Well, I am spending the day in bed, as promised in my post yesterday. Life is too difficult, and the world is too cold and rainy, best to stay under the blankets with Dog Hazel snoring in her big pink dog bed at my feet. And in that soothing easy mood, I will also right a soothing easy FanFic, based on the very first stories I learned and loved, fairy tales.
I actually took a class on fairy tales in college, so I know they didn’t start out as children’s stories. Well, some of them did, the later ones. But the earliest versions weren’t, they were just folk tales, adult stories that adults told each other (mostly while doing small hand labor, thus all those stories of tailors and cobblers, farmers didn’t have storytelling friendly professions). The Grimms were cultural researchers who talked to people and wrote down folk tales, a lot of them pretty darn dark. And then their folk tales book became very popular with children, so they revised it in later editions to make it more “family friendly”. On the other hand, you also had people like Hans Christian Anderson who were writing new stories for children that became popular all over the world (I don’t know why, his stories always depress me). And in France you had Charles Perrault going around writing very light and pretty stories, and Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Baumont writing Beauty and the Beast to teach little girls to love their ugly rich husbands.
But the basic structure of all these stories is based on folk tales that have striking similarities from all over the world. Which I know thanks to Andrew Lang, my favorite author when I was age 3-6. He was a Victorian era researcher on folktales and mythology who wrote (with his wife) the “color” series of books, starting with the Blue Fairy Book and going all the way to Lilac. And by the time you get to Lilac, there is a strong feeling of “wait, isn’t this Celtic story just the same as that French story, only with the animal changed from boar to something else?”
Anyway, if these fairy tales survived in all these different cultures, why not make them into Indian films? Is my point. Starting with my sister’s favorite:
The Twelve Dancing Princesses
This is my sister’s favorite because it is the only one in which the oldest sister gets the hero instead of the younger. Which is also what makes it such an interesting and remarkable fairy tale. And, I think, would make it an interesting and remarkable film, one in which the hero is old and tired and the heroine is mature and powerful. Here are the bare bones of the original story (at least, the variation I like best):
There is a king with 12 daughters. Every evening they go to bed and are locked in their room, and every morning they are found with their dancing shoes worn out next to their beds. Where do they go to dance all night and how? The king announces that anyone who solves this mystery will get to marry the daughter of his choice. Several princes try, and fail, never to be seen again. Until an old soldier comes to town, injured in the wars he can no longer fight and is looking for a way to survive. He is kind to an old woman who gives him an enchanted cloak, and so he is able to hide and watch what happens to the Prince before him, sees that the princesses drug that prince and then kidnap him away through a secret passage. The next night, he offers himself to the King and is put on a chair in their bed chamber like all the other princes. He pretends to drink the drugged wine and then pretends to be sleeping. But, once the princesses start to leave, he puts on the cloak and follows the youngest princess. He keeps stepping on the edge of her gown, she is nervous and tells her oldest sister that someone is there, but the oldest (the ringleader) tells her she is imagining it. The soldier sees that they go to an enchanted palace where they have kept all the previous princes in an enchanted state so they can dance with them all night, and then return home. The soldier pretends to still be asleep when they get back to the room. But later in the day, in the throne room, he reports everything to the king. The princesses are shaken, and the youngest one is scared, sure the soldier will pick her for his bride. But the soldier surprises them all, when the king offers, he says that he wants the oldest princess, since he is an old man, he wants a bride the same maturity as he. And so they are married.
You see why this is such an interesting fairy tale, right? The hero being an old tired soldier, and the heroine being the rebellious oldest ringleader of 12 sisters. And I also think it would make for a really interesting film adaptation.
(there’s also a Barbie animated movie version which looks surprisingly interesting and I kind of want to watch it)
Here’s the first thing that comes to my mind. Our hero is an old tired soldier, who after 20 years away in the army is now returned to the small Punjabi town where he grew up. To discover the town hasn’t changed at all, but he has. It all seems smaller now, the things that people accept as just “how it has always been”, like for instance girls not being expected to go to the village school, seem strange to him. But he also needs money, all his army pay went to his sister’s wedding and his grandmother’s medical bills, now he is home with his grandmother and looking for work. He hears that the local wealthy landowner is advertising for a new land manager, he has had a string of applicants come out from the city but none of them stayed more than a night, his grandmother encourages him to go apply.
