I put off watching this for years, and then I finally did, and it was just as delightful and lovable and wonderful as I had heard, and the songs were even better in context.
After two perfect and perfectly wonderful films, Kandukondain Kandukondain and this one, he has a new film out right now starring Aparna Balamurali from Maheshinte Prathikaaram and a musician who has done stuff but most importantly is AR Rahman’s nephew by way of his sister. And yes, Rahman did the music. Well, he had to, didn’t he? If it is his nephew’s movie. Although he probably would anyway, apparently Rajiv Menon is super fun to work with.
I say that because his two films, this one and KK, are both such a hodge-podge of talents. Rajiv is a cinematographer who has worked in Tamil and Hindi industries, and he pulled on all his connections when doing his own films. In this movie, he not only had Kajol as the heroine along with two Tamil heroes (Prabhudeva and Arvind Swamy), he also had Prabhudeva as choreographer, along with Farah and Saroj Khan who are primarily Hindi choreographers. And in his other movie (strangely satisfying knowing that I have now seen the entirety of his directorial output), he had Tabu and Aishwarya who were kind of crossover stars between Hindi and Tamil, Ajith who is definitely Tamil, and Mammootty who is Malayalam. And, again, Farah did the choreography. Looking at that list, it makes me think that they all joined the films because they believed in them and wanted to work with Rajiv. And that is what it feels like when watching the movies, that everyone is enjoying themselves and is really happy to be here, above everything else.
Which brings me to the theme of this movie! It’s about being happy to be here, enjoying yourself, giving in to your indulgences. Which also makes it a very good Fat Tuesday film. The overall message is that God wants us to be happy, he gave us the tools to make ourselves happy and expects us to use them. Love, laugh, sing, dance, whatever you want, it is all good and Godly if it gives you joy.
Kajol is the most perfect heroine for this film, I can’t imagine anyone else bringing what she does to the role. Because what makes Kajol special is the amazing joy for life and living that comes through from her to the camera. Especially in this era, when she was 22 and had wild hair and blue jeans and bright colors, when she was acting for the fun of it, and the screen was her second home. There is something different about the “new” Kajol, the one who started appearing after Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. Not better or worse, just different. Her look is more thought out, her acting is less spontaneous, she feels “grown up” in a way that young Kajol never really did, I always felt like young Kajol was inviting us in to the wonderful time she was having onscreen, her characters had such irrepressible joy.
And that’s what makes this heroine special. Someone who has this huge capacity for joy in both worldly and unwordly pleasures. The conflict is which kind of joy she will choose.
And this is also why Arvind Swamy and Prabhudeva are such perfect heroes for her. Arvind, with his perfect mature dignified civilized gentle modern man persona, and Prabhudeva with his lowerclass intoxicating and intoxicated, wild, unthinking kind of persona. Neither of them are angry, neither of them are mean or cruel or violent. But they are on opposite sides of the world in terms of where they find joy. Kajol is torn between the two of them, between the gentle generous soul, and the wild joyful spirit.
(Kajol and Arvind’s gentle daydreams instead of bracing challenge of Prabhu)
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Fascinating opening to this film. We see Girish Karnard talking to his friends, showing them home movies going back to his father’s time. The world is static and silent and 2 dimensional. He explains that after his wife’s death, he sent his tiny daughter to be raised in a convent school, where the mother superior took her in and loved her as her own. He was connected to the school through his business manager who was the brother of the mother superior. But then the business manager opened his own competing clothing factory and spoiled his young son while Girish’s daughter grew up sweet and generous. And now she is a young woman, about to graduate from convent school, while the business manager’s son is about to return from studying in America.
And then we leave the static boring 2 dimensions to see the exciting alive 3 dimensions! Kajol! In class, but no longer the perfect proper little girl, now sitting in a classroom filled with other young woman in vibrant varied modern clothing, singing to herself about flowers and bees. The song fades from the classroom, to a school show, the girls dancing in white. The nun signaling to them not to dance too wildly and improperly. And then the backdrop lifts again to show that they are now dancing in the real forest. It’s Kajol’s joy breaking through into everything else around her, not the simple easy little girl her father neatly slotted away, and someone with too much inside to be contained, who has to break free to the real forest and do her dance and sing her song.
What’s really interesting and hard to explain without seeing the film is that the “breaking free” she does is by wanting to become a nun. It’s not a decision she was pressured into or because she thinks it is “proper”. It’s because she has a true love for God bursting out of her from everywhere, she wants to put that joy to use in the world, make it her identity, not just disappear into a proper life her father has prepared for her. But the mother superior is wiser, can see that all this joy doesn’t necessarily have to go towards God. So she makes a deal with Kajol, she will go home for now, experience everything the world and life has to offer, and if she still wants to come back and give her life to service, she can.
