Happy Shashi Week! Kabhi Kabhi, The Movie Where Shashi is The Best Kapoor

Happy Shashi’s birthday!!!! What a wonderful day, and what a wonderful week, a Shashi review every day! Starting with Kabhi Kabhi, a multi-starrer where Shashi is easily the best man on screen.

This is just such a well-made movie.  There are 6 central couples, plus an extra couple characters.  And all of them have complex emotional backstories and conflicts and so on.  And all their conflicts inform the others.  Not like “this causes this”, but that we can see how their past experiences shaped who they are today, and therefore how they are reacting to what happens to others.

The problem with this film, or rather more like “challenge” I guess, is that none of these characters are exactly black and white.  We can’t say “this one is good, this one is bad”.  Because they are more complicated than that.  They are real people who got caught in difficult situations and have to react as best they can.  And they don’t always do the most well thought out thing, or the thing that will cause the least harm.

What makes it even more complicated is that a lot of the time what we are seeing the characters do is in conflict with what they are saying.  That is, the person who claims the most love is not in fact showing the most love.  The person who claims the greatest depth of feeling, does not display the greatest depth of feeling.  And the person who seems the most casual about everything might be the one who cares the most.

And so you come out of it discovering that our two clear “heroes” based on the explicit narrative have faded into shadow behind the one man who does nothing wrong through out the film, who is always open and loving and honest and generous.  Shashi, in other words.  And on the other hand Amitabh (who the other characters constantly refer to as worthy of pity and admiration), starts to appear more and more selfish, uncaring, and just plain dumb.  Essentially everyone’s overly dramatic college boyfriend that you are very grateful you didn’t end up marrying.

Which brings me to the plot!

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

I casually mentioned months back in a different post that this is clearly the exception to the “just let the woman marry the man she loves” rule, since Raakhee was clearly much better off with Shashi.  And what I found surprising was that someone actually disagreed with me!  Because to me, it is just that obvious.

We open with Raakhee and Amitabh’s perfect love.  A magical first meeting, a smooth romantic line, dreamy walking through the woods, talk of spending their whole lives in love together.  And then BOOM! REALITY!  We cut straight to the titles, and Raakhee wedding to someone else.  All of that dreamy love talk, that’s all it was, dreaming.  It isn’t something that will turn into anything else.  It’s only after we see the wedding that we cut back to their discussion before the wedding.  Raakhee and Amitabh debating what she is going to do, and Amitabh finally saying that they can’t build their lives on her parents’ broken hearts, she has to marry the man they chose.

And then the rest of the film is a reflection on that “perfect love” at the opening.  How does it compare with Shashi’s cheerful easy happiness in marriage?  With Neetu and Rishi’s confident loud fall into love?  With Waheeda’s calm devotion to her husband?

And the answer is, not well!  There are all sorts of little moments about it.  Neetu runs off to find her birth mother, Rishi is unhappy, and Shashi challenges him, asking what kind of love he has if he isn’t willing to go after and fight for his love?  When Rishi is confronted with potentially being engaged to someone else, he and Neetu work through the situation together, and he never accepts the possibility of actually marrying someone else.  And all of this is building to that wonderful confrontation at the end, the two confrontations really, one where Waheeda questions Amitabh’s lack of forgiveness for her but forgiveness for himself, and the other where Shashi triumphally works through all his petty feelings to come out the other side having proven that his love is true.

You could of course watch it a different way.  You could say that all of these moments of “better” love simply increase the tragedy of Raakhee and Amitabh being separated.  That Rishi and Neetu, and Shashi, they all find their happiness so easily, partly thanks to Raakhee and Amitabh’s sacrifice.  You could also say that it is a statement on time passing, back when Amitabh and Raakhee fell in love, they had to separate.  But now things have moved forward and Rishi and Neetu can choose their own partners, with the full approval of their parents.  Or you could say that all those moments of passivity instead of action merely show how deep their feelings are buried, how far down they have to hide them.

