We were just talking about against the grain readings and I realized that I had Lover Come Back stored on my TV, one of the biggest against the grain movies of Hollywood. And then I watched it and realized it hits that sweet spot of romance with social commentary all baked in that I like. Plus ten gabillion moments of “we all know that Rock Hudson is gay and are having a super fun time playing with the audience not knowing that Rock Hudson is gay”.
Pillow Talk is gross and weird and wrong, all about Rock breaking through Doris’ “frigid” reserve and blech. But this movie! This movie takes Pillow Talk‘s creepy gender issues and throws some angry under class rebellion into them, adds a touch of cute intelligent competition and underhanded tactics from both sides. There are still some creepy moments, but not nearly as many.
Doris is one of the first female advertising executives, she does her homework and works hard and thinks outside of the box and has the respect of her boss and co-workers. Rock works for an old inherited firm, he comes from nothing but has worked his way up and casually manipulates the wealthy clients and his wealthy boss, barely concealing his disgust for their slower minds and lazy privilege. Doris and Rock hate each other, Doris because Rock uses underhanded methods and wild parties (male privilege) to get clients. Rock because Doris is buying into the whole system of truth and justice and inherited privileges that he disdains, and is smart enough to take him down. Rock’s rich dumb boss makes a mistake and releases a fake ad campaign Rock put together to pay off a witness. Rock decides the only solution is to hire a chemist and create a product. Doris meanwhile is obsessed with taking him down and stealing this new product from him. She learns he is working with a brilliant chemist and goes to talk to the chemist, only to mistake Rock who is visiting the lab for the chemist. Rock Hudson pretends to be a sweet innocent scientist and Doris falls for it. But at the same time, her ambition and intelligence as she plays the hard driving advertising executive looking for an account at any cost makes Rock start to fall in love with her. It all comes wrong just as Doris and Rock are about to sleep together, her boss calls to tell her the truth. It all comes together when they try the product, it turns out to be a drug, with their inhibitions lowered they get married, Doris is furious the next day and leaves him while Rock is delighted and realizes that he is happy about this and in love with Doris after all. He arranges for her to get the account and have her job back, then leaves town. Only for a humorous surprise ending to reveal her secretary calling him from the hospital, Doris is about to have his child, and Rock rushes to her, revealing he has been faithfully begging for forgiveness for 9 months and now wants to marry her. Doris finally gives in just before being rolled into the delivery room.
Okay, dump most of the details. But keep the idea of a proper educated nice woman working hard to make her way in a man’s industry, versus an angry lower class man making his way by manipulating the weak inherited wealthy above him. One of them who thinks she can succeed on merit and the other who accepts that the world is ultimately rigged and it’s all about cheating enough to balance the scales. And also the central plot idea of the made up product, and the accidental mistaken identity that leads to spending longer together than normal.
Just for fun, I want to put this in the world of Hindi film. Our heroine (let’s say Anushka) is an earnest new hire at YRF, wants to do everything proper and right, has a degree from an overseas marketing school, is very serious. Our hero (let’s say Ranveer) grew up in the Bombay chawls and lied and cheated his way up the ladder at Dharma, and is now running the place while Karan swans around being a celebrity and using his connections.
They first run into each other when a new international studio is considering coming to town. Anushka works all night coming up with a proposal using all her tricks from her overseas education, her fancy computer, and so on and so forth. Meanwhile Ranveer uses his connections with the baggage handlers to find out which flight he is coming in on, meets him at the airport, takes him for street food, and then to a real Bombay dance bar, gets him drunk on local liquor, and convinces him to sign a contract with them because they are all now such good friends. Anushka shows up for her meeting the next day to find the international studio rep hungover and with naach girls asleep in his hotel room. She is furious and wants to file a report with the producers’ guild. Her boss tries to tell her that no one can take Ranveer down, he worked his way up from a spot boy to the secret power in one of the biggest studios in town. No one will testify against him, no one will risk making him angry, everyone will be loyal. Anushka takes this as a challenge and goes to talk to the naach girls, convincing them by talking to them equally and seriously about how Ranveer is using them.
Ranveer is furious when he learns one of his naach girls is going to testify against him, furious that someone has out maneuvered him, and especially angry that gender loyalty has won out against class loyalty. He tries to convince her that this rich woman is just using her, doesn’t really care, not like he does. And ultimately ends up promising that he will give the naach girl a role in a really big upcoming movie they are making for his studio. And then he has her memorize a script he wrote for her, which is perfectly calculated to please the old men in the producer’s guild, all about how Ranveer is a perfect gentleman, old-fashioned, sincere, asked his parents for permission to date her, takes visiting executives to temples and historic monuments so they know the beauty of India, and so on. And he adds a little special insult for Anushka by having the naach girl talk about how she is a “true” woman who just wants to live at home with her parents until marriage, has no “unnatural” ambition.
