Hindi Film 101 Repost: The Best Kind of Filmi Romance Which Loveyatri Will Most Likely Fail to Be

This is a post from a long long time back, but it’s a good post!  Worth posting again, and so long as we are stuck in a dead news cycle, I thought I might as well squeeze it in.

I loooooooooove Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania.  I was really not expecting a film that enjoyable, or that well-made.  It’s a re-imagining of DDLJ, certainly, but in a world where DDLJ never existed (can you imagine how bleak and empty such a world would be?  Shahrukh would be a talented actor who never quite made it, and we would be in the 3rd decade of trying to make another Amitabh happen in increasingly unimaginative action films, while the diaspora audience was continually ignored.  Oh, and Yash Raj films would be bankrupt), Humpty Sharma could actually stand on its own as a perfectly good film.

It can stand on its own not because it is so different from DDLJ, but because it is so similar in all the ways that matter.  It has the same brilliant big beating heart at the middle of it.  Both movies, ultimately, are about a boy and girl who find their opposite half in each other.  It’s not about falling passionately in love, it’s about falling passionately in like, in compatibility, in who they are when they are together.  It’s about seeing how two very different people fill the gaps in each other.  It’s more than sharing a love, it’s sharing a life.

Before DDLJ, I can’t really think of a movie that did this.  And since DDLJ, I can count on one hand the other films that have succeeded at it.  Really, I would just say Humpty, Jab We Met, Socha Na Tha, and maybe Chennai Express (Obviously, I haven’t seen every film in the world!  If you think there is one I have missed, after reading all of my restrictions, let me know in the comments).  It’s a really specific thing, that is kind of easier to define by what it isn’t, than what it is.

First, there’s the films where there is no real journey, no change.  The “love at first sight” films.  Or, love at 20th sight.  Really, any time they fall in love because of one single magical moment, whether it is the first moment or the last.  Dilwale, say.  They are two very different people who are in love and out of love and in love again.  But you barely see the love and connection build between them.  You only see a magic bond that suddenly appears with no effort on their parts.  Or, more to the point, on the part of the scriptwriter/director.  The couple has to be in love for the plot to work, so they throw in some random conversation, a couple of moments of sexual tension, and then have their eyes meet as a song starts.  It’s the same technique films have been using since before Mughal-E-Azam.  And it works!  It definitely works, I believe in those love stories and I enjoy watching them, and I get all swoony in the movie theater.  But I believe in them as a fantasy.  Watching a movie like that and then watching DDLJ is the difference between watching Devdas and watching Neerja.

(See, like this!  Swoony, but not believable)

There are a good number of romances that don’t go the fantasy route, that feel real.  But DDLJ is also showing a very particular kind of real feeling relationship.  Raj and Simran are at a transition point in their lives and we see, in exquisite slow detail, how they grow together and change each other.  There are plenty of movies where we fully get to know the hero and heroine, we see how and why they fit together, we even see them grow and change in order to fit together better.  It’s not just a sudden magical moment that changes everything.  But we don’t usually see them really changing each other, we have these huge gaps in their contact, in which they each take a leap forward, but they don’t need the other’s constant presence to force them to do it.

For instance, Hum-Tum is a great romance, and it is a great couple that is fun to watch together.  But we only see them together in these disconnected moments, their growth as people takes place in between times, when they are alone.  The same thing happens in Yeh Jawaani…Hai Deewani, and Love Aaj Kal.  Even in Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na, they stay in touch, but they are on separate journeys for much of the film. In DDLJ and films like it, our hero and heroine are together on this journey, literally and metaphorically.  They change because they are beating away at each other constantly, forcing each other into a different mold through their interactions.

