I’m back! At long last! The last section kind of broke the pattern, turned into a long deep character study of Amrish Puri, so I needed a little break.
The last section was the last, and biggest, song of the film. “Mehndi Laga Ke Rakna”, which starts as a secret dialogue between Kajol and Shahrukh and then turns into a general glorious celebration of male and female coming together. Before the epilogue, Amrish Puri singing and being joyful and youthful with his wife Farida Jalal.
The epilogue isn’t fully separated from the rest of the song. The song is about Shahrukh bringing in joy and freedom and fearlessness in breaking boundaries. And it is about the joyful celebration of a marriage, the culmination of a father’s responsibilities. Amrish Puri is there, watching all this joyfulness, and fearlessness, and also feeling the final relief of having successfully brought his daughter through her engagement, all his fears of her being corrupted by the West, changing into something he can’t understand, his own hidden fears of having lost touch with his Indian roots, have been ended. This marriage will resolve all of that. And so Amrish dances, finally returning to the youth who was in love and carefree and happy in the Punjab.
And the next morning, that freedom and joy is still there. For both Shahrukh and Amrish. Starting with the wide open skies and the image of Shahrukh dashing freely through the fields.
This is perhaps Shahrukh’s most “boyish” scene. He doesn’t come off as a dangerous bad boy, or a noble innocent, he comes off as a cute little baby here, running through the fields and trying to tuck in his dhoti at the same time. It’s adorable! Like a little 3-year-old.
And he’s confused and perplexed like a 3-year-old too. He doesn’t understand what the “adults” are doing, he’s squinting and trying to catch up instead of in control. When Adi offered him this role, he famously promised to make him every woman’s dream lover and dream son. This is the “dream son” moment. He’s just so cute! You want to pat him on top of his little head!
Still cute! In control Shahrukh would react with a crooked smile to having his plans changed. Manly Shahrukh would get angry. But cute little boy Shahrukh just puts his hands on his kicks and makes a “well goll darn it” face.
And there’s Amrish. Already, even at this distance, we can see how he is slightly more relaxed into the landscape, how much good that breakthrough of the night before did for him. The flowers are in front of him now, the shawl is blowing in the wind, his back is slightly bent.
Shahrukh gives him a greeting, an overly friendly smile and bow, which is clearly both a greeting and a little joking acknowledgement that Amrish beat him that morning.
And Amrish gets it! He doesn’t respond with a perplexed inability to relate, he understands the message Shahrukh is sending, and smiles in response, enjoying his own part in the little game.
Shahrukh doesn’t know what to make of this. He was ready for stern predictable Amrish, and here he has this smiling relaxed guy, this guy who is joining in the joke a bit. It’s delightful for the audience, humanizing both characters, making Shahrukh a little less perfect and always knowing what is happening, at the same time it makes Amrish have a bit of human pride and joy.
And then they both stand together. And just in their standing, they are ever so slightly more together than they were before, more aligned to each other.
I wonder how much of this scene was scripted and how much improvised? Even if it was all scripted, the way they are standing and their faces are so perfect, they are clearly playing off of each other. It’s a little thing I hadn’t noticed before, but it’s an added joy to this scene, the two characters having fun with each other, and on another level, the two actors enjoying each other’s skill too.
Amrish is smiling hear, happy with the compliment. It’s not the first time he has smiled in the film, but it’s the first time he has smiled not related to control. That is, smiled because he is happy within himself instead of happy with the situation he has created. He isn’t smiling because his daughter is obeying him, or because his family is being respectable, he is smiling because he is remembering something that was purely happy, something he enjoyed just for enjoying it.
And it’s a different kind of smile. Not a big proud obvious one, but just a small happy face. Shahrukh is the one struggling now, he is still trying to fit within a certain dynamic. He is smiling not because he is truly happy, but because he is trying to ingratiate himself.
And then he goes a step further, encouraged by Amrish’s smile, reaching out to brush off his shoulder. And this is the moment that I realized this is a strange kind of seduction. It’s a parallel with the SRKajol relationship in the first half. He is pushy and talky, his target is unresponsive. And every time he manages to make a small step forward, he pushes further.
There’s another kind of funny thing to it. Traditionally, the father-in-law would (in some ways) “woo” the daughter-in-law. Pick her out, charm her, make her happy to join the family, and then present her with his son. Shahrukh is flipping that, instead of the father of the son wooing a girl on his behalf, Shahrukh is wooing the father of the daughter.
He knows he made a mistake and should back off. But he can’t. Partly because of the time crunch, but also because that is just who he is, the guy who pushes things. So he takes a moment to regroup and then comes back with another gambit.
There is an improvement, Shahrukh has his stupid small talk here, but Amrish is following it. He looks down and considers what this crazy man is saying.
But then Shahrukh blows it again by getting too close. I love this scene because we, the audience, can so clearly understand the two of them while they can’t understand each other. Amrish is thinking “who is this strange young man that keeps talking to me? He is weird and off-putting and I am trying to be polite, but it is hard.” And Shahrukh is thinking “Why won’t he break???? I will just push harder because I have to make him like me!”
When Amrish gives him a look, for babbling and moving too close, Shahrukh gets the message and backs off. And the audience is on Amrish’s side! Shahrukh is, seemingly, incapable of reading social cues. Any normal person would see that Amrish doesn’t want company in the first place and certainly doesn’t want chatty company. Why won’t he just leave him alone?
And then Shahrukh’s closing, which shows his ultimate unawareness, that it is “same as yesterday”. Because, it isn’t!
Shahrukh may think it is the same, but we can see that Amrish has changed, is different on the inside now, is happier and more open.
Shahrukh is the one who is the same. Giving up just like he did the day before.
And, just like the day before, he gives up and starts eating the bird food. A joke so clever that Adi wants to make sure we see it, and goes in for close up.