Anjaam, Female Vengeance with Madhuri, Or How I Celebrated Valentine’s Day

I watched this movie with my friend for Valentine’s and, truly, it is the perfect Valentine’s movie!  All the romantic relationships are a different variety of horrible, erotic love leads only to misery, and happiness come from embracing inner strength and aloneness and killing EVERYBODY.  (it might also be the perfect PMS movie) I should also mention, just to complete the picture, that my friend and I ate 2 dozen mini-eclairs straight out of the container while watching this film.  The Perfect Evening.

I was thinking about it, and really every movie with Shahrukh and Madhuri except Dil To Pagal Hai is WEIRD WEIRD WEIRD!!!!!  They have co-starred 5 times, Koyla and this and Dil To Pagal Hai and Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam and Devdas, and none of those except Dil To Pagal Hai were really “normal” movies.

Image result for anjaam poster

(Not normal!)

Koyla, Shahrukh as a hardened mute action hero, Madhuri as a village belle who is tricked into marriage and then sold into a brothel.  Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam, post-marriage drama and love triangles and the whole thing took 5 years to finish.  Devdas, also took forever to finish, Madhuri doesn’t even show up until almost the halfway point.  Dil To Pagal Hai, happy romance with equal roles for each of them, NORMAL.

The big problem of course is that Madhuri and Shahrukh don’t actually make sense as co-stars.  Partly because they are both just magnetic over-powering charismatic on screen.  And having two people like that can overwhelm your film, the audience doesn’t know where to look.  But then, that is a problem that you can overcome.  Hema Malini and Dharmendra, Amitabh and Rekha, Shahrukh and Kajol.  There’ve been onscreen pairs of equal charisma before who somehow came together and made each of them better and brighter.  So I think it is more than that, I think it is something specifically about Shahrukh and Madhuri.

There’s the timing, for one thing.  I was very aware in this movie that Shahrukh was young and inexperienced and hungry, while Madhuri was making one of a dozen movies she was in at the same time, and solidly established in her career.  By the time Hum Tumhare and Devdas came along, Shahrukh was the top star and working hard to stay that way, he was polished and professional and passionate, while Madhuri was on her way out, doing a few perfect interesting little roles before leaving forever.  Koyla and DTPH are where they met in the middle, both at the top of the list and still passionate about their work.

But it’s also about style.  Madhuri is all Kathak in her acting, beautiful and graceful and elegant.  And Shahrukh is all method, rough and intense and kind of scary.  When he is opposite someone like Kajol or Rani, their acting is bracingly different from his, but it feels like they are still in the same scene together, still emotionally present.  When he is with Madhuri, it often seems as though they are in two entirely different movies.  They are in the scene together, but they are never quite connecting.

(I forgot, also Gaja Gamini)

Just in terms of the Madhuri-Shahrukh chemistry, I always found Koyla the best representation of it.  Because Shahrukh, without his voice, is forced to perform with his body which makes him similar to Madhuri’s dancer-like acting.  And Madhuri, in her horrible action heroine series of tragedies, is required by the script to go through mental and emotional anguish to the extreme while Shahrukh remains (initially) removed from it.  And Shahrukh in a calm and happy character ends up equaling Madhuri in a miserable tormented character in terms of the emotionality of their acting.

But this movie might be my new favorite.  Because, whether by accident or design, it takes that disconnect between Shahrukh and Madhuri onscreen and makes it part of the plot.  They are two characters who never quite fully listen to or understand each other.







Just to start with the basic plot, Shahrukh is a spoiled rich boy who falls in love with Madhuri and creeps on her.  She marries Dilip Tiwari and leaves the country for 4 years, when she returns Shahrukh is just as obsessed as ever and hires her husband to work for him and drives a wedge between husband and wife.  Shahrukh kills Madhuri’s husband, but no one believes her, and then Shahrukh frames her as attacking him, telling a story that she was the obsessed one and wouldn’t let her go. Madhuri is sentenced to jail and while there her sister and daughter are killed (coincidentally by drunk driving Shahrukh) after her brother-in-law throws them out of the house.  Madhuri also miscarries after a beating from the sadistic female warden.  Finally she has had enough and kills the warden, then escapes from jail and kills her brother-in-law, then the corrupt cop who helped Shahrukh, and finally plans to kill Shahrukh himself.  Only to discover that the accident which killed her daughter and sister left Shahrukh a cripple.  She dedicates herself to caring for him, finally bringing him back to health.  He still wants to marry her, and his mother gives her blessing.  But when Shahrukh goes to her in a temple to propose, she declares that she only pretended to care about him in order to get him healthy so that she could kill him with a clear conscience.  After a massive battle, they both hang over the edge of a cliff and Madhuri lets go so Shahrukh will fall with her.  And they both die.  Happy Ending?