(What would it have been like to watch this couple the whole movie?  See how they keep fighting and making up and slowly become partners?  Instead, we left them after 20 minutes, and met them again after 5 years apart)

This kind of film is not an easy thing to write, and it is not an easy thing to act, and (most importantly), it is not an easy thing to cast!  Obviously, the couple has to have great sexual chemistry, that part has to be believable even while they appear to hate each other.  But more than that, they have to be able to naturally slip into complimentary characters.  But while the actors need to be comfortable in the character’s skin, it also needs to be characters that the audience will see as actual characters, not just the star pretending to “act”.  This is the problem with, for instance, K3G.  Or, not really a problem, a difference.  Do you ever really forget you are watching Shahrukh and Kajol and just see Rahul and Anjali?

And then on the other end of the spectrum, you have characters so far outside of the actors’ natural personality, that it just feels like they are playing dress-up the whole time, instead of really connecting.  Like Dil Bole Hadippa, which I quite enjoy, but which I was watching the whole time very aware that this was Rani “pretending” to be a Punjabi performer, and Shahid “pretending” to be a bitter London returned soccer champ.

(I think that’s why they added this song at the end of the film, so we can finally see them be the people we believe they are, not the people the script tells them to be.  Or else, because Rani wanted to show off her new bikini body.  Either way, it’s still my favorite part of the movie!)

And, of course, they have to be playing characters who are believable together, but not obvious.  Dil To Pagal Hai, for instance, Madhuri and Shahrukh had some fun spark, and a few fight scenes, but mostly they were set up as being “made for each other”.  The audience never really thought “wait, I don’t see how this can ever work out!”  DTPH, and movies like it, run the danger of feeling like they are simply treading water, as two obviously compatible people try to avoid ending up together.  In DDLJ, in the beginning, Raj and Simran truly do not look like a couple that could ever work.  She is too prim, he is too crude, there is no way they can fall in love (short of a magical eyes meeting fantasy shortcut).  But then we see them get to know each other, and we the audience get to know them better at the same time, and it all starts to make sense.  And because it took so much work to get them to a place where they can meet in the middle, you end up being that much more invested in their relationship when it finally happens.

The hardest part, I think, is being brave enough to give an entire film over to this slowly building relationship.  There are plenty of movies that start to build a DDLJ kind of relationship, and then just give up after an hour, because it is so slooooooooow.  And often, those are my favorite parts of the film, before the director gives up and switches to a higher gear.  For instance, the romance in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha is really beautiful and carefully constructed and strong and believable.  It hits everything I’ve been talking about, they are two miss-matched people who grow together and change through their constant interactions.  It’s not an immediate love at first sight, it is a series of incremental movements as they come closer and closer.  And it is a brilliant casting, two actors playing characters similar to what they have done before, but also distinctly different, and who seem like they could never fit together, until suddenly you see that they are perfect.  But it’s all over and done with after an hour, and we switch to an entirely different kind of movie.   Speaking of historicals, Jodha-Akbar has the same problem.  It’s not a cut and dried first half-second half thing, its scene by scene, we suddenly leave our love story and cut over to politics or religion or war instead, because it is just too hard to maintain a 3 hour love story!

(This is the resolution of the love story, but then the movie keeps going for another 20 minutes with a battle scene)

Even if a director is willing to do a full 3 hour love story, they can still get bored with all the talky-talk and want to just skip ahead and reset.  Like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, which did a brilliant job of building the love triangle in the first half, making you really believe in both Rahul-Anjali and Rahul-Tina as a viable couple.  But rather than continuing to slowly build that conflict (can you imagine a K2H2 where Anjali doesn’t leave and Rahul realizes he loves her and has to break Tina’s heart?  Never mind, that’s just Mujshe Dosti Karoge and Kabhi Alveda Na Kehna), it breaks the couples apart and jumps 9 years into the future.  I love Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and I find the characters and their relationships completely real and completely believable.  But they are different people in the first and second half.  We aren’t watching Rahul and Anjali fall in love for 3 hours, we are watching Young Rahul and Young Anjali fall in love, and then watching a distinctly different Old Rahul and Old Anjali fall in love.

