First, most importantly, ANGIE! And all other Maddy Fans! Maddy is in it for about 15 minutes cumulatively and all he does is stand there looking solid and sensitive in glasses with shaggy hair. Barely has a character. But looks quite good. Everyone else: this movie was a disappointment, but probably still more enjoyable if you go in fresh than if you go in SPOILED. This review is for those who absolutely cannot see it in theaters, or who have already seen it and want to discuss.
Whole plot in two paragraphs:
Shahrukh is a middle-aged Little Person living in Meerut (mid-sized city in central India). He spends his father’s money constantly, doesn’t work, and has a crush on the actress played by Katrina Kaif. And then he is called up by a marriage broker and asked how he could break the heart of Anushka Sharma, so in flashback and voice over, Shahrukh tells his friend Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub all about how he seduced her. Anushka was an American scientist who came back to Meerut to get an award from her school. She has cerebral palsy, but is brilliant. At first, he insults her and she humiliates him. Frustrated, he decides to force her to see him and woos her assiduously, eventually seducing her. And then changing his phone number and avoiding her. It’s been a month, his friend is shocked at what he has done but Shahrukh has no regrets. And then they go home to discover she has found his address and his parents have confirmed the wedding. The day before the wedding, Katrina Kaif comes to Meerut for a mall opening, she is miserable and drunk after a broken love affair, Shahrukh and Mohammed go to see her appearance and chase down her car as she leaves, she stops the car and kisses Shahrukh on impulse. This gives him the pride and confidence the next day to go to the wedding and tell Anushka everything that is in his heart, and then he runs away from the wedding to enter a dance competition in an effort to meet Katrina again.
Shahrukh wins the dance competition and gets to meet Katrina again at a party, where all the other leading actresses of film are gathered around as well. He becomes Katrina’s confidant, and friend. Eventually Katrina helps him realize that he really does love Anushka, it just took all this time to see it. He makes a scene at her party, forcing her to throw him out so he will be free to go to Anushka, and with that confidence, she goes back in and finally breaks up with her toxic ex Abhay Deol. Shahrukh goes to America to find Anushka and makes a romantic scene, and then learns she had his baby and is now engaged to Maddy. She didn’t know at the wedding she was pregnant, she was fine without him but then his family forced the marriage on her and she got happy and excited, and he broke her heart. Shahrukh, to stay close to her, enters the training program at the Not-NASA where she works. He succeeds so well that it is suggested he replace the ape trained for the Mars mission. He challenges Anushka that she will stop him before the mission, she loves him too much, and she challenges him that he will be a coward and run away again. At the last minute, she runs from her wedding to the control room to say good-bye, and he goes to Mars. The end of the film is 15 years later, his capsule finally re-entering the atmosphere and the top popping off to reveal his hand coming up as he declares his love for Anushka again.
You see what I mean about too much plot? Really, this is about a man who seduced a woman out of spite and the sense that she was vulnerable, then felt forced to marry her, and ran away at the last minute to pursue something better. Only to discover he loved her after all, and desperately try to win her back. To turn his back on the amazing fantasy woman, or rather to be taught by the amazing fantasy woman that women are people too and not fantasies, and what he had was true love, but without the filmi trimmings.
That scene between them before the wedding is a marvel. We can sense that Shahrukh wants to run away, is planning to run away, and I was expecting him to run without talking to her. But instead, he tries to be as honest as he possibly can to her and she is honest in return. It is the kind of confrontation we never get in Indian films, an honest and messy discussion of what this relationship is from both sides. Shahrukh acknowledges he didn’t want this, he isn’t meant for marriage, he doesn’t want to settle down. And Anushka argues back that they are perfect for each other, equals, because they are both flawed. Essentially Anushka is saying they should settle for each other and be happy, and he is saying that he would rather remain unmarried than settle. These are valid arguments from both sides, and honestly, Shahrukh was right to run away from the wedding if that is how he felt in that moment. And that is also a really interesting movie I would love to see, both learning the flaws in their arguments, Anushka to learn she didn’t have to settle (since Maddy offers to marry her) but she still wants Shahrukh, and Shahrukh to learn that there is nothing better out there than Anushka, she is what he wants. But, it’s not the movie we see. That’s kind of the end of any logical emotional journey for Anushka, and Shahrukh’s journey is interesting for a while and then takes a turn.
There’s something really interesting in there about filminess in Shahrukh’s story, he seduces Anushka by setting up an elaborate song number for her (which he describes including how much it all cost for his friend), just like a producer would for his star. There’s a thrown away line from his father about how Shahrukh doesn’t really love his mother, he just thinks he should because Amitabh in Deewar loved his mother. And his love for Katrina is pure filmi, a magical first meeting, an epic quest, and so on and so forth. Having that film party and making Kat into a film goddess must be on purpose, and is really the best part of the movie, seeing her life and how her fame both destroys and strengthens her (she finally breaks up with Abhay remembering that Shahrukh had told her how Meerut thinks she is an angel, that she can grow wings and fly if she wants). It’s the filminess that blinded him to what he had with Anushka, and blinded her to the reality of what he was. She fell for the fantasy with him and then demanded something real later. And he fell for the real but didn’t realize it because it was too real.
