Okay, prepare yourself for a very very deep cut. This is my absolute favorite LM Montgomery short story. So, not an “Anne” book, and not one of her other lessor series either. And not even from the first short story collection Chronicles of Avonlea, but aaaaallllll the way in Further Chronicles of Avonlea. But it’s SO GOOD!!!! How can I resist I remake? And it is just crying out for Shahrukh.
Original story “The Materializing of Cecil” (you can read it here):
Charlotte Holmes is a sweet spinster who lives at home with her old maid servant. But on her fortieth birthday it suddenly hits her that she has never had a romance, that she may feel young at heart but no one sees her that way. At a party later she overhears the other women talking about how it is strange someone so pretty never even had a beau. And she suddenly gives into impulse and invents a romance, from the only summer she ever spent away from the village, she claims she had a romance with a young lawyer, but they fought and she never saw him again. And she randomly makes up a name based on an advertisement she sees in the paper.
Only, it all goes wrong when her “Cecil” suddenly appears! The enthusiastic young women of the town are all excited to tell her that a distant cousin has come to visit, he is the right age and just as tall and dark and handsome as she described, and he has just retired after a successful legal career. And of course they have already dropped hints about an “old friend” who lives in the area.
Charlotte is humiliated and doesn’t know what to do, avoids meeting Cecil as long as possible, but then he comes to find her, her maid tells her that he showed up looking very angry. Charlotte pulls herself together and digs up the newspaper advertisement to prove it was all a coincidence and goes downstairs to find a very angry man who immediately stops being angry and apologizes, explains there must have been some mistake because he heard stories about a bitter old maid spreading gossip about him, but then she is so pretty and young, surely it wasn’t her. And Charlotte has to admit that it actually was her, but they end up having such a good time he implies perhaps a romance between them won’t turn out to be a lie after all.
And that’s the end, because it is just a short story. But obviously in my movie version I will have to go on much much longer. And, doy, the older but still dashingly handsome man who is very angry and then suddenly not angry when he is stunned by mature beauty, HAS to be Shahrukh.
Our heroine is Tabu. A wealthy Delhi type, she stayed home to take care of her parents while her sister married and her brother went overseas. Now she lives in the old Delhi flat with Kirron Kher, her maid/friend/honorary aunty. And runs a small boutique where she sells traditional textile work. Her friend group is her old friends from childhood and her parents’ friends. Her life feels full.
(This kind of Tabu. Gorgeous elegant mature)
Until on her 40th birthday, it suddenly feels empty. Kirron makes a big fuss and brings her the special birthday cake she has made every year since Tabu was a little kid. And then she goes to work and overhears two young costumers making fun of her for still wearing her hair down and long even though she is so “old”. She tries to smile past it, and her nice gay co-worker/assistant looks at her sympathetically, but it clearly still hurts. And then that night she goes to a party, a reunion of her old school friends because one of them has just returned from American with her daughter to start planning her daughter’s wedding.
It’s nice, everyone is laughing and teasing and remembering old stories about adventures they had in college. And then Tabu leaves the room, and then turns back to get her purse and overhears the daughter asking if Tabu Aunty ever had a boyfriend like the rest of them and hears them saying “Poor Tabu. Somehow it never happened for her. I heard her parents never even got a proposal for her. I guess some woman just aren’t made for romance.” Tabu flinches, and the daughter looks up and sees her listening but no one else does. She comes into the room and carries off that she has suddenly remembered something back home and takes her leave, but the daughter follows her and says something about “so sorry, we shouldn’t have been talking that way, I only asked because you are so pretty it seems like you must have had a love story”. And Tabu, in a moment of madness, says “I did! I took a semester off college to go stay with my aunt in Kashmir and I fell in love with [looking at the bookshelf and see a book by Sahir Ludhianwi and Kushwant Singh] Sahir Singh.” The daughter is surprised, “Sahir Singh? A Muslim named Sikh?” Tabu says “yes!” and then hurries out before the daughter can ask more questions.
Tabu goes home, rushes past Kirron and says she doesn’t want any dinner, and then goes into her room and cries. And then the next day, she is back to normal at the shop, smiling at customers and talking to salesman, when she see’s her friend’s daughter (let’s say Kriti Sonam) walk in. She is surprised, asks if she is hear for wedding purchases or what, and Kriti asks to speak to her privately. Tabu agrees, and then Kriti seeming very intense, asks if Tabu could please tell the rest of her love story. Kriti has a very very important reason that she absolutely MUST know it!!!!
