Part 1 came out yesterday, moving right along to part 2. This isn’t a real “scene by scene”, not the way I have done it in the past with every line and every shot considered. This is more a summary of the film with some minor discussion, similar to what I did for Bajirao. (full index of summary here)
I ended the last section with Ranveer’s meeting with the Brahmin (actor’s name to come once it is available) and his new obsession with possessing Deepika, not because she is beautiful and he desires her, not exactly, but because he has been told by the Brahmin that possessing Deepika will make him able to conquer the world. Which might be a lie, because the Brahmin has his own resentments and reasons for wanting Mewar to be invaded and Deepika brought low. Or possibly could be true, the Brahmin has been shown to have some minor mystical powers.
And now we see the end result of this. A messenger in Shahid’s court, reading a statement from Ranveer, inviting them to come to see him in Delhi. Oh, and very exciting, this is an awesome set and WE WILL SEE IT AGAIN!!!!! For once, Bhansali has actually reused a set. And again I wonder, what was the money spent on? Why was this so much more expensive than all his films that never reused sets.
Anyway, it’s a pretty set. Lots of low pools of water with little fountains in them. Perfect for people to dramatically stride through getting their feet wet. Why Bhansali likes to make his actors get their feet wet and the bottom of their costumes, I do not know, but he really does.
It’s a nicely framed shot too, Shahid standing perfectly straight and noble in white alone on one end, while the messenger is surrounded by other people. And Shahid is also straight and noble and simple when he asks the messenger to read the message again, and the second time through everyone realizes the problem, it is Ranveer declaring that he as the ruler of “all of India” is inviting him. Addressing Shahid as a vassal, not an independent ruler. And so Shahid rejects him.
(Upright and noble. Great casting of Shahid with his dancers ability with body language)
This is the first of Shahid’s heroic mistakes. Great Greek tragedy kind of mistakes. He takes this invitation as a slight and rather than dealing with it diplomatically, positioning and repositioning himself, he rejects it out of hand. And so Ranveer brings his army and attacks.
Once again, big dust cloud to hide the army. Shahid comes to his battlements to observe the invaders. Ranveer orders forward a small contingent to test the protections, and the horses fall through a false ditch hidden in the sand. Ranveer orders his army to stay, while Shahid inside is all “it’s fine! Call the surrounding farmers and so on to come into the fort, and send for aid from our nearby kingdoms”. He also orders that Dilwali be celebrated as usual in order to keep up moral.
In the enemy camp, Ranveer has the same idea. He orders competitions and debauchery to entertain the troops and keep them happy during this long siege. He gives this order while he is entertaining himself by busily burning historical records he disagrees with. And then we see him wrestling in the sand with a soldier, the crowd cheering for him. He almost loses, and then snatches victory at the last moment.
A lot of interesting things in this section. I’ll do the Rajputs first. We see that this is not exactly a David and Goliath situation. The Chittor fort is as advanced as any other military outpost. And the Rajputs are prepared for a siege, this is not the first war they have had. Shahid never has a moment of hesitation, nor does anyone else around him. But, notice, the problem is that the other Rajput kingdoms do not respond to their call for help. Again it is a feel of Greek tragedy. The mere fact of Ranveer attacking does not mean that the fort will inevitably fall. It is all these small moments that lead up to the great tragedy, these tiny decisions. It gets lost a bit in the way the film is presented, but it is there in the narrative, Shahid is flawless, and ultimately this is his flaw, his unwillingness to compromise, to put pressure on other rulers, to do anything that might have helped him.
Meanwhile, Ranveer’s issues are also interesting. The idea that his men do not want this war is important. This is the part where he begins to be referred to, and to refer to himself, as the second Sikander. And the point of Sikander, the famous Hindi film classic, was that Sikander was defeated not by war, but by his own men’s homesickness. It humanizes Ranveer’s army, makes us see them as men, not just soldiers. I wish we had a little more of that.
We also see Ranveer burning the books. Very important. Because it establishes not that this film is the “real” version, but rather that there is no “real” version. This is how simple it is to manipulate historical texts, the party in power burns the other evidence and it disappears, and then they put out their own version. It felt cheeky to me, Bhansali doing his own little nod to how ahistorical this film is.