He goes to the big old farmhouse where the landlord lives like a king, with his 6 daughters and 1 widowed daughter-in-law waiting on him hand and foot and his one granddaughter is ignored. His oldest son is dead (thus the need for a land manager), and his two younger sons are still studying in college. The landlord is dubious about hiring the soldier, but the soldier presses him about how he needs the job, and will be loyal because he grew up in the village, and finally the landlord decides to take him into his confidence.
(obviously I am thinking Shahrukh and Amitabh for these roles)
He thinks his daughters and daughter-in-law are bewitched. Every night they go to bed, and every morning their shoes are found covered in dirt. The first time the servant told him this, he ignored it, but then it happened again and again. He started locking them in their rooms to make sure they didn’t go out, and inspecting the shoes himself morning and night. The soldier suggests merely asking them, or else taking the shoes away. The landlord says that would reveal a weakness, that he doesn’t know what his women are doing, and he could never do that. No, he has to catch them at it, solve this mystery, and then make it appear as though he knew all along and punish them. And that is why he keeps bringing young men in from the city. The landlord is trapped in a wheelchair, he can’t investigate this himself, he needs someone he can trust. So far, none of the city young men have had a reasonable solution. They even offered to wait outside the door of the room all night, but each of them fell asleep.
The soldier goes home and thinks on this. And finally borrows his grandmother’s clothes. He returns to the household and tells the landlord to introduce him as an old relative who has come to spend the night and will naturally be given a room in the woman’s quarters. And so, he meets for the first time the daughters and daughter-in-law! The daughter-in-law seems suspicious immediately. She asks him a series of questions, in a very respectful way, but seems to doubt his answers. And in return, he comes up with a series if ridiculous excuses for not eating or drinking anything he is offered, clearly not trusting their food. It is a standoff, until the daughter-in-law tricks him into claiming to sleep poorly, and then follows it up by saying that he would naturally then want to sleep alone in a room separate from the other woman, and traps him there. The soldier can’t help but be impressed by her wit, but tries again the next night. This time he claims a terrible draft in the other room, and asks to sleep in with the other women. The other women (also suspecting he is a man) look shaken and embarrassed, but the daughter-in-law agrees.
The soldier spent the day learning more about these women. The 5 daughters grew up in the household, 3 of them are children of the landlord’s dead brother and sister-in-law, 2 are his. The 3 nieces are of marriageable age but he claims not to be satisfied with any proposals, when everyone knows he really just doesn’t want to pay a dowry for them. The 2 daughters of his own would be married by now, he is just waiting for them to turn 18 now that the marriage laws have changed. He plans to marry them off to a neighboring family as part of a land deal. The soldier learns part of this from one of the daughters, by stopping her by the village well and flirting a little bit. And the daughter-in-law, she came from a village nearby, he picked her for his son purely because of the large dowry that her family offered. Her husband used to beat her, she complained to her father-in-law and he did nothing. Until she got pregnant, when he told his son not to hurt her because she might be carrying his grandchild. The child was a daughter, her father-in-law refused to look at it and left the room, her husband started beating her and trying to kill the baby. She defended herself and he ended up falling on his own knife and dying. The family covered it up and has kept the daughter-in-law and child in their household for fear of the truth coming out. They can’t simply kill the daughter-in-law, because her family is powerful and would make a fuss. The soldier learns all this from his grandmother, who is also the town midwife.
(Obviously I am thinking Swara for the daughter-in-law)
And so that night, the soldier sleeps in their room and starts to fade into unconsciousness. He forces himself to stay awake, and realizes that even though he was careful not to eat or drink anything, he let the daughter-in-law put lotion on his hands (partly because he was enjoying flirting with her and distracted by the touch of her hands) and it must have a contact drug in it. He pushes through and follows the women. The sneak out of the room by unlocking the door from the inside, having hidden a duplicate key. They go out through the kitchens and the back of the house, not waking anyone, and then cross the fields. Our hero follows them using his army training to remain invisible. And finally they reach their destination….the village school. The daughter-in-law is using the schoolrooms at night to teach the woman of the landlords house, and women from all over the village. Some of them are learning to read, others are more advanced and are learning the geography of India, Indian history, how to speak English, how to use a computer, all kinds of things. The soldier holds back and watches and thinks.
The next day, he goes to the house again, dressed like himself and not in disguise. He tells the landlord that he needs to speak to his daughter-in-law once, in private, before he can solve the mystery. The landlord objects because it would be unseemly, the soldier holds firm, says that he can explain everything after one conversation with her. The daughter-in-law is called down to the room, and she and the soldier are left alone. She knows the jig is up, and asks him to at least listen to her story before making his decision. Every other man the landlord, she was able to pay off and send away, they were outsiders and desperate to get away from this tiny village anyway, but she knows he lives in this village and his family is here, he will be harder to convince. But he is also an honorable man, he might take pity on her.
