Thanks to all this buzz about the remakes, I thought it would be a good time to stop and reflect on the original. Plus, counter-programming to the very male new releases this week, Spyder and Judwaa 2!
Queen is the very rare film that I wanted to see with my mother, but not my father, instead of the other way around. My mother has very very specific taste in films. Very very specific and impossible to predict. We all have a relative like that, right? You are all excited, you think you have the perfect film for them, they watch it and say “I can see why you liked it, it was such fun spending time with you.” And then there is some other film you would never have thought of ever showing her, and she will watch it on her own and say “I loved it! Just the best movie, I have to go back tomorrow.” And it’s not like my mother has bad taste! Everything she enjoys is good. There’s just a whole world of other good options out there that, for impossible inexplicable reasons, she does not like. Here, you see if you can figure it out. These are some of the movies my mother loves: Last of the Mohicans, Laura, Bourne Identity, Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, Bahubali, Paheli, Bangalore Days, Ohm Shanti Oshaana. And here are some movies she suffered through but didn’t really like: Manam, Premam, Action Hero Biju, Everything Else I Have Shown Her in My Entire Life. When she starts sighing 5 minutes into the film and doesn’t stop until 5 minutes before the end, I know I have once again failed. But, WHY???? Like, Premam was no good because “the hero was too violent” and yet Gadar is her favorite!?!??!? I’m not alone in this right? Other people have that one impossible to predict movie person in their life? Feel free to vent in the comments.
Meanwhile, my father, he is extremely reliable and predictable. And also the one who watched movies with us a lot when we were kids, because he was so happy to have a non-insane film companion. Action films, superhero films, comedies, anything good really, he will enjoy it. And we just kind of leave Mom at home, or watch it while she is making dinner. Unless it’s something like Bajrangi Bhaijaan or Bahubali where I am absolutely totally 100% sure she will enjoy it. Or Queen.
The thing about Queen is, there are no flaws to pick up on. Even for a very very picky viewer. The worst reaction you could get would be boredom from someone who just plain doesn’t get it at all. Which is why I didn’t want to watch it with my father. I mean, I was pretty sure he would understand it? But I was absolutely sure that any woman would understand it.
Queen has such a simple yet universal yet specific story. Simple because it is contained in the one sentence plot description that was readily available during the promotional tour, “a jilted bride goes on her honeymoon alone”. Universal, because it is about a woman who has never really thought about who she is outside of what she is expected to be. And specific, because our heroine isn’t some fake glossy filmi version of a person, she is a real person from a particular place with particular attitudes and behaviors and everything else.
But the real reason I wanted to watch it with my mother was one tiny moment in the middle of the opening song. Which is one of those perfect moments that feel so real you can’t believe they were captured on film. Our heroine is dancing at her mehndi party, surrounded by her family, and she looks through the crowd and for a moment her eyes meet her mother and her mother has this perfect expression of happiness and sadness and care and everything else that is motherhood as she looks at her radiantly happy daughter.
This movie came out right after my sister’s wedding, and we had both (my mother and I) felt that kind of delicate joy in her happiness, something that you never see or hear about in “mother of the bride” stories. And here was this movie, perfectly calibrated to capture that feeling.
That was one moment, the moment that landed for me, but there were so many other moments that weren’t for me, that were for other people with other concerns and identities. The whole film was made up of those moments, those moments that were just right, just perfect for what they were. Moments of friendship, of heartbreak, of everything else.
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There is a tricky balance right at the beginning, we have to hate Rajkummar Rao as the worst person in the history of the world, but we have to also understand why our heroine would have been in love with him at one point. And so we have to go through their early romance, back when he was a slightly different person and she was the same sweet innocent she is now. A son of a friend of her father’s who comes into her sweet shop, and then shows up at her school. He wears her down with his persistence, and she very slowly comes to trust him, because he is awkward and real and at the same time so sure of his feelings. And besides, their families know each other, his parents like her, everything seems safe and aboveboard.
Yes, part of this is that our heroine is innocent. But innocent, not foolish. She wants a small happy life, marrying someone who her parents approve of, being a good wife to him, and that’s all. And her mind is full of the wedding and teasing about the honeymoon and small things like that. Innocent. But she hasn’t made any foolish mistakes in this small life plan. She has been very careful and considered in everything she does. Which is what makes it so shocking when it all falls apart.
I suppose we can understand Rajkummar a little because of how innocent Kangana is. We still hate him, but we can understand. He has been overseas, he has convinced himself that he is better than this little girl from back home who never wanted or thought of anything outside of her tiny life. Of course, that doesn’t give him the right to blow her tiny life to pieces.
