DDLJ Scene By Scene Part 38: Mehndi Lagake Rakne, the Opening

What a great song!  A big song number with the whole cast involved, but it doesn’t feel contrived, it feels like a party at a Punjabi farmhouse, only slightly exaggerated. (full index of DDLJ coverage here)

The last scene before this ends with Kajol giving Shahrukh a secret smile after tricking the rest of the family that she is upset over not being able to exchange rings.  It’s the first time Shahrukh and Kajol have really worked together like that.  Until now, Shahrukh had been working his way into the family, displaying his cleverness for Kajol to admire.  But in the last scene, she took control.  She was the one to surprise him.  Now they are both complicit in the charade.  And as this scene opens, Kajol is back in her “act”.  She is looking demure, untouched and untouchable.  As is proper for a young bride.  To be there and watch others sing for her about the mysteries of life which she does not know, and which she is afraid of.

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The groom’s side, they are supposed to just sit and watch too.  But in a different way.  They are looking forward to these “mysteries” and in order to increase their enjoyment, they get to sit back and watch everyone else entertain them by singing about the experience he is about to have.  Sex.  I’m talking about sex.

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And, song!  And this is where I start to notice how different it feels from other Sangeet song sequences.  For one thing, look at how it starts.  These guys are coming together from all over the terrace, and we see them coming together, we get this little moment of the chorus arranging itself.  Right from the start, we are aware of the moving parts of this sequence, the audience settling itself, the dancers moving into.  It feels a little more rough and improvised than if we had come in directly to the line of the chorus.

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And then they fall into place!  Perfect row after row divided by color.  I don’t expect that a casual engagement party in rural Punjab would necessarily have the perfect color coordinated chorus line, but they would come awfully close to this.  It’s not all the same color, it’s 3 different ones, giving you the feel of not quite coordinated.  And most of all, it’s simple Pathan suits, the outfits they probably would be wearing at a Punjabi farmhouse party.

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And we move to the other side of the terrace for the women.  There is a lot of back and forth of the camera in this sequence.  Which, again, makes it feel more “real”, because we are seeing the whole space.  And it is a logical space, unlike (for instance) the Raichand home in K3G that seems to exist in some strange 4th dimension that allows it to infinitely expand and contract and all rooms lead into all other rooms. In this, there is a terrace divided in two halves with a narrow path between.  And in the background, a second terrace with more people standing on it.

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And now the women!  And again, they are believable.  Their matching look is long braids, skirt and blouse, and scarf.  5 of the women are in matching outfits, but hey, maybe they are sisters!  Or part of the local dance class or something.  It’s not ridiculous.  And everyone else is in a bit of a mish-mosh of colors.  This could easily be the young girls of the district in their outfits all made by the same local tailor and wearing the same traditional hair style.  Heck, I’ve been to weddings in America where the young women were dressed as similar to each other as they are here!

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It’s not just the look, it’s the choreography too.  This isn’t people leaping in the air or pulling off elaborate configurations or anything like that.  It’s simple moves that you can believe these girls have practiced and done at dozens of parties before this.

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See in the background?  The other men standing on the further terrace?  And the drummers?  See, the other thing I like about this, is that the majority of the guests are dancing.  There are a few older men (we can see that from how they are dressed) and the groom who are sitting.  And Kajol and Pooja and a few young girls are sitting on the other side.  This isn’t a “show” being put on for the guests, this is the guests themselves having fun and putting together what they can.

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The people sitting on the walls in the back?  Brilliant!  There isn’t much to do out here, of course everyone wants to watch the engagement party dance.  And of course it’s a really good dance, because they know it’s the only thing going on and everyone will be watching.  And they didn’t have anything else to do but practice these kinds of things in this very boring town.

Oh, and I also wanted to mention the lyrics!  It’s a call and response thing, but it’s just the two lines back and forth in this early bit.  It’s the structure of the song, open to improvisation.  They start with the same thing always, I can believe this is the same opening at every party in the village.  And then whoever feels like it can take the lead with the next line, and so on.

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That’s what’s happening here, the excitement is building as both sides wait for someone to be inspired to pick up after this.  And it is always boys against girls, of course.  Both sides equally strong, but separated.  Compare it with, for instance, “Ruk Ja”.  Where Shahrukh confronts Kajol, but then the chorus girls, the waiters, and even Kajol’s friends all join him.  Men and women mixed in together.  This has the appearance of equality because men and women are doing the same thing in the same way, no one is timid or scared or anything like that.  But it’s not real equality, because they aren’t together, there is that boundary between them of the empty terrace.  And it is the men who constantly threaten to cross it.  They are the ones with the ability to move back and forth, unlike women who must stay where they are put.

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The women are confident and happy and all of that, but they see the men as the “enemy” to be held off as long as possible.  While the men see them as a “goal” to be attacked and acquired.  They are working against each other, not together.