Flashback!!!! She was a strong beloved daughter of an educated man. From a village like this one, but slightly larger, and her family had taken the lead in educating the women of their village and setting an example of female freedom. She had gone all the way through school and become the chemistry teacher. Everything was wonderful, and then a new male teacher was hired. He was charming and kind and sensitive, and they fell in love. And she became pregnant. Her mother found out and was furious, so was her father, but she was sure her lover would stand by her. But no, her father revealed, he had him investigated and HE WAS ALREADY MARRIED. With a wife and child waiting for him back in the city, that is where he went on his school vacations. She was humiliated and lost faith in her own judgement, the only thing she was sure of was that she wanted to keep this pregnancy. And so she went along with the plan her family came up with. They couldn’t risk the shame of her being unmarried and pregnant, and more than that, they couldn’t risk the example it would set for the village, that this is what happens when you give your daughter education and freedom. And so they decided to marry her far away, offer a large dowry and send her off as soon as possible. The only offer they could find was from the landlord, he was blinded by the dowry and didn’t question the reason for the urgency. She arrived in this household and found it a nightmare. Thank goodness she was already pregnant, and had a background in chemistry. She drugged her husband on their wedding night to prevent being raped, and pretended the next morning that they had had sex and she was already pregnant. Luckily there weren’t any older women in the household who could have explained that it would be impossible for her to know so soon. Or that she could continue having sex during the pregnancy, the other lie she told which the midwife went along with (not her first time hearing that lie). She planned to give birth, give her child a decent name, and then leave. It wasn’t that bad here so long as she was pregnant, her husband didn’t touch her and her father-in-law wasn’t too horrible. But then she had the child and her husband tried to kill it for being a girl and she killed him instead. She told everyone else he had fallen on his knife, but she had stabbed him. And the midwife and her sisters-in-law all witnessed it and all agreed with her version of the story. She had planned to return to her family once the baby was born, but she couldn’t. These women had risked everything to help her many times over, she had to help them. And so she stayed and every night she ran the village school. It had gone on for 3 years, her father-in-law only got suspicious 6 months ago. The first few men he brought in, she had paid off with his own money, using her position as first daughter-in-law to raid the household cash stash. But she didn’t want to insult the soldier by offering money, all she could do was tell the story and ask him to believe her.
(I’m thinking Ayushmann for The Impregnator. That particularly kind of jerky, which starts as really sweet and harmless)
The soldier doesn’t respond, just leaves the room and asks to talk to the landlord again. He tells the landlord that he can solve the problem and explain what was happening, but first he wants to ask a boon. The landlord agrees. The women are all called in, and the landlord informs them that the soldier has asked to marry one of them. The younger daughter prepares herself, sure it will be her because she comes with the dowry and is young and pretty and he already flirted with her. But he surprises them all by saying that he wants to marry the widowed daughter-in-law. Everyone is shocked, the landlord refuses immediately because of the shame it would bring his family for a widow to remarry. But the soldier suggests first he hears the true reason the women were sneaking out and then decide. The daughter-in-law braces herself, sure he will tell the truth and blow up their plans in a well-meaning way, trying to “rescue” her by marrying her. But instead, the soldier tells the landlord that it all goes back to his son’s death. His daughter-in-law has never recovered from her grief, she and the other women have been sneaking out building a memorial in the fields for him. They were planning to unveil it on this years death anniversary. The landlord is touched, calls the daughter-in-law “daughter” and blesses her, and tells her not to continue this senseless grief but to move on with her life, marry the soldier. And to help them get a start in life, he will give them some of his fields.
HAPPY ENDING!!!! Soldier and daughter-in-law marry and move in with his grandmother the midwife. Daughter-in-law starts helping the grandmother, and offering useful drugs that might make life easier around the house for the women, and the night school continues. The older daughter/nieces of the landlord’s house become co-teachers as time goes on, and the younger daughters go off to their marriages with bags stuffed with drugs (sleeping, poison, morning after, etc.), just in case.
Okay, that somehow turned out super long. Sorry! Guessing there isn’t much overlap between people obsessed with semi-obscure European fairy tales and Shahrukh Khan. But I don’t care, I’m curled up in bed on a rainy day and Shahrukh and fairy tales are my comfort food. I may even write a second one later today!