WARNING! This is a freakishly long review!!!! It’s a combination of the no spoiler and spoiler reviews I originally posted, and also I got very excited about the spoiler review and it was already super long even before I combined the two. So if you loved loved loved this movie, enjoy! And if you just love over-analysis, enjoy! And if neither of those things are true, skip!
This movie is very visual, it was supposed to be a kind of dreamy magical almost surreal love story. And the songs are AMAZING! Both visuals and sound. The visuals do something really unique that I can’t remember having seen in exactly this way before. It’s kind of a combination of a Greek chorus, and the bride attendants/village people/item number dancers who sometimes express the emotions of the leads on their behalf. “Rukmini” from Roja is what I kept thinking of, and actually Ratnam uses that a lot now that I think of it. The local whoevers doing a sexy dance while the hero and heroine remain serious.
When Ratnam does it, it’s because he wants to keep the main characters serious and “real”, so he resists putting them in traditional song and dance numbers, he has other characters do it on their behalf. But in this film, it’s something a little different, that feels related to the source of the story being from oral tradition.
We open with a voice-over from Om Puri (uch, Om Puri) saying that this is a story from the blacksmith’s village. And then through out the film, we will suddenly see a large group of men and women dancers in Rajasthani outfits, in the moonlight, dancing or otherwise reacting to the recent events of the tale. But they don’t serve to add anything new to the tale through their reactions, just exaggerate what was already there, express it in a purer way.
It works really well, at least for me. I was right there enjoying all the emotions and plot twists and everything underlined by the songs. What didn’t work so well was the characters and the plot that strung together all these emotions.
Harshvardhan did his best, and there were a couple of moments that he just nailed. Saiyami Kher wasn’t as good. But I also wonder if she had some language issues? She sounded really stiff with her English dialogue, but then she seemed almost as stiff with her Hindi. According to her pre-release interview with Rediff, she grew up in Nashik, where her family ran a few restaurants and grew up away from the limelight. I wonder if she also grew up speaking primarily Marathi? Or maybe she just feels awkward about delivering dialogue for some reason. There were a few physical moments that she did very well, great expressions and sudden movements and things like that. It was just the dialogue that was weak.
Ultimately though, neither of them made me sit up and go “A Star is Born!!!” I’m not saying they won’t necessarily become a star in future, but this movie isn’t it. They just don’t have the presence, the little extra acting touches, the aggressive taking of the camera until you just can’t look away. Most people don’t in their very first movie, but I always have hope that it will happen. Not this time.
Besides the weak acting, the characters aren’t that strong either. They are pretty basic “passionate and uncaring for society and in love!” types. Crossed with “Princess and stableboy”. Just like Shaandaar! But better. In Shaandaar I got super frustrated with how they wanted the “Princess and Stable boy” thing, but they set it in England and made the “stableboy” into a wedding planner who just happened to sleep in the stable. Which had me saying as I was walking out of the theater after Shaandaar, “Why did they have to make it a fantasy fake story, why not set it in India and use an actual Princess and Stableboy who are still in India instead of renting an English castle and making something up?” And, ta-da! This movie is an actual Princess and stableboy in India!
If the “Princess and Stableboy” thing didn’t tip you off, this movie is also soooooooper dramatic and romantic. There’s everything from a lion to a tragic widow, just piled on top of each other. Never a moment of lightness or humor, all drama drama drama! But all also slightly surreal. Like you are listening to a fable, like those Greek chorus dancers, not real people you care about. I got shivers down my spin with the beauty of the moments and the power of the images. But I never teared up or really cared what would happen to them in the end.
But so pretty! Totally worth seeing on the big screen, if you just want to see a lot of really amazing music videos strung together. Which apparently not many people do, I got to have a private screening! First time I’ve had that since I went to a 10:30am Saturday showing of Welcome. In a theater that has since gone out of business. Maybe because they wasted money on 10:30 Saturday matinees of Welcome?
(Catchy title song, not that great a movie)
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Of course, sticking with the legend also means that there isn’t really enough narrative to sustain a whole movie. No subplots, no twists, it all unfolds naturally and predictably. There’s two versions of the legend happening simultaneously, the film keeps cutting between them, and even with both stories going at once, it still only lasts a little under 2 hours (I think. Based on the time my phone said it started and the time I left the theater). But what little narrative there is, I will try to describe for you all, in case you don’t want to see the film, or in case you saw it and got confused.
Like I said in my non-spoiler review, we open with Om Puri giving a voice over saying he will tell us this story. He also sets up the recurring setting, the blacksmiths’ village, because he says that blacksmiths love this story and tell it again and again (really? Is that a thing or did they just make it up for this movie?). What’s interesting about the village, to me, is how the gender is handled. Women are everywhere, pounding metal, pulling bellows, etc. etc. They are also dancing and singing, sharing the story. While Om Puri’s voice is telling it, there is a strong sense that the women are the one carrying on the tradition, both of blacksmithing and storytelling. Not in a modern “breaking gender barriers” way, but as an acknowledgement that these have always been their roles, to do the tedious labor intensive tasks of craftsmanship, and to keep the stories of the people alive.
