Time to talk characters! I could easily write a post on everyone in this film from Jonny Lever to the star counting kid. But I’m gonna limit myself to the main three, Tina yesterday, Rahul today, and Anjali as the grand finale.
This movie appears to be supporting the idea of “one true love”, but in Shahrukh’s character we have the explanation of why that is not in fact the case. He believes in One True Love, and that is a foolish childish way to live. Maturity is understanding that there are many kinds of love and they can all co-exist.
Over the course of this film, Shahrukh experiences 4 kinds of love, and only one of them fits in his original narrow view of what “love” is supposed to be. When we first meet him, he is friends with Kajol and flirts with every other girl on campus. He doesn’t believe that what he feels for either Kajol or those girls is “love”, not as he has romanticized it. The girls you trick and tease are just practice fun playmates, not the magical mystical “love”. And then friend who irritates you sometimes and fights with you sometimes, what you feel for her isn’t the magical mystical “love” either.
The love Shahrukh finds with Rani is the love that he expected to find. She is a nice girl that he respects and is interested in learning more about, he wants her to actually like him, the real him, not just be impressed by his cool guy posturing. And she is sweet and tolerant, respectful, loving, self-sacrificing. Pretty too, so pretty that everyone is jealous of him. This is the dream love story of every other film, the beautiful girl who suddenly arrives and makes all the boys love her, but she only loves the hero who “wins” her. That’s the other part of it, Shahrukh has to actually pursue her, prove his love, go through trials, and win out. This is real love, true love, completely unrelated to what he felt for those other girls, or what he feels for his friend Kajol.
Shahrukh and Rani continue to have the “perfect” love story. They get married, with full parental approval, and immediately get pregnant. And then Rani dies. That’s not perfect, that’s not supposed to happen. So Shahrukh comes up with a new way to make it perfect, his love for her was the only love, the only “true” love, and so he will remain faithful to her the rest of his life. Prove by his sacrifice that it was real love after all, that all those other girls were nothing, that his feelings for Rani were one in a million.
The thing is, as the film does a very good job showing, his feelings for Rani were perfectly pleasant and nice and good but they were hardly one in a million. He was a boy on the way to being a man who would fall in love with the first girl who showed up and surprised him. And Rani was that girl. She had the short skirts and make-up he liked, and she also sang “Om Jai Jagadish”. That’s it, that’s all he was looking for, that’s how simple it was to turn this college horn dog into a faithful lover. And once he decided he was in love, he started actually talking honestly to her and letting her talk honestly to him and it was easy to fall deeper in love. Their love never went through any particular test, either the filmi test of objecting parents and violent gangsters, or the practical tests of money problems and growing apart. It’s a sweet love story, and it would probably have turned into a long happy marriage, so long as they both kept working hard at the marriage, no real problems arose, and they didn’t end up falling out of love with each other. But it would take work because ultimately they had a very shallow connection, contrasting personalities, no interests in common, and they didn’t even know each other that well at the time of marriage. After a year, this is not a relationship that would stop Shahrukh from falling in love again. Heck, if Rani hadn’t died and had just divorced him after a year, he probably would have fallen in love with the first pretty girl who walked by the house and convinced himself THAT was his real love.
And then there is the re-entry of Kajol in his life. We already saw in college that, while he had convinced himself that Kajol was just his friend because she didn’t fit his image of perfect love, he had far more of a connection with her than with Rani. Just, not the connection he expected. They didn’t have a perfect love with magic and romance, they didn’t have a first sight moment, she wasn’t pretty and traditional and the type all the other boys would be jealous of. And now that they are older, he can no longer force his feelings into hiding just because they don’t make sense.
“Normal” people fall in love with one shocking moment of attraction and surprise, a slowly growing infatuation, that changes to affection as you get to know each other better and better, and (if you are lucky) settles into a steady sustaining love that lasts a life time. That is what Shahrukh and Rani started to have, the moment of attraction, the infatuation, the affection, and then cut off before the steady sustaining love. But on the other hand, with your child you have an immediate uncontrollable feeling of love, something that takes control of you and doesn’t weaken or strengthen noticabely as the years go by. That’s what Shahrukh, against all logic, has with Kajol. Their bond in college wasn’t romance, there was no attraction there, no infatuation. But it wasn’t friendship either, it was that kind of deep shocking love.
Shahrukh continues to pretend they are normal as he courts Kajol. He walks with her, talks with her, teases her, attracts her, just as he would with any other woman. Pretends that he had that moment of attraction, the infatuation, and so on. And he keeps pretending once Salman appears. He pretends to himself that that’s all this was, a small relationship just begun in a few weeks, something he could leave behind when he learned she was engaged. What he had with her at that point was the same as what he had with Rani before their marriage. If he had learned Rani was engaged to someone else, would he have cared enough to fight for her? Or would he have discovered his love was truly shallow?
That’s the key to why Shahrukh steps back. He is still lying to himself. If Rani was his true love, that he cannot feel more for Kajol than he would have for her. If he would have easily stepped aside for Rani after flirting and loving her when he learned she was engaged, then he has to do the same for Kajol. It’s only logical, it’s only right.
It’s not until he actually tries to step aside that he realizes how impossible it is. And, finally, lets go of his fantasy of the perfect woman, and the perfect love story. There is a moment when he makes the decision, staring at a picture of Rani and picturing her next to him. But then he closes his eyes and sees Kajol. It could be read as finally letting Rani out of his heart and accepting Kajol. But in that case, what was all the flirting and stuff before now, if he was still consciously thinking of Rani as his one true love? No, I think this was a moment of realizing that it had always been Kajol. His flirtation now wasn’t about finding a replacement for Rani, it was about acknowledging that the Kajol relationship had always been there, hiding behind his feelings for Rani. He not only loved two women, he loved them in completely different ways.
The movie doesn’t have to be this way. With the same broad outline of a plot, Karan could have told the story of a boy and girl who had a fun college friendship, the girl helped the boy with his love story, he married, she died, and then his daughter tricked him into getting back together with his college friend. But Karan made a decision. First, he had Kajol believe herself in love with Shahrukh back in college. Second, he inserted scenes like Shahrukh comforting her after her humiliating make over that allow the audience to see their chemistry and care for each other. Third, he had Rani herself talk about their love, not just in her letters after death as a love story that could happen but back in college as a love story she was seeing then. And fourth, most important, he included the farewell scene at the train station where Shahrukh’s reaction showed that this was more than just friendship.
I don’t think this was Karan doing something as simple as “true love”. I think this was him exploring how there can be many loves, at the same time. And a confused immature boy like Shahrukh can get so caught up in the idea of “one love” that he loses track of what he is really feeling. Rani, Kajol, the other girls in college, and Little Anjali, they all have a place in Shahrukh’s heart. He just has to learn to accept that reality, that he is a human who can love many people in many ways at the same time. There is no one perfect love.
And if you are trying to figure out why his character in this film is so gosh darn appealing, maybe it is because he loves so much and so many. His whole character is driven by trying to balance those different loves, his love for his daughter and his dead wife and his mother, his love for his best friend and his new girlfriend, his love for his daughter and his dead wife and this new person that is stealing his heart. Heck, even his love for perfectly nice guy Salman who doesn’t deserve to have his heart broken!