So Tabu step by step ends up inventing her love story. She fell in love with a man whose mother was Muslim and his father was Sikh, thus the name. He was studying at an Amritsar university but had fallen ill through over work and been sent home to recover. He first saw her in the market place and fell in love with the back of her head and her flowing hair before he ever saw her face, that’s why Tabu still wears her hair down now. He followed her home and sent her love notes every day through the vegetable seller until she agreed to meet him. They walked the hills together and were terribly terribly in love. But then her parents ordered her home. And she knew they would never accept this romance. So she said good-bye to him and he was very angry, since she was too cowardly to run away. He swore he would marry someone else and forget her, and she accepted that, but she swore in her heart to never marry anyone else. We get a whole flashback of this, complete with song, but the man’s face never shown. And Tabu playing herself with no effort made to make her look younger so it is clearly mature Tabu placing herself in this fantasy, not an actual flashback. And that’s why she is still single and never got any proposals, because she CHOSE to be single, no matter what all the gossips think.
(Maybe it’s this kind of song? Where we see the whole story in song? Ending with Tabu lonely and alone? Instead of just a boring monologue)
Kriti is enraptured. And in tears. And Tabu is kind of proud of herself with having pulled off the perfect story. But then it all goes wrong because Kriti declares “yes! Now I know what true love is! Now I understand! Rather than lead an empty tragic life like yours, I am going to end this engagement and write my college boyfriend to come for me from America!” Tabu is a bit thrown and tries to give gentle advice about listening to her parents and not upsetting all the plans they have already made, but Kriti is determined and runs out the door before Tabu can say anything else.
Tabu paces in the office, pulls out her phone and considers calling her friend, then stops because she doesn’t know what she would say. And then she starts getting group texts, shocking news! The engagement is canceled! The boys family is furious! The hall won’t give back the deposit! No one knows why! This is the biggest scandal in years! Tabu feels terribly guilty. The texts keep coming all through her ride home from work and then her lonely dinner while Kirron looks worried at her. Until finally she is getting ready for bed and there is a pounding on the door. Kirron tells her not to open it, but Tabu grabs an old candlestick and carefully pulls it open…. to reveal Kriti! Cheerfully announcing that her mother has thrown her out and she has no where else to go, but she knows Tabu will take her in because she also understands True Love and parental objections. Kirron goes “WHAT????” and Tabu shushes her and takes Kriti in and listens to her tell her story while she secretly texts her mother that she is here.
Kriti tells her own story. She was in college in America, there was this boy who was always making a fuss in class and clowning around, and outrageously flirting and asking for her number. She ignored him, of course. But then one day the teacher asked for their midterm papers, and she had forgotten the assignment! She was in a panic, looking through her notes, trying to find out how she missed something so important, and then suddenly a paper was slide onto her desk with her name written on top. Before she could react, the teacher pulled it off and said “thank you”, and she turned to see the class clown smiling and nodding his head. She rushed up to thank him after class, he said it was no big deal. He was probably going to flunk out of that class anyway, might as well give her his last paper and make it mean something. She insisted on at least taking him for a coffee to thank him. And slowly they got to know each other. He was the first person in his family to go to college, his older brother who he lived with owned a garage. All he wants is to work in the garage too and take it over one day, but his brother wants him to go to college. So he is taking college as a fun time and just waiting until his brother gives up and lets him go to work instead. Kriti is fascinated, never having met someone like this before. He (let’s say Varun Dhawan) takes her to the Indian neighborhood of the city and introduces her to his wide group of friends who are all out there in the world working and doing things, and Kriti’s boring life of wealth and high culture suddenly seems empty. Until the day Varun casually tells her that he won’t be coming to class any more, his brother has finally given in and is letting him drop out of college and go to work. So he guesses this is goodbye. Kriti is heartbroken, can’t stop thinking about him, finally goes to the garage to try to find him, only to learn that he and his brother are off making arrangements for “the wedding”. She cries and cries and then, when her mother suggested going to India and marrying a nice boy from a good family, she agreed. But after hearing Tabu’s story, she knows she will never be happy with anyone else. She is going to track Varun down and confess her love and see what happens.
(I thought they had really good chemistry in Dilwale and I want more of it!)
Tabu is touched by this story and the faith Kriti has in her, so that when her old friend/Kriti’s mother shows up, Tabu stops her from taking Kriti away. Declares that Kriti will stay here as long as she wishes, she just wanted to inform her mother so she wouldn’t worry. But Kriti will always have a home at Tabu’s house.