DDLJ solved this second half problem by just refusing to solve it.  You don’t notice while watching it, but ultimately, the whole second half of the film had no stakes.  Sure, there is a fight scene, and a dramatic twilight speech between lovers, but really it is all resolved at the interval when Shahrukh finds the bell she left him and knows she loves him as well.  No matter what, they are going to be together.  Kajol may be sad and doubtful, but the audience knows he is on his way.  And once they are together, Shahrukh may insist on getting her family’s permission, but Kajol is planning to elope no matter what.  They always know they will be married and their love story will have a happy ending, so why are we even watching any more?

This is the brilliance of the “not without your father’s permission!” twist to the plot.  Unlike Bobby, which similarly devoted tons of time to building the relationship between the young people, but it then switched gears into making it “us against the world!” in the second half.  Same with Qayamet Se Qayamet Tak and partially with Maine Pyar Kiya.  It’s a standard structure, the first half is the couple falling in love in isolation, the second is testing their love against society.  Except, here, there is no test.  They are both of age, they both have British passports, they can leave at any time.  We know his father has already given his approval.  Nothing is stopping them from leaving.  It’s not “us against the world!”, it’s “well, we already have the world, let’s just stop here a bit and see if we can get the moon as well.”

Ultimately, after “Tumse Dekho”, Kajol and Shahrukh are essentially married.  Nothing is going to break their relationship apart.  We have seen the culmination of their romance.  But then the movie keeps going, and we keep seeing them.  This is what makes the relationship in this film special, and different.  We see them not just falling in love, but BEING in love.  Working at love.  Fighting over silly things like when to break a fast, figuring out how they are going to be as a couple, no longer questioning their commitment or their mutual love, instead questioning how they will live, what values they will share, what surprises might still be left along the way.

That is what sets aside DDLJ‘s true heirs.  That they build and build and build a slow and real romance, they reach the culmination point, and then just keep going.  That’s why Humpty (uch, that name!) and Kavya have to have sex in Humpty Sharma, and Aditya has to live for a while as though he is married to Geet in Jab We Met, and Viren and Aditi have to consider eloping in Socha Na Tha, and Rahul and Meena have to be “married” at the temple on the mountain top in Chennai Express.  And then the movie keeps going.

(I just realized these are the same song with the genders reversed.  In both, one partner considers them to be married, and is living their life that way, regardless of the attitude of the other partner.  Also, I would not want to work for a man who keeps fantasizing a fake wife in board meetings)

When I wrote this post originally, Jab Harry Met Sejal hadn’t yet come out.  It turned out to be a fascinating extension of this theory to the farthest possible point.  People who didn’t like the film, complained because “nothing happened”.  But that was the point, Imtiaz’s experiment.  Our hero and heroine are essentially “married” by less than an hour into the film.  And then we get to see what comes after, their minds catching up with their feelings.  With no outside conflicts or impediments, just a couple in love working things out, the way couples in love do.

Advertisements

17 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101 Repost: The Best Kind of Filmi Romance Which Loveyatri Will Most Likely Fail to Be

  1. I think yhe “falling in love” part of Chalte Chalte is DDLJ like from Rani’s point of view, but not from Shah Rukh’s. But for both of them the latter part of the movie is the getting shaped, or not, enough to stay together long term.

    Like

    • Yes, that’s it exactly. And it’s a common problem in couples (in life more than in film it seems like). Shahrukh is in love with Rani and doesn’t feel like that challenges anything about his life, he is just himself without changing. Rani falling in love with Shahrukh is a huge upset for her in every way and turns her into a completely different person. And then after marriage, that’s when Shahrukh starts to discover that he can’t just keep happily being himself and waiting for Rani to adjust, he has to change a little bit too. Saathiya/Alai Payuthay dealt with something similar, the hero was just in love and wanted to be married and figured it would all work out. It was the heroine who had to make all the changes and adjustments and then got angry and frustrated when she saw he didn’t really seem to appreciate everything she had done. At least in Chalte Chalte, Shahrukh’s character seems grateful and understanding of all Rani gave up, just not willing to change himself necessarily to make it easier for her.

      On Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 12:42 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I absolutely LOVE Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania for all the same reasons you do! It is one of those films that I can watch every time I need a pick me up and always find something new fo fall in love with.