To pay off the naach girl, Ranveer shot some quick promos and posters for this “movie” and picked a title out of thin air, “Maya” (“illusion”). And then Karan whisked him away for a week in a spiritual retreat that Karan was sure would put them both in touch with their inner peace. They return to discover that Karan had accidentally approved the posters and promos to go out in a massive publicity burst. Karan is panicked, announcing and promoting a film without actually having a film is exactly the kind of thing that can get them in trouble with the producers guild and their foreign investors. But Ranveer has an idea, they just have to convince the reclusive brilliant writer/director who hasn’t worked in years to make a film for them. Ranveer goes to the writer’s little old family house in Pune to convince him, still in his clothes from the spiritual retreat.
Meanwhile, Anushka is obsessed. She convinces her boss that there is still a chance for them to steal the “Maya” film away from Ranveer’s studio, and hires a private eye to follow Ranveer around. She learns from her detective that Ranveer is going to Pune to talk to the writer and follows him, walking in while Ranveer is visiting and assuming he is the writer, thanks to his simple clothing and long hair and beard and so on.
She immediately starts offering money to Ranveer for his script, Ranveer realizes he has to keep her away from the real writer because she will quickly untangle the scheme. And he is also a little bit in love already. So he pretends to be the writer, and strings her along. He pretends to be shy and inexperienced with the world, and Anushka promises to show him “fun”. But what’s interesting is that, when they are together, their individual strengths come out. Anushka takes him to the hot new arty interactive theater experience, Ranveer points out it is the same thing audiences have been doing in single-screens since forever, and Anushka actually listens to him and understands his point and stands up and makes a big scene from the audience because she is so angry at the hypocrisy. They go through variations of the same thing over and over again, the trendy restaurant that is “reimagining” street food. The photo show of realistic slum photos, and so on and so forth. Ranveer is increasingly delighted with Anushka’s open-mindedness and hatred for injustice, and Anushka is increasingly fascinated with his unusual mind. They are falling in love.
Ranveer keeps pulling back, because he feels guilty for deceiving her. Anushka reads this as charming shyness and decides it is up to her to make the first move. She invites him to her apartment while her roommates are out of town and prepares to seduce him. He resists and resists, but finally gives in because she is so aggressive and certain of herself.
The next morning, while he is still sleeping, Anushka gets a call from her office. Karan just held a press conference announcing the start of production on “Maya”, with the scriptwriter/director present. Anushka looks up photos online and sees that the director/writer is not Ranveer. And a little more googling reveals the photo of Karan’s right hand man and fixer, and if she squints a little bit, she can recognize Ranveer. Anushka, furious, decides to play her own con on Ranveer.
She wakes him up and pretends to be an empty headed spoiled rich woman, talking excitedly about how now they will get married, and she has this great concept for a wedding theme around writing, everyone will dress up in natural fabrics and she will tear pages out of great books to make the flowers for the table decorations and so on. Ranveer is miserable and confused and tortured for about half an hour, until his phone charges and he starts getting alerts about the Maya press conference and realizes what happened. He tries to explain and apologize to Anushka, but she turns cold and furious and throws him out, declaring she never wants to see him again.
Ranveer feels horrible. Karan is very proud that he did a thing, all on his own, but Ranveer is angry. He was getting ideas from talking to Anushka and passing them on to the writer/director. This film they are announcing is as much Anushka’s as his. He browbeats Karan into calling up Anushka’s boss and offering to co-produce. But Anushka is still furious and refuses to talk to him. He takes a job with the international studio and leaves the country so she won’t have to see him or deal with him ever again.
9 months later he gets a call from his naach girl friend who is now, as promised, acting in the Maya movie and therefore seeing Anushka regularly. She tells him that she has been debating whether or not to say anything but finally decided he has a right to know-Anushka’s pregnant and will give birth any day now. Ranveer immediately rushes to the airport, gets off the plane, rushes to Anushka in the office. They have a big fight, she points out that he lied to her, he points out that he never lied about the important things and really fell in love with her, and so on and so forth. And in the middle of all of this, she goes into labor. They take her to the hospital, Ranveer still begging her to forgive him and marry him. Finally, as the labor pains intensify, Anushka breaks down and asks him to stay.
Fast forward 6 months to the premier of the movie. Anushka is now successful and respected, working with the director on planning his next film, even got scriptwriter credit for the ideas she contributed to this one. Ranveer is there being supportive and holding the baby, he quit the overseas job and is a full time father now. And has an anonymous weekly column in a local newspaper calling out the injustices of the world.
So? What do you think? Did I convince you to watch Lover Come Back? Do you really really want to cast Shahrukh instead of Ranveer as the bitter manipulator of the wealthy and Rani instead of Anushka? Is this really just I Hate Luve Storys but different?