Friday Classics: Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam Before Manmarziyaan

Happy Friday!  I thought of all these cool movies I wanted to review, and then I thought “No! I should save them for a Friday when I plan in advance so people can watch them!”  So this Friday, instead, a very un-cool movie.

My rule with Bhansali is that the more power and money and control he has, the worst the movie.  Khamoshi=brilliant.  Devdas=overwrought.  And everything since Devdas, in my opinion (which you don’t have to agree with), well-nigh unwatchable.  But slipped in the middle there, between brilliant and overwrought, we have this movie.  Which is bad, but in a “so bad it’s good” way, not in a “so bad people think its good” way.

Image result for hum dil de chuke sanam poster

Ajay Devgan saves this movie.  Without him, it becomes so emotional and sentimental that there is nothing to hold on to, the usual Bhansali emptiness.  But Ajay grounds it, makes us feel something, makes us believe there are real people onscreen, not just pretty paper dolls that Bhansali is moving around.

Ajay is good straight through, Salman is uneven.  But Salman has one moment of pure brilliance that almost equals in one bound everything Ajay does.  Giving us two living breathing people in the film, 200% more than there usually are in Bhansali films.  Oh, and then there’s Aish.  She’s there too.  Her hair extensions do a wonderful job with the role.

This is a movie back before Bhansali decided he had to make “great” pictures, back when he was still just making entertaining ones.  So the patented Bhansali inaccuracies (or “lies”) don’t bother me.  Who cares if Budapest stands in for Italy, or Bhansali makes up his own version of folk singing?  It’s not like he is rewriting Indian history.

I shouldn’t shortchange the things Bhansali does well.  Bhansali, as always, really knocks it out of the park with the song sequences.  Over the top and sentimental and gorgeous.  There’s one in particular where Aish and Salman dance only with their eyes.  But the title song is the one you remember, the one with no spectacle at all, only Ajay’s face.

(This is the eyes dance.  It really is amazing)

Really, if you want to fall in love with Ajay Devgan, this is the movie to watch.  That’s why I (and some of you in the comments) are thinking about it with Manmarziyaan coming out.  Because this is the role Abhishek took in Manmarziyaan.  And, come to think of it, the one Raj Kapoor picked for himself in Sangaam.  And Shashi triumphed in in Kabhi Kabhi.  The lover is predictable, it is the husband you always want to watch.

 

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a pretty simple plot.  Aish and Salman fall in love, but her father marries her off to Ajay.  Ajay learns the truth and decides to take Aish back to Salman.  But along the way, she learns to appreciate her husband and falls in love with him, choosing him over Salman in the end.  Indian social customs and marriage practices are upheld, hooray hooray.

But like I said, what makes it work is Ajay.  He plays the husband as just such a rock solid to the core decent man.  He doesn’t think he deserves Aish’s love, he humbly accepts it when she angrily rejects him.  He stands up to his father and all of society to take her to Italy/Budapest and deliver her to Salman.  We the audience are so in love with him that Aish feeling the same way seems inevitable.  This isn’t the magical mythical bond of marriage forcing her to fall in love with him, this is the inevitable result of any woman spending so much time with such a very decent man.

The rest of the film though, that’s INSANE.  Aish’s family lives in an enormous mansion in the middle of a Rajasthan desert.  Because her father is a folksinger and, as well all know, they are all fabulously wealthy mansion dwellers.  There is the same expanding and contracting number of people around depending on the requirements of the scene, I am never clear of Aish is an only child or has a dozen sisters or what exactly is happening.

Salman is a half-Italian son of an Indian man (his mother is played by his real life stepmother Helen, who is not Italian).  He walks across the desert (huh?  how? why?) to visit Aish’s father and beg to be trained by him.  Her father agrees and asks no payment, only a guru gift at the end.  Aish and Salman, of course, start up a teasing battle of “wits” (Aish is the usual half-psychotic and half-retarded Bhansali heroine).  And then they fall in love and he kisses her, causing her to cry and ask if she is now pregnant.  Oh Aish!

But, their romance is discovered and Salman is thrown out, Aish’s father requests his Guru gift, that Salman leave immediately.  Because he is half-Italian and stuff and therefore no good.  Aish is set to marry a respectable nice lawyer, brother of one of her friends, who saw her and liked her at a dance performance.  Ajay.

Aish tries to kill herself (Bhansali has a real thing for suicide, doesn’t he?  This, Ram-Leela, Guzaarish, Bajirao, and Padmavaat), but her family patches her up and forces through the marriage.

(OH THE DRAMA!!!!  OH THE CHANDELIERS!!!!)

Ajay doesn’t force anything on her, doesn’t even touch her, and then after marriage she receives letters Salman wrote her, begging her to come to him in Italy.  She is miserable, Ajay finds the letters, big confrontation, and Ajay (Most Decent Man in The World) decides the only thing to do is take her to Italy and hand her over to Salman.  Because he was wrong to marry her and this is the best way to make it right.  Aish’s family, of course, is uninvolved in this decision.  They forced her into this marriage and then forgot about her, the way you do with daughters (also Paro’s family, Mastani’s family, Padmavati’s family, and so on and so on.  Ah Indian culture!  So beautiful!).