But I reject those arguments!!!!  If Shashi’s love is “better” for Raakhee than Amitabh’s, then it means that Raakhee didn’t actually make a sacrifice, she won out in the end, there was no strange beauty in her love for Amitabh versus any other love.  It’s not a statement on time passing either, because nothing changes.  I mean, the clothes don’t change or the technology or even the way men and women interact, Amitabh and Raakhee fall in love in college just like Rishi and Neetu do.  And finally you could say that those moments of passivity show how deep their feelings are buried.  But in fact, I think, it is the opposite.  It is the loud proud out going types whose feelings are discounted.  We don’t think Shashi, or Rishi, or even Neetu, are capable of deeper emotions.  But in the end, it is these silly happy joking ones who reveal true devotion.

I suppose the meaning of the film closest to Yash’s pure intention, based on the message in the rest of his filmography and so on, is that all love is different.  Rishi and Neetu fall in love their way, Shashi in his, Amitabh in his.  Some people are capable of huge embracing love, Shashi who welcomes Raakhee, Rishi, Neetu, even Amitabh, into his heart equally.  And others only have deep seated love that they cannot shift, Amitabh and his narrow love for Raakhee and his daughter and no one else.  And some are almost ashamed of their love, Waheeda and Raakhee who bury it deep inside them, afraid to reveal it.  And then there’s Rishi, able to flirt with Naseem (Amitabh’s daughter), even kiss her, and suffer no pangs of guilt or feelings that he has been unfaithful, to be that confident in his love for Neetu and vice versa.  And there’s Neetu, able to put her love for her birth mother temporarily ahead of her love for Rishi.

There’s also just the flavors of love.  Parent for child, sister for sister, child for parent, everything represented.  And what happens when they conflict.

For Rishi and Shashi, it is simple.  Love can never conflict, because it is love.  Shashi can love his wife as his wife, as the mother of his child (one of his nicknames for her), and as herself.  He can love his son, and his wife, and his wife’s ex-lover.  And his son’s fiancee, and her parents, and her birth mother.  Rishi, he can love his girlfriend/fiancee, and his parents, and also this new girl he has just met, and his girlfriend’s birth mother and stepfather.  But the other characters, they struggle.  Neetu feels like she must choose between building a bond with her birth mother and Rishi.  Waheeda feels like she must choose between her husband and her secret daughter.  And so on and so on.  But the end of the film, it is a triumph for the Rishi and Shashi way of thinking.  That love is just love, and you shouldn’t try to limit it.

Which I guess is why it feels so clear to me that Amitabh is the villain of the film, if anyone is.  He fails to fight for his love in college.  He fails to commit and truly give love to his wife in the next 20 years, instead showering it on his daughter, the only place he feels like he is allowed to love.  And when this whole mess lands in his lap, his reaction is to run from it.  To run from his wife’s illegitimate daughter, his ex-girlfriend and her husband, even the young man he has come to hold in high regard as he stayed in their house, Rishi.  He sees love only in narrow limits, he let himself love Raakhee, but only so far, once she was married to someone else, he had to bury his feelings.  And then he had to punish himself for ever feeling love by cutting himself off from all love, symbolized by his poetry.  The wiser characters know that love matures, changes, just as people are supposed to.  Waheeda loved Neetu’s father, but now she loves Amitabh.  She loves Neetu, but she loves her other daughter too.  That is possible.  Raakhee loved Amitabh, but has a different kind of love and a different kind of life with Shashi.  Even Neetu knows that she can love two sets of parents.  It’s just Amitabh who is stunted and left back in that youthful backwards mindset.

Almost all of Yash Chopra’s work revolves around the contrast between “first love” and “settled love”.  Not “settling” love, that is something different.  But the love that is all passion and connection versus the love that is about building a life together.  The best love stories are of course a mixture of the two, that’s what Rishi and Sridevi have in Chandni, a passionate immediate connection that builds into shared jokes and plans and more than just that flush of love.  Or in Lamhe, Anil’s slow realization that he doesn’t just want Sridevi 2 because he has fun with her, but he is in fact also passionately in love with her.