And now, a happy time! Tabu’s life gets a bit turned upside down, but in a good way. Kriti tries to give her a make-over, which Tabu resists and returns to her classy linens look. But she does like Kriti teach her to dance, and take her to get street food, and see a movie in the back benches instead of the stalls, and just generally opens up her life. And at the same time, Tabu gives Kriti emotional support and she hits dead end after dead end in trying to contact Varun. His cell is turned off, no one answers at the garage, she’s trying all his friends but it is hard to reach them.
(Song kind of like this, Tabu is surprised by how happy and new it is just to have Kriti being young around the house)
But then, Kriti calls Tabu at work, all excited. Insists that she rush to this address because Kriti has found “him”. Tabu is excited for her and immediately leaves the shop and rushes over to the office address Kriti gave her. But before Kriti will take her up, she insists on fixing her hair and arranging her dupatta, while Tabu is eager to just go inside and meet this wonderful boy.
Only, of course, it’s not Kriti’s wonderful boy, it’s Tabu’s! She announces it just as they walk into the office “I found your Sahir Singh!”, and Tabu immediately turns around in horror and starts to leave, but then freezes when Kriti begins to talk. We hear a voice asking what he can do for them, and Kriti announcing it is what she can do for him! And then saying “remember that romance in the mountains years ago? The woman you left behind? You may have forgotten her but she never forgot you!” Shahrukh’s voice (because of course it is him) says “what?” in increasingly angry tones finally ending with “I don’t know what your game is young lady, but I assure you, you will have no luck in trying to shake down ME! Some fake story of a youthful romance isn’t going to be enough to open my wallet.” Kriti starts to speak up again, but Tabu grabs her shoulder and faintly asks her “please, just leave us alone to talk.” Kriti worriedly leaves, and then, finally Tabu turns around while Shahrukh is still talking, he is threatening that he knows the police commissioner, they will not get away with this, and Tabu finally raises her head and manages to say “oh, please don’t do that! This is all just a terrible misunderstanding.” And Shahrukh stops immediately, struck by her beauty, winds of love blowing in his hair, and Tabu hesitantly keeps talking. She explains that her young friend was confused by something she said, Tabu will explain to her, so sorry to bother him. Shahrukh stops her as she is about to leave, says “wait! Surely you owe me an explanation as well?” Tabu looks torn by guilt and agrees, but we in the audience can see that obviously Shahrukh was just looking for an excuse to keep her there. He offers her a chair, asks if she would like a cold drink, she says “no no” looking confused. And then he finally settles down opposite her and asks her to please tell her story.
So Tabu hesitantly tells the story she told Kriti, explaining about seeing the books on the shelf and making up a name, and we get a quick reprise of the fake love song that appeared when she was talking to Kriti, only this time it is Shahrukh’s face filled in as the male lead, again no effort to make him look young. Shahrukh is terribly sympathetic and understanding, and quick to explain that he also feels embarrassed sometimes as, you see, he is not married either. He can’t say that he never had a romance, his life isn’t quite as pure as hers, but he never quite loved someone enough to marry them. Although maybe if he had met her when he was young….. Tabu stops him, saying “no no, you are too kind, there is no need for you to compound my mistake, I will simply go tell Kriti the truth”. Shahrukh starts talking very fast, about how youth needs it’s fantasies and why take that away from her? What harm would it do for him to simply visit them a few times, that is, if Tabu wouldn’t mind, perhaps take her to a poetry recital, or an art exhibit? His evenings are so empty, it would be his pleasure. Tabu hesitantly agrees, if he is sure he doesn’t mind? Shahrukh enthusiastically assures her that no, he would not mind at all. In fact, why don’t they make a plan now, he will come over to her house tonight?
And so Shahrukh starts strongly wooing Tabu with Kriti’s eager support, while Tabu is merely puzzled by the whole thing. Flowers come to her shop everyday, he brings gifts for her and Kriti and Kirron every night, he takes her to concerts and exhibits and dinners out and long drives, Tabu loves it but isn’t sure what is happening exactly.
