Happy Wednesday! It is Shahrukh month, and I am still doing the DDLJ posts in addition to the 31 days o’ SRK posts. Mostly because there are a lot of people who read the DDLJ posts for the pure boring analysis, not the SRK love, so it’s kind of counter-programming. (full index of DDLJ coverage here)
I never really noticed this scene much on my watches of this movie, but doing a close study of the film, OH MY GOSH is it interesting!!!!!! Especially in context of the whole sequence.
This is one long day in the life of Shahrukh, that started with waking up early to feed pigeons with Amrish Puri, followed by lying to Kuljit in order to get out of going hunting, then sneaking into the kitchen as we saw in the last section, and now this part with Himani Shivpuri buying saris. Followed by Achala Sachdev teaching and singing to the children. And culminating in his grabbing Kajol and almost getting a kiss from her.
Now, stick with me here, but what we are seeing is mother-maiden-crone, followed by his reward (a woman of his own). The Mother-Maiden-Crone dynamic is a standard one in all cultures, essentially based on women’s reproductive organs. Maiden would be someone who has not yet had sex/started menstruating. Mother is a mother, sometimes just meaning a mature woman, sometimes represented as a pregnant figure. And Crone is someone post-menopause.
Farida in the kitchen, she was the mother. Wise, loving, charming, but also running the household, advising, someone he should look up to. And someone who, in the end, he related to primarily as the mother of his lover/his future mother-in-law.
And then we have the maiden. The silly flirty Himani Shivpuri who is still thinking of clothes to attract a man, not food to care for the man she has and her children with him. Who is somewhat set aside from the other women, not in the kitchen with the two mothers and their daughters, but by herself as the woman who has not yet found her permanent place.
And finally we have the crone. Achala Sachdev, who no longer has to do the work of the kitchen, but is not by herself preparing for womanhood either. She is in the world, more so than the other two options, interacting with the children. And Shahrukh makes a point to interact with her as well.
And it is only after he has paid his worship to mother-maiden-crone that he gets his reward, Kajol. Notice that Kajol and Mandira Bedi are none of these three, not yet. They are not the “maiden” who picks her own clothes and tries to please a man. They are not restricted to the kitchen with the “mothers”, both of them eventually make their way outside to join in the singing. And they need not settle there either, they do not have to learn wisdom at the foot of the “crone” if they choose, they can walk off and find something else for themselves. As young women on the brink of exiting childhood and entering marriage, they have a peculiar kind of freedom.
And how does Shahrukh interact with these three types, mother-maiden-crone? Well, the first and last are the easiest. We saw the “mother” already, he plays the adorable little boy with her. And with the crone, simple respect and obedience are all that is required. But with the “maiden”, there is something else needed. An indication that she is a beautiful woman, without indicating that he is attracted to her. An equality indicating that she is not above him in the way “mother” or “crone” would be, while still not crossing the lines and treating her as he would a friend.
And here is where we get the “our man on the inside” idea. I mentioned in the last section how Shahrukh goes through multiple identities in that kitchen scene. He sneaks his way in by pretending to be the kind of man who would be welcome in a kitchen, a delivery man. Once he is inside, he exerts his authority as an upperclass male to stay there, taking the carrot tray away from Farida and insisting on helping. But he is using all that authority in order to do womanly things in a womanly space. Still behaving as a man, but in a woman’s realm.
This is slightly different. He is carefully staying outside of a woman’s realm in this case, because to enter Himani’s chambers in this case would either be an intrusion (a kitchen is one thing, a bed chamber is another), or would lower his status. We are introduced to this sequence through an unheard voice, a man’s voice, encouraging Himani to buy the sari. This man speaks through out, while Shahrukh is silent. But Shahrukh’s silence is his power.
The poor sari salesman, he has to huddle on the floor, obey Himani’s orders, constantly speak in subservient tones to her. It is the only way he can be allowed into this female space, if he lowers himself to that degree.
In contrast, Shahrukh is carefully outside of this space, even his voice does not enter it. He is there to relate to Himani, to help her, but he is not going to lower himself to the servant level by entering the room. Or to the attacker/aggressor level by forcefully entering the room.
And so instead he serves as the face outside the frame, another version of Himani’s mirror. And a familiar version of the man outside of the purdah frame. Just like a young woman might have been kept behind a veiled carriage, or artistically carved wooden screens, only able to interact with a man through eyes, so are Himani and Shahrukh here. In a fun funny way, but the sense of boundary is still there.