In this film, Amitabh and Raakhee represent that passionate first love.  But it is a love that never really progresses beyond that passion.  He writes poetry, she watches him.  She asks about the future, he spins some gorgeous line about spending all their days and nights together.  And then there is her love with Shashi that never had that magical first love moment.  Raakhee was happy, we see her sincerely smiling on their honeymoon, and really every time she is with him, he always makes her happy.  But it’s not “magic”.  She doesn’t look up at him worshipfully.  He’s just there, her husband who is nice and (apparently) very very good in bed.

And Amitabh feels the same way about Waheeda.  She is just there, his wife.  He likes the life she has built for him, he likes her sewing on his buttons and raising his daughter and all of that.  But he doesn’t run to meet her, or smile when he sees her, or any of that.

In the penultimate sequence of the film, it all comes out.  Shashi overhears Raakhee and Amitabh talking and realizes that Raakhee was Amitabh’s lost love in college.  He doesn’t say anything at once, acts smiley and friendly while the audience waits for the explosion.  And it seems like there will be an explosion as he starts to fully unravel the nightmare, that he even made Raakhee recite Amitabh’s poems on their wedding night and starts laughing hysterically.  But after that scene, that’s when it takes a turn.  You see, Shashi doesn’t care.  He addresses it head on, this conflict, and dismisses it.  Raakhee has been a wonderful wife to him, why should he care what she did before?  And besides, it’s a compliment, his wife is so beautiful that another man loved her.  Shashi has revealed his amazing open-mindedness, that his happiness wasn’t just because he had never faced conflict in his life, but because he had a healthy ability to always see the lightest side and hold on to it.

And then Amitabh brings out his dreary insistence on the dark side.  Declares that Waheeda and Shashi have no idea of the pain he and Raakhee suffered, burying love with in them, trying to go on with their lives, etc. etc.  And Shashi’s reaction to all of this, rather than trying to argue in anyway, is simply to say “wah!” in appreciation and embrace Amitabh as his friend.  And it is this which gets Raakhee, finally, to look at him with love and worship and declare him a God.

Amitabh, still, is blind.  Not until the next day when the ridiculous action sequence happens (clearly Yashji wasn’t sure how to end this thing) does he see the truth.  All of these people are willing to risk themselves to save someone they love.  But at the end of it, it turns out, they all love everyone.  Rishi, Neetu, Naseem (Amitabh’s daughter), they aren’t rescued by the person who rode in there to save them, but by someone else entirely.  And, finally, Amitabh loosens his self-control, his standards, and realizes that he can let himself love his wife without taking anything away from his love for his first girlfriend.  And he can believe that she loves both him and her dead lover, each in their own way.  He was wrong.

Everyone in this movie has to change, to realize they were wrong in their first love.  Raakhee and Amitabh, obviously.  Also Waheeda, with her finding new happiness in marriage after the death of her first boyfriend.  And Shashi, who comes to a new understanding of his marriage.  Even Naseem, she loses Rishi and gains a sister.  Rishi and Neetu, they are the only ones with triumphant first love.  But that is because they fought through their own changes.  Going from happy easy romance, to sad angry fighting romance, with Rishi insisting that he is not going anywhere without her, and Neetu torn between conflicting loyalties.  Until they finally fight through to the other side, together.  The fight that our couple from the beginning, our dreamy romantic couple, was never a strong enough team to attempt.

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31 thoughts on “Happy Shashi Week! Kabhi Kabhi, The Movie Where Shashi is The Best Kapoor

    • Thank you!

      And yes, you can look at the successful love story of Neetu and Rishi and see how they are willing to fight and lie and do whatever it takes to be together, and even then they barely make it. Waheeda and her lover, he died and she was left with nothing. Amitabh and Raakhee, Amitabh wasn’t willing to fight her whole family for her. Shashi didn’t have to do anything to get his love, but he worked hard to keep her, always a charming generous loving husband.