Right, Om Puri is telling the story. And we go from sparks flying in the Blacksmith’s village to fire falling from the sky as men in odd little scraps of leather ride horses across a white sandy waste. It seems to be some kind of competition, but it is the oddest competition I have ever seen!
There are little clay birds filled with explosives that shoot off into the sky, apparently planted all along the route the horses are taking, and then come down again as burning projectiles. The horsemen shoot them away with arrows. So I was thinking maybe the point was to shoot as many birds as possible? But no, apparently it was a horse race and the point was to grab the red stone thing hanging on a pole? So, a horse race, during which explosive clay birds are shooting into the sky and the whole point is to get to the red stone first? Like I said, an odd competition!
And Saiyami Kher is watching from a pavilion, all fancy looking under a red awning. She seems expressionless and uncaring, but when Mirzya/Harshvadharn shoots a clay bird really really well, she just barely smiles. Her father/brother (not sure which) notices and looks upset. And then when another competitor knocks Mirzya/Harshvadhan off his horse so that he is hanging off the side, Saiyami can’t stop herself from yelling out “Mirzya!!!!!”
And suddenly there is a little boy’s face, looking up, in a school uniform. The name is called again, but this time it is clearly “Mohnish” not “Mirzya”. A little girl in a school uniform is calling for him to come down, “Soochi” not “Sahibaan”. His mother tries to offer him his lunchbox and glass of milk, but he is already running out the door. As soon as they get outside the date, he takes her bookbag and carries it for her as they walk to the bus stop. He stops along the way to slide down a ramp twice, then runs to catch up with her, but when they reach the bus stop, he suddenly remembers something at home and runs off, promising to come back. But he doesn’t, and Soochi gets on the bus without him, standing in the door and looking back.
In school the teacher is lecturing about math when Mohnish knocks on the window. One of the kids opens it for him, and he sneaks in to sit next to Soochi. She whispers to him, asking why he was late. He hands her his lunch tin so she can have her favorite sweet, he forgot to bring it for her. Only as they are eating, the teacher turns around and notices him, asking if Mohnish “dropped from the sky”, why was he late? Mohnish lies that he had to go home to get his homework. The teacher asks for the homework. Soochi slides her book over to him and Mohnish brings it up to show. The teacher gently says that his handwriting has improved quite a bit, and then asks for Soochi to come forward and show her homework. I kind of like this teacher, he doesn’t seem angry, more just amused by what the kids are trying to get away with. Although he does have to have discipline, when Soochi admits that she doesn’t have homework, he tells her to hold out her hand and slaps it with his ruler. Mohnish sits still and watches.
On the bus on the way home, Soochi is showing her palm to everyone, they all say she should tell her father, her father will punish him, her father is a police officer and he can do whatever he wants. But once they are off the bus, Soochi explains to Mohnish that she can’t tell her father, because then Mohnish might get in trouble too, better to just let it be. They arrive at her house, where her old servant greets her with their family joke, saluting. Only she is too ashamed to salute back, as it would show her palm. Mohnish watches it all, and he watches her father clean his gun. He watches Soochi until she goes all the way up the stairs, and then leaves so quickly her father doesn’t even notice.
The next morning, Soochi yells for him again from downstairs, but his mother says that he has already left for school, he told her the teacher wanted him to come early. And then we see the teacher arrive at the entrance to the school, and suddenly there is a bang, and he falls. And there is Mohnish, holding a gun pointed steadily at him. And we flashback to the night before, when he broke into Soochi’s house and stole one of her father’s guns.
And first song! We cut between Mohnish running away, and Soochi arriving with the other students to see their teacher, and the “audience” to the story, the village folk in the night running around their fort compound thing. The song is about running and events happening outside of their control, and I love the images of all these bodies running around and leaping and hiding at the fort, contrasted with this small boy running, making us feel all the emotions he has inside of himself.
We keep cutting back to little Mohnish, going through the aftermath. He is arrested, taken to court, the judge sentences him while Soochi’s father stands there, clearly having just testified. Mohnish is taken away, his hand slowly releasing from his mother’s. Lot’s of hand stuff in this movie, back before Soochi is punished, when she is going up to the front of the classroom, she passes Mohnish and reaches out so their hands just gently stroke across each other.
Now Mohnish is all alone, he is taken to the juvenile detention center, just like Shashi Kapoor in Awara. He keeps trying to get out, clearly trying to get back to Soochi. Meanwhile, Soochi is no longer left alone. Earlier, we saw the servant braiding her hair at night and kissing her forehead, clearly being the primary caregiver. Now, it is her father braiding her hair. And sending the servant with her to the schoolbus. Only, she can’t bring herself to get on the bus, instead just standing and watching it go by with tears in her eyes. Finally, she is taken away in a car, staring out the back window the whole way.
