Lamhe: Sridevi’s Most Brilliant and Most Famous Performance

Lamhe is where Sridevi showed she could play mother and daughter, lover and friend, woman and girl, all in the same picture.  Truly, no other actress could have pulled off this feat. (full index of Sridevi films I have covered here)

Yash Chopra is so good!  Even in Aaina, one of his weaker films, his brilliance stood out.  And then Darr was just fantastic.  But I honestly think Lamhe might be his greatest triumph.

(if you like Sridevi movies, I also did a post on English/Vinglish and Chandni went up today)

Lamhe!  This movie is so good, and so subtle, and brilliant, and no one appreciated it when it came out.  It was also the first movie Aditya Chopra worked on. I’ve heard rumors that he may have had a large hand in directing it (just like those rumors that Yashji helped him with DDLJ).  Adi was on vacation from college during filming and helped his Dad with everything.  And then it came out and flopped, and it broke his heart.

Supposedly he watched it over and over again in the editing bay and finally decided that it would have worked if they cut the scenes with Sridevi as a little girl, because it slowed down the film and gave it the creepy incest vibe (since she was idealizing Anil since she was a little girl).  He wanted his Dad to re-cut and re-release the film, but Yashji told him, basically, “that’s how it goes sometimes, no take-backs.”  And then in years since, it has become a cult classic on TV and VHS and now DVD and bluray.

(Although, then we would have missed out on some luminous Waheeda Rahman time)

Even if Adi was strongly involved, it is still distinctively a Yash Chopra film in a whole bunch of ways.  One of my favorite things about him is how strong his heroines are.  He never gets credit for that, he’s not considered, like, big on “women’s issues”, but I think actresses get it, because there is always a huge rush when he is casting to be a “Yash Chopra heroine.”  Like in this, both Sridevi’s were so strong and complex and clear on what they wanted.  And Sridevi got to show her chops by playing such different roles.  It’s really her movie.  Just like Dil To Pagal Hai belongs to Madhuri and Karisma more than Shahrukh, and Jab Tak would belong to Kat and Anushka if Kat were a better actress.  You don’t have to do a movie about spousal abuse or forced marriage or something to show strong women, just showing these woman could survive with or without a man and want to choose their own path in life, that’s something.

Speaking of Jab Tak, I feel like the two heroines and the two love stories in that are supposed to be saying the same thing Yashji had been saying over and over again in his entire career, that love has to be both passionate and reasoned.  And some relationships will fail, while others succeed, depending on the people and the circumstances.

In his prime, Yashji would have had some growth and change built into the Kat-SRK relationship in Jab Tak.  Something like, maybe she actually did marry someone else and was happy with him and became a mother, and then years later he died and she went back to her first love.  That would have a kind of beauty to it.  Or maybe she married someone else and managed to be happy with him, and years later SRK meets her again and resolves his feelings for her, and that lets him move on with Akira.  Or even just more clearly showing that they were too immature and inexperienced to be married at the beginning of the film, but after ten years they had suffered and grown and could be together, kind of like Love Aaj Kal.  It feels like he was trying to say something like that with the last scene, and with the Rishi/Neetu cameo, about how love has to wait for its time.  Only I just didn’t get that from the way it was structured.  And 20 years earlier, in his prime, that is the kind of story Yashji knocked out of the park!

Actually, he did do it back in the 70s with Kabhi Kabhi.  Ridiculously awesome movie with a million love stories and chase scenes and explosions and stuff, but tucked into the heart of it is that a young couple was passionately in love in college, broke up when her parents arranged her marriage, and now 20 years later they come face to face.  And the hero of it all ends up being her arranged husband who never knew any of this, and when he finds out, says basically “you know, I don’t care!  Maybe you will always be her first love, but I’ve been married to her for 20 years, and raised a son with her, and that’s more important than any college love story.”

(Who’d have thought this marriage would work out?)

Lamhe came out about 10 years after Kabhi Kabhi and over 20 years before Jab Tak, and it may not have gotten the kind of audience appreciation it deserved when it was released, but I think it is possibly his best film.  At least, one of his best.  Up there with Silsila and Deewar (although Deewar is much more an Amitabh and Salim-Javed movie than a Yash Chopra movie).  By the time he made Lamhe, Yashji was no longer worried about appealing to a broad audience, or exploring “big issues”, he just wanted to tell a story that interested in him in an interesting way.

Which brings me to SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Lamhe unfolds in such an interesting fashion.  I don’t want to say their are twists, really, more just slight turns in the road, as characters go to places you don’t necessarily expect them to end up.  Anyway, don’t read this if you haven’t watched the movie yet, because it is kind of fun to see how everything plays out!  But, if you have seen it, or are one of those people (like myself) who enjoys knowing where something is going as they travel along, then here is a brief synopsis:

Anil Kapoor is a wealthy young orphan, raised in London by his devoted nanny.  He travels back to the ancestral land in Rajastan as a teenager (just come of age, so either 18 or 21, but it feels more like 18).  He meets the girl next door, from the only family of equal standing in the area, Sridevi.  She is considerably older than him, perhaps 25 or even 30, and unmarried.  She treats him kindly, her father approves of him, and Anil spends a lot of time with Sridevi, and falls in love with her.  But, before he can speak his love, her father dies.  Her evil relatives come in to take possession of her house, and Anil finally, truly, “comes of age” when he takes charge and arranges things and protects her, like a real lord of the manor and leader of the area.  His nanny is proud of him.

