Khoobsurat Review ReRun: The Best Disney Fairy Tale in Hindi Film

I watched Khoobsurat for the 4th time last night (I missed it in theaters, but have seen it 4 times on DVD after a friend told me I HAD to watch it).  It’s just as good as it ever was, but it’s also a whole different experience watching it having just seen Neerja.  In all sorts of ways.

First, there’s Sonam.  She has a very particular talent, but it is one that works for a surprising number of movies.  In the past few weeks, I’ve seen her in Neerja, Khoobsurat, and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, and she’s worked perfectly in all of them.  I think what is, is that she needs to be a confident and self-reliant character.  She’s got to much strength of personality and it radiates out of her in her posture, her way of holding her head, her eye-contact, all of that.  She can’t be believable as an unsure, out of control, or oppressed character.  Basically, Saawariya was the worst possible debut for her.  She is not believable as a young girl driven mad by love, aimlessly wandering the streets and unsure of what she wants.  It’s not that she seemed to confident for the part, it’s that she seemed to nothing for it.  She removed all her natural confidence and spice, and didn’t have anything to put in its place.

(I still love this song though.  Both the visuals and how it sounds.  But notice that Ranbir is emoting and acting all over the place, and Sonam is just kind of there)

Delhi 6 was a much better role for her.  Her character starts out almost fading into the background, just one of the many characters in the neighborhood, but then the director pulls a twist on us and shows that she was just pretending to fade, that she has her own goals and life plan and is barreling ahead on her own path.  Much more Sonam!

(Check out how she completely drops her personality and just turns into a girl you wouldn’t look at twice at about 2:20 and again right at the end)

I guess what it is, is, she has no medium setting.  It’s either huge personality barreling towards you, or absolutely nothing.  Which is why both Neerja and Khoobsurat work so well, and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo as well.

In Neerja, she is supposed to be sweet and kind and conciliatory, but with an inner strength.  More than that, she has to convince the audience to see and love her as her own family did.  To that end, her face is always moving, her eyes are emoting, her mouth is trembling, her posture is changing.  Through her body language, she is practically yelling her feelings out of the screen at the audience.  And the inner strength comes through clearly in the things that Sonam can’t change about herself.  Her height, her posture, her strong features, her huge eyes, her wide mouth.  They all tell a story of a powerful in charge person who won’t take “no” for an answer.  In the roles like Saawariya where she’s had to change that, to play immature or unconfident, it just turns into this awkward thing where she has to hide her height or keep her mouth pursed or her eyes still and unfocused, hair covering her face, make-up de-emphasizing her jawline.

Her best roles lean into it, making the self-confidence and outsized personality part of the character.  Neerja used Sonam’s natural confidence to subliminally tell the viewer about Neerja’s hidden strength.  Aisha, Khoobsurat, Dolly ki Doli wrote it right into the character, that she is a bit too much for anyone to handle and most of her problems come from that.  And Prem Ratan Dhan Payo and Delhi 6 had it both ways.  Showing how wrong and crippled she felt when that confidence was turned off, and how she lit up when it was put back on again.

Which is why I think Khoobsurat missed an opportunity at the end.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the movie, but the ending just feels rushed.  I can practically feel the scriptwriters hurrying up as the stopwatch comes closer and closer to the 2 hours no doubt mandated by Disney and their global audience ambitions.

(see how hard Disney is pushing their brand for this film?  And what an ugly shirt they are making Sonam wear?)

But what I would love is if we actually got to see the 3rd act that had been teased through out the film.  The whole movie, Sonam had been saying that she wouldn’t and couldn’t change for a man, that she has to be herself, anything else would make her miserable.  So, why didn’t we get to see her try to do that and fail?  Especially because the movie was billed as “A remake of Princess Diaries.”  Where is the Princess Diaries plot of an ugly duckling being turned into a swan only to realize that she was perfect from the start?

It would have solved so many problems in the film!  For one thing, it would have let Sonam interact with Ratna Pathak’s Queen character a lot more, which would have let Ratna play a few more notes in the role, which would have made her ultimate reconciliation with her husband (who already had plenty of scenes with Sonam and depth shown, he doesn’t need any more) more believable.  And the little sister character could have been part of it as well, giving us a little more sense of her relationship with her mother and with Sonam, which again was barely touched on.  And it would have given Kirron Kehr more strength as well, if she could have been the person to provide a wake-up call to Sonam that this just wasn’t working and she had to be herself.  Basically, all the female characters could have had more to play if there had been a discussion about what kind of woman Sonam should be.