Meanwhile, in jail, Mohnish has noticed that the guard leaves the gate when he has to catch a soccer ball the kids kick away. He joins in the game, kicks the ball free, and then runs through the gate while the guard is distracted. And then keeps running and running, while above him an airplane takes off, Soochi is in it, leaving the country.
And, song over! And now we are seeing a man’s shadow and a horse’s shadow walking over a sandy path. It looks like the mythic times scenes, but when we pull back, we can see the man is wearing jeans and a t-shirt. He is going to Om Puri’s house to get a horseshoe. A young woman comes out, Anjali Patil who does a really good job in this, and she casually greets Harshvardhan (yes! It is he!), teases him in an almost familial way, but also in a way that makes it clear she’s got a bit of a crush on him. A little boy comes running out and teases Harsh and his grandfather and mother equally. And reminds Om it is time for prayers and hands him his prayer cap and they go off to do Namaz. Huh! That’s interesting, having the community that reveres and retells this story be Muslim. Mirzya-Sahibaan is a Punjabi folk tale, and the film is set in Rajasthan, maybe they are supposed to be refugees from the Punjab or something? Or maybe it’s just a nice statement about how non-Hindu religious communities can still share in the majority’s ethnic heritage?
Harsh shoes the horse, and then we cut to the same horse trotting through fancy streets up to a palace on a hill, with a perfect proper upper crust fellow riding it. He enters the palace, passes a garlanded photo of presumably his mother, and enters into a gorgeous pavilion where Soochi’s father, in a fancier uniform and looking a little grayer, is sitting and talking with another older man who is dressed all fancy. Anuj Choudhry, the guy who was riding the horse, comes in and greets both men, nicely taking a blessing from both of the older men, and Soochi’s father is clearly fond of him, and also a little impressed, keeps referring to him as “Prince” over and over. Oh, and he jokes about how he is there it arrest him for a life sentence, because it is time to set the marriage between him and Soochi. And there is a joke about how Anuj probably knows when Soochi will be arriving in India better than her own father does, since they are in such close touch.
(I kept thinking about this every time he was addressed as “Rajkumar”)
So, this is clearly a love match. Or at least something that has grown into a love match. But I think a straight up love match, Soochi’s father is so cautious and formal with Anuj’s family, I can’t imagine he would ever have been brave enough to even suggest a meeting between Anuj and his daughter, let alone a relationship. I think it is supposed to be that Anuj and Soochi fell in love, probably somewhere overseas, and both families were happy with the marriage when the children proposed it.
We see Anuj talking on the phone that night with Saiyami (now that we at least have her voice used in this phone call, I’m going to start calling the character Saiyami instead of Soochi). He is clearly very in love, being all sappy and can’t wait to see her. Meanwhile, she is happy to talk to him, but seems a little less into it.
When Saiyami arrives in person, she seems a little more interested. She comes out of the airport and greets her father and the old servant who helped raise her, then her father tells her to turn around and see his present for her, and she turns to see Anuj and runs to embrace him. They keep standing with their arms casually around each other while they talk to her father, they seem completely and happily in love. And then just as they get in the car together, there is a sudden burst of rain, the rain arriving just as their lips meet for a kiss, seemingly a sign that this couple is meant to be together. Only, as they lean in to kiss, headlights hit them from behind, blinking into the parked car, and the camera pulls back to reveal Harsh sitting on his motorcycle, his face shadowed by his hat, Saiyami looks back in vague distress, like she can sense someone who matters to her is there, and Anuj starts up the car.
The film isn’t even bothering to pretend that we don’t know Harsh is the little boy from the opening, which I appreciate. Really, this movie doesn’t bother with any twists at all. It unrolls exactly as it was fated to happen, the beauty is in how it happens, not what happens.
The next day Saiyami is watching Anuj in a polo match. Oh oh! That horse race with obstacles thing from “olden times!” That actually makes sense as an ancestor of modern Polo, which came from Persia/North/Central Asia. Well, as much sense as it would ever make. If the culture has that kind of fire based projective technology, why are they still bothering with arrows?