They really sell just how much this wrecks her. It’s not just that her whole life plan has fallen apart, that she has been forced to question everything, it’s that the lives of everyone around her have also fallen apart. Her parents, her little brother, her grandmother, all the other relatives staying with them, the are all miserable as well. Not because of some abstract concept of family “honor” like it would be in a different film, but because they also believed in her life plan, that their daughter’s happiness would be guaranteed forever and ever as soon as this one ceremony was over. Maybe Kangana/the audience could forgive Rajkummar Rao for breaking her heart, but can we forgive him for breaking her father’s heart, her mother’s, her uncles and aunts and everyone else who believed in him? Not her little brother of course, because her little brother is a smart cookie and never really trusted him.
One of the best things about this film is the relationship between Kangana and her brother and the rest of the family. In a different film/family it would feel like “we had a daughter first, but kept trying because of course we really wanted a son”. But in this family it feels like “we had a son for the primary purpose of being a protector and chaperon for our daughter because she is the most important”. Or at least, in this one small part of their lives that we are seeing, it is clear that Kangana is the family focus and the son is an afterthought. He is there to protect his sister, to cheer her up, to help her, to sit in the back of the rickshaw any time she wants to go anywhere just in case.
The feminist message of the film doesn’t start when Kangana goes overseas, it’s before that, in the way her whole family treats her. The total unquestioning love and support they give her. And the freedom, she can make any decision she wants and they will go along with it. Sure her little brother has to go with her when she leaves the house, but that’s a convenience for her, not a restriction. She has lived the life of a perfect daughter, but not because her family forced her to, but because she loves them and wants to make them happy. And is happy in her small life. And once she wants something different, she lets them know that she won’t do anything that would make them unhappy, but this is what she wants. And of course they let her go, because they want her to be happy.
The opening of the overseas section, when “nothing happens” is as important as the rest of it. It’s easy in films, and in real life, to think that everything will change just because you are in a different place. But nothing changes until you yourself change. Kangana is on the other side of the world, but she is still the sad heartbroken shy lonely girl. Which is why she gives up, goes to a travel agency and asks to be sent back home. It’s only when she fights off a purse snatcher that she starts to change inside. It’s not the place, it’s the person.
And of course it’s also Lisa Haydon! Who shows Kangana that she can be loved by many people. It’s not a coincidence that Lisa Haydon’s character has the same name as Rajkummar Rao. She isn’t an alternative version of Kangana, a wilder more experienced Kangana, she is an alternative version of Rajkummar Rao, the truly experienced and cosmopolitan person that Rajkummar is just pretending to be. And she still likes Kangana. She appreciates her for what she is, makes her realize that she can be an interesting worthy person without changing herself. And gently encourages her on her next step of her journey.
In Amsterdam, Kangana meets 3 new people, 3 new versions of herself. Tim, who has the warmth and caring for others that is at her heart. Taka, who has the cheer in the face of adversity. And Oleksander who has the gentle heartbreak. She learns to trust them, and therefore herself. She learns to enjoy them and care for them, and therefore herself. And finally, she learns to protect them, and therefore herself. When Rajkummar shows up again in Amsterdam, the 3 boys are ready to fight him for her, but she doesn’t need them any more, because she has embraced those identities within herself.
When she turns down Rajkummar in Amsterdam and returns to spend time with her 3 friends, it’s not just choosing friendship over love, or choosing to walk away from Rajkummar Rao (who is the Worst Person in History, have I said that yet?), it’s choosing herself, people like her who are caring and kind and want you to be happy, over terrible people.
Through out this film we have snatches of those caring people. And a whole variety of ways in which they care. I already mentioned that moment at the wedding with her mother. And her little brother, 4 feet tall and ready to fight the world for her. But there’s also Lisa Haydon, who is such a different person than Kangana, but really wants her to be happy and safe. And the 3 boys who feel the same, each in their own way. Oleksander, obviously, is in love with her. In an unspoken “nothing is ever going to happen” kind of way. Kangana knows it too, on some level, that’s part of her journey, that there is someone else who cares for her that way, like Rajkummar did, but with a purity he never had. She is still lovable. There’s even the Italian restaurant owner. Who is abrasive and rude, but not cruel. Or unjust. Kangana knows when he tells her she was good at her job, he is being honest. And when she kisses him, it isn’t just him being kind, he must have liked the kiss or he would have said something. There’s even the Amsterdam stripper, seemingly a woman that Kangana would have nothing in common with. And yet, like Kangana, she loves her family and is doing all of this to take care of them and make them happy.
And so when Kangana returns to India to finally and completely reject Rajkummar, it’s not because she is angry or unhappy or doesn’t trust him. It’s because she is rejecting him for who he is. Small and petty and cruel and selfish. Unable to ever put anyone else’s needs ahead of his own. She wanted to marry him because she thought she could trust him, she thought her family could trust him, she thought she knew him after years and years and years of dating. But now she understands that she didn’t know him at all, they were not the same people, he was not the one for her. She had more in common with Lisa Haydon and her 3 boys in Amsterdam than she ever would with him.