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!
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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.