And finally there is the wrestling. Where we see how and why Ranveer is beloved of his men. He enjoys wrestling, and enjoys a true competition. Not as a show for his men, but as he really feels. It’s charming, and we can see why people who only saw this charming side of him would like him. And it foreshadows the way he enjoys this battle of wills with Shahid, likes having an equal enemy for once.
After the wrestling, Ranveer baths with Jim Sarbh washing him. Jim suggests that he might be able to “entertain” Ranveer. And then Ranveer stretches his body up in an arch out of the tub, and tells Jim to sing. And Jim starts a love song.
(Interesting that T-Series chose to hide the way the song is presented on the film as though it is a love song between Dips and Ranveer)
These little bits have been accused of homophobia or something. But I have to say, they don’t bother me that much. As I see it, Jim fits within a certain character type. Not the “gay lover”, that is putting modern western visions on a film that was created to echo ancient Operatic and poetic traditions. Jim is the “wise fool”. The king’s jester who is most trusted because he is least noticed, from the Shakespearean tradition. Falstaff, Feste, Puck, and of course “The Fool” from King Lear. They are extreme outsiders in society, the king’s tolerance of them shows his greatness of spirit, ability to see past externals. And it creates extreme loyalty in the “fool”, to be appreciated by one man in all the world. The king gets a benefit from these “fools”, their outsider status allows them to say and do the things that even the king cannot do. And most of all, they are wise. As outsiders, they see things that insiders do not, they can bend and break rules that others find firm. It is a “fool” character Jaques in As You Like It who says Shakespeare’s lines:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Those lines above could easily have been said by Jim Sarbh in this film. The fool appears foolish merely because he is too wise to appear wise, as it were. And, for me, Jim Sarbh plays his role not as a gay stereotype, but rather as a man who has chosen to perform the stereotype because he is too wise to try to be “normal”.
There is a long tradition of brave and revolutionary drag performers and other variations on gender non-conformity. The first Gay Rights protests and riots in America were started by gender non-normative people, the ones who were brave enough to be who they were in public and not afraid to fight for their rights. The mere fact of an effeminate man is not a stereotype, and is not an insult to Queer people. Jim Sarbh’s character is not a tormented gay men, or an “evil” gay man, he is a brave man who has chosen to appear on the outside the way he feels on the inside, to live his truth. At least, that is one interpretation. And I find somewhat disturbing this rush to judgement that somehow his performance and his character is “insulting” to Queer people, as it seems to be judging the way in which Queer people are meant to be.
Going back to the “fool” concept, that is clearly a deliberate choice as it goes directly against history. Through out most of history, “slave” soldiers were not the kind of slave we picture with chains and abuse and so on, but rather something a little more integrated into general society, almost a matter of paperwork rather than anything else. Think less America in the 1800s, and more Dubai guest workers today. Historically, that is what Malik Kafur was. A skilled soldier and wise advisor who lead Aluaddin’s armies. Minister of Defense, not personal advisor. And a public figure with his own followers, even his own kingdom later. At the time of this war, he was leading Aluaddin’s army, not Aluaddin’s secret assistant. And yes, there were rumors that their relationship was more, possibly true or possibly spread by jealous rivals. Similar to Karan Johar and Shahrukh, come to think of it. 800 years from now, it might be impossible to trace exactly what their relationship was versus the rumors. To turn him into this personal assistant/hidden spy type person means that Bhansali really really wanted that “fool” effect. And part of that is to give the “fool” an obvious outsize way in which he is different from the rest of us. A Little Person, someone with a deformity of some kind, a stutter, all of these might be reasons for them to be a “Fool”. Gender non-conformity fits well with all of these.
Ranveer’s performance opposite Jim Sarbh is less, to me, about “ooo, is he gay?”, but rather to explain why Jim is loyal to him. Ranveer does not reject him, accepts and appreciates his ways and breaking boundaries. We can see why Jim would choose to be loyal, would come to care about Ranveer. In a way, you could even see Jim as the Karna character, tragically tied to the wrong side because they are the only ones who ever treated him kindly. And so in this scene, Jim tests Ranveer by implying sexual desire towards him, and Ranveer responds with enjoyment, stretching his body up in pleasure and smiling at Jim’s song.