More importantly, it would have solved the problems with the resolution of the romance.  We go from a completely dreamy and sympathetic flirtation between the two, straight to Fawad throwing her out of his house and declaring they could never be together!  And then like 24 hours later, showing up at her house to apologize and all is forgiven.  It makes him look like a huge jerk, and also kind of unstable.  What if, instead, this all played out over several weeks and at least 15 minutes of screen time?  What if they were in love and got engaged and she tried to change herself, and then they broke up because they could both see it wasn’t working?  The resolution could even still be the same!  He goes to Delhi and shows he is willing to change too and get outside his comfort zone so they can meet in the middle.  But instead of having him just describe what would happen and why they shouldn’t get together in dialogue, the audience could have actually seen Sonam’s inability to change and still be happy, and Fawad’s struggles as result.

Especially since, as I said above, that would have played right into Sonam’s strongest tool, the way she just turns into a non-entity once her natural personality is squashed.  Basically, it would have been Prem Ratan Dhan Payo!  I really noticed on this watch how careful Sooraj Bharjatya was to build her character.  We see her first in Dilwale Prem’s memories, happy and in control, running her charity.  Then we see her arrive at the palace, and it is immediately clear that something is wrong.  Her blankness and meekness strike the audience as wrong, just as they do Dilwale Prem, and it is only as the notebook song progresses, and she begins to regain her footing in their relationship, that we can see the “real” Sonam emerge, the personality that is familiar from other roles and public appearances, just as it is from her first arrival in this film.  And then we get to see it disappear again at the end of the film, when the Prince Prem returns.  Only to re-appear in the end credits song.

Now, imagine that same sequence happening in Khoobsurat as we watch Sonam try to change herself for Fawad and lose herself in the process, finally with a happy medium being shown in the credits tag.  They even have the perfect end credits song to show it!

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23 thoughts on “Khoobsurat Review ReRun: The Best Disney Fairy Tale in Hindi Film

  1. Only one comment when you posted it the first time…sad.
    Imo, you are spot-on with what kind of roles Sonam can shine the best. She really deserved the praise for Neerja.
    As for Khoobsurat I also had the feeling that – at some point – they did not give the time to the characters to evolve in a natural way. Unfortunately I had not the time to rewatch it and I can’t rely on my memory the way you can. So this is just a rather general comment.

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    • I think you remembered it perfectly. They characters were good, but it felt like we were missing a third act or something, they didn’t get to develope any more.

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  2. Hmm unpopluar opinion here. I hated this movie. Because they got it to revolve around Sonam completely and ignored better actors like Ratna Pathak Shah and Fawad Khan. I was especially bugged at Fawad getting such a raw deal. His role didn’t have any heft, because they were just focusing on Sonam the entire time. Also, the costume design for Sonam was pretty bad. Just too many colors! And she’s someone who has 7-8 expressions so she gets repetitive pretty quickly unless the director has extreme clarity. And her dialog delivery was bad (as always)

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    • I’ll let Fawad go, because it was his very first Hindi film. So maybe they didn’t want to center him so much since he was an unknown quantity? I wonder if it will be something similar with Dulquer in The Zoya Factor?

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      • But why would they take a good actor and reduce him to just the background? I’m really nervous about Zoya Factor because it is one of my favorite books. DQ is extremely coy doing romance and Sonam is neither plump nor spontaneous so I’m guessing they’re going to end up rewriting the movie. I can already foresee her doing the sulking expression for huge parts of the movie.

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  3. This was one of the first movies I watched after my few years long break from indian movies. I didn’t know who Sonam is, and had no idea who Fawad Khan is either, so I watched it with fresh eyes, and without prejudice.
    I remember that I liked it, and even recommended it to my sister who likes this kind of sweet, happy stories.

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  4. It’s like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy description of Earth: mostly harmless. Nothing offensive, some nice moments, happy ending. And it’s about as believable as Pretty Woman. I enjoyed watching it, mostly for Fawad Khan and Ratna Pathak Shah. (The latter especially, and I loved her scenes with Kirron Kher. Give me a whole movie with the two of them!)

