DDLJ Part 40: Mehndi Lagake Rakhna, Continued

Yes, this song will last us well into the new year.  There’s just so much to look at in it!  And it is so pretty and romantic and fun and everything else! (full index of DDLJ coverage here)

I left off at the last section when Kajol finally says her first line, all the other women turn to stare, Kuljit is all titillated, and Shahrukh is beaming and trying to hide it because he thinks she is so cool, and he is so cool for inspiring her to be so cool.

This is well into the song, which is kind of an interesting structure.  If you think of it in terms of building excitement and a “hero” introduction, within this one song at least, Kajol gets more of an intro than Shahrukh.  The chorus starts it off, the men with no clear leader (Kuljit sitting to the side) and the women lead by Mandira Bedi.  And then Shahrukh appears, with the big reveal as the male chorus steps aside, and takes the lead. So, male chorus < Shahrukh.  But Kajol, for her it goes female chorus < Mandira Bedi < Kajol.  She’s the topper of 3 voices, not just two.

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It’s also powerful how she is gesturing.  Shahrukh stood and did the move in front of the chorus.  But Kajol is sitting to the side and making small moves with her hands and face, keeping the whole crowd focused entirely on her with just the power of her voice.

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What I also like about this song is that it is not just Kajol’s presence and voice, but also her mind which is drawing everyone’s attention.  The song sequence is established as a battle of wits, male to female.  Shahrukh is gaining admiration for coming up with quick off the cuff rhymes and challenges.  And now Kajol is doing the same.  It even ties back to what we already knew about her from way at the beginning of the film, writing her poetry.  Just as it ties into what we know of Shahrukh, not just his very verbal dialogue delivery, but his invention of the “Ruk Ja” song.  They are both poets, clever with words, and this song is letting them play with each other and reveal to everyone else their hidden talent.

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And just like Shahrukh and his chorus, Kajol’s talents are further proven by the way everyone follows along.  The female chorus immediately picks up on her language, and her hand gestures.

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See her power here?  We have the chorus to one side, with Mandira standing out as their leader.  And Kajol sitting still on the other, but still dominating the frame, everyone is literally dancing to her tune.  Plus, once again, that gorgeous green sari standing out from everything else.

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In the same way that Kajol’s bright color dominates the screen when it is just her and the chorus, the bright color of the veils dominates the screen when we see the male chorus response, with Shahrukh’s white standing out a little, but not as much as their bright veils.  So now, through the visuals, it is Male chorus<Shahrukh<Female Chorus<Kajol.

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There’s a nice balance in this song between visuals and aural in terms of power.  The male chorus is stronger in voice, deeper and more resonant.  And their moves are stronger, more stomping feet and shoulder and full arm kind of gestures.  But their colors are earth tones, and without the bangles and veils, their dance moves don’t “pop” as much.  The visuals are showing us that the women have their own special power.

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Here is a slightly awkward shot, I think I caught the middle of a camera sweep.  The camera is constantly sweeping between the male and female halves through out this sequence in a way that makes us very aware of space and distance.  The two of them are moving ever closer and closer, as Kajol and Shahrukh drive the lyrics into a blurring of male and female roles, no longer aggressive insults as it started, but now a man and a woman both singing about elopement and looking forward to marriage.

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Here are the female dance moves, hip pops and hands moving, bright colors with little highlights.  And smiling faces.

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And here are the men, big full body movements, aggressive shouting faces.  But less sparkly, less striking to look at.  A balance, and a harmony, between the two groups.  The men provide the blunt powerful undertones which make the women shine all the brighter.

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Another thing I really like in these shots is the way you are beginning to get the madness of the whole party in one place.  The drummers are now visible off to the side, and you have greater depth of field, the chorus is stretched out in three layers with the standing guests even further beyond them.

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Meanwhile, the female side has a smaller and smaller depth of field.  They are stationary, huddled together, while the male side is moving, running forward ever closer.

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The handkerchief dance I find fascinating, because it is like a little bit of the female in the male.  I know it is a traditional Punjabi thing, but I mean even in that way it is a little bit of mixing.  Giving a touch of that flowing scarf and skirt movement from the female dance moves over into the more stomping and hand pounding male moves.  Plus, in this film, the choice to use a red handkerchief for the male dancers immediately ties them in with Mandira Bedi’s brilliant red on the female side.  Which will pay off in a few frames when Shahrukh is dancing with her.

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But first, the men dancing alone.  Part of what I love about this dance is that the men are so joyful.  This doesn’t feel like an angry kind of exchange, there is a lot of happiness on both sides, it is a joyful battle.  I’ve been using a lot of gendered language in the analysis of this section, but it’s not because I think the man are being violent and awful or anything like that.  This is kind of harmless gender divisions, as much as they can be harmless.  The men are wearing plainer clothes and using louder voices because they work in the fields all day and therefore their formal clothes are plainer in a nod to that.  And their voices are louder because their voices are louder.  And their moves are more athletic because their bodies are stronger.  It’s a reflection of what is, not a glorification of it, or a taking advantage of the power imbalance.