(Also, this song happens, which I’ve been told is essentially describing a rape, but in a disturbingly happy way)


It took me a while to figure out what was happening with this movie.  Similar to Darr, it’s easy to see the film as a stalker fantasy type situation, and only slowly do you realize that it is actually the heroine’s stalker nightmare, not the hero’s stalker fantasy.  But while Darr told the romantic fantasy as a nightmare, this goes beyond that and throws away the romantic option early on.

Before the opening credits, Madhuri is married to another man.  Shahrukh’s fantasy is clearly now impossible, because an Indian woman marries only once.  And part of what makes this film unique and unusual is that from that point on, nothing fits exactly with the standard fantasies.  Shahrukh can’t be the perfect dashing hero because he is breaking social boundaries by loving a married woman.  But Madhuri can’t be the perfect faithful wife, because she is breaking social boundaries by having a relationship with a man besides her husband (a relationship of hate, but it is still a bond outside of her marriage which in the restrictive Hindi film concept of a “good wife” is not allowed).

Instead, we enter a world of grey rather than black and white.  Madhuri returns, married, but her marriage isn’t perfect.  Shahrukh offers her husband money and her husband ignores Madhuri’s objections and starts working for Shahrukh.  They bicker, Madhuri is unhappy.  Her brother-in-law gambles and takes money from her as well, her sister is unhappy.  Shahrukh is doing everything right, sort of, but in a wrong way.  In a wrong way twice, first because he is using money and charm to try to win over a married woman (not a single woman, which would make his behavior the same as the hero of most other light love stories with misunderstandings and trickery).  And second because he himself just feels “wrong”.

This is a brilliant SRK performance.  One which I can appreciate more now than the audience probably did then.  Because now I have seen many many SRK performances and I know he has a set bag of tricks he tends to fall back on.  This role, there are none of the standard tricks.  He does a thing with his shoulder, raising one side and kind of twitching it, which is distinctive to this character, clearly developed just for this role, and never used since.  He also has a unique combination of facial expressions.  He wants to convey “silly naughty little boy” but to an extreme.  To a degree that is disturbing, to see this little boy having a tantrum in a man’s body.  It’s just plain wrong.  Not morally, but instinctively, it doesn’t feel like a right way for someone to behave, like seeing a dog walk on their hind legs.

This is also what adds a bit of another layer to his “stalker” character.  Because that’s all that stalkers, or most toxic masculinity, is.  It is childish little boy behavior in big boy bodies.  It’s supposed to be forgiveable or “cute” or “just how boys are”.  But, it isn’t!  It’s disturbing.  Adults should be adults, should be beyond those childish tantrums and demands and expectations.  And to see this childish Shahrukh character thinking he is in love with, and can force to be in love with him, the imminently mature Madhuri is just, well, gross!!!!  That’s the point of making her character he not just uninterested, but married with a child.  She is so far beyond him, in such a different place than he, to think of them together just highlights how unhealthy and immature and sick Shahrukh’s character is.

And then as the film expands, that sense of “wrong” is also expanded to all of society.  Madhuri lives within an imperfect world.  Her husband doesn’t respect her fully, her family can’t or won’t support her, this isn’t the usual “everything’s wonderful until the bad thing happens!” life of the thriller heroine.  It is only Madhuri that is superior, that is trying to do her best.  The police are corrupt as well, easily bought off by Shahrukh to lie and provide him with an alibi and instead convict Madhuri.  Society is corrupt, it is more willing to believe wealthy calm reasonable Shahrukh who argues that Madhuri was obsessed with and attacking him, instead of hysterical grieving unreasonable Madhuri shouting that it is all Shahrukh’s fault.  And even the jail is corrupt.

I had a moment of hope that, similar to Bandini, Aradhana, and 22 Female Kottayam, Madhuri would discover that jail was the only place where she could be free, by being removed from society she was escaping it.  But, no.  Instead, the warden is the terrifying Kalpana Iyer, who is having an affair with Shahrukh’s corrupt cop friend, and sells her convicts to wealthy men for the night.  She beats and abuses Madhuri, and Madhuri’s only support is from her fellow convict and friend Himani Shivpuri (who does an amazing job).  On the outside, Tinnu Anand, Madhuri’s greedy brother-in-law, throws his wife and Madhuri’s small daughter out of the house.  They are living on the footpath when, coincidentally, Shahrukh’s car goes out of control and kills them.  And finally, Madhuri is beaten until she miscarries.  And only after all of this does she turn to vengeance.