In the middle of the match, Anuj changes horses and sends Harsh back into the game for him? Or Saiyami sees him with Harsh and then has a vision of Harsh in the game? Anyway, Saiyami thinks she sees him, and then suddenly we flashback to those strange past-people. Past-Harsh has recovered from almost falling off his horse and is galloping forward, looking like he will win. But at the last minute, some other guy comes up next to him and seemingly cuts ahead, getting closer to the red stone hanging from a spear which is clearly the goal. Only, just as he reaches out to grab the stone, Harsh reaches out and grabs the whole spear. And triumphantly carries it off and toward the pavilion. Saiyami almost smiles and steps forward, but her father (?) puts out his arm to block her. Harsh hesitates, and then his rival comes up behind him and throws a spear. Harsh instantly raises his bow and aims an arrow back at him. But before he can shoot, the men on the pavilion also raise their bows and aim at him. Stand off! Until Saiyami pulls off her red scarf and throws it onto Harsh’s bow. Cool shot here, which we saw a lot in the trailer, of everyone around them suddenly fading away until it is just Harsh facing away with his bow and Saiyami with her arm outstretched and the scarf floating between them. And, poof! Situation de-escalated!
Meanwhile, in the present day, Harsh is helping a white lady onto her horse. Oh right, we learned that Anuj has turned his palace into a luxury hotel, and Harsh works in his stables. A small child walks by singing “Aave Re Hitchki” and the white lady asks what the song is about. Harsh explains that it is about a man who has traveled very far from the woman who loves him, but she always remembers him, and when she thinks of him, he hiccups. The white lady compliments Harsh on his English and asks if he went to school. Harsh says no, no school, he learned it here, from the clients.
This whole conversation is just a set-up for the repeat of the conversation but slightly different when Anuj and Saiyani walk up to talk to him, asking Harsh to teach Saiyani to ride. Saiyani asks if where he learned in English, in school? And she maybe kind of presses a bit about the school thing. Harsh hesitates, and then says he learned it here, in the stables. Sayaini makes a joke about learning it from the horses.
I was wondering how they would do the “reunion” between the childhood sweethearts, if they would recognize each other immediately, or if it would slowly dawn on them, or what. And the answer is both. Harsh can barely look at her, keeps lowering his eyes, but as soon as she is distracted, he gazes at her. It’s clear she is magnetic to him, whether he is consciously aware that she is his lost Soochi or not. Saiyani is harder to read, she starts out just enjoying to learn to ride from him (song!).
And then suddenly she is talking about how riding the horse fast makes her remember a friend she used to have in school, they would ride the bike all the way up to the top of the fort, and then coast down, with her sitting on the handlebars, and it felt like flying.
She keeps remembering stories of her friend, back in the stables she is playing darts, just like little Mohnish was the first time we saw him, and talking about how her friend always made her late for school. And Harsh is working in the background, trying to ignore her. Finally he snaps and tells her “if you miss your friend so much, why don’t you go back to Gowarirar Public School [I think that was the name] and find him!” And of course that was a slip up, because she’d never said the name of the school.
Saiyami runs over to him calling out “Mohnish!” and grabbing him into an embrace. And then saying that she knew it was him all along, she missed him so much, why did he let her suffer like this? And she starts grabbing at his chest and his shirt, trying to pull it off, to see her name tattooed on his shoulder to confirm, just like her tattoo of a bird on her shoulder, done the same day. Harsh fights her off, denying her confirmation, and finally shoves her away saying “What, do you want to find me so you can hand me over to your father as an escaped murderer?” And Saiyami gasps and runs walks quickly off, back to her room in the palace. Meanwhile, Harsh falls to the floor, sobbing, in the stables.
It was clear to me watching the movie that the “gasp” wasn’t about the fact of the murder, it was about the supposition that she would turn him in. I kind of love that actually. That they are equally mad in their love. He killed a man as a small child. And she doesn’t care about that at all, in fact is offended that he thinks she would. And, she kind of suspected who he was right away (pushing him on going to school, telling stories about their childhood) and once she has confirmation, there is no hesitation, she immediately grabs him into an embrace.
This is their dynamic since childhood, equally sacrificial, equally mad, only he feels it is his job to protect her even when she doesn’t ask it. Whether it is killing a schoolteacher who beats her, or refusing to acknowledge their connection now that he is a lowly stable boy.
This next scene is the bit that made me think maybe Saiyami isn’t totally hopeless. She is looking at herself in the mirror, remembering their childhood, and suddenly Anuj comes up behind her, and she surges up and into his arms sobbing that she loves him. And I can follow her feelings her completely! She is trapped in this whirlpool of over-powering emotion, and when Anuj appears, he pulls her out of it, back to the superficial (comparatively) connection she shares with him.
Meanwhile, Harsh is also trying to forget Saiyami with an easier relationship. He has gone back to see Anjali Patil and is begging her to burn the tattoo off his shoulder. It’s a remarkably intimate act, she is kneeling behind him, he is bent in front of her, the irons are in the fire next to them. When she can’t do it at first, he begs her, and grabs her knee to hold her steady. Finally, she does it.
Saiyami is having her own trial by fire at her engagement that night, she is all fancy dressed like a princess, everyone is happy, and then after the exchange of rings, a woman offers a tray of sweets, and Saiyami sees her favorite sweet, the one that little Mohnish ran back home to get for her thus being late for school thus lying about his homework thus borrowing her homework thus her getting punished thus the teacher being murdered. And again, Saiyami does a good job, I can see all of this play through her mind just by her face.
