This is just a fun happy movie that I felt like talking about because it is the complete opposite of the big dramatic movie that came out last night and which I will be seeing tonight. And they are both based on classic poems!
Shirin-Farhad, or Khisrow- Shirin is a Persian poem by the same author as Laila-Majnu (definitely had Karan Johar-level repetitiveness in the titling category). It is a story of missed connections, perhaps the first love story based on missed connections.
Khisrow was a Persian prince destined to be king. His friend told him of the beauty of an Assyrian princess. Khisrow sent his friend to bring a portrait and a proposal to the princess Shirin. The princess was immediately taken with him and left for Persia to meet him. Meanwhile, Khisrow was impatient and left for Assyria. And back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. Very frustrating! Until finally they met when Khisrow left Persia one last time after his kingdom was run over by invaders and he went into hiding in Assyria. Shirin agreed to marry him, but only once he got his kingdom back. So Khisrow left again and ended up making a deal with Ceaser for military aid. Only as part of the deal, he had to agree to marry Ceaser’s daughter Mariam, and not to marry anyone else so long as she lived. Meanwhile, Shirin had a new suitor, a sculptor, Farhad. In order to get rid of this suitor, Khisrow set him an impossible task of carving stairs into a mountain, and he fell off and died. And shortly after, Mariam (finally) died. Now they could be married! Only, meanwhile, Khisrow got drunk and slept with someone else, so Shirin was angry with him and turned him away from her palace. Finally they make peace from that and Shirin agrees to marry him. But by now Khisrow’s son with Mariam is grown and also in love with Shirin. He murders his father in order to take Shirin for himself, she kills herself, Shirin and Khisrow end up united in death, buried in the same grave.
Reading this story, I can think of SO MANY familiar references! The opening of Dil To Pagal Hai and DDLJ, those times that Shahrukh and Kajol/Madhuri almost met but didn’t, while somehow already being in love in their hearts. Armaan and Anil being forced to marry a woman he didn’t love in order to save his hospital. Silsila even. Really anything with the tragically unfulfilled love because life got in the way.
Strangely, this film is not about unfulfilled love. It is just about delayed love. Perhaps the least appropriate to have the Shirin-Farhad title out of the many many films inspired by this legend. Although, it is “Shirin-Farhad”, not “Khisrow-Shirin”. Focusing on the smaller story, which was between a woman who was unmarried late in life because of a situation beyond her control and the man who fell in love with her anyway.
What makes this a really interesting film to review today is that it is also directed by a Bhansali, Sanjay’s sister. And produced by THE Bhansali, Sanjay Leela Bhansali. But instead of her brother’s tendency to create faux-history out of these legends, Bela Bhansali chose to take history and turn it into a modern story. A nice small modern story. Equally fictitious as what her brother is doing, but openly fictitious. And turning stereotypes into gentle harmless humor, instead of toxic poison. What I’m saying is, I really really like this movie!
Oh, and I haven’t even gotten in to cast! Which is the other really awesome part! Farah Khan gets to play a romantic heroine, and design her own love songs and everything, and it is perfect. And Boman Irani gets to play a romantic hero, the perfect romantic hero for him to play. It’s a couple like you never see on film, and it is perfect for this particular film.
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We start with Boman and only slowly unwrap Farah. Boman is a middle aged son of a bossy doting mother (Daisy Irani). He manages a lingerie store, and that plus the mother has made it very hard for him to find a wife. And then, one day, Farah walks into his store and everything changes. Once he finds her again.
Which is where the gentle ethnic humor comes in! Boman and Farah are both Parsis. Like, in real life, but also in this film. Which is another reason it is based on the Shirin-Farhad legend. And as Parsis, they are also living in Parsi trust buildings and dealing with Parsi society meetings and the whole general messiness of complicated committee run communities. Boman meets Farah again when he goes to talk to her about the illegal water tank she had removed from their apartment over his mother’s objections. Farah, as the committeewoman who has to deal with all these argumentative complaining Parsis, has no patience for any more complaints. But Boman, trained by his own argumentative complaining mother, is perfect for her.
And so they start their gentle middle-aged romance. Going home after their first date and each having their romantic dancing around the bedroom moment. Boman sneaking out behind his mother’s back, Farah getting dressed up, it’s wonderful! And it isn’t “funny”, we aren’t supposed to laugh at them for feeling this way, but rather to be happy for them.
And it isn’t supposed to be funny when it all falls apart either. Well, not at the end of it. Boman brings Farah to meet his mother, and it is light and comic when Farah keeps saying exactly the wrong thing, accidentally insulting her over and over. And even comic when Farah starts talking about this horrible woman she dealt with who wanted to keep her illegal water tank. Right up until Daisy explodes and throws her out. And suddenly it’s kind of sincerely lightly sad. Boman and Farah are terribly torn up about being apart, and it’s not exactly tragic, but it also isn’t simply funny.
What also treads the line between tragic and funny is the revelation of why Farah is still unmarried. It’s not because she has a difficult personality or non-traditional appearance or any of that, Farah is exactly the catch Boman thinks she is. No, it’s because her father is bed bound and catatonic and she has to take care of him, and anyone she marries will have to understand and accept that. Which Boman does. And so when she loses him, it’s not just a promising romance that made her happy which is gone, it is a rare opportunity to find a man who could share her burdens.
That’s what makes a middle-aged romance really special, that it isn’t just about the couple falling in love, it is about all the other things that you have in your life once you are older and the burdens you have become used to handling alone, suddenly having the offer of someone to share them. Parents aren’t someone to rebel against, they are someone you have to take care of. Family isn’t something that you have to escape, it is something you are suddenly part of. We see that with Boman right at the beginning, his family arrives for an engagement, and he is nagged and pressured about his own marriage, but also treated with respect and given responsibilities. He can’t just run off and elope the way a young man could.
It’s only when all of their responsibilities can mix and merge that things work out. When Boman’s family comes around, and he has already accepted Farah’s father, that is when their happy ending can arrive. A happier ending than their legendary counterparts ever managed to achieve.
(And look how happy their families are for them!)