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And then Shahrukh!!!!!  Who is not part of the group.  He is revealed in the back of the group, wearing a different outfit from the rest of them, and confidently taking the lead in the song. It’s an exciting hero’s entry, but not flashy. There’s no helicopter lander, no slow pan up from the feet, it’s exciting for us in the same way it would be for the crowd at the party.  Someone who is breaking the old familiar pattern, just a little.

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I just want to take a moment to admire the framing of Kajol here.  There was a bit of a fight over this green dress, it isn’t the usual color for a bride, but it is stunning here, stunningly different from everyone else.  And she is different in other ways, taller for instance.  Kajol is not a tall woman, especially in the torso, so they had her sit up straight while the others slouched a bit so that she would stand out even more.  And they put the two little girls in matching outfits (and messy hair, oh my gosh I just want to attack them with a comb!), and then put another girl in a  similar color to Pooja on the other side.

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Let’s also take a moment for Kajol’s acting!  She is seemingly demure, but her hands are clasped on her lap in tension.  In anger perhaps?  She doesn’t want to sit her on display, pretending to enjoy this dance in front of her?  And then at this moment, when she hears Shahrukh and her eyes raise, we aren’t sure how she is feeling yet.  Anger?  Excitement?  Happiness?  But certainly something, something which is making her ready to join the party, to look up and see what is happening for the first time.

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Shahrukh though, he is all confidence.  There is no fancy camera work or anything, but his posture here, it makes his entrance an event all by itself.  The little shoulder tilt, the head ducked down, it gets us excited for what is going to happen next.

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And Kajol is excited too.  She reveals herself by how hard she has to try not to reveal herself, looking down and hiding her eyes, not like in the opening when she was merely expressionless, now she is actively hiding.

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And then Shahrukh gives his line.  And I love that we can see the crowd reaction behind him.  He’s just so clever!  That’s what they are all thinking, he’s so clever and quick and has come up with this great line for their little song game.  He’s just slightly better than all the regular guys in the background, all the guys whose whole lives are this little town.

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And Shahrukh knows he is smarter than them all too.  That’s his little smile here “yeah, I’m cool, I’m clever, you know you love me!”  That’s the other thing that makes Shahrukh different, he knows he is smart all on his own, he doesn’t really need the crowd behind him backing him up.  He can sing his own lines and make his own song.

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And then his second line.  It’s a different kind of clever than he has shown before in the film.  He is clever in Punjabi, he is clever in Indian culture, rhyming the “mehndi” and “doli” lines.  He is as at home on this rooftop as he was in a Paris nightclub.  For the first time he is at home here, wearing traditional garb, joking with the other men.  The NRI parts have fallen away, it’s the “Hindustani” inside that is still showing.

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So it’s no wonder that Kajol looks up at that point, meets his cocky confident eyes with her own confidence.  They are a match in every way, she meets his gaze boldly, not with lowered eyes, just as he comes at her straight on, clearly stating his intentions.

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10 thoughts on “DDLJ Scene By Scene Part 38: Mehndi Lagake Rakne, the Opening

  1. I truly love this song, especially Shah Rukh dancing with the older women. I enjoy in one of the makings of DDLJ when Adi and Saroj Khan get so frustrated with Kajol for not being able to look demure enough at the appropriate times. Really cute.

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  2. Re matching clothes– their clothes match because they got it from the same shop. That’s what people do. There are wedding shopping specific shops and everyone buys from there. The trendiest colors end up being worn by a lot of people. It’s not just bollywood.

    Re the choreography- Punjab has folk dances- gidda for ladies and bhangra for men. They are choreographed. In real life too. I’m really serious about that. Literally everyone knows the dance steps from folk dances (at least in Himachal, Uttarakhand, North East and punjab) and people do still dance these dances and sing the wedding songs.

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    • Yep, that’s what I was thinking! It’s not that strange for everyone to be this matchy-matchy, and know how to do this level of dancing.

      But it is strange for Shahrukh, the “out of towner” to be able to jump in and take the lead. Because he is so cool and awesome and perfect, he even knows Punjabi folk songs and folk dances. I’m picturing a drunk Anupam Kher giving him singing lessons as a little boy in London.

      On Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 9:34 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • I don’t know ballroom! I did learn a little square dance though. Which would be the Midwest Bhangra. If you get into more rural areas, people can get really serious about it.

          Anyway, remember that Shahrukh was the first NRI hero here! The first guy born and brought up overseas. And here he is, proving that the Bhangra gene is still present within him and/or that even desis in London still do Bhangra.

          On Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 10:21 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • That he speaks flawless hindi without an accent would be the first hint of his desiness/non-NRIness. Also, Brit-indians (what we like to call em) are overwhelmingly punjabi. So of course he knows bhangra and the mehndi songs and how not to stick out like a sore thumb in rural punjab!

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