That night, she walks around her room, finally striding out of the house entirely, seen only by the old servant. She storms into the stable, waking Harsh. He asks what she is doing there, and if anyone saw her. She says she doesn’t care, if they did she would just say she was coming there to see him (Hey! Just like Devdas!). Harsh tries to tell her she is a princess, she corrects him and says she is just “Soochi”, his Soochi. Harsh tells her that the prince loves her, she asks if Harsh loves her. He says “No”. Harsh does a very good job with this scene, he never raises his voice, always very soft and humble. But his chest is moving like he just ran a race, so we still get a sense of the strain he is under. Saiyami sees it too and walks over to embrace him. He winces as she hits his raw burn, she turns him to see the scar and then starts to cry and grabs him hard, kissing his neck. He can’t push her away, and eventually he gives in and embraces her back. She kisses his face, his neck, his chest, and finally he turns his head and kisses her lips. And song!
I like the idea of using the dancers to show the physical passion between them, very “Hamma Hamma”, but on the other hand I kind of want more shots of the real couple, because I want clarity on whether they actually slept together. And if so, did they spend the night together? Did they talk in the morning? Did they have any kind of conversation about what had happened and what it might mean? Who knows?!?!?
Oh, and INTERVAL. Which didn’t even get a freeze frame or “Interval” onscreen or anything, the movie just paused and then started up again in ten minutes. Back in the horse ring, Anuj has brought Saiyami so he can see how well she has learned how to ride. He stands with Harsh watching her ride in circles around them, and again Harsh does very good physical acting. The way he is looking but not looking at her, and ignoring Anuj, tells the whole story. He is in love with Saiyami and enjoying that he has a stronger connection with her than anyone knows. But he is humble about it, he isn’t hoping for anything more, he isn’t jealous of or angry at Anuj.
And then we in Jaipur for some reason. Anuj is at the top of the fort that Saiyami described on his motorcycle. He rides down and, in a really cool effect, it keeps cutting between him on the motorcycle and the two kids on the bike, flying down. And in the end, he sits on the top of the fort, looking out at the city, and then turning to look straight into the camera.
Meanwhile, Saiyami has been looking for him. She walks into the inner courtyard of Anjali Patil’s house, to find Anjali combing Harsh’s hair. Saiyami doesn’t even pause or react when she sees their closeness, she just looks right at Harsh and asks where he was for the past few days, she couldn’t find him. Harsh answers by introducing Anjali, explaining that when he stopped running after leaving jail, he finally ended up in the blacksmith’s village, and Anjali found him. She knows him better than anyone. Saiyami accepts all this. Meanwhile, Anjali has gone into the house. She comes back out with a jewelry box, and pulls Saiyami aside to give her a set of bracelets. Saiyami protests, but Anjali explains that since her husband died, she has no need of them. And that the 3 of them are a chain, she loves Harsh, Harsh loves Saiyami, Anjali is forever connected to her. Saiyami grabs her hand, and slips a silver bracelet off her wrist, over their hands, and onto Anjali’s wrist in one smooth movement. Anjali protests that it is too valuable, and that Saiyami shouldn’t break up the set. Saiyami says that she will give the other one to “Mohnish” and therefore the set will still be together. Anjali kind of smiles and laughs and repeats “Mohnish.”
I forgot, Harsh is going by the name Ahil Mirzya now, not Mohnish. So I guess Anjali is laughing now at hearing him called another name? Or in joy that someone is there who remembers his former life? Or in joy since she has confirmation that Saiyami is Harsh’s lost love from his former life? I don’t know! It’s confusing!
Later, Saiyami and Anuj are relaxing by the pool when Harsh comes up to get directions about the “safari” they are going on that night from them. Saiyami is carefully looking but not looking at him. As he is leaving, he drops his keys in front of her and stops to pick them up. She grabs the keys to hand to him and notices that his hands are dirty, and asks with concern what happened. Harsh explains his motorbike broke and he had to fix it. She asks him to teach her to ride his bike, and Harsh gently murmurs something, and then leaves.
On the surface, it was a completely reasonable interaction. He dropped his keys, she handed them to him, they exchanged a few words. But the way she asked about his hands, as though it was her right to know everything that affected him, and the way he answered as though he understood her concern, it was odd. And Anuj saw it was odd too, and watches her. And when Harsh leaves, he grabs her hands hand pulls out his handkerchief to wipe them off, gently chiding her for being so familiar.
That night, they are riding horses with torches over to a viewing tower. I guess this is a thing? Going out in the middle of the night to watch wildlife? I wouldn’t do it, but whatever floats your boat I guess.