If only it weren’t buried in the space INSANITY!!!!!!! And the baby insanity. Honestly, that baby is just thrown in for no reason at all!!!! We learn that Anushka didn’t even know she was pregnant when she married him, and Shahrukh wanted to get back together with her without knowing about the baby, and then it never comes up again as any part of their motivation! Anushka is going to marry Madhavan, the baby isn’t even at the wedding let alone mentioned as part of their future plans, like “I want to marry him so my baby will have a father”. Shahrukh is ready to go off to space to prove his love to Anushka, never considers that being a present and loving father to their child might be a better thing to do. And Anushka never considers stopping him so her daughter can know her father! There is no plot purpose to the baby whatsoever, it is just thrown in because it makes one scene more dramatic (the moment when Shahrukh learns it is his baby) and then forgotten. Oh, but the space stuff is much much worse.
We spend an hour on space training, and it is suuuuuuuper boring. All that needs to happen is Anushka sets Shahrukh an impossible task and he fulfills it and proves his love. Most movies, they knock that kind of thing out in ten minutes. Remember Tezaab? Madhuri didn’t believe Anil was sorry for tricking her and told him to jump off a building? And then he did? And recovered and they were in love? And that was all done in, what, 30 seconds? It’s not even the real plot of the movie, you probably don’t even remember it. In terms of plot and narrative necessity, Shahrukh has to earn back Anushka’s love once he realizes he is truly in love with her, and any task would do to make that happen. Making it this space mission takes me way out of the film because I just can’t suspend disbelief to the point of believing the chief scientist would be allowed to send the father of her baby on her mission. Or that there is truly no one else who can do it. Or, most of all, that her love challenge is to stop the mission to prove her love. You can’t STOP A SPACE MISSION as part of a romantic game of chicken! She doesn’t have that authority, NO ONE has that authority!!!
In my head, this is the movie we should have had: Anushka is a brilliant scientist, but not for not-NASA, for the Indian Civil engineering department. Everything else happens exactly the same. Only instead of this space stupidity, Shahrukh’s challenge at the end is to fit into a small space and fix a leak in a dam or something like that. It’s not global, it’s not billions of dollars and thousands of people, it’s local and thousands of rupees and thousands of lives that could be saved. And most of all, it doesn’t take 45 minutes of training montages to get to that point.
My head-movie makes more sense largely because it removes the totally unrealistic view of space travel, unrealistic to the point of making the film un-enjoyable. But it also makes sense because the whole middle section with Kat (which is, again, the best part of the film and the strongest part of the film) is about understanding the reality of love and life. Shahrukh should run from reality and flaws in the first half, learn to appreciate that the real can be fantastical through his time with Kat (she can be an amazing woman that all of Meerut believes is an angel, and also throw up into a toilet), and then run back to reality. But instead the film takes him off to another fantasy, to a vision of America which is itself fantastical (including a ridiculous view of our red light districts), and then the not-NASA and Mars mission which is far more of a fantasy than anything Katrina was selling him. The message is gone.
They try to bring it back at the end. Anushka has a voice over tying it all together, saying the miracle was Shahrukh coming back after running from the wedding, the miracle was her forgiving him, and so on and so forth. Essentially, we should celebrate the moments when life is hard and we survive, when our better angels prevail, rather than dwelling on the bigger moments. But how can I believe in that message when the last third of the film is telling me to celebrate an over the top heroic mission to Mars which finally redeems Shahrukh in the eyes of his family?
Oh, one other thing, that Shahrukh redemption. Blurgh. The Shahrukh and Anushka relationship in this film is EXACTLY what I feared when I learned Aanand L Rai was making a movie with Shahrukh. Anushka is weirdly almost inhumanly heartless. Shahrukh has to “teach” her to love their baby (one of the few times the baby comes up again). And she is ready to send him to Mars to die because she hates him so much (not because she is a scientist, but because she hates him). Shahrukh of course tricks her and destroys her and so on, but then he feels really bad about it, so the film forgives him and makes him the wise and perfect character that has to “teach” Anushka a lesson. And finally, of course, Anushka turns her back on her much more compatible and kind and reliable and attractive romantic option to go running to the flawed hero who took her virginity. BLECH.
But Katrina’s character is great, gets to be kind and smart and destroyed by love, and then get over it and realize how awesome she is and throw Abhay out of her life and her heart. It’s just poor Anushka that gets shoved into the “An Indian Woman Loves Only Once” box.