    Like

    • It’s such a well-constructed film! It was the director’s first script, and I think it shows in that he must have been working on it and refining and refining it for years while waiting for a producer to pick it up. Badrinath was fine, but it wasn’t nearly so well done, I don’t think there is much new to see after the first watch.

      Like

      • Completely agree. There is something about Shashank Khaitan that makes me wish he would continue to direct movies like Humpty and Badri (althought to a much lesser extent). But it is also the reason I refuse to watch Dhadak. He can reinvent classic “masala” movies in a way that makes them relevant but Sairat was neither masala nor needed to be reinvented.

        Like

  3. I like your analysis. Small point on Shahid: I miss that version of him. That was who I first “met” and liked more than the current tough guy and his “real life” (who actually knows) persona of arranged marriage etc. He’s so so smug. If its a public persona, make it likeable.
    I think Chalte Chalte is really two movies. First one is “love at first sight” all will work out and the second half is a real look at marriage. I loved (saw it last night) Sui Dhaaga because its about a marriage in formation.

    Like

    • Smug! You are right, that is the exact feel of Shahid’s public persona. which is odd, because when you get him talking about his work he is very serious and humble. It’s just when it is light personal conversation that everything becomes perfect and wonderful and so on. I’m torn about wanting him to go back, but I also want him to move forward. Maybe move forward in a way that feels more related? Like, if the sweet kind hero from Vivah had gotten older and become the head of the family.

      I like your description of Chalte Chalte, it’s an interesting film because it takes the metaphorical marriage a lot of romances have, that moment that the hero and heroine vow to be together forever, and makes it literal. And then shows what happens after you know you will be together forever. And of course there is the narrative structure, so the first have is truly a story, friends telling it with all the best most romantic bits emphasized instead of the other parts, and everything strictly from the perspective of Shahrukh’s friends, with Rani’s perspective hidden. And then the second half is the flip to the reality of their relationship, with both sides equal.

      On Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 4:48 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

  4. Despite its being a 90s throwback, or maybe because of it, I am going to predict that LoveYatri will do decent business on opening weekend this weekend. And after that it will continue if word of mouth is decent enough. I already know random diff ppl who have booked their tickets in advance for this. I think some people just want a simple movie with lots of color, clothes, festivals, lights, song, dance, etc, to celebrate the upcoming garba season with. Any cheesy plot with a father trying to block the romantic union, well, is actually like comfort food for this crowd. It’s predictable, reliable, and has a clear villain. Compare to namaste England… A woman leaving a marriage for a career abroad is just a more complex topic, a harder sell, no real villain, and not really everyone’s reality. OTOH parents objecting to a union is still a complete reality for tons of desis, both in India and among the diaspora. It’s still the most common story I hear, even among the millennials. It’s either the parents objecting to an existing union or else the kids not even bothering to date outside of the narrow confines of their parents acceptable criteria.

    Like

    • All right, a challenge has been thrown! We will have to wait until Monday or Tuesday (whenever the international figures are released) for me to see how things went, but now you’ve got me excited to see which of us are right.

      Mubarakan was kind of similar last year and ended up being a surprise hit, despite a so-so leading cast and not much pre-release buzz. People just wanted a fun throwback film.

      On Fri, Oct 5, 2018 at 6:33 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

  5. Dude! You’re title made me miss a post where you talk about Humpty!!

    It’s probably my fault anyway. I should get back to my routine of reading every single thing you write on here 🙂

    Like

    • You should! anyway, I am pretty sure you read and commented on the first post back when it first went up.

      On Fri, Oct 5, 2018 at 9:14 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

      • I just finished reading through this and surprisingly, it doesn’t seem familiar so I’m assuming I missed it the first time as well.

        Plus now I’m slightly more motivated to watch JHMS now than I was before.

        Like

        • Wait until you are really really motivated, it doesn’t work at all if you aren’t in the right mood.

          On Fri, Oct 5, 2018 at 9:24 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

          >

          Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s