I would be right not to do it, because as Harsh is climbing the tower with his torch, a lion appears! Ooooo! A lion!!! and it leaps on Saiyami’s horse. She starts screaming and calling out “Mohnish! Mohnish!” while Harsh calls out “Soochi!” and scrambles down the tower. Anuj is behind her, on his own horse, and pulls out a gun and starts shooting at the cat. By the time Mohnish gets down and grabs Saiyami and throws her back up the tower, the lion has switched to attacking Anuj’s horse, pulling him down to the ground. Mohnish rushes over with his torch and uses his fire to scare off the lion. Once the cat is gone, Saiyami runs down from the tower, and over to both men.
Okay, I really liked this scene. The lion was totally over the top, but in a good way. What I really liked was how clear Harsh and Saiyami were about each other. There was no “ooo, I just don’t know how I feel! I’m so confused!” As soon as danger was there, they immediately focused on each other. Including Saiyami calling out to him for help, even though other people (like Anuj) were right there and better able to help. Her first thought in extremis is him. And his first thought is to save her, even if it doesn’t make logical sense that he would be able to. Just like killing the man who hurt her back when he was a little boy.
Really, all along, there’s been no doubt in their relationship. As soon as they recognized each other, they slept together (I think) and barely bothered hiding their feelings in front of others. There was such power here between them, over-whelming power, there was no thought of resisting it. It was inevitable.
Of course, now Anuj is in the hospitable gravely injured, and it would be kind of jerky to leave him. Sayaimi is at his bedside when he wakes and he smiles at her with love and happiness to see her there. But after his doctor and their fathers come in, and she is sent home, she has a moment with Harsh in the hall, telling him that the marriage is supposed to be soon now, telling him without saying it that they have to do something soon, he asks when exactly, she says she doesn’t know, but soon. And that the wedding will happen, but she doesn’t know who the bride will be.
The movie does an interesting job of outlining Harsh’s slight difficulties of loyalty here. Anuj and his father, and Saiyami’s father, all treat him really really well. Yes, he is the stable boy who sleeps with the horses. But the treat him with respect and courtesy, and seem to even kind of care about him, as a person. And now, having saved Anuj’s life, they like him even more. Anuj’s father even takes off one of his rings to give to him. Of course, their teacher was kind of a nice guy too, that didn’t stop little Mohnish from shooting him, his ultimate loyalty is always to his love. But this relationship with his “enemies” does change his first actions here.
Instead of just running off with Saiyami, he goes to see her father. Again, Harsh plays this scene very quietly, barely speaking above a murmur. And he begins by asking if Saiyami’s father can answer a question of law. Saiyami’s father is nice, of course he would be happy too. Harsh asks if someone did something wrong as a boy, would he still be in trouble with the law? Saiyami’s father almost smiles, clearly putting it together that the stable boy must have done something wrong as a child, run away from home, and that’s why he is now living in the stables. He answers kindly that the law is forgiving, he has nothing to worry about. Harsh asks, “even if it was murder?” Saiyami’s father looks surprised.
Harsh goes on, asking if he remembers, the boy who stole his gun and shot a teacher. Saiyami’s father says, yes of course, the boy was in the same class as Saiyami. Harsh gently corrects him, “He loved Saiyami. He still does.” Saiyami’s father finally fully realizes what is happening, and grabs Harsh asking what he is saying. Harsh remains firm, that he loves Saiyami, and she loves him, and they have to be together. Saiyami’s father throws him out.
And then goes and immediately blabs to Anuj’s father. Hmm. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, yeah, don’t marry your daughter to the stable boy who killed a guy for her when they were children! That man, ironically considering where he lives and works, is NOT STABLE!!! But on the other hand, should you really be sharing this information about your daughter’s feelings with someone else without her permission?
Although he does also share his feelings directly with his daughter, as he should. She comes into his room at night to find him drunk. He asks her if she is “walking towards him, or away?” And Saiyami figures out that he knows. He asks how she could do this to him, how she could break his heart, and she has no response, especially not when he pitifully falls to the ground and can’t manage to raise himself up again.
But I’m still not going to forgive him for blabbing to Anuj’s father, because Anuj overheard it. And he finally puts it together, that Saiyami is in love with the stable boy, that the stable boy’s “real” name is Mohnish, and that “Mohnish!” is the name she called out when she feared for her life. Really, poor Anuj! I think it makes him a slightly better person that his reaction is to kill Harsh in order to keep Saiyami, not to kill them both because of his “honor”. It’s still not great, but it’s a little better.
So, in a completely dialogueless sequence, Anuj takes Harsh back to the viewing pavilion at night. Anuj sits on his horse, watching, holding his gun, while Harsh rides off with a torch to attract the lion again. And, of course, Anuj gives in to temptation and shoots at Harsh. Only at that exact minute, the lion appears, spooking Harsh’s horse, and causing the bullet to hit the horse instead, throwing him. Anuj runs down to check on Harsh, gun ready to give the final shot. Only on the way he notices the horse in distress, and uses his final bullet to put it out of it’s misery. Leaving Harsh, knocked out and on the ground, to be finished by the lion.