This is also a TOTALLY RIDICULOUS sequence!!!!! Just, the whole idea of the effeminate slave singing a love song to his only semi-interest owner is kind of, well, silly. It’s this sort of over the top set-piece that makes me so sure that this is not a film that was intended to be taken seriously, that Bhansali did not intend to make a historical document, but rather an Operatic fantasy drama.
(This is sort of the kind of thing I am thinking of. A song that makes almost no sense in context, but is very pretty and a fun set-piece for the two performers)
Meanwhile, in Chittor, they have decided to attack and shoot flaming arrows at the tents. Because time is running out, they have only a couple days left of grain stores. It is also at this point that Jauhar is first mentioned. It is another scene of Deepika learning Rajput traditions, becoming more Rajput and less Sri Lankan. The women are gathered and the idea is suggested, a ritual suicide when all hope is lost. But immediately rejected, as all hope is not lost, not yet.
Back in the encampment, Ranveer’s tent catches on fire, Jim comes to drag him away, and Ranveer instead orders him to put all the bird cages in bed with him and wake him again when the fires are out. Great image, Ranveer lying there surrounded by birds with fire around him. Also a nice nod to Indian film history, which a bird in a cage is a consistent image related to captured beautiful women. From Pakeezah to Sadak.
Inside the fort, they are celebrating Holi, putting on another front for morale. And Deepika, bravely facing possible death with a smile, is playing with Shahid. Another sign that they are a couple meant to be together, with the same attitude towards things, unlike Shahid and his first wife. And a nice matching scene with Jim Sarbh and Ranveer’s closeness and similarity of mind versus Ranveer and Aditi.
The bit of a moment we see is Deepika bringing a tray to Shahid, him jokingly swinging out of her reach on the swing he is sitting on, her reaching him, putting color on his face, and then bending to put it on his feet. It’s your standard “oh look how wonderful, the way she worships her husband” moment. And Shahid does a good job being worshiped, being the the perfect smiling man accepting all of this as his due. Frankly, I find Ranveer and Jim’s half-serious back and forth flirtation a lot less disturbing than what we see of the “good” people.
In the encampment, Ranveer has also realized it is Holi. And says that he wants to play Holi with them too, it is time to suggest peace. And he sends Jim as his personal envoy. There is a moment when the Rajput’s on the battlement identify him as Ranveer’s closest advisor, some call him his “Begum”. It is said with a tiny smile, but I also don’t see it as an insult. They aren’t laughing at queerness in general, just this specific situation in which the lines are blurred between slave and friend and wife.
One thing that I find oddly missing in the discussion of Jim Sarbh’s character and how he is handled is the possibility that Bhansali himself might be gay. He is 54, never married, never had a public relationship with a woman. It’s just common sense to consider the possibility. Which would make Jim’s character not an insult, but wish-fulfillment. And the “Begum” comment less an insult, than slight gender bending and relationship redefining. Not saying that is the case, but it is possible. And I feel like the superficial “Effeminate man who is on the wrong side-BAD” interpretation is missing a lot in terms of possible meanings behind the representation.
Right, moving on! Jim Sarbh has arrived under a flag of peace to suggest a meeting, Ranveer comes to have a meal with Shahid, and then his army will leave. Shahid agrees, but has conditions. He wants Ranveer to come alone, and unarmed. Ranveer agrees.
And the two men prepare for their meeting! In another moment of parallelism. Deepika wraps Shahid’s turban, she herself is wearing elaborate silks and jewels. And then she carefully sews a string of pearls on to the turban. Meanwhile, Jim Sarbh is helping Ranveer dress in heavy dark clothing. Culminating in Deepika flicking kajol from her eye and hiding it in Shahid’s beard, while Ranveer flicks perfume on a servant woman and then grabs her and pulls her against him to cover himself in the perfume. Shahid and Deepika have a holy perfect partnership in which she helps him to look perfect and handsome and saintly at all time. While Ranveer has dark messy clothing and a dark messy tent, surrounded by servants rather than his wife.
(Not to mention the saintly gold sunlight around them)
What I find most interesting here is the readymade clothing versus clothing sewn on. It is a seemingly small thing, but it is a big difference between the two characters. Ranveer’s clothing are overly made, layered heavy fitted jackets. It’s truly ridiculous, there is dialogue about how his troops will have to leave because it is so hot they won’t be able to take it. And yet Ranveer is still wearing velvet and fur and has blazing fires. there must be a reason for it.