And then the film finally gets good.  We are away from the romanticized version of the Indian countryside and filming on location in Europe.  And Ajay is there, setting the tone of sort of weary anti-romance.  Ajay Devgan is not an actor who can ever really buy into filmi fantasy, he is too real for that, his very presence feels solid and actual.  Aish is lost in her romance, dreaming of Salman, sobbing and having hysterics and all that, and Ajay just stands there like a rock and accepts it.  He doesn’t protest, he doesn’t try to persuade her, he just accepts it.  And that’s all she needs, someone treating her like an adult, it forces her to grow up.  And forces the movie to grow up.

A man and woman falling in love in elaborate silks in a mansion in Rajasthan, that’s a childish fairy tale.  A man and a woman falling in love while reading maps and taking trains in Budapest, that’s real.  Salman is a child, Ajay is a Man.  And the child version of Aish in the first half, she wanted Salman.  But the time she meets him again, she is a grown woman and she wants a grown man.

(Ajay is just so much better)

And that’s why Salman’s speech is so magnificent.  In many ways.  After many mistaken identities and mishaps, Aish is taken to meet Salman before his big concert at the Opera house (another Bhansali fantasy, Indian just graduated unknown folk singers don’t get concerts at European Opera houses).  And she just stands there while he reads her mind for her, has an epic monologue talking about how he can tell she is standing there in front of him but she isn’t “his” any more, she has changed, and he is standing her on stage about to give his first concert and have all his dreams come true, and his heart is breaking.

This is, firstly, a brilliant way to handle Aish’s acting limitations.  She doesn’t have to say a word, just stand there and look pretty while Salman does the acting for the two of them.  Second, it’s a brilliant resolution to the plot.  There is no regretful sacrifice from Aish, or from Salman, everything has already been done.  All they need to do is acknowledge the truth of it.  And then of course it was filmed perfectly.  On stage at the opera house, Aish dressed magnificently and formally as a married woman, her very costuming proclaiming that she has made her choice, and Salman hoping all over the place in his one magnificent speech while she just stands there, still, no longer in tune with him.

The outlines of the love triangle are not really unique.  Indian film MUST give the message that marriage trumps all, that love will fade and you will learn to love your husband.  But the best films find a way to give that message in a way that is true to and says something about the characters.  In Sangam, Vyjantimala marries Raj Kapoor in a spirit of sacrifice, but as the months went by, she truly did love him, in a different way but a sincere way.  It was Raj who had no faith in the marriage bond, reflecting his deep insecurities and class position, and just a touch of PTSD.  Raakhee in Kabhi Kabhi, she had learned to see her romance with Amitabh as a peaceful memory of youth, no more, and her husband saw it the same way, reflecting his innate confidence and purity of heart and general self-confidence.  In this film, Aish and Salman have a romance that feels authentically like a first romance.  They flirt, they kiss, it all feels very real and important because it is the first time.  But when it is over, Aish tries to kill herself while Salman writes letters and comes up with a plan. Aish is still caught in the romance of it, while Salman is trying to plan a way to make it real.  Ajay goes on to make the plans for her again.  To find a way to make the romance real.  And it’s only as she learns to live in the real world that she discovers how false that first romance was.

It’s the men who make it work.  Ajay, in his solid Ajay-ness.  And also Salman, in his few coincidental meetings with Ajay in Europe, who sells us on himself as a romantic cheerful soul, but one who is also competent and serious about finding and marrying Aish.  We care about them, we want Aish to pick the better man (Ajay, duh), but we hurt when Salman hurts in the end.

This is a very silly movie, a silly romantic movie.  But it feels more important, and I care far more about what happens to the characters, than in any of those big war epics Bhansali has been selling us.  It’s one of the best lover-husband-wife love triangles in years, and Manmarziyaan has a lot to live up to if it wants to beat it.

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18 thoughts on “Friday Classics: Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam Before Manmarziyaan

    • Very incompetently. She puts on a big elegant sari, lets her hair flow down, arranges herself by a fountain, and then delicately slashes a wrist (crosswise, the inefficient way) and lets the blood flow beautifully into the fountain.

      On Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 8:51 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • I am fascinated by how India has a different attitude towards suicide than America. Not Bhansali, he’s something else, but just suicide in general. It made me realize how much the Christian philosophy of life being the most important thing has altered how Western culture looks at deaths and suicides as a “sin”. In Indian English, and I think in Hindi, “martyr” becomes a verb. Bhagat Singh “martyred himself”. He made a conscious choice to die in that way in order to serve the greater good. It wasn’t a passive act, it was an active choice and sacrifice. There’s another movie (I won’t tell you the title of it so I won’t spoil it) that has a young couple in love, about to be killed by their families for loving each other, instead choosing to joyfully kill each other. Death is inevitable, they are merely taking back control of the method and manner of death.

          Which brings me to Bhansali, where his female suicides often feel like the ultimate moment of passivity instead of the ultimate moment of agency. They are not dying to serve a greater good, but merely because they feel ending their life at that moment is easier than continuing to live.

