his way into the kitchen and charm Farida. It is only once he is firmly inside and telling his story that we get a shot of the far corner of the room and see that Kajol is there too.
It’s a trick on the audience, and a secret for us to share, all at once. We thought Shahrukh was just being super charming, only now do we realize that he was being charming for an audience. He is playing this part so carefully, that he fooled even us. Which just makes it the sweeter for Kajol, knowing she is the only one who truly knows what he is doing and why.
But now that we know she is here, there is an explanation for the little extra bit of charm that Shahrukh is putting out. Sure, he wants to win over Farida, that’s important. But there is a bit more something here that is just for her.
But mostly it’s Farida. Notice through out this scene how he focuses on her. The framing helps, having the two of them in the foreground while everyone else is in the back. But it’s also in the eyes, how they keep looking at each other. And of course the dialogue, it’s a back and forth between them with no one else involved.
At the end of this scene, Shahrukh is going to say that he wants a bride like Farida. And what we see in this scene is that his bride really is like Farida! The way she is taking control and confronting him while the other two women hold back, that is exactly what Kajol did on the European trip. They are sparking off of each other their own way. Shahrukh isn’t as flirty, and Farida isn’t as grumpy, but it’s still Shahrukh trying to charm his way into something, and Farida trying to stop him.
The multiple planes of this scene are handled so well. There are three areas where things are happening. The foreground with Shahrukh and Farida. The background with Mandira Bedi and the other actress. And then the invisible stage right where Kajol is sitting, never directly acknowledged by the others, but always there in the minds of both Shahrukh and the audience.
For the beginning of the scene, Adi wants us to just notice the foreground, Shahrukh and Farida’s conversation. That’s all Shahrukh sees too, he is focused on Farida and, in his mind, on Kajol behind her, never acknowledged. He doesn’t consider the background people.
But, as Shahrukh starts to talk about his mother promising him a pretty bride if he helped at a wedding, the camera moves slightly forward, bringing Mandira closer to the foreground. And the framing shifts, Shahrukh is now blocking the other woman, Mandira has become the one object in the center of the frame. We are very aware that she is there, watching and listening and reacting.
And there’s a little motion to it too. Mandira’s head goes up and down a few times, attracting us with the motion as Shahrukh and Farida are fairly static at this moment. We see her smile, her shy hiding of the head, and we in the audience know what she is thinking.
What’s really interesting is that now the audience knows something the characters don’t know. At the start of this scene, Shahrukh knew something the audience didn’t, that Kajol was sitting there watching. In the middle, Shahrukh and the audience and Kajol all knew something no one else did, that he was charming these women for a purpose. But now, Shahrukh is distracted, focused on Farida and, through her, Kajol. He doesn’t see the background, misses what the omniscient camera catches, that his words have been misinterpreted and there is someone else here who is building her own story around them.
And then in a series of 3 shots, we get all 3 versions of this story. Farida asks Shahrukh, casually, what kind of girl he wants. And Mandira gets her first close up, and suddenly the audience realizes that someone else has been watching Shahrukh this whole time, someone on the other side of the frame from us. The other side in many ways, we see Shahrukh as a trickster in love. She sees only the trick, the fake perfect cover he is traveling within, not the purpose of it.
Shahrukh, ultimately, doesn’t see the “trick” at all, isn’t thinking as though he is presenting a false front. He is presenting the best version of his true self, he thinks. For him, this is all for Kajol, he is being he perfect daughter-in-law/son-in-law of the house. And once he reveals that, retroactively it will all make sense, no trick. He is focused on that, the future, not the false impression he might be creating now. And so he looks towards Kajol for the first time when this question comes, because he does not want to tell a lie, he wants to be honest if possible.
And then there’s Kajol. Who has been sitting there watching all of this. She sees both the trickery and the honesty, in her own way. She knows Shahrukh loves her, that is the truth she holds on to. After all, that was his promise to her, that he is doing all of this only for her. But she also knows that they have to keep up this act, that it is less safe than he thinks for them to admit their feelings for each other. She wanted even more falseness, to simply run away together, not even wait. And so she is enjoying the trickery more and the honesty together. The trickery, since it makes her feel safe in her love within this hostile household, and the honesty, since at heart she knows she can trust him. And so she shakes her head at him, tells him “not yet, not now and here, keep lying”.
But Shahrukh doesn’t want to lie. Doesn’t want to be really false (unaware, again, that he is accidentally creating a false impression on poor Mandira, the one he never even thinks about). And so he finds a middle way. To say the bride he really wants without actually saying it.
And to make the line really land, we get more camera fireworks. He says “I want to marry a woman like you, and we see Farida in the foreground, and Kajol fuzzy in the background. That’s how he sees Farida, she is right there in front of him and he is talking to her, but he is always aware of Kajol, fuzzy in the background behind her. And it’s a visual representation of what he just said, Farida is the original strong outspoken warmhearted woman, Kajol is like the woman who raised her. That’s part of why Shahrukh loves her.
But then the camera refocuses, and there is Kajol in focus smiling in the background with Farida fuzzy. Because ultimately, this is how Shahrukh sees the world. He can talk to other people and think about other things, but in the end he will always focus back on Kajol. And she will always respond to him, get his message, give him a smile in return.
Watching this whole scene closely, it occurs to me that it could have been filmed without Kajol present. Her reaction shots are never in the same shot as any other actor besides Farida. They could have just brought Farida back in for it and shot everything else separately. I started thinking about it especially with this part, Kajol hops off the counter, we cut back to seeing Shahrukh on the floor and a yellow skirt going past him. It could be that they only showed the skirt because it was an easy cheat if Kajol wasn’t available, to just use a body double in a similar color.
But there is also a meaning to it. Kajol is simply brushing past, not part of what Shahrukh is doing, not even visible to the rest of them or the audience. But her mere skirt passing is enough to distract him from everything else. That is how aware of her he is. And that is how unnoticed she is by everyone else, in the back, not part of the conversation, not introduced or acknowledged in anyway.
And finally, there is the brilliant ending to the scene. Shahrukh has been all charming-charming-charming to these women. But as soon as Kajol is gone, he loses all interest. He is done being the man-in-a-woman’s-space. Only he can’t let it go so easily, can’t just swoop in and leave now that his task is accomplished. His actions have ramifications he isn’t seeing.
This is the price you pay for entering the woman’s realm. It’s not so easy to leave. It’s not like men where you can just say “okay, bye” and take off. They feel like they can ask you favors, have expectations, built a bond. Or, in this case, ask you to open a stubborn jar.
Now, if he really were a woman, he could say “no”, admit weakness, etc. etc. But he entered this room as a conquering male, with all his male power. He can’t just turn around and refuse to help, say he has no more ability than they do. Because they have only respected him on that premise, he can’t give it up.
It’s not that he actually has to succeed, it’s that he has to try. They women are happy laughing at his failures, it makes him both a strong confident man, and someone they don’t have to be afraid of. Which is also why the women of the audience love him. Any movie can have a hero who effortlessly opens the jar. What’s different is the guy who struggles but still smiles.