Another dialogue-less sequence, Saiyami is being prepared for her wedding. In both timelines! Back in the funky past timeline, her male relatives are coming up one by one to give her a gift and a blessing as she sits in her wedding tent. Ending with a cute cute cute little boy who gives her a little bit of glass with green liquid trapped inside and a big hug. In the modern day, woman are combing her hair, putting on mehndi and turmeric, dressing her, placing jewelry on her. It feels very intimate, but I am also very aware that there are no woman in her family, or in her fiance’s family. These are servants, or poor relations, people who are treating her as an object and their job to adorn, not people who care about her happiness or wishes on her wedding day. And as they dress her, she keeps looking over at the family servant with a question in her eyes, and he keeps shaking his head. Finally, she pulls out a locket with sindoor on the inside, and stares at it. Then pulls out a little glass bottle with green pills in it and puts it inside the sindoor. Well, that’s clever! You won’t open it until you are really really married, which is when you will need the poison anyway! And no one will question you holding onto it until them. Smart!
Finally, the servant arrives with a small figure in a burka. The maids leave the room, so the two women are alone, and the burka is lifted to reveal Anjali Patil. She smiles at Saiyami’s beauty, but Saiyami has no time for that. She looks a question, and Anjali pulls out a black handkerchief and pulls it open to reveal…..something. I kept waiting for us to get a close-up shot and see what it was, and we never actually do. I think we can safely assume it is the bracelet that Saiyami gave to Harsh or something similar, signifying he is alive. She grabs Anjali into an embrace, and then we see the servant take the burka clad figure back out through the house. Meanwhile, Anuj is at the wedding fire, having begun the ceremony. Only, when it comes time to call the bride, she won’t open her door. the maids crowd around, they can see her in her wedding finery sitting on the bed, not moving. Finally, her father is called, he takes one look, and kicks the door down. To discover Anjali, sitting on the bed surrounded by broken bangles, wearing Saiyami’s wedding jewelry and head scarf. Totally called it! But did not call that Anjali has slit her wrists, and bleed out. Well, that’s bleak! And I’m going to assume that Saiyami didn’t know that, or Harsh, because otherwise it would be pretty heartless for her to be all smiley and happy when she seems him waiting out front on his motorcycle. It is nice that the old servant guy salutes as they take off, his little joke he has been doing with her since she was a child.
Although, did he really think this through? He’s clearly sending her off to her death, right? Her father and her fiance aren’t going to let this go. On the other hand, she was going to die if she stayed, she was ready to take the poison. So I guess it’s better this way, she gets a little bit of happiness.
And they are so happy! They have no plan, beyond same vague idea of reaching the border of the state, they have a hard time getting enough gas to buy, he falls asleep at the wheel and runs the motorcycle into the sand, and everything is greeted with a laugh and a smile. Because they are just so happy to be together.
Meanwhile, as I predicted, Anuj is not taking it well. Neither is Saiyami’s father, who is coordinating his police force to find them. Okay, I know this comes up in movies all the time, and I know it probably works like this in real life too, but does no one stop to think about how WRONG it is that the police will deliver an eloping couple back to the girl’s father every time? The only legal precedent I can find for India is the Majority Act which states that EVERYONE reaches legal majority at age 18. Saiyami is definitely over 18 here, so she can run off with whoever she wants, and if the police get involved at all, it should be to protect her right to live her life as she chooses. And yet every film seems to say that a father has the legal and societal right to do as he chooses with his daughter and she has no voice at all in the matter. I’m not even sure what I want here, if I want films to do a worse job of presenting reality, to make the world better than it really is and have police refuse to take these cases, or if they do, to get involved on the side of the children. Or if I want the films to show the reality of police believing parents over all (just look at the Indrani Mukherjee case, where her fiance knew she was dead and her mother killed her, and the cops didn’t believe anything he said), but the films to also show that they are bad guys for doing it, they are evil and on the wrong side. I just know I am sick of movies wanting us to accept as a matter of course that everyone will always believe and side with the father, and we shouldn’t expect anything better from people.
Saiyami and Harsh run into their first police patrol, they run the bike over the sandhills to get away, the cops give chase and catch them, Harsh fights, and Saiyami grabs a fun that falls on the ground and shoots it in the air. Harsh jumps up and takes it from her, holding the cops at bay until they can get back on the bike and take off again. They cops can’t chase them, but soon the bike runs out of gas. So they leave it, and start to walk, hand in hand. Finally, Saiyami falls, and Harsh picks her up, carrying her until he falls as well. The lay together, and meanwhile in the past time, the past people are laying together too.