          On Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 9:31 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • If you look at Jesus willfully submitting to the crucifiction you also get a (big!) Christian example of sacrificing your life for the greater good. And Catholicism has all the martyred saints. But deliberately killing yourself in despair is the big taboo.

            Bhansali’s women killing themselves in the most exquisitely beautiful way possible feeds into a narrative that women only exist for adornment and to please men and a woman who isn’t attached to a man should just kill herself.

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          • Which brings in the concept of Sati/widowdom in Indian culture. The best female virtue is to either kill yourself after the death of your husband, or voluntarily accept a living death.

            Which isn’t actually a consistent thing in Indian society, or an accurate representation of the original Sati story (Sati was Shiva’s first wife who killed herself in shame after her family dishonored Shiva, a gesture of loyalty to her husband/devotion to her God). But it is easier to think of widows as being removed from society instead of dealing with the sticky reality of a sexually experienced mature woman without a man around. At least, that is my very cynical take on it.

            One of my favorite movie romance genres is the widow who is sad and lost and betwixt and between and the hero falls in love with her and brings her back to life and teaches her that she doesn’t have to just give up even though everyone is telling her she should. Even better, and far more rare, is the wife with the broken marriage who is told she doesn’t have to live her life alone and without love just because her first husband left her. Because what she is “supposed” to do is remain faithful to him even if he isn’t around any more instead of moving on.

            Of course, Bhansali would never tell that story. In Bhansali’s world, a woman loves only once and it is everything her whole life is about.

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  1. I really love Ajay in this but good god I just can’t stand Salman! Whenever he appears onscreen I just want to switch off the screen. As you said Ajay really is the saving grace in this film. I like to call HDDCS SLB’s transition movie because it has the grand lavish settings and clothes that weren’t in Khamoshi (and appear in his later films) but there’s a bit of Khamoshi’s groundedness that shows up in the second half. And I guess SLB just kept on running with “grand and lavish” because it made him money. *sigh* I am so sad that we didn’t get more of Khamoshi-SLB. When I watched it I couldn’t believe it was the same director.

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    • Yes, agree! Khamoshi is so lovely, focused on the characters and building the visuals around realistic (cheap) settings and sets. And then Bhansali got just a little more money and got lazy.

      But Ajay brings that groundedness back in, you just can’t put him in a grand lavish scene, it wouldn’t make sense.

      I feel the same way about RGV, Rangeela is so great, and then slowly he stopped making movies like that, the ones with the light touch and happy stories, and it all got so dark and strange and you almost can’t believe it’s the same director.

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  2. I’m happy I have seen this movie, but it’s definitely one time watch. I can’t wait to read your Manmarziyaan review and know if it’s similar story.

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    • Except for Ajay, it wouldn’t have even been a one time watch for me. But he brings it to a new level. I’m excited to see if Abhishek does the same in Manmarziyaan, the way he has been put front and center in the promotions is maybe because his character ends up being far more interesting than just the usual boring perfect husband. Or it is just because his is the biggest name, and it’s really more a Vicky Kaushal/Taapsee movie.

      On Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 10:43 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I think it’s more Taapsee – Vicky movie, but Wikipedia says international title is Husband Material, and it’s more Abhishek so I don’t know.

        And for HDDCS, yes, Ajay is special and without him this film would be impossible to finish.

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        • I’ve started just skipping the first half of HDDCS, it’s the best way to watch it. If you skip to intermission, you’ve got a very moving interesting original 90 minute movie with Ajay as the hero and Salman just as a guest star. And Aishwarya mostly mute.

          On Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 11:56 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Yep, this is when they (supposedly) fell in love. The rumors of the romance were hopping during filming and basically confirmed by the time of release. She did a special appearance in Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam around the same time.

      On Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 12:06 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. To describe the artistic progression, or rather, decline, from HDDCA to Devdas, I tell ppl that in HDDCS, a fountain is decorated with 100 floating candles, whereas in Devdas, it’s now a pond containing 100,000 floating candles. Basically, more is more, but with diminishing returns.

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    • I love this metaphor. I would add, Khamoshi is a pool of water with the stars reflected in it.

      On Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 7:22 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. The songs in HDDCS were very nice-especially Tadap Tadap, Jhonka Hawa Ka & title song-very soulful. There’s a scene in the second half where Ajay is drunk & Ash kinda realises that he loves her. That’s the scene I always remember. Whatever else you say, Ash looks breathtaking in all the colourful ghagras & sarees-her expressions & voice is beyond irritating. But man, she’s pretty. And in lieu with the grounded tone of the second half-her styling & performance also goes a tad subdued. Apparently Kajol was the first choice but I can’t imagine Kajol getting decked up like Ash & playing a village girl with long hair etc. The chemistry between Ash & Ajay was way better than that between Ash & Salman.

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    • I was just thinking about that scene in the second half! Ajay plays it so well, he is clearly drunk and not in control of himself, but in a way that is true to his character, he doesn’t suddenly become charming or violent or a great dancer, he is still awkward and serious, just a little less restrained than usual.

      On Sat, Sep 15, 2018 at 1:17 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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