DDLJ Scene By Scene Part 39: Mehndi Lagake Rakna Continues!

What, you thought it would be over in one entry?  Nope, this things gonna continue for another 2 parts at least!  Anyway, it’s a really important song!  And I think the last song of the film?  Am I forgetting something?  If I’m not forgetting something, that is even more reason to appreciate it, that this is the last glorious burst of song before the rest of the movie plays out. (full scene by scene index of DDLJ here)

In the last section I talked about how “real” this sequence feels, the lyrics and the dance moves and even the costumes and hair and make-up are pretty much exactly what you would expect to see at a Punjabi farmhouse wedding.  Everyone wears the same style of clothes because they go to the same tailor, everyone knows the same dance moves and call and response songs because they have been dancing at weddings together their entire lives.

The “wild card” is Shahrukh.  The NRI big city boy who surprises them all by knowing the dance moves and joining in.  But slightly different, slightly better.  He has a white outfit and a vest, he isn’t afraid to look different from the others.  And he takes the lead in the call and response, invents new lines and gets them to follow along.  Again, in a believable way.  I don’t feel like our NRI university dropout is suddenly displaying brilliant poetic ability.  It’s just an extension of the personality already established, quick on his feet and quick with words.  So his lines are clever and appropriate, but not great poetry.

The biggest thing with how Shahrukh comes to the front in this song is just that he is the outsider.  The freethinker.  He will wear a vest with his suit (ooo!) and will come up with new lines and so on and so on.  It’s intoxicating to have someone new break into this closed community.

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But, these two shots remind us, there is a reason he is here.  A reason he has come to this place where he can fake it, but he doesn’t really fit in.  Kajol is in green in this scene, there was a big back and forth on deciding what color she should wear, because of course green isn’t a traditional bridal color.  But that’s the point, she isn’t a traditional bride!  She has to stand out from all the other women in their whites and browns and pinks and purples, be totally different.  Because she is different, as different as Shahrukh is.  She may be able to fake it a little better, after a lifetime of lessons, but at heart she is not this obedient village girl who can’t imagine anything beyond a life of marriage to the village boy.  And her glaring green on the screen is telling us that.

It’s also a really lovely shot construction.  Having the green to the side and the blue-white of the floor at the bottom defining a smaller rectangle of the chorus of dancers.  This is the kind of care that you don’t notice when you are watching the film, but which makes it an overall more pleasurable experience.  Your mind enters into kind of a state of Grace, after so many visions of prettiness in front of it.

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Here’s another one!  The wires strung across the top, the 3 dancers in the back row leaving a space in the middle for Shahrukh’s head, and the pleasing elegance of all of them leaning back slightly.  It’s all very geometric almost, a series of lines that fall into a pleasing pattern.

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This bit, this is when they are saying “gori” your beloved will take you away.  So they are acting out the “gori” bit.  Which is yet another moment of joyful gender-blurring from Shahrukh’s character.  He’s saying “I, the manly man, am going to take you away!”, but he is acting out the woman’s part while saying it, showing that his manly-man attitude is as much a posture as this female style movement.  He doesn’t really believe in it.

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I liked this shot because we got to see Kuljit and his friends off to the right.  See how he is smiling and proud and all?  He thinks Shahrukh is singing about him, obviously.  But he also thinks that this is what he is doing, he is the manly man taking away the bride.  It doesn’t occur to him that a real man would win her heart and fight adversity to get her.  No, the manly thing is to wait for his father to hand her over to him and then bend her to his will after marriage.  This is just a small piece of the larger argument of the film, that the sensitive talky funny guy is actually the real man, the gun-totting tall son of the soil type is not.

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Yay, another full terrace shot!  We’ve got 4 drummers in drumming outfits, the central group of about 16 young man in similar outfits, Kuljit and his two best friends off to the side, and then in the far back maybe a dozen people in slightly more formal looking outfits, not the total loose shirts but maybe with a bit more fit to it and out of silk instead of cotton.

So, I am getting a picture of the 4 drummers who are hired for every wedding in the district, possibly just part-time drummers who are also farmers.  Plus the older crowd who still likes seeing the young people dance, so they come up to the terrace to watch but don’t join in.  Kuljit and his friends, as the guests of honor, are in slightly nicer different outfits and are there to enjoy the song but maybe not join in.  And Shahrukh belongs with them, but has chosen to dance.

Generally, again, it feels like the kind of party a decently well-off farm family could throw together on a moment’s notice without bringing in any outside talent, and the kind of song that isn’t particularly notable for the district.  Maybe for the next few weeks, everyone will be talking about “hey remember when that guy from London led the Bhangra?” but then there will be another dance at another party and it will be forgotten.

It’s the everyday quality that makes it magical.  Shahrukh and Kajol have this love story that is magical and different for them, that has changed their lives.  But they don’t need anyone else to see it, they are happy just keeping it to themselves and bringing that magic into this unmagical place.