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  1. I love Shashi’s character so much in this film. The scene in the car where he realizes what he did when he made Raakhee recite the poem on their honeymoon night and he laughs bitterly but then the segue to the next scene where hashes it out with Amitabh and then to the scene where Raakhee is crying and he’s surprised and tells her there’s no need for tears and that’s when she calls him a god. It’s so good!

    The only thing about the film that now gives me pause is the honeymoon scene. Raakhee is so clearly distressed and Shashi isn’t paying attention to that, he’s undressing her and eagerly looking forward to their first time having sex. The next scene kind of makes up for it in that you very explicitly see the morning after with Raakhee clearly having enjoyed the sex but the issues around consent and my heightened awareness after everything that happened over the past year, sigh. It’s hard sometimes to look at beloved art and acknowledge the ways it’s problematic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The whole “first night” idea as presented in films is strange, because the bride is supposed to be shy and the groom takes the lead. Ideally that is because the bride has been taught to ignore her desires, and is uncertain of what to do while the groom is expected to be active and seduce her. But being shy and confused but still willing can look so similar to being truly unwilling and unhappy, and it’s hard for a randy young groom to tell the difference. And it would be very hard for a bride to say out loud “I don’t want this, stop” instead of trying to convey it in body language that is hard to read. The movies that have made it very clear tend to include the bride sleeping on the floor instead of the marriage bed or something similar, something impossible to mistake.

      Some very rare movies deal with the opposite, a bride who is eager and a groom reluctant, but of course the bride can’t do anything about it until the groom takes the lead, because there is no cultural template for a bride to acknowledge her own desires and try to seduce the groom on the first night. Paheli, and a little bit Bangalore Days tell this story.

      One thing that strikes me whenever I watch Kabhi Kabhi, and which I am sure Yashji did on purpose, is that Shashi never really sees Raakhee’s face. And her movements are accepting, she isn’t pushing back against him at any time, without the facial expressions and backstory that the audience has, it would be possible for him to read her behavior as shy but willing.

      On Mon, Mar 18, 2019 at 2:28 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I read Raakhee as being ambivalent and a bit nervous of her first time–not unwilling. She has accepted the marriage and likes Shashi. I thought it was pretty bold to show that she is imagining Amitabh at least part of the time, including having him unveiling her wearing Shashi’s bridegroom clothes.

      I purely loved the morning scene after, including her patting Shashi on the butt. There is so much that’s problematic with sex and sexuality in Hindi films, but I enjoy how frank and accepting it is about sex inside of marriage. I mean, Desi and Lucy weren’t even allowed to share a bed on TV in the US, not too long before this movie was made!

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      • Just read your other comment, so I know you are only halfway through. There’s a scene later in the movie with middle-aged Raakhee and Shashi in bed together and clearly still having a great time. So it’s sex positive, AND non-procreational middle-aged sex positive!

        On Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 9:29 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I am going to be in the minority here (and about to say something very unpopular) but the only thing I like about this movie is Shashi and maybe the songs when I am not watching them as part of the movie. Other than that I cannot stand this movie. Everyone is awful! This to be is in stark contrast to something like Made in Heaven where every character has shades of grey but they also make you empathize with them. Yet, in this movie, the neatly packaged ending just seems out of place and doesn’t redeam any of the characters to me. Neetu has amazing, loving, parents and yet when she finds out she is adopted, she acts like a brat and becomes obsessed with finding her birth mother and could care less about how much she hurts her parents. Rishi loves Neetu, yet shamelessly firts and leads Naseem on. Amitabh convinces Rakhee to marry Shashi and then treats his wife with cold disdain because he is still having some PTSD of his lost love. Waheeda tells her birth daughter to lie because she is scared to tell the truth to her husband. UGH!!! The only saving grace, to me, in this movie is Shashi.