Oh, and also Arvind Swamy came to visit his aunt the mother superior and saw Kajol and heard her sing and fell in love. But Arvind, as he himself says later, is really just in the plot to bring together the true conflict, the true meaning. Arvind is shy and kind and good. But he isn’t the one who can wake Kajol up to the joys of the world instead of the joys of God. For that you need someone totally unlike her, someone who is all worldly.
Enter Prabhudeva! Brilliant casting, because his part is almost entirely physical. His first moment on screen we don’t even see his face, he is in the background dancing with a towel in the barbershop while Arvind is getting a shave, but you can recognize just the way he moves as something really special. And then we see more of his life and see that he is definitely something special. A barber, and a part time musician, he is all about making people happy and figuring out what they want. In a good-hearted way. His assistant makes a mistake and cuts the wrong hair, so he flatters and pleases the customer until she is happy again. Not in service of getting a good tip or even fixing his own mistake, but to save his colleague from trouble. He shares a back room with 3 friends and smooths over the arguments over the shower and the beds. His friend’s marriage falls apart, and he talks the bride down from the ledge (literally). During this last is when Arvind sees him and offers him a deal, he has to convince a woman to fall in love with him. It’s implied that Arvind will pay him for this to make it worth his while, but it is also clear that Prabhudeva can tell Arvind is truly and sincerely in love, and a truly decent person, there is nothing immoral in this agreement to serve as a go-between. And he has to be convinced even more when he learns that Arvind is competing not with another man, but with God. It is only when Arvind shows him Kajol, and points out that her gorgeous hair would be cut if she were to become a nun, that Prabhu is finally convinced.
I knew where this plot was going from the synopsis, but I honestly did not see how it would get there from the set up. Prabhu is so clearly the humorous servant type, not a true romantic rival. His reaction to Kajol isn’t wide-eyed love, but to remark on her hair and make a face. And Kajol only notices him as a funny guy at the snack shop that she can make fun of.
Prabhu tries at first some simple schemes, like having Kajol be saved from a runaway car by Arvind, which don’t work out. But then things take a twist when a music producer sees a video of Kajol singing with Prabhu to the music written by his friend Guru (sidenote: Played by NASSAR!!!!!!!! Kajol Devgun is only one step removed from Bahubali!!!! Mind=BLOWN). Nassar and Prabhu beg Kajol to sing with them, not as part of any scheme, but because of the honest reason they are telling her, they want the music contract and need her. And so Kajol is sucked into “the world”.
It started the first time Prabhu met her, his big exuberant dirty humor surrounded her with the world around her. At their second meeting, her infectious joy infused a whole street fair. And now she is laughing and playing and singing with his little gang of friends. She isn’t in love with him, but she is beginning to wake up to and fall in love with life, with youth, with everything outside of the convent. She is seeing the value of life outside.
But Prabhu is blind to this. That’s the other important part. He isn’t some Pygmalion figure controlling everything and creating her in his own image. He claims he is at the beginning, he can convince anyone, but we can see that he is natural and happy with Kajol once he switches from working for Arvind to asking her to sing with them, he is spending time with her just as himself. Not that he is in love with her or vice versa, they are just joyful young friends. And when he sees another opening for Arvind, learns that Arvind gives clothes to the street kids every evening, he leaps at it, comes up with a plan to bring Kajol there without even telling Arvind, knowing that Arvind is too decent and unworldly to agree. But Arvind is late, because he is helping a wounded dog, and so Prabhu and Kajol are alone with Indira Gandhi between them. The symbol of unwomanly-womanliness, strength and independence and everything triumphant. And Kajol is there with her soft loose hair and soft face and bright clothes while Prabhu tries to convince her that she shouldn’t devote her life to service.
It doesn’t work, she is tired of the same old arguments. So, to distract her and keep her there, Prabhu starts to sing. Without really thinking about what he is singing at first, just a casual dance and song. But then she starts singing back and they are swept away. It goes from friendship to love in the course of one magical song number.
Which (tm ME! I don’t think anyone else has noticed this ever) is also an homage to the great American friendship to love song, “Our Love is Here to Stay” in An American in Paris. Same set, same dance movies slightly twisted, it is one of those homages that doesn’t take away, but rather makes you appreciate both the original and the remake more once you see them together.
(Let’s see if how long this link lasts! MGM is brutal with the copyright violation pull downs)
Once Kajol and Prabhu are in love, they are in love all the way. All at once. Kajol is thrilled and happy and trembling, Prabhu is tormented and miserable, after just one song.