It’s not a matter of it being the last straw, it is a matter of it being the unsexed female avenger role.  A woman is a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother.  It is only when she has lost all of these identities that she is allowed to give up the world entirely and become something more than human.  It’s the same story we will be seeing with Manikarnika, Kangana’s Jhansi Ki Rani film.  The widow can either throw herself onto the funeral fire, or rise from it strong and angry and violent.  While Madhuri had anything at all tying her to the usual familiar role, she was weak.  But once she was freed of those ties, she became fearless and cold, a dispenser of justice.  And so, first, she found Kalpana Iyer and dragged her to the gallows within the jail and hung her.  Then she left jail to find her brother-in-law Tinnu Anand and killed him by, first, ripping out the veins of his wrist with her teeth, and then shoving money down his throat until he chocked.  And then the cop, the one who lied and gave Shahrukh and alibi, he found her in the cemetery over her daughter’s grave, she threw dirt from the grave in his face to blind him and run away.  Then let him catch her again and, as he was removing his pants in order to rape her, she stabbed him in the leg with broken glass before grabbing a sword, chasing him down, and killing him.

I give all these details not because they are awesome (although they are), but so you can see that these aren’t just the normal movie deaths.  Madhuri has gone from a happy homemaker to a brutal goddess-like unstoppable force.  Which is a not uncommon track for heroine’s to take in these films.  Heck, we just had this recently with NH10!

Image result for NH10

In American horror, there is the idea of the “final girl”.  We watch most of the film through the eyes of the killer, but in the end the “final girl” is wiser and stronger and better than the others, we start rooting for her, and she is the one who survives.  This is NOT that trope.  This is something totally different.  It’s not that Madhuri was surrounded by other women who were killed, and then finally once the audience bloodlust is sated, we cheer her survival.  It’s that the heroine has to lose everything important to her in order to unleash the power within her.  But once it is unleashed, it is unstoppable.

What makes this movie a little different is the different way Madhuri uses that power.  She has saved Shahrukh for last and strides out to see him carrying a knife, only to discover he is in a wheelchair, comatose.  And then her vengeance seems to be over.  She went from wearing modern colorful clothes, to the white of widowhood, to the black of vengeance.  And now she goes back to the softer colors, pinks and yellows and pastels, she smiles and laughs and dances and slowly brings Shahrukh back to life.

Only for us to discover at the very end that this was all a game as well.  Just another one of her many weapons.  She literally throws off the light white to reveal the dark block underneath in their final confrontation.

This is a great role for Shahrukh, but it is Madhuri’s movie.  A woman’s picture.  Maybe that’s another reason it worked so well to have them act together in this. There was no jockeying for position, no balance.  Shahrukh was the villain, Madhuri was the hero, and Madhuri was the one with all the power in the end.

Image result for anjaam madhuri

11 thoughts on “Anjaam, Female Vengeance with Madhuri, Or How I Celebrated Valentine’s Day

  1. I was obsessed with Chane Ke Khet Mein and Barsoon Ke Baad songs when I was writing my thesis (LOL in fact it’s evident while reading it now that I was distracted),and as always when I love the song I just had to watch the movie. I remember that it was so violent. The most violent movie I have seen then. And Madhuri was so powerful as avengeress.


    • It is so violent! And sexual, you see the evil warden and cop clearly post-coitus. And I don’t remember hearing about it as like a scandalous “adult” film, it was just on the outside of what was acceptable. Put things like Udta Punjab and Highway and NH10 in context for me.

      On Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 3:37 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. I remember watching this when I was young, may be 12 or 13 and remember getting scared. I was heartbroken when Madhuri’s husband died and had a miscarriage but the way she kills is very violent.

    Don’t know if I can ever watch it again.


    • I watched it this time on doublespeed, which made it a lot more fun. I could still read the subtitles and stuff, but it was a little less mentally anguishing.

      On Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 6:01 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  3. Pingback: TGIF: For Valentine’s Day, Cutest Couple Photos | dontcallitbollywood

  4. I’m so glad you watched Anjaam for V day, and then wrote about it. Heeee! I have only watched this all the way through one time, because as you and others say, it’s tough to watch the hell she goes through. But I have re-watched the early Shah Rukh obsessing bits, and then her revenge bits starting in jail.

    Before getting to Anjaam–yes to their styles coming closer to matching in Koyla and Anjaam than in other movies. Like in Anjaam, in HTHS, the mismatch between her coolness and his frenetic energy is sort of part of the plot. But this overall mismatch between them, despite their off the charts charisma alone, is why I find Juhi or Rani so much more compelling with him. Though I love the bits and pieces we see of S and M together at award or TV shows. It seems that in real life their chemistry exceeds that on screen. It really would be so great to see them play off of each other now.