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    • Oh I think you are fine! If you said you didn’t like Shashi, then there would be riots. You are absolutely right, everyone in the film is selfish in their choices. Except Shashi, because he is the best. And also Raakhee maybe? She puts up with Amitabh, lets him decide her life for her, and then sets about making the best of it and being happy with the husband she gets.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the prompt to watch this! I made it just past halfway through last night, so I won’t comment on the whole thing yet. My Internet crapped out right when Rishi shows up at Amitabh’s place after Neetu runs there, and I took it as a sign to go to bed.

    So far, I’m really enjoying the songs, how sexy Amitabh and Shashi are, how gorgeous Raakhee is, and Simi Garewal, whom I’ve only seen before on her interview shows. Also the very switched-on 70’s decor and fashion. I recently re-watched The Eyes of Laura Mars and they would make an interesting double feature, just in terms of fashion. Very different in terms of tone and content of course.

    As a fatty myself, I sympathize with Rishi’s ever changing body shape. It looks like he gained and/or lost 20-30 lbs during production. Maybe multiple times? I find older Rishi more attractive than younger–just watched Hum Tum and he’s so cute!–in part because younger Rishi looks just enough like Ranbir and has enough similar mannerisms to freak me out.

    Shashi is immensely charming, and his character is very sweet so far. But the continual over the top laughing is putting me off a bit. Is that meant to indicate he is half-sozzled all the time, or that he is bubbling over with good will, or is it a Shashi thing? Or something else?

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    • I think he is supposed to be both cheerful, and half-sozzled. This was one of Yashji’s favorite characters and he based it on the relationship he wanted to have with his sons, which is sweet. But also a bit odd because Yashji himself was a teatotler and Shashi’s character is so much a cheerful drinker.

      I also think it is meant to show the great contrast between the two men in Raakhee’s life. She has Amitabh, who is always serious and deep and poetic, and Shashi who has no depth to him or interest in a thoughtful life, but is always cheerful and laughing. And (I think we can agree) way WAY better at the sex then Amitabh is. The second half has a set of contrasting bedroom scenes that makes that painfully obvious.

      On Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 9:37 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Looking forward to more Shashi movie reviews this week. It’s about time I dug in to some older movies.

        I finally get young Amitabh’s sex appeal–I know, I’m a late bloomer. In Sholay there was just too much going on, and clearly neither he and Dharmendra are meant for each other. But during that tiny scene when he renounces poetry to start working for his father’s exploding business (doesn’t seem to be anything but exploding so far), and drives up in a jeep with his denim shirt open to his waist–my ovaries had a heart attack!

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        • My father describes these business as the “rock factories”. Amitabh works in one here and in Trishul, Salman gets a job at one in Maine Pyar Kiya, they don’t seem to be about anything besides exploding mountains and then taking your shirt off and shoveling up rocks.

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  4. That was my first Shashi! He was so charming that I immediately watched another movie of his I happened to have, Shakespeare-Wallah. Now that was pretty different! I’ve enjoyed other Merchant Ivory movies (I love Maurice) but that one really bored me and I couldn’t even finish it… Anyway, I watched better Shashis after that, thankfully!

    You know, I really love Kabhi Kabhi’s ending. Such a beautiful film about hidden pasts (your write-up is gorgeous in itself), and then… EXPLOSIONS! Motorbikes! Horses! A FIRE! Hahaha. Pretty freeing!

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    • Yes! I have a theory that Yashji never quite knows how to end his films, he builds up all these complicated relationships and then can’t figure out a satisfying ending. Dil To Pagal Hai, Darr, Silsila, it just doesn’t quite make sense. But this movie he gave up on any logic and just took a sudden veer away from emotional truth and into INSANITY.