What I am getting is that the Rajput’s are creators, thoughtful and wise and artistic. While the Khilji’s are consumers, layers and heat and everything. It’s just another part of the birds in a cage and the female slaves everywhere. While Shahid is casual, in light white clothing that is draped for this specific occasion and then taken away, Ranveer has layers and layers covering him and weighing down his inner goodness.
Right, and then meeting! There is a clever bit when they sit down to eat, Ranveer bends and sniffs his food (very animalistic, again), and then trades the trays. And then trades them again, while Shahid kind of raises his eyebrow, and then finally Ranveer smiles back and takes his original tray. It is a lovely moment of silent understanding, Shahid getting that Ranveer is trying to avoid poison, and Ranveer understanding (finally) that Shahid will not poison him and being brave and wise enough to just eat.
It came out recently that Deepika was paid more than either of her male co-stars for this film. And frankly, I don’t see why. Not that Deepika wasn’t given plenty to do, and is the title character after all, but because the most important relationship in the film, it turns out, is between Ranveer and Shahid. The noble virtuous perfect Rajput ruler versus the wiley and immoral Khilji ruler. The two men have a strange understanding of each other, begun with that first letter sent from Khilji in which was hidden an acceptance of his rule over their kingdom, and Shahid’s foolhardy and immediate rejection. Shahid understands and can see Ranveer’s intelligence in a way most of those close to him cannot. And Ranveer, similarly, can see both Shahid’s intelligence and his strong moral character. Even the Brahmin who originally ties the two kingdoms together, he does it through using Deepika’s beauty, but the goal is to set Ranveer against Shahid, the man who insulted him.
In my Tiger Zinda Hai review I talked about how the screen came alive when Kat and Salman were together and I wished for more scenes they shared. It was not because I like “love stories” or wanted more romance. It was merely about actor chemistry. In this film, I could have happily sacrificed scenes between Deepika and Shahid, or Aditi and Ranveer, or even Ranveer and Jim Sarbh, if it meant more moments between Shahid and Ranveer. They were truly something special together, starting with this sequence.
(Really the film should have been promoted as the two men versus each other. Not sure why it wasn’t. Just because Dips was the one more willing to do promotions?)
After lunch, Shahid and Ranveer play chess together. Lot’s of double-meaning lines about capturing the “Queen”. Which Ranveer sells mostly because of his delivery, they are pretty stupid lines. It’s also hard to remember that Shahid at this point has no idea of the actual goal of the siege. Ranveer never came right out and asked for Deepika, he planned to simply take the fort and therefore get her. It is through this conversation that Shahid slowly begins to realize Ranveer’s hints. Culminating in him asking when he will be introduced to the rest of Ranveer’s family, the Queen. At which point everyone draws their swords and points them at Ranveer’s neck. Ranveer is delightfully unconcerned, and his unconcern is justified when Shahid stops them because of course Ranveer is their guest.
Again, the two actors are just amazing together! As are the two characters. Shahid was able to figure out that Ranveer had bad intentions towards Deepika after just a few remarks, because he could see the kind of man he was. And Ranveer was able to understand that he was in no danger saying such a thing, because Shahid was too honorable to use it.
What neither Ranveer nor Shahid predicted was that Deepika would be willing to show herself. Because the special bond is more between the two men then between either of them and Deepika, despite the perfection of Deepika and Shahid’s marital bond, they don’t truly understand each other.
Blah blah poem, Deepika shows herself with her face obscured by sacred smoke in a mirror at a great distance from Ranveer. And then her image is suddenly cut off by a lowered curtain and Ranveer’s face twitches in irritation.
And then, as promised, he prepares to retreat. But first asks Shahid to return the visit, also alone and unarmed. Deepika worries and is unhappy with Shahid going unarmed, but he says he has to. He goes to find Ranveer half asleep in his chair, Ranveer explains that he was sleeping, and then invites Shahid to sit and promptly captures him. Again, the two men knew each other. Ranveer knew Shahid would come as promised, even though it made no sense. And Shahid is not super surprised to be captured, he knew it was a possibility.