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The women here, show the same kind of gender divisions.  Working in the house, they can wear brighter clothing and more delicate clothing with embroidery and so on.  Their faces can be painted, their hair more elaborate.  But their muscles over all are weaker, so they convey thoughts by hand gestures and facial expressions, not full body leaps.

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And so when Shahrukh leaps across that divide, jumps into the center, it doesn’t feel as much like an attack as an invitation.  Here he is, Male, coming to the center.  Will a representative of Female come join him?

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And this is wear the handkerchiefs pay off.  It would be one thing if he was still doing the big super aggressive thrusting moves, but now he is doing smaller moves that rely on the fabric to highlight them, in the same way that Mandira’s moves are smaller but are accented by the flow of her skirt.  And the colors help us see that, the way the same red in her skirt makes the same kind of moves as the red of his handkerchiefs.

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And because Shahrukh is playing on her level with the red handkerchiefs, it makes total sense when she comes back at him with her hip thrusts and moving skirt.  And that she wins.  Even their postures are open to that, she is turning her back on him, fearlessly, and he has his hands on his hips, leaning back a little, not forward.  He is letting her back him up, instead of attacking forwards.

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I say “letting”, but it is a complicated situation!  Again, it is dealing with the gender roles in a very healthy honest way.  Shahrukh is technically stronger.  That is what his dance has been about, the male chorus showing off the strength of their bodies.  But Mandira is winning through her beauty, her grace, her confidence (in turning her back), and her overall sparkle that is taking his breath away.  It is pure force versus subtlety.  A man’s weapon versus a woman’s weapon.  And, since Shahrukh set the playing field of the subtle dance with scarves, the woman is winning.  And Shahrukh’s frustration is sincere as he throws away the scarves, but still non-threatening.  To accept defeat graciously would be to place himself on a higher level than her, to be patronizing.  Instead it is a battle of equals, he wants to “win” and is sincerely disappointed when he doesn’t.

This is the same battle that played out in the first half in Europe.  Shahrukh had more power in that situation, he just did.  He knew how to rent a car, find a room, talk down a police officer.  Kajol was too sheltered to know these things.  And a woman traveling alone is in more danger than a man traveling alone, no matter what.  But rather than acting superior and making Kajol feel constantly aware of his superior position, he played himself down, let her see his emotional vulnerabilities, tried to “win” through a war of words and practical jokes instead of pushing the “respect me, I am a Man” button.

And now he has the same attitude here.  He wants to win a battle where they are evenly matched, he doesn’t like the position of male power.  He will leap in the air to show off his strength, but he doesn’t want to win a dance off by just grabbing her, as he easily could have.  And he isn’t ashamed to show his disappointment when he fails to win.

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That’s why Kajol is smiling here.  It’s not that she likes seeing Shahrukh’s defeat, it’s that she likes seeing him acknowledging it, enjoying the honest competition and coming together.  Likes seeing him forget himself and his position and bringing everyone else along with him.  It’s exactly what he was doing in “Ruk Ja”, but she couldn’t appreciate it then.  Shahrukh got the whole crowd to dance, made the whole party joyful, men and women joining in together.  But Kajol held herself aloof, took it all too seriously, tried to stick with the “rules”.  Now, she can enjoy how he breaks all the rules and makes everyone else break them too, can see that his childishness is, in fact, a sign of strength.  That he is willing to be so openly childish, he does not need constant dignity to protect himself.  Unlike, for instance, Kuljit.  Who believes he can only be a “man” by carrying a gun, sitting in a corner and watching others dance in front of him, refusing to listen to or even seem to notice the woman he is supposed to marry.

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8 thoughts on “DDLJ Part 40: Mehndi Lagake Rakhna, Continued

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

  2. There is a lot of playfulness and respect for women in his dancing…I think he astonished the other men charming the women at the same time.
    It’s still a pleasure to read your shot-by-shot analysis 🙂

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    • If you look at the finale of the two songs, Didi Tera Deewar ends with Salman bowing down to female power, putting the man as subservient to the woman. Whereas this one ends with a rejection of those boundaries, Shahrukh doesn’t bow down to the women, he becomes a woman.

      On Thu, Dec 28, 2017 at 9:53 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

        • Baby showers are weird 🙂

          It’s also a really complicated thing. Because at the start of the song, a woman dresses as a man in order to puncture the strength of the patriarchy, to make fun of them and show how silly they are. So at the end of the song, is this Salman embracing his female within, or taking back his power by making fun of them just as they made fun of him?

          On Thu, Dec 28, 2017 at 12:52 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I thought it was latter but in a slightly sweeter way then the woman who was dressed like Salman. Although the song seems very playful, too, my feeling told me that it is a rather aggressive playfulness. (Maybe because there is not this underlying, only known to the protagonists, special meaning of the interaction like in the DDLJ-song.)

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