I am finally on schedule again! Ha-Ha!!!! And if I manage to watch and write over the Thanksgiving break (along with re-organizing my kitchen), I might actually get ahead! I could start 2018 with all my decks clear, fully blog-ready! Or I will get super behind and put up a bunch of reposted posts and almost forget Salman’s birthday again. Oh well, it’s his own fault for being born the day after Christmas.
I saw Holiday: A Soldier is Never Off-Duty back when it first came out. And it was fun! Some clever bits, the heroine had a little more personality than usual, I really really liked one of the songs, still one of my favorite Pritams. But as a whole, it wasn’t a great movie. The romance was shoved in in a nonsensical way, the plot kind of felt odd, and most of all, it was a character that didn’t really make sense for Akshay Kumar to play. He was much too old, much too cynical, much too perfect. You would think a major star like Vijay would be all those things as well, but he wasn’t. Somehow he played this role just slightly differently, and that made the whole thing work.
Also making it work, actually mostly making it work, was the directing. You could see there was a clear vision driving everything. Scenes didn’t feel random, they felt integrated. All the actors somehow acted in a way that blended easily, it didn’t feel like one of them was in a comedy and one of them was in a serious drama. And the themes tied together in a way that they never quite did in the remake, because all of these smaller elements weren’t quite right.
I know Murugadoss directed the remake too. But I think I might blame Akshay for it still not working? Somehow Akshay’s performance was fighting against Murugadoss’ vision. Unlike Vijay, who worked just write. I wouldn’t be surprised if Murugadoss originally wrote the film/came up with the concept with Vijay in mind. Or alternatively if he altered it for Vijay, and Akshay wanted to keep all the Vijay elements without changing them for himself. The end result was a film that just never quite worked. Whereas this version, the original, makes so much more sense, start to finish.
I first started noticing the difference with the heroine character. Kajal Aggarwal, I had my usual reaction to her of “my god, her eyebrow arch is perfect!”, but after I got past that, I found myself intrigued by her character and her romance with Vijay. I really liked them together, I could believe them as people with things in common who hit it off right away and made an immediate connection. The romance didn’t feel like a distraction from the “real” plot, it felt as important as the other plot.
The same is true for all the characters. It’s definitely a Vijay movie, he is our common thread through out. But I wasn’t bored watching Vidyut be villainous, or Jayaram be humorous, or anyone else doing anything else. The plot propelled them all along in a way that kept me involved. A true Masala film, is I guess what I am saying. Multiple different Rasas mixed, but mixed harmoniously, not discordantly. (Did I just mix flavor and music metaphors? Oh well, you know what I mean)
Oh, and speaking of music, soundtrack by Harris, just as good as the other soundtracks I have heard from him, definitely a composer to watch out for.
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Really, it was so strange watching this movie after having seen Holiday!!!! It literally is shot for shot. And yet this film works and the other one didn’t. The essentially idea is kind of simple, it’s just presented in a complicated way. Vijay, our hero, is home on a temporary leave. He arrives at the train station and is immediately kidnapped by his family and whisked off to a “first meeting” with a girl. He rejects her because she is too feminine and traditional, unaware that actually she is a tomboy and her family just forced her to pretend to be traditional for the meeting. He meets her again at a college sports meet and falls in love with her once he sees her true personality.
In the middle of this romance, Vijay witnesses a bomb explosion on a bus by an unidentified group (through out the film, they are never identified that I could see with any particular political philosophy or purpose besides “bad guys”). He and his friend Sathyam, a police inspector, both start investigating these “bad guys”. Vijay goes after them like he would as a soldier, kidnapping and torturing and interrogating and killing. Eventually he gets the help of his whole squad, to stop a whole squad of bombers, each of them taking out a different target. Vidyut, the head bad guy, figures out that there is a controlling intelligence working against him who isn’t police. He figures out it is Vijay and they play cat and mouse, Vidyut kidnapping his sister and killing his friends, and eventually getting him to give himself up in order to save others. At the last minute, Vijay manages to fight his way out and escape (of course). And then says good-bye to his girlfriend Kajal and boards the train back to Kashmir, his leave over.
I wanted to give you the whole plot because I want to talk about the whole plot, and the way the pieces fit together. The point is to see the two halfs of a soldier’s life, but in a new way. Normally we would see the soldier at war, flashing back and remembering the folks back home. Maybe a nice letter song. So we can see how soft and happy and human he is outside of wartime.
But in this film, they flip it. We see a soldier’s life on leave, time with his nice family, a perfect happy romance, all the good normality that will keep him going. And we see him shrug back on the persona of a soldier when he is needed, the soldier invades the home instead of the home invading the wartime.
The romance has to feel real, full-fledged. It’s not a distracting, for Vijay or the audience, it’s what he should be doing on leave. Squeezing in a whole relationships worth of laughter and teasing and happiness to a 40 day leave. That’s why it starts with him being whisked from the troop train straight to the first meeting. His family knows he has no time to waste, they want to drag him from his other life into his “real” life as fast as possible. And Vijay embraces that! Sure he turns down the girl, but he is fine with going straight into the meeting, with leaving it and then going out to ride around with his friend from back home, with just sort of doing nothing for a while. And once he falls in love with Kajal for real, he goes in all the way right away.
This is where the Vijay casting is so important. Right from the first it is important because he steps off the troop train and he looks right, like a man old enough to be an experienced soldier but young enough to have to young sisters and parents who are just beginning to nag him about marriage. But in this first love scene, suddenly it is so different. Because he is so young! So young, so happy, so free. This is what he is supposed to be doing, romancing a girl, playing on a college campus.
And this is what he sacrifices when he goes on the attack, starts tracking down the bad guys who are setting off the bombs. He sacrifices his youth, this 40 days that was supposed to be about living life to the fullest, the life he could have had. And he doesn’t hesitate. There is no pain in the sacrifice because it is one he is used to. Maybe his parents don’t see this side of him, maybe his girlfriend hasn’t met it yet, but this is who he is in his other life, the secret attacker in enemy territory, always ready for death to be around the corner, his own or his enemy’s.
Every moment of the film thus has meaning. His time spent tracking down Vidyat, that is time taken out of his precious romance and family moments. His time dealing with wacky misunderstandings and romance with Kajal, that is valuable for how valueless it is, we see through Vijay’s eyes how rare it is to just be silly, to take a moment and pretend that his biggest concern is a romantic misunderstanding.
And we see how his family, his friends, and his girlfriend are all “playing along”. That’s the point of the end song. Not that the soldiers are leaving again on the train, but that we see for the first time how painful this separation is for the other side. Kajal isn’t being flirty and silly just because it is fun for her, by the end of things, she knows that is how Vijay wants to play it too. His father nags him, his sister hits him and asks for bribery presents, and it’s not because they don’t understand the dangers of his life, it’s because they understand too well. This is his vacation, his holiday. And this is what he wants, to be treated like a normal human person, not a hero. To pretend that his life is normal, that he can flirt with a pretty girl, can be nagged by his little sisters, is afraid of disappointing his father. Vijay has been living a double life this whole film, but so has everyone else. Pretending that this is their life, a happy carefree life. Not 325 days of worry and prayer and waiting for letters and dreaming of all they can squeeze in to 40 days. Until that train station moment, when the two halves meet. Vijay can reveal the seriousness of his “real” life. And his family can reveal how seriously they take it.
You know, the Hindi version got almost everything wrong, but it got the title right. It’s not a real holiday, not for anyone, not for Vijay or his family or anyone else, they are just pretending.
(oh, and if you have been wondering this whole time what my favorite Pritam from Holiday is, it’s this one)