    Side track: Shah Rukh is far from a hardened action hero in Koyla. Rather he is so pure of heart and sweet that he literally can’t see the evil of his master, though he can see the evil of his master’s brother. Madhuri’s plight wakes him up. Koyla’s super human abilities come from his purity. At least that’s how I interpret it. Way better than Batman or Spiderman in my opinion. 🙂 Maybe somewhat akin to (traditional) Superman in that he is SUCH a straight arrow.

    The happy rape song: I love Madhuri’s dancing in this song so much. Still stylized but freer and more joyous than, say, her dances in Devdas. And her skirt is awesome. I guess this song is about rape in the same way every single song about breaking bangles, “chuna na”, “mujhe chhodo” is about rape. But not really “rape rape” as Whoopie Goldberg would say, because down deep these young ladies all want their bangles broken. Barf.

    Shah Rukh does ok in this role, but I purely hate the shoulder thing. I’m glad he dropped these external signals of evil after the shoulder hitching and the stuttering.

    The prison section of this movie is so deep. Kalpana Iyer is the scariest villain in the movie. And I had to google Himani Shivpuri after seeing Anjaam, I was so moved by her. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this, but were there hints that Himani had erotic feelings for Madhuri, or was she just in awe?

    Oh, the wheelchair dance is so weird. It strikes me as so unintentionally funny that it pops me right out of the story. I love everything that comes before and after. If I remember right, does his mother see the death scene at the end? I recall being glad that she witnessed Madhuri’s revenge, since his mother definitely played a role in creating this spoiled child in a man’s body.


    • What a great comment! Starting at the end, my friend and I both agreed that he had a “bad” mother. Not morally bad, but like bad-at-her-job. Terrible at mothering! If there had been less “I am vaguely disturbed but I will shake it off and ignore it” in her mothering, he wouldn’t have turned out so bad. Or, at least, he would have been controlled.

      She also buys completely into his story of Madhuri as an evil seducer who obsessed over Shahrukh even though she was married. Which is really interesting, in terms of how even fellow women will support the patriarchy, a mother will chose her son and his version of the “nutty” woman over the truth and her loyalty to her own sex. And at the end she decides to “forgive” Madhuri for all she has done because Madhuri (seemingly) sincerely loves Shahrukh and has cured him.

      I don’t know there were necessarily erotic feelings between Himani and Madhuri to my mind, but there also weren’t necessarily NOT erotic feelings. Certainly there was a close bond and a love there that Madhuri never really got from any other character, including her husband. I know what you mean about the jail section, it feels like that’s where the movie really decided it was going to be Madhuri’s story instead of Shahrukh’s. And where she found her own strength, in her own way. I still like the 22 Female Kottayam jail section best, but this one was pretty good.

      I wonder if his distaste for “kkkk kiran” imitations is partly because he is kind of embarrassed of having done those kinds of simple acting tics in the past instead of his more subtle style now?

      The whole rape-song thing is so strange! I agree that it is a wonderful Madhuri performance though. In general it feels like in the performances we are seeing her through Shahrukh’s eyes, at least a little. So she is pure happiness and free and easy, instead of her slightly more distant and restrained performance in other films. Does that make sense?

      Agree that Koyla-Shahrukh is a pure innocent. I guess what feels different to me is that he is so physical, rather than verbal and so violent rather than romantic. that one dance when he drums for Madhuri is such a perfect meeting of manly physical power and female delicate grace.

      I think maybe part of the problem with their chemistry on film is that they never seem to come together in positions of equal strength, like they do in real life. I’d love to see something where they are both older successful professionals with equal romantic history in their past, instead of always one loving the other more, or being more powerful, or more out in the world. Again, Koyla came close, with Madhuri being the powerless village girl sold into marriage and Shahrukh being the slave boy working in the stables, and then them going through equal troubles and finding equal strength.

      On Sat, Feb 17, 2018 at 1:56 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  5. I like that, about Madhuri being floating and free because we are seeing her through Shah Rukh’s eyes. It is too bad he is so broken, because he does seem to like the real her in a way that her husband doesn’t. Not a supportive husband as you point out.

    Great way to describe Koyla–and I think that gets at a lot of Shah Rukh’s appeal to me. Who is it who recently wrote about Shah Rukh embodying a new kind of masculinity? Koyla is totally a kick-ass action hero, but his motivation is not beating out the other dudes in a macho way, it’s about freeing Madhuri, and eventually all of the miners, from the bad guys. And, he works in partnership with his feminine counterpart rather than feeling ownership towards her and/or pushing her into a passive role.


  6. Pingback: All Shahrukh Reviews in One Place | dontcallitbollywood

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