Past Saiyami and past Harsh also ran away from her wedding. We don’t see the moment he arrived or anything, just them riding off together. The reach a stream and he stops the horse and falls flat to drink from the water. Then looks up to see her taking off her wrapping to reveal her bare back as she walks into the lake, and he is awestruck by her beauty. I am not. She has a kind of thin figure which looks good in jeans and t-shirts, but looks odd when it is bare except for wrappings. I think Anoushka looked better in her similar scene in Rudhrumadevi. And then, at some point after that, the sit together beneath a tree, and sleep. And past-Saiyami dreams of her family arriving, her brothers being shot one by one by Harsh’s arrows, and finally her adorable little boy brother being killed as well.
Okay, again, I don’t have a really good alternative for this, but I am irritated in Indian films how the “good” heroine is always supposed to be conflicted and guilty about the harm they are doing to their families when they run off. On the one hand, I really like it that their emotions aren’t so cut and dried, that all other relationships don’t fade away once they fall in love, that there is an awareness that family is still important. But on the other hand, in a lot of these movies, it reaches the point where they really really should stop caring about their family. Not here necessarily, but Gadar for instance, why exactly should Amisha forgive her father? He tried to kill her husband! And her child! And accidentally shot her! These are not “understandable reactions”, these are nutty violent abusive things and the best thing to do is stay away! Same with Mahima and Alok Nath in Pardes. I feel like this is a trope that is lessening, the heroine who puts up with and forgives all because that is the virtuous thing to do, I loved how in Happy Bhaag Jayegi, Happy’s father asked for her forgiveness because he realized he was wrong. But this movie still leans into it a little, making the heroine “good” because of how she thinks of everyone else’s happiness and safety above her own, in a way that none of the men are expected to.
(This scene is so ridiculous and over the top and cheesy and I love it! But on the other hand, why can’t she just go with Shahrukh to begin with? What’s making him think she should go home? What’s making her go along with it?)
Oh right, as we all know from the myth, concerned for the safety of her brothers, Saiyami wakes and grabs Harsh’s arrows, breaking them. Meanwhile, in modern day, we aren’t quite there yet. Not until the stumble upon two horses tied up and left alone in the desert (seems odd, but okay). Harsh promptly runs down and gets a horse, and they are able to travel just a little farther. That night, by the fire, Saiyami asks how many bullets they still have in the gun. Harsh says they have six. She asks if that will be enough. Harsh pulls them out, and starts flicking them down onto her chest, looking for her reaction as he recites “One, that is for your prince. Two, maybe his father will come also, that is for his father. Three, that is for your father. Four, that is for you. And five, that is for me.” She asks who is the 6th for, and he says they are sure they will find someone. She smiled in response to all his list, but only hesitated slightly at her father.
The next morning, the horse neighs as it hears the jeeps arrive carrying her father and fiance. Harsh wakes up and grabs the gun and climbs the ridge, leaving her alone. Maybe he is hoping to die first and that she will be found and survive? Anyway, he sees Anuj get out of the jeep and stands and shoots him through the chest. Saiyami’s father gets out next and aims at Harsh, Harsh aims back and pulls the trigger, but there are no bullets left. He turns to look back at Saiyami, who is now awake and running towards him, making eye contact as he looks his betrayal and broken heart. And then he is shot, and dies.
Meanwhile, in the past, same thing! Harsh wakes, hearing Saiyami’s family arriving. He grabs for an arrow, and finds only one unbroken. He shoots it, hitting Saiyami’s father (or brother, still not sure) just as his arrow hits Harsh. Harsh turns, gives Saiyami the same look of betrayal, and dies.
In the present, Saiyami’s father has run over the ridge, to look down and see the two bodies laying together in the sun. It’s QSQT as all get out! Oh, and Saiyami is curled up against Harsh’s chest, with the open sindoor locket laying on it. So I guess she took the poison after all.
And the title song starts up again, with the refrain “Mirzya, don’t take a second birth! It will just bring pain.” And we are back in the blacksmith’s village, where a new mural has joined the first one, of past-Mirzya and Sahiban asleep in each other’s arms, now there is also present-Mirzya and Sahiban, riding a motorcycle.
Huh. I guess that’s the end. It’s funny, it was sold as a Mirzya-Sahiban movie, but there were also such strong visual references to other non-Mirzya-Sahiban films. QSQT right at the end, and that image of a boy in leather and a girl in red riding a motorcycle and smiling, that’s so Bobby.
I’m not quite sure this is the argument that Mehra meant to make with this film, but it could be saying that all those images, from Bobby and QSQT, and even “Jaati Hoon Main“, come out of the Mirza-Sahiban tradition. That we have been “tricked” into thinking of Romeo and Juliet (which is constantly referenced in this movie as well) as the obvious source for all tragic lovers, but that is an Orientalist lie. Mirza-Sahiban is at least as old if not older, and it deserves to be seen as part of that tradition, the essential building block of it.