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I just love this shot.  The men being all active and aggressive, and the beautiful veils of the women in the foreground, just standing there.  They aren’t actually doing anything, but they are what is inspiring this dance.  Just as that earlier shot of Kajol’s green veil dominating reminded us that she is inspiring Shahrukh, all of the women are inspiring all of the men.

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And then there’s the moment when Shahrukh holds the rest back and then all give the nod to the women to pick up the next part.  It’s mostly just posturing here, all of them being like “what response can you possibly have to this argument????”  But I wonder if it is also, just a little, Shahrukh hoping for a response from the person he has really been singing too.

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Of course there is no response from these girls.  For a song, and a film, that spends so much time making the Punjab look great, this is kind of cynical when you think about it.  The village girls really can’t challenge the city guy, they aren’t as smart or free-thinking, can’t pick up the ideas he is giving.

Is it that the city people/NRI people are better, or just different?  After all, the film as a whole is arguing that Kajol, raised in London, should not and cannot marry a boy from the Punjab.  She may appear to be a perfect obedient daughter, but she has been changed by her upbringing and can’t change back.  She and Shahrukh have a bond that is shared between the two of them, a way of looking at the world, which is similar too but slightly different from the village people around them.

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And so she enters the song, in a way that echoes Shahrukh’s entrance.  From the back, a single clear note sung out while everyone turns and parts way so she is visible.  There was a lot of debate about Kajol joining in this song and dance, Saroj Khan the choreography was very much against it.  It was Yash Chopra himself who made the idea of the bride sitting back while others danced part of the standard film imagery with Chandni.  And now it is getting turned on its head, the bride is singing!

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But that’s the point, Kajol isn’t “the bride”.  She isn’t a dewey innocent shyly watching others act out her life.  She is an actor in her own story.  And she is singing to a fellow “actor”.  It would be one thing if this were a love story between her and Kuljit, in that case it would be strange for the bride to sing.  But this is secretly a love story between her and Shahrukh, the groom’s standin.  And so rather than letting her own standin perform, she wants to sing back to him herself.  She refuses to just sit on the sidelines and let others battle over her.

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Notice after that first look, everyone turns not to look at Kajol, but to look at the men, to see their reaction.  Part of the reason Kajol can do this, can break tradition in this way, is that she knows what that reaction will be.  She knows Shahrukh will be pleased to see her speaking up for herself and will make sure to lead the rest of the chorus in a way that makes it okay for her to have done so.  It’s kind of the song version of real life, when Gauri knows she can be a glamorous working mother because Shahrukh will think that is awesome and will make sure everyone else thinks it is awesome too, will protect her from some of the possible blowback.

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A couple small things in this shot.  First, Kajol looks so great!  The dress doesn’t fit as tightly as it could, but otherwise everything is perfect.  Her make-up is there, but not overwhelming, just makes her face pop out.  And her jewelry is almost simple.  Well, simple for a bride.  And perfectly arranged to match her neckline and hair and veil.

And then the other thing, is how happy the little girls look.  Everyone else may be kind of nervous about the men’s reaction, but they are just excited and happy to see Kajol singing.  It’s not an accident that she is sitting with the little girls in this shot, they are a constant reminder of pure open minded optimism and confidence, the same confidence Pooja had the night before, declaring casually that Kajol should just marry the boy from the roof because Kuljit is no good.

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Of course, Shahrukh is pleased!  So pleased that he has to hide his eyes and bite his lip not to show it.  He is pleased that he has gotten her to sing, that she is singing so well, that she is being brave and breaking rules, and that she is doing it all for him.  It’s this very specific pride of “I am so cool because she is so cool and she loves me”.

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And then he can’t resist looking up and meeting her eyes and letting her see a secret smile from him.  It’s the same as in the ring scene, they are both playing an act, but it is only meaningful if they other one knows it is an act, if there is that moment of honesty between the two of them, as everyone else is tricked.

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Okay, these lyrics are a HUGE DEAL!!!  I didn’t realize until I went through the song as it is played in the film.  And they also kind of convey what is different about this film as a whole.  The song started with the men and women confronting each other, “these girls are poison pills”, “these boys are rogues”.  And then Shahrukh comes in and boastfully says “get ready for me, I’m coming”.  The response “should” be “I will fight you off” or “You are not good enough” or “wait and wait, I’m not ready yet”.  It should be a confrontation, this is a song battle, that’s the way it works, whether it is Bhangra or rap.

But Kajol doesn’t go that way.  Instead she says “yes, and….”  She picks up on Shahrukh’s message and offers her own suggestions on it.  She rejects the idea of male/female as enemies, or romance as a battle, and instead makes it a partnership.

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That’s what puzzles and intrigues Kuljit and his friends.  She is reacting in a way they have never seen a woman react before.  Not fighting away from approaches, but welcoming them.

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What’s really remarkable, and I think why Kajol is smiling so widely here while also looking down a little like she can’t believe she is doing this, is that Kajol was so firmly of the “men and women are a battle” side of things at the start of the film.  That’s why she saw even the most casual comment from Shahrukh as a threat, was so reluctant to accept his help.  And now here she is happily playing the game with him, broken free of that village mindset and into the same cosmopolitan idea he has, of young men and women being free to match up of their own free will.