Again, I never noticed this before, but this sequence is perhaps the most difficult in the entire film in terms of filming. We are dealing in 3 planes of space. The foreground, with Himani and the salesman. The middle ground, with the mirrored reflection, and the background with Shahrukh through the window.
But it’s more than that. First, notice how the golden rectangle appears over the over again in this scene. The mirror and the window frame are both that ideal the long side is twice as long as the short dimension. As is the half-shutter. And Shahrukh himself takes up one third of the frame, creating another vertical rectangle marking his third, and a horizontal one marking the space where he is not.
It’s a static shot, but Adi creates interest by using the saris. As Himani’s reflection changes, red to green to pink, the same frame is repeated again and again, but slightly different feeling every time. There is one other marker of time passing, but I will get to that at the end.
Shahrukh has taken control of this interaction immediately. He is not the lowly peon inside the room, he represents male authority outside, the very people Himani is trying to please. Moreover, he is offering the perspective of that male authority freely, something Himani can trust because she knows he needs nothing from her, as a free upperclass male he has more power than she does and no reason to lie (unlike the salesman in the room). And so she ignores both the salesman (less than her) and the mirror (her own opinion) and sends her eyes past both of them to Shahrukh (greater than her).
Shahrukh’s reaction shot’s in this scene are lovely, because they are purely judgement based. He doesn’t give her “ooo, you are disgusting” or “oooo, you are beautiful!” kind of reactions, simply “yes, no, maybe” reactions. He is considering the evidence and making a conclusion, not just reacting from his gut. Again, it helps with making this into an appropriate interaction, between a man and a woman but not a man who is attracted to a woman.
And Himani benefits from this! At least as I see this scene, Shahrukh is giving sincere advice, not just playing her. And she is able to use this advice to help her with the man who is trying to play her, the sari salesman that sees her just as a source of a sale. He may be less than her in most ways, but that does not mean she is safe with him. He won’t attack her physically or anything, but he will lie to her and try to pressure her into spending money she does not want to spend. And that is what Shahrukh is protecting her from, buyers remorse, by giving her the alternative perspective she needs.
He is amused watching this interaction, but I think amused at watching Himani win out over the salesman, not at Himani herself. He isn’t trying to play a trick on her, he is trying to work with her to defeat the salesman. Because he is “Krishna”, he likes playing tricks, especially tricks with women.
That Krishna thing, that’s a real thing. The trickster child/man. Baby Krishna is adorable and childlike, but also flirtatious and enjoys pretty women. That’s what Shahrukh is playing here, still a child, non-threatening in a way, but also with a man’s judgement. There’s a certain enjoyment for him in playing this trick with a pretty woman as his partner, you can see it in his face, an extra enjoyment without the bitterness at the center of when he has to trick Kuljit and spend time with someone who disgusts him.
Which is extra good since, of course, Himani is going to be his stepmother! That storyline isn’t fully explored in this film, but it is clearly set-up that Anupam likes her at first sight and vice versa. And this scene here, before Anupam has even arrived, sets up Shahrukh and Himani as having a friendly happy relationship that will be a good basis for a stepson-stepmother dynamic.
Again, Shahrukh’s expression is perfect. He isn’t giving a “wowsa! Hot stuff!” face. Just a judgement of “just right!” with an extra smile of pleasure. The kind of squinched face smile that a small child would have. He is a little boy who likes seeing his mother look pretty, but not a man who is attracted to her. Although also not a little girl who has no idea what men would like.
And Himani is able to play the game with him. She is keeping his opinions and interactions secret from the salesman, letting on as though she is only mildly interested in the perfect sari. Oh, and it is the perfect sari! At least, I think so, noticeably prettier than the others she has tried. Shahrukh is giving her good advice.
And now the banana! Shahrukh first appears in the doorway holding a banana, a very phallic symbol. Through out this scene, he peels it and slowly eats it. He is either rejecting his masculinity through destroying that symbol, or taking it inside of himself because he is so masculine that he can destroy it. But the end result is an empty banana peel, which has the opposite kind of appearance than a phallic symbol. Which he holds for a moment, before throwing away.
The banana has a simpler meaning as well, the casual boyish effect of snacking between meals while walking around the house, informal and free. That alone would be worth it. But the phallic imagery also cannot be escaped.
And one final shot of that perfectly framed room. Once Shahrukh leaves, the room loses energy. The empty space to the right is glaring. We can feel the same loss that Himani does, not having his presence.
And then the loss again, as she looks in the mirror, the only reflection of herself now available to her, once again isolated from the rest of the world, and next to it there is the empty “mirror” where Shahrukh once was, to give her a more honest reflection.