But, he also finds out that Sridevi is in love with someone else.  The whole time he thought she cared for him, she was just being nice to a lonely little boy.  She is in love with an air force pilot, has been for years, and but her father objected.  So she and her lover were just patiently waiting for the situation to change so they could be married.  That sadness and sweetness Anil sensed in her was not love waiting to blossom, but love that had already blossomed and was now lying (laying?) fallow.

Anil decides to arrange her marriage, his final duty as the new head of the household and lord of the area, and then return to London and try to forget.  Sridevi is ecstatically happy with her new husband, but keeps Anil in her thoughts, making sure to write him and stay in touch.  And, because she stays close to Anil, and because her father is dead and her evil relatives have taken her house, and her husband is an orphan (the original reason her father objected to their marriage), when they are in a horrible accident, Anil is given responsibility for Sridevi and her unborn child.  And then when Sridevi dies in childbirth, he blames the baby.

Not like he is mean to it!  He gives Sridevi II (the baby) a wonderful childhood, raised by the same nanny who raised him, living in luxury in his palace in Rajasthan, he sends her gifts for every birthday and pays attention to her development, he just never lets himself meet her, or soften towards her in anyway.  Until, finally, she is 18 and he meets her for the first time, to see that she looks exactly like Sridevi I.

But with key differences that are all to do with the brilliance of Sridevi as an actress, and how Yash Chopra supported it in his costume and set choices.  Sridevi I always moved very calmly, slowly, with small smiles and delicate laughs.  Sridevi II is brash and impetous, leaping around and warm and open in her smiles and laughter.  Sridevi I wore saris and traditional make-up and jewelry.  Sridevi II is very western, big permed hair, modern make-up, no saris.

(Until she falls in love, and cheerfully tries out the traditional look for the first time to please Anil)

And that is the plot of the second half of the movie, Anil slowly making peace with moving on from Sridevi I, and understanding that his love for Sridevi II is completely different.  While the two women may look the same, that is all they have in common.  It’s something everyone else sees before Anil.  His nanny first of all, who raised Sridevi II and understands her, and sees that she is falling for Anil before she sees it herself.  Anupum Kehr, Anil’s best friend who has been with him since he lost Sridevi II.  And, most interestingly, Anil’s new girlfriend.  Who is a lovely kind and classy woman, and who gently breaks their engagement and tells him he is in love with Sridevi II, even if he doesn’t see it.  Again, Yash Chopra has the best female characters!  Not in a big showy way, but in a quietly giving them their own motivation.

Another thing Yash Chopra always does is use a chronology that one of my friends described as making “emotional sense” rather than actually making sense on a calendar.  So like in this, it feels like Anil spends a ton of time in Rajasthan, and then in almost no time after her marriage, Sridevi I is dead.  And on a calendar, it really only makes sense to be a couple months at most in Rajasthan, and then at least a year if not longer that she is married.  But emotionally, the time spent falling in love with Sridevi and getting to know his ancestral mansion would feel so much longer than the time spent in cold barren London trying to get over her, so that is how the sequences are edited, and it makes total sense to the viewer.

And then it is also yet another Yash Chopra love triangle film.  He excels at these, and it is always the reasonable, mature love based on mutual interests, versus the passionate youthful love at first sight.  What’s interesting is, he has a different ending movie to movie.  In Silsila, he shows how the passionate love can be ultimately shallow and fade, but the love based on a shared life can deepen into a much stronger bond.  And then in Chandni, he does the reverse, shows how the sensible mutual respect based love is ultimately much weaker than a passionate first love.  I don’t think he keeps changing his mind about love film to film, I think it is that he is showing how, depending the particular personality of the characters he is showing and the way their love evolved, either answer could be correct.

In Lamhe, what I love is that he keeps mixing and matching the couples between passionate first love and reasoned older love.  If you re-watch the first half, knowing that Sridevi I is nursing a broken heart and already completely committed to someone, it works perfectly.  She is compassionate and kind toward Anil, but in the manner of a young married woman being kind to a young boy, not like a single woman flirting with him, which is how he takes it.  Clearly, her love for her fiance began as a passionate kind of love that would lead her to go against her father’s wishes, but by this point it has become just a quiet understanding in the background of her life.

Meanwhile, Anil falls into passionate puppy love with her, the kind that will burn out eventually.  That’s why she tells her husband that she doesn’t want to cut off contact, that it is better to stay in touch and let their relationship change naturally as the puppy love wears off.  And then years later, Sridevi II falls into that same kind of passionate love with Anil, only in her case it doesn’t go away after more contact, and, like her mother, she ends up maturing from this first love feeling into heartbreak and commitment.  But then the fascinating thing is, old Anil isn’t capable of that sort of crazy young love any more.  So while Sridevi is completely in love with him very quickly, he has more of a slow coming to care for her kind of journey.  Until they finally meet in the middle in the last scenes of the film.

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4 thoughts on “Lamhe: Sridevi’s Most Brilliant and Most Famous Performance

  1. Sridevi is such a scene stealer.But the distinction between the two characters felt much more realistic in Sharmila Tagore’s Mausam. It could be because Sharmila 1 is a nice sweet village girl while her daughter Sharmila 2 is a prostitute who can barely speak without cursing.Maybe it is because Sridevi 1 and 2 had a similar upbringing -upperclass, Rajasthan.Yash Chopra’s approach is very ‘filmi’ and dramatic while Gulzar’s is much more rooted in reality and less dramatic/exciting.

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    • For me, that’s part of what makes this performance remarkable. The two characters are so very similar in almost every way, but Sridevi manages to show their small differences in such a way that the two roles feel distinct.

      On Sun, Feb 25, 2018 at 4:27 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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