Happy Friday! I just rapid re-released all my Sanjay posts, I’m driving to work so I can zip home, walk Dog Hazel and then zip out again to catch the Sanju release at the earliest possible show. Busy times! But first I want to take a moment to remember a completely different kind of film that I still think is Ranbir’s best performance.
The thing about Ranbir is, he is big on gimmicks. He wears a turban in Rocket Singh, he stutters in Jagga Jasoos, and of course he does the elaborate series of make-up changes and so on for Sanju. But what’s frustrating is, he doesn’t need the gimmicks. In a straight performance, he can be wonderful if he lets himself. If he is willing to open up and be real onscreen.
Wake Up Sid is the first time he was really real. There were glimpses of it earlier, little moments of sincere subtle emotion in his earlier films, like when he says good-bye to Manisha Lamba in Bachne Ae Haseeno, but this is the first film where it feels like he is just being real straight through.
A lot of it is because Ayan Mukherjee is directing. Ayan and Ranbir have something special, the closer than friends, or brothers, like two parts of the same person, forever joined. Ayan wrote his dream film, and Ranbir inhabited it perfectly. Wake Up Sid does not feel like Ranbir’s first major serious role, or like Ayan’s first film, the two of them together elevated to something new.
Oh, and also Konkona is there. She is something special, able to play strong and vulnerable, to make mistakes and hurt people and still keep you liking her. Not a perfect woman or a perfect heroine, but one who is more good than bad, like most people are. More “awake” and more grown up than Ranbir’s hero, but still with a ways to go in her own journey. And needing Ranbir, just a little, the same way he needs her. Turns out, Konkona was in a bit of a hurry to grow up and wasn’t ready yet, needed Ranbir to slow her down, the same way he needed her to speed him up.
What I find really fascinating about this movie is that it is Ayan and Ranbir coming together perfectly to tell a story that is NOTHING LIKE THEIR STORIES!!!!! It seems as though it is, an upper class boy who was a little lost and then found himself by finding an art he loves and can dedicate himself too, even if his family doesn’t understand and it means giving up the family business. You would think that a sensitive upperclass actor and a sensitive upperclass writer/director would be just telling their own life story like this. But, NOPE! Ranbir and Ayan joined the family business like anyone else, no rebellion at all, it just happens that their family business is film. It has nothing to do with what we see onscreen, but Wake Up Sid has become such a part of the Ranbir mystique, as though this really was his journey, I like to remember before watching it that he wasn’t the kid who fought with his father and gave up everything to be an artist, he is the kid who obediently said “yes Dad, yes Dad, yes Dad” and joined the family business.
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Ranbir is your standard lost college student rich kid. His father, Anupam Kher, is patiently waiting for him to grow up and start at the family business, and Ranbir keeps avoiding it, borrowing money from his mother, bumming around with his college friends (Shikha Talsania!), and putting off adulthood. And in the course of bumming around, he bumps in to Konkona who is at a boring party at the same place he and his friends are having a fun party. Konkona is older than he is, mature and interesting, but also open and curious. They become friends as sort of a new experience for both of them. Ranbir likes getting to know this young woman who is excited about her career (just hired as a writer for a Bombay magazine) and bravely starting life all on her own. And Konkona is interested in this boy who seems always happy and adventurous and confident.
They also need each other a little bit. Konkona just moved to Bombay from Calcutta and knows no one and nothing. She can’t even find an apartment on her own. Ranbir cheerfully jumps in to help out and asks for nothing in return. He helps her find a place and then brings in his friends as a work crew to paint it and decorate it, and scrounge up furniture for her. Ranbir, on the other hand, is ducking his father at home and needs a project to distract himself, helping Konkona get settled is perfect.
Al of that is just the start, the movie and the relationship really starts changing when Ranbir tries to work for his father and just can’t do it, there is a big fight, and he is thrown out of the house and moves in with Konkona. Reading the simple plot description, it sounds odd, why would she let him do that? Why would he move in with her instead of going somewhere else? But watching the film unfold, it makes perfect sense.
Konkona is free, Konkona is independent, the only person he knows like that. And her apartment is already, sort of, Ranbir’s apartment. He found it, he decorated it, he did all the work. She can’t really turn him away when he comes to her needing a place to stay. And he isn’t exactly living off of her or asking for charity, he earned a space in her home, at least for a little while.
Most of all, and this is something that came up in our Wednesday discussion as a trope to be hated, it isn’t love at first sight. It’s like at first sight, or “you are an interesting person I want to be my friend” at first sight. If Ranbir hadn’t been thrown out and ended up living with Konkona, they might have stayed casual friends and nothing more. At the moment when he moves in with her, romance is far out of sight for both of them, it is merely a favor for a friend who had done lots of favors for her.
This is one of those rare movies that actually puts in the time to show the couple growing towards each other. Not just falling in love, but becoming the kind of people who could love each other. Konkona helps Ranbir get a job at her magazine, as a photography intern, and he loves it, he enjoys the work and is ambitious and fulfilled by it. And it moves to other parts of his life, he keeps the apartment tidy, he thoughtfully makes her a “cake” out of bread and jam on her birthday, he even does the laundry. He grows up, goes from the never thinking never planning never responsible college boy she just met, to someone she could actually picture herself with, another working professional with his own life.
And Ranbir helps Konkona. Her journey is much less explicit, but is still there. She came to Bombay from Calcutta thinking she had to be a “grown up” now. Thinking her life was set and settled. And she discovered that her writing had lost its edge, that her relationship with her mature responsible editor was boring, that she wasn’t ready to grow up that much, that she had to rediscover her adventurous side and her youth and everything else. Ranbir is the one that brings that out in her, he makes her go from “I’m too grown up to acknowledge my birthday” to laughing and smiling at a bread and jam cake. And he makes her angry enough to have a big fight over something as simple as washing her favorite sleep shirt. And he makes her discover that she is happy hanging out with him and his goofy friends than going to a fancy jazz club with a thoughtful mature boyfriend who wants to teach her about “culture”.
This is one of those wonderful movies where at the start of it, you cannot picture the two leads together at all. And they can’t picture themselves as a couple. But as the film moves on, as they go on their respective journeys of self-discovery, slowly you can’t picture them NOT together. The little one room apartment becomes a haven for personal growth, each of them moving in their own directions that, eventually, meet in the middle.
And when we get to our totally cheesy and romantic and melodramatic ending, Konkona writing an article in her magazine begging for him to meet her at their special place, it feels earned. This isn’t a couple that is in love because the script told them to be in love, it is one that has come together after struggle and fights and trial and error and really belongs together.
Oh, also, the songs are amazing. Shanker-Ehsaan-Loy music with Javed Akhtar lyrics, you can’t get better than that.