And then Kajol finds out Arvind asked Prabhu to befriend her and is miserable again and done with the world, ready to retreat to the convent. And Prabhu is ready to do whatever it takes to stop her, up to and including hanging off the side of her train and trying to convince her to come back.
This conversation is amazing, both the performance, in which Kajol brings that raw emotion that is just so effortlessly real in a way only Kajol can do and Prabhu uses the twists of his body to show his mental anguish, and the content. It addresses directly all the things that were just sketched in for the rest of the film, all the reasons that we the audience also thought this romance was impossible. Prabhu is a barber, who makes rich ladies happy so they will give him tips. He isn’t a secret millionaire or anything like that, he is a real true low class barber. And Kajol is beautiful and wonderful and rich and they should never have even spoken, let alone become friends, let alone fallen in love. Where can they go from there? Prabhu wants Kajol to marry Arvind, the man who can keep her happy and is part of her class. Kajol wants Prabhu to not have broken her heart, not have started their friendship with a lie. There is no simple answer, it is just a mess. And Rajiv Menon, our director, doesn’t give us a simple answer. Well, he half doesn’t. His solution is for Prabhu to fall of the side of the train he is holding on to and end up in the hospital. Which makes Kajol realize that Prabhu is truly innocent and decide that he is being punished for her “sin”, for her turning away from God. And so she goes to the convent. This is the simple part of it, bodily harm leading to forgiveness and drama. But the more complicated part is that it isn’t an immediate solution. Kajol has to go to the convent and go through the whole long process of postulancy while Prabhu has to recover, and Arvind has to help him and slowly come to terms with Prabhu and Kajol, the impossible couple, actually being in love with each other. Only after all of this time does the resolution come, when they have all changed and made peace with themselves. When Kajol has learned that Prabhu has an impossible never dying hold on her heart and Prabhu has learned the same about her. And Arvind has learned that he is capable of the greatest sacrifice, he can give up his love for her own happiness.
And so the ending is a long time coming and very sudden at the same time. After months and months, on the last possible day, it is Arvind who rushes to stop Kajol from taking her final vows, to remind her that she loves Prabhu. And the reverend mother agrees, tells her that God has given her this love, so she should accept and appreciate it, not throw it away.
Now, in the Hindi version, there is a strange sudden cut after this to Prabhu and Kajol’s wedding. We don’t get a resolution on anyone else’s story, including Arvind. And this is why I am telling you DON’T WATCH THE HINDI DUB. It’s on Amazon Prime, for free, but still DON’T WATCH IT. Instead, watch the Tamil version that’s on youtube for rent for just a few dollars. Because the ending is completely different, in a way that makes the whole thing completely different.
In that version, after Arvind has walked off into the rain crying out “Oh God! Why did I finally find my voice to speak on someone else’s behalf not my own?”, we cut to a bride and groom walking down the aisle from the back. With the voice over explaining that, years later, Arvind finally found the love he was meant for. Only for the camera to swing around and reveal that Arvind isn’t the groom at this wedding, he’s the PRIEST!!!!
And it all comes together. Arvind was there to bring Kajol and Prabhu together. And Kajol was there to bring Arvind and God together. And Prabhu was there to bring Kajol and The World together. There was a plan, it all fit together in the end. There were even hints through out the film as to the final destiny. Kajol’s friends teasing her about how she gets these mad passions that fade away. Arvind “feeling something” when he hears Kajol sing a hymn, not realizing it was love for God that was filling him. Arvind’s effortless natural generosity versus Kajol’s aggressive feeling that she should give, but no natural sense for it. Even the fact that the reverend mother was like Kajol’s mother, but was actual Arvind’s aunt. It is Arvind’s family who is Christian, who has the tradition of service, not Kajol’s. Everyone has now found their rightful place, unlikely as it may have seemed.
(Kajol singing of love for God, and Arvind mistaking his emotions in response as love for her.)
There’s a small moment earlier showing how even Kajol was destined to marry a lower class man. Her father loves her, but has never understood her. It is their servant who raised her, who calls her “Puppy”, who remembers crooning over her and wiping her tears as a little girl. Just as Prabhu can understand her instinctively and break through to her heart in a way that Arvind never could.
And over the end credits we get the little details of how these places came together. Arvind’s father has gone from showing off his wealth to showing off how much of his wealth he gives away. Kajol’s father still tells his stories in his slide shows, slightly removed from the world. Kajol is a playback singer, sharing her music with the world instead of keeping it for God. And Prabhu has become a salesman to the white people who come to buy from Kajol’s father’s factory. Still acting the servant, still pleasing others, but a different group of others from before. He had a destiny too.