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And that’s why he is proud, he has gotten her to break through her reserve to this extent, and to enjoy doing it.

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15 thoughts on “DDLJ Scene By Scene Part 39: Mehndi Lagake Rakna Continues!

  1. Thank you for all your work screenshotting. I enjoy your breakdown of the visuals, colors, and blocking so much. My brain just doesn’t pick up on these things but it’s really fun to follow along with you.

    I love it when you take shots at Kuljit and his friends. Makes me chuckle every time. And I like how you’ve drawn parallels with real life–how Shah Rukh’s public enthusiasm for Gauri’s life and work decisions help clear her path a bit. While he also emphasizes what a smart and tough cookie she is, needing no help from him, rather the reverse. Classy.

    I know what you mean about Kajol’s mindset at the beginning, and how that shifts over the course of the movie, but I also think it’s a little unfair to the character. After all, Shah Rukh sexually harasses her during their first meeting–like really physically getting in her space–alone in a train car. She has very good reason, based on that alone, to be suspicious of him for a while.

    Regardless of the journey they’ve been on to reach this point in their relationship, I do enjoy the way they work together throughout this part of the film. Until it all degenerates into men brawling over the fate of a helpless woman again at the end. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • True, Kajol’s initial dislike makes complete sense. It’s when she can’t seem to let it go that it turns into a clear “he must be my enemy because boys and girls can’t be friends” kind of thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It wasn’t yash chopra. The brides aren’t supposed to be dancing at their wedding events. They’re supposed to be sad/shy. More practically, you can’t dance at your mehndi. You’ve got mehndi all over your arms and feet!

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    • And once again, I am so happy with Anushka’s wedding photos! Where she is the opposite of sad/shy.

      On Wed, Dec 13, 2017 at 9:38 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • You know what I was just remembering? Amitabh and Jaya’s wedding, which was also only a few people and last minute and secret. Well, not even secret, it was just so fast and so small that no one really knew about it. And it wasn’t particularly notable to do it that way. Of course, Dilip’s wedding in the same era was this huge thing, but that was how they wanted to do it, so they did it like that.

          This whole big wedding craziness, where absolutely everyone has to have a huge wedding, maybe it is more recent than we think? At least as the accepted thing that everyone has to do. I know that’s the case in America, if you weren’t like a super wealthy socialite, you might just go to church and get married some Sunday. My great-grandparents, I don’t remember hearing stories or seeing photos or anything of their “wedding”, they just got married.

          On Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 10:27 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Meanwhile in India, the average middle class family sends out close to 1500 invitations and makes arrangements for at least 1200. Anything below 700 is considered extremely bad for the families! This is just the wedding btw. The reception is supposed to have equal numbers. 😂

            I want to rebel and have 50 people at my wedding. And then I start feeling bad for the relatives that haven’t wronged me in any way and who have invited my parents to all their kids’ weddings!!!

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          • Do it! Be the bad guy! Think of the gift you would be giving to all the other people in your family who haven’t gotten married yet. When they say “I only want to invite 50 people” and their parents say “but no one does that!”, they can say “remember, Asmita did it. So I wouldn’t be the first’.

            Or I guess they could say “remember, Anushka Sharma did it”, but that probably isn’t as good an argument.

            On Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 10:39 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Except it would be interpreted as me being a snob thanks to our family background!

            Currently, I have 3-4 plans in place ranging from A super simple backyard one (or a rooftop one) with no frills where everyone is invited but I don’t show off my money to elope, but with my mom, him, his parents and brother, to a super expensive palace in rajasthan, get married there, do a simple wedding lunch, blow money on clothes, photographer and make-up and send out gift baskets with the wedding picture to everyone we would have invited!!

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          • Speaking for myself, I would much rather get a gift basket than have to dress up and go to a wedding.

            On Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 10:49 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I know right!! Plus, we do have to send out baina (shadi sweets) to everyone anyway and get clothes for close relatives, servants so why not just send people the gifts without asking them to attend the function!

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  3. So happy about your comments, Asmita, so I get to know more about some ‘habits’ 🙂

    I like the way Raj and Simran stand out woth their clothing…and rightly so because they don’t belong to the respective groups: Raj doesn’t belong to the groom’s side and Simran doesn’t want to be the bride in this Punjab scenario.
    What I also like is that both dominate the scene and do their quasi private little singing to each other without the others realizing that, actually, they don’t matter on the scene.

    Great screenshots!

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    • I like how you phrased their private conversation without others realizing. Almost like they are being polite by keeping it from the others, not secretive. I’m comparing it with, for instance, Badtameez Dil or Dilliwalla Girlfriend from YJHD. Where it was fun for the other people at the party, but it was clearly Ranbir and Dips’ song and everyone else was just in their shadow.

      On Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 12:03 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Pingback: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge: Scene By Scene Analysis in Exhaustive Detail Index | dontcallitbollywood

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