This is the “tragic hero” part. Shahid’s flaw is his virtue. A man less “dharmic” for lack of a better word, would be willing to take common sense precautions, to be too smart for such an obvious trap.
But I don’t want to end this section by digging into the tragic flaw, I want to go back to the horror at the thought of Deepika appearing before a guest. This is still a modern day issue, being careful who is invited into your home if you have sisters or daughters. Being careful who your wife is introduced to, and your guests taking it as an honor if they meet her.
(Speaking of Deepika, one of the nicest things about her public persona is how close she is with her father, and how uncaring he is that she is out in the world unprotected, proud even that she has made her own way.)
There are two parts to this. First is a simple separation of the sexes. Even pretending this was truly separate but equal, then women can have all the female friends they want in the female quarters just as men can have male friends in the male quarters, it is still a problem. For one, it enforces strict gender identities, the same thing that makes Jim Sarbh’s character here, or Karan Johar in real life, so uncomfortable for Indian society to deal with. A Hijra is one thing, she has become a woman, she can be categorized. Or even categorized as “3rd sex”, if you like. But what do you do with a man who sometimes acts in a way that seems womanly? Or a woman who sometimes acts manly? Where do they fit in the simple male-female quarters kind of division of society?
For another, this kind of strict separation between sexes leads to misunderstanding between them. All the many problems we see today, eve teasing and sexual harrassment and so on, are partly related to the way men are women are not taught to see each other as people, as fellow human people.
There’s also the fact that things are hardly ever “separate but equal”. Separation tends to bring with it a power division. And so the mere fact of keeping men and women apart invites there to be one who is more powerful, man or woman. And, as we know, it is man who has become more powerful.
And because he is more powerful, they are not exactly “separate but equal”. A woman is kept locked away from society, locked into the small world of acceptable female companions. While a men is allowed to be open and free, to go out into the world. This film trumpets the wonderful nobility of the Rajput’s for keeping their wives hidden away from all outsiders. But it never asks if the women want to be kept away, if there might be something they would enjoy out in the world beyond their chambers.
Like much of this film, it is taking a weakness, a backwardness, an injustice, and making it into a virtue. It is not wonderful and amazing that the Rajput’s do not allow men outside their families to see their wives. It is a bad thing. It is something that hundreds of years of reform have sought to overturn and yet lingers to this day. It means that women live crippled lonely lives away from human contact, from the world. And it means that if they do go out into the world and something bad happens, they are blamed for it, for having invited it merely by going out.
Let us turn this to today. What if a police officer gets notice of an abused wife? He comes to see her, and the husband refuses to let the police officer, or any other man, see his wife. The woman continues to live in fear, trapped within the house, with no rescue in sight because she is so securely captured. And society as a whole ignores her cries for help, because it is a “good” husband who keeps his life locked away and a “bad” man who would try to save her.
I’m not saying that the character Deepika is playing has any reason to want to leave her husband’s household, or that Ranveer is there to save her. But the film is arguing that a “good” woman would never want to be seen by anyone but her husband, and a husband would never allow her to be seen. Which allows for the myth to be perpetuated and therefore potentially abused in today’s world.
(One small part of the Sheena Bora murder case was that the police stopped investigating despite the woman’s boyfriend insisting she was in danger, because the elders in her family turned them away and said she was fine. It’s a distant relation of this same thing, the assumption that a woman is the possession of her family and they are the gatekeepers of access to her, and it can be used to hide heinous crimes. Also, this poster of the movie version delights me, so cheesy! And come to think of it, I could just as easily have used a poster for Talwar, in which another young woman was more in danger inside her own home than anywhere else)
In reality, it is not the outsider “Ranveers” who threaten women most often, but the insider “Shahids”. A woman is in more danger of bodily harm from men of her own family or known to her family than from strangers. 71% of rapes are by a spouse or a non-spouse relative, or a friend. Only 28% are committed by a stranger. The solution to keep women safe is not to lock them away where no one can hear their screams, but let them out into the world where they can find someone to help them. And glorification of purdah in this sequence is part of the problem, not the solution.
Oh, and of course, 50% of rapists are over 30 years old. Don’t fear the young man coming to the house, fear the old man. That’s one thing this film got right, the Brahmin’s desire for Deepika is far more statistically likely than Ranveer’s desire for her.