Happy Tuesday! And a return to Telugu, after a brief visit to Tamil over the past few weeks. A totally silly soothing film that I could have on in the background while blogging/quilting/cooking. A film that, I think, is ultimately harmless although it sure sounds harmful in description!
First, Nagarjuna! Still oddly charming. Half kind of soothing Dad-charm, half exciting love interest charm, and half strange sort of that odd friend from college charm. So, 3 halves. He is more than the sum of his parts.
(which is also why he works so well as a father/son/father type role in Manam)
And this is a great movie for him! He gets to play a immature little boy type, but because it is Nagarjuna, we forgive him everything. And when we see the flashback, where he is essentially a saint, we don’t find it irritating because there is that shaggy sort of casual college friend charm there too. And of course the flirtations are both believable (because love interest charm) and forgivable (because ultimately harmless Dad-charm).
What he pulls off really well, and which I think only shaggy harmless Nagarjun could pull off, is the idea of harmless misogyny. He hates woman. No, he hates “girls”. I don’t say that to minimize the women, but to minimize him. He hates them in the same way Jughead from Archie comics hates them, or the “he-man woman haters club” hates them in The Little Rascals. He doesn’t want to spend time with them, and he doesn’t think any other man could enjoy spending time with them. It’s not that he resents their sexual power, or thinks they are inferior, or anything like that, he just plain doesn’t like them.
And what makes it really wonderful is that pretty much everyone treats this just like you would treat a little boy. They laugh at him. They ignore him. They punish him when he steps out of line. The character is made harmless by how he is treated, and isn’t vicious enough to work around that treatment and enact more terrible actions. And therefore the message of the film, at least the first half, is made harmless as well. Because we are asked to join in with laughing at this silly silly person who has clearly ridiculous thoughts.
Sonali Bendre is an excellent heroine for his hero. She’s tall, for one thing. Which seems silly, but it is an immediate way that she literally “rises to his level”. She can look him eye to eye, even look down on him in some scenes. She also has a natural sort of air of competence. It’s why we buy her as a doctor in Kal Ho Na Ho and Hum Saath Saath Hain. What makes her really wonderful is the way the character is written. It isn’t a battle of wits between her and Nagarjuna, because she never bothers to sink to his level. She is clearly better than he is, so clearly that what he does doesn’t even bother her most of the time. And everyone else around them can see it as well.
(Also, they both look good in black!)
The flashback heroine is good for him too, but for the different version of him that was present in flashback. Anshu, a new heroine with a soft look and behavior to her. She fades into the background, which is right, because we are supposed to be falling in love with Nagarjuna in the past, not her. Unlike in the present, where Sonali is supposed to be of equal weight to him, in her own way. But to get into that, I need to get into SPOILERS.
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We start with Nagarjuna as the silly laughed at woman hater. He has an all male staff at home, where he controls things. But in the office, although technically the boss, he is surrounded by women against his will. Because his uncle/owner of the business has no patience for his silliness and just hires the best people for the job, who often happen to be women.
(Even at this wedding song, notice how quickly the men stop backing him up once the women appear? No one respects him really)
The women in the office don’t pay him much mind either. Sure, they would rather he wouldn’t make his little comments and then go sulk in his office, but it doesn’t affect their lives. There is definitely no sexual harassment, or even unfair promotion strategies. Nagarjuna is just kind of a jerk who they put up with for five minutes a day and then ignore.
And Sonali identifies him immediately as someone to be tolerated but not thought about. He gives her a hard time for coming in and thinking she deserves a job, and she calmly smilingly tells him that his company sought her out and wanted her, she didn’t need this job. And that is her attitude all along, she is tolerant, but not very interested.
Meanwhile, Nagarjuna essentially descends to infancy. He hires an inventor to give him a bug that can be planted in Sonali’s office so he knows what she is doing. And in addition to giggling while listening in, he steals her idea for the next ad campaign.
And Sonali handles it beautifully! When surprised at the client meeting with Nagarjuna presenting her work, she doesn’t say anything, and in fact compliments him on having taken her idea and improved it. It is only when she finds proof of the theft that she takes action. Not a childish prank in response, but the mature response, of going to Nagarjuna’s uncle/boss and reporting the behavior.