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  5. Is this the review of a movie or a write-up on how a Sonam Kapoor movie should be? Especially when you advertised the review as ‘I want more people to know how good Fawad Khan is’ and then go on for the first three paragraphs in the actual review about Sonam Kapoor’s posture,confidence,personality and whatever else. An actor who requires roles to be written in a way that suits her personality doesn’t invoke much credibility anyways.I would rather appreciate the actor who was able to make an impact in an underwritten role that meant to show him as nothing but yet another beautiful object among the set pieces while the heroine took the center stage tailor made for her.

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  6. Reposting my comment about Khoobsurat from one of the Wednesday posts, since I find it’s already faded from my memory: It was fun and kind of goofy, the Disney roots showed through. I’m not a Sonam hater but I found her v annoying in this part – the dialogues didn’t do any of them any favors but she didn’t bring much beyond making faces and bumping into things unconvincingly. Fawad, though…what a beautiful man. Pretty sure he could have chemistry with an empty chair, or a set of curtains.

    When the Pakistani actors stopped being able to work across the border, I was focused on Mahira, I think because of the timing with Raees and how she had to do the promo interviews remotely. After seeing ADHM and Khoobsurat, though, starting to be convinced it was Fawad who was right on the cusp of making it big time. Seems a loss.

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    • I made my peace with losing Mahira & Fawad after watching Raees & Khubsoorat. Both were absolutely wasted in Bollywood movies. I hate it that Bollywood picks up good actors from other industries-south, Pakistani,Bengali etc-and then cast them in these satellite roles that does no justice to their talent for which they got noticed in the first place. Kind of like how one see a good piece of decor or furniture and thinks ‘oh,that would look good in the corner of my living room’. Fawad is a naturally good looking man but in Khubsoorat he is so emancipated and his face looks sunken.I also hated his oversexualised styling in ADHM. It’s like Karan Johar cdnt have enough decorating him. So it maybe harsh but I’m glad that I don’t have to see good talent being wasted on frivolous roles meant to make the main characters look good.That reminds me you asking for suggestions on Pakistani shows. Have you seen the teleserial Behadd featuring Fawad? I watched it on YouTube India. Very good & only about an hour. I was more impressed by the leading lady and the whole execution of the show which seems to be a common hallmark of Pakistani shows.

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      • MKP, I got the same feeling in regard to Fawad…his talent showed but wasn’t expolred…and yes, it reminds me ShahRukh’s declination of any project from Hollywood that would sideline him…nothing else had been done to Fawad although he was able to shine in what was left of his screentime after the cutting. A charismatic actor.

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        • I agree Fawad was wasted in this and Mahira was wasted in Raees, but it also felt like the beginning. Like any promising actor new to the industry, they first get cast in cookie-cutter roles or more interesting but smaller parts to see what they can bring and how the audience responds to them. Over time as they prove themselves they have more control over picking and shaping their roles. Only we never got to the good part, only those early flashes of how they could bring magnetism to even small or flimsy parts.

          I wasn’t crazy about Fawad’s role in ADHM, but I did think he walked away with that key scene between him and Ranbir. Ranbir’s emoting is so obvious, he comes off like a kid compared to Fawad’s intensity.

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      • Although, Fawad had a really good role in Kapoor & Sons, maybe the best role. And something he couldn’t have played in Pakistan where he was better known, possibly.

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        • Agreed but that role was almost scrapped when several actors before Fawad had rejected it & until he agreed. So he may not have done the role in Pakistan but mainstream Indian heroes wouldn’t do it either even if it’s not in front of their primary target audience. And this goes for all Indian heroes other than Prithviraj. Also I would take Fawad’ s role in Kapoor & Sons as a big exception than a norm. We haven’t seen a similar non- conventional mainstream role since then,have we?

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          • Oh yeah, it was very rare. I was just thinking about the advantages of playing before an audience that doesn’t have a set idea of you yet. you may get stuck in roles that are below your fame and talent level, but it also lets you try things you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do because no one is really paying attention to you. In the same way that Anupam Kher or Shashi or Om Puri were able to really experiment in the roles they did/are doing in Western productions. Perhaps a small advantage that off-sets all the problems of working in an industry that doesn’t appreciate you.

            On Mon, Nov 12, 2018 at 7:54 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

            >

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          • Agree. All said & done, I wouldnt have minded watching more of Fawad or Mahira in any kind of Hindi movie but then one has to find ways to come to terms with the sheer stupidity of the society that we live in.

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