(Kind of like this song. Not the Shahrukh angel part, but the slowly falling in love while spending time together part)
And then on the return from one of their dates, who should be waiting on the doorstep of the house, but Varun! There is a bit of a misunderstanding, he sees Shahrukh help Tabu out of the car, and brush a kiss on her cheek, and Varun challenges him “hey! What are you doing with my girl?” Shahrukh challenges him back, says “I believe the lady has a right to choose for herself”, there is a bit of back and forth until Tabu comes around to the other side of the car and Varun immediately apologizes and calls her “Bhabhi” which makes Tabu blush. And then he explains that he is looking for his girl, she’s very tall, she talks a lot, she doesn’t like to wear dresses, do they know her? And Tabu realizes who he is, and gets angry on Kriti’s behalf asking “Where WERE you???” Shahrukh tries to calm her down and suggests they all go inside and talk this over while they wait for Kriti to get home from her shopping.
Varun explains that he left college and then came to India to help with his older brother’s wedding. In a village with limited phone and internet connection. That’s why his phone was out of service and he wasn’t getting any messages. He got his brother married and at the airport as the three of them were about to board the plane home, he finally got service on his phone and the first message he saw was from a friend saying Kriti was getting married. He dramatically leaped off the plane, with no luggage or money, so he could stay in India and track her down and stop the wedding. He’s been looking for her just as she’s been looking for him, he went to all her relatives houses looking for her, and finally followed a trail from the kebab places, since he know she was addicted to them, and learned that there is a regular delivery at this address. Just as he finishes the story, Kriti walks in the door and drops everything when she sees him. And then Varun, very dramatically while Shahrukh and Tabu and Kirron watch, goes over and kneels in front of her and gives a speech about how he has been in love with her since the first moment he saw her and wants to be with her forever.
Wedding!!!! Tabu insists on inviting Kriti’s parents and friends at least to see if they will come. Kriti is very young about it and sure they don’t love her and won’t show because they are angry with her. But of course they do come to the engagement party, and Kriti is thrilled. But it is awkward for Tabu because Kriti also eagerly tells everyone about Tabu’s even more romantic love story and how miraculous it is that they found each other again. Tabu is feeling more and more embarrassed when Shahrukh walks in, ready to explain that she told him not to come, but then Kriti insisted, only before he can finish the explanation, Tabu surprises them both by embracing him and saying “oh, I am so glad you are here!” Shahrukh is thrilled and immediately starts going around with his arm around her explaining to anyone who asks that yes, of course, they fell in love 20 years ago in the hills of Kashmir and while she was waiting for him, he was waiting for her, because no other woman could measure up. And this way they got to have interesting successful exciting independent lives before coming together again to enjoy mature lives together. All Tabu’s friends sigh over the romance of it and are jealous of her for being independent and interesting while they were married and dull all these years (Shahrukh’s clever rephrasing of the situation).
When it comes time for the actual ceremony, Kriti’s parents are there, and Varun’s brother and his wife, and Tabu suddenly begins to feel a bit left out. Kriti is getting married and moving out of her house, and her “real” family has welcomed her back. Tabu watches the ceremony and cries a little bit and Shahrukh notices. He gently pulls her off into a corner and asks “will your house seem a little empty now? Now loud Punjabi to share it and demand strange food at strange hours and drop things on the floor and tease Kirron?” Tabu nods and sobs a bit and says “it’s silly, I know, she was only there for a few weeks and yet…” Shahrukh says “have you considered taking in someone else?” Tabu looks confused, “you mean, rent out the room to another young woman?” Shahrukh says “not quite. How about a middle-aged man? And what if instead of staying in the guest room, he stayed in your room?” Tabu frowns “but then, where would I sleep?” Shahrukh smiles “I was hoping….with me?” Tabu looks very confused now, and Shahrukh bursts out “Ugh! This would be so much easier if we really were old lovers! Can’t you pretend? Pretend you met me when I was young and handsome and my bones didn’t creak when I walked. When you were less independent and sure of yourself and more willing to follow where I lead. If I had asked you make then to share my bed, what would you have done?” And Tabu has one finally flash of the youthful version of them, standing in the same position on a green hillside in old-fashioned clothing, and in that fantasy, she reaches out and grabs him and kisses him, and it fades back to her doing the same in modern times, passionately kissing him while the wedding guests gasp and whisper. Until Tabu comes back to herself and pulls away, only for Shahrukh to laugh and grab her again and hold her close and cheerfully announce to everyone watching, “It’s okay, we’re engaged!”
And then, HAPPY END CREDITS SONG!!!!! Big Bhangra dance party at the wedding, Varun and Shahrukh dance together and sing to Kriti and Tabu.
(Like this, but with Tabu instead of Sush, Kriti instead of Amrita, Varun instead of Zayed. Shahrukh stays the same)
Phew! That was a long one and I may have missed my way a bit in the middle, but I still like it.