And the information she receives in response is appropriate, treating her as the adult still and Nagarjuna as the child, not asking her to do anything in particular, just making sure she has the information. Nagarjuna’s uncle explains that Nagarjuna always had a remarkably sweet and simple attitude to the world. An orphan raised by a doting grandfather, he had only received love and he spread love. The kind of man who would literally give the shirt off his back to a shivering street child.
In the past, his attitude towards women was the same as his attitude towards everyone else. He was kind and flattering and wanted them to feel good. And they loved him back. Not in a romantic way, not exactly, but as a sweet kind person that they wanted good things for. He was still a child, but a “good” child, one who everyone loved and who just wanted to make them happy. Essentially, what he is doing now in the present, is throwing a tiny tantrum. Not a big one, he isn’t actively harming anyone, he is just spreading his bad mood around. And everyone is ignoring him, because that is the only way to handle a tantrum.
What his uncle reveals to Sonali is exactly what caused this tantrum. His sweet romance with a poor girl whose family did not believe a rich man could love so truly. Which ended in tragedy, a car accident, a coma, and he woke up to be told she had already been married off to someone else. And after that, he stopped trusting the world, specifically women in the world.
As his uncle says, he isn’t asking Sonali to do anything in particular in response to this information, just to gain a better understanding. That is key. Sonali doesn’t fall in love with Nagarjuna, or forgive anything he is doing in the present, she just better understands how to react to it. As does his uncle already, punishing him as he deserves, demoting him and making Sonali his boss. And once he has been punished, and Sonali has been given the key to understanding him, well, it is only a matter of time and a business trip to Paris before they fall in love.
Again, not because Sonali feels bad because of his tragic love affair or anything like that. But just because she is able to see him a little more clearly, and know how to respond, and inevitably her responses make him a better man and they become closer and closer. Not even a better man, they return him to the man he was supposed to be before his little hissy fit.
I’m not sure if we ever get a clear timeline on how long Nagarjuna has been this way. But the overall message of the film is that it is an aberration, he is a sweet person who loves everybody, went through a bad patch, but will inevitably return to being a sweet person who loves everybody. As should all healthy people, to think you are better than women is clearly just a silly reaction to trauma, otherwise makes no sense.
There are some small ways that this film is reminiscent of What Women Want, the Hollywood film from back before Mel Gibson was scary. But I think I like it better. What Women Want is fine, only it makes Mel’s character a little too believable. Gives him this elaborate childhood backstory which has lead to a lifelong hardened opinion of women as slightly less than him. And his behavior has consequences, serious consequences, he doesn’t exist in a world where everyone laughs at this sort of thing, he exists in a world where everything else is equally unfair and he is just one small part of that unfairness. In that film, the fantastical element is that Mel Gibson gains the ability to hear women’s thoughts. In this film, the fantastical element is that there is a man who actually thinks he is better than women! How ridiculous!
And then there’s the ending “twist”. First the reveal that Anshu, his first love, was not unfaithful. She died in that accident, and his family decided it would be kinder to lie to him that she was unfaithful rather than tell him the truth. Then the reveal that Sonali, who is also engaged, is also not unfaithful. She does not love her fiance and is ready to leave the wedding if Nagarjuna says the word. And finally, our little lesson for the audience. Not that women are just as competent and intelligent and worthy as men, that is taken as a given. No, the lesson is to men who do not value them. Nagarjun has all along been trying to discourage a little office romance. But now, with his change of heart, he is all for it! And drags the man down to the woman’s wedding, just in time to stop her from killing herself.
But his speech isn’t for the man or the woman, they are doing everything right. No, it is for the bride’s father. The one who didn’t trust or value his daughter enough, who is more focused on his social standing and superficial concepts than on the happiness of his daughter. Nagarjuna was never “that guy”, he never had the power over a woman to ruin her life. And we don’t know if he actually would have exercised that power if he had it, or if that would have been the moment that snapped him awake. Nagarjuna was something different, emotional and sweet and illogical. That is what he is confronting, the true evil of society, the logic and coldness and unfeeling attitude that dehumanizes women. Not his very human overreaction.