      On Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 1:38 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Silsila was an interesting experience because I had no idea how the conflicts were resolved. So this was going through my head: “Oh hey, is Amitabh about to realize he made a mistake running away with Rekha but now it’s too late–THE END? That’s cool, actually, pretty dark and–wait, airplane crash? Rescue? Well, all right, then!” Not sure it actually worked for me (I feel ambivalent about that movie in general) but it certainly wasn’t boring!

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        • I like your idea of Amitabh realizing he lost Jaya and can’t get her back, THE END. That’s kind of cool! Best possible punishment for him, losing out on a happy married life with Jaya. I guess Yashji wanted to reach a point of Amitabh and Jaya having a sincere conversation and him discovering he had grown to lover her and couldn’t figure out a better way to get there than AIRPLANE CRASH.

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          • Yes, I almost thought that would happen when they go to the friend’s parents’ ceremony near the end, after Amitabh says the’re not going as a couple so as not to create discomfort–a blow to the whole “us against the world, we’re together in this, let’s fight society, etc” thing. I pictured them looking at each other during the ceremony and internally going “so, uh… maybe that was a mistake…” (The Graduate-like!) and a depressing The End appearing on the screen, haha.

            Going back to Kabhi Kabhie: rewatched that chase sequence and it reminded me that Waheeda and Raakhee were sadly excluded from the Wacky Races fun! They totally should’ve gotten on a tractor (to add to the vehicle diversity!) or something. And Neetu’s adoptive parents could’ve appeared out of nowhere on a balloon (oh, the panache!).

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          • An earth mover! One of those big machines at the rock factory, the two women could drive it together, and then one of them could go into the spoon part up front and be lowered down into the fire to save people.

            On Wed, Mar 20, 2019 at 10:48 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Finished this last night. I must admit I skipped a couple Rishi/Pinky scenes and songs. Interesting theme of how both single daughters were so loved that they became “spoiled”, thus running off impulsively to find their birth mother or commit suicide, somehow, on their beloved horse. Poor horse! I’m quite unclear–how did Shashi know everyone was running into the blast zone? I must have missed that. Amitabh’s reaction after Sweety is saved from the fire is very sweet indeed, and one of the few times I’ve seen him show big emotion on screen that isn’t lust or anger. Mind you, he has many many films I haven’t seen yet.

    I found it enjoyable. I was glad that my daughter watched the last 30 minutes or so with me, because I could say, see, that’s what a good husband and father looks like, and that’s what a crappy one looks like. Loved Shashi’s speech about how past romantic attachments of women can’t override 20 years of a loving life together. Nice.

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    • I love the ending! Both the crazy horse-motorcycle-jeep chase (how is the horse always in front? How does the motorcycle and/or jeep never overtake it?) and the exchange of speeches between Amitabh and Shashi, Amitabh wallowing in self-pity and narcissism and Shashi looking at the big picture and seeing the other side of things, always.

      Oh, and now you’ve seen the second half, how cute is that bedroom scene between Raakhee and Shashi??? With her holding up the pillow wall and insisting on compliments?

      On Wed, Mar 20, 2019 at 6:37 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Wonderful! “Your eyes resemble the lantern burning in a poor man’s hut.” 🙂

        Ok, I think I can watch 2 more Shashi’s this week. Which ones? I don’t want to watch Junoon–too intense and depressing right now. Also I find it weird that his wife is playing the mother of the girl he obsessively falls in love with (if I’m understanding the review correctly). Between Sharmilee, Trishul, and Deewar, which 2 should I watch?

        Thanks for doing a Shashi week. He might be the pre-SRK SRK for me. A different kind of masculinity, quite handsome, and sexy as all get out.

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        • Sharmilee and Trishul! If you can find them. Deewar is depressing too, but Trishul has a happy ending and Shashi and Amitabh get to be friends. And Sharmilee is AWESOME. I just rewatched it and I love it.

          On Wed, Mar 20, 2019 at 9:45 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • “how did Shashi know everyone was running into the blast zone?”

      Shashi’s magic powers! I laughed in total delight every time they cut to him on the motorcycle.

      Liked by 1 person

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