This is a little treat for those of you who like this kind of thing, a deep intense consideration of a small moment of SRK screen time.
Sartrekid got me started thinking about this one by pointing out Shahrukh’s transition from a reluctant pretend loving gaze, to a sincere one. And to make this easy for me, and you, I’m not going to do screenshots or anything. I’m just gonna put the same video in over and over again so you can easily pull it up and rewatch it between paragraphs.
The song starts with a bit of play acting on both their parts, childish playacting which cuts through their barriers to something adult and real. Anushka has offered to be his girlfriend and catches him glancing at her the way a man looks at a woman, a quick sideways glance and then away so that he does not reveal his interest. She reads it the way she is used to thinking of those glances, the way Shahrukh phrased it when he tried to politely turn her down, that she is a “proper” woman and therefore it isn’t right for Shahrukh to look at her. This is both true, and not true. Shahrukh isn’t looking at her directly because he doesn’t want to fall in love, doesn’t want to open himself up to the intimacy of those emotions and a human connection. It’s not about following the rules of society, it is about following his instincts which tell him that this woman is dangerous for his independence, for his heart.
But now Anushka is insisting that he look at her, like it is a children’s game. And if Shahrukh were to react as an adult, he would reveal his own feelings, so he also pretends it is a game. He makes a show of widening his eyes acting out “looking” and she makes a show of modest smiling, acting out “being looked at”. This is a specific dynamic of love songs, and love stories, and films. It is the man’s job to honor the woman by looking at her, and the woman’s job to be polite and pretty and be looked at. They are children, pretending to be adults by exaggerating what they have seen adults do.
And then it shifts. Without losing that childish aspect. This is where the particular setting comes into play. Because they are on a train, sitting by a window on high stools at a high table, they naturally rest their arms on the table and then their heads on their arms. They are no longer faking the gaze-being gazed at dynamic. Their faces have relaxed, they are truly starring at each other, equals. But at the same time, the way they are sitting is a child’s pose, a little child at a high table trying to stay awake, or a school child sleeping on their desk. They have stripped away the postures of adulthood, the fakery of adulthood, and are retreating to something simpler. The scene fades out with them in this pose, implying that they spent the rest of the train journey looking into each others’ eyes.
Research has shown over and over again that the mere act of making eye contact creates intimacy. A couple who is forced to look at each other for 5 minutes forms an automatic bond. And it is just common sense anyway, we all know this. That is what this moment is showing. The gazing at each other, choosing to do it, is taking a conscious leap into dangerous intimacy. They can dress it up like a children’s game, but that’s what it is. Anushka is playing at inviting intimacy, and Shahrukh is letting himself follow her lead.
We fade in again an unknown amount of time later. The implication is they spent the train journey gazing at each other, and then returned to real life after arriving. Anushka is moving around, talking, pointing, and just living her life. But Shahrukh is still stuck watching her. The music is playing in the background through this and we can see that it is playing in Shahrukh’s head now, not hers.
He is standing above her, looking down, and wearing sunglasses to protect his eyes. Not from the sun, but from anyone seeing what he is looking at. He can’t stop watching Anushka, but he isn’t ready yet for her to know he is watching. Or maybe he wants to watch her without her knowing?
There is a dynamic of a man watching a woman with her knowledge. That’s what they were playing at before. He reveals his appreciation, she rewards it by posing and dancing in front of him. But this is different. Shahrukh isn’t watching her while she is posing, trying to please her with his attention. He is watching her to please himself, because he likes watching her.
Through out the earlier parts of the film we see Anushka trying to get Shahrukh to look at her, and Shahrukh not really looking at her. She even demands his attention after she has dressed up at the club and he barely glances at her. On the other hand, there were other moments when Shahrukh wanted to look at her and resisted it. Now, Anushka isn’t even trying any more, and Shahrukh can’t stop himself. He isn’t so much watching her as studying her, trying to understand why this woman, this average boring young woman, is making him feel something. And Anushka is innocent enough to not even be aware of his watching her.
The song breaks here, when Anushka calls to him and he has to talk to her. He stops looking at her and starts giving her the normal amount of attention that is polite, not constant eye contact but only occasional. He interacts with her normally in general, almost aggressively normally. Anushka is talking excited and slightly emotional about remembering being in the restaurant and wondering where she could have dropped her ring. Shahrukh reacts with calm polite interest, they have moved beyond that, even before Radha and falling in love, they joked and snarked. And now the snark is gone, he is being polite and distant. Especially when Anushka tells him to pretend to be her fiance and guide her to a table to help her remember. He takes of his glasses, walks down the stairs, and gestures like a waiter towards a table. Polite and distant and with no personality.
Anushka pushes him to act “like a fiance”. I don’t think, at this moment, that Anushka is flirting or thinking of it as a game. Or, not exactly. I don’t read her insistence as being about wanting to flirt with Shahrukh, but about acknowledging that they were more friends than employer and employee by this point. She isn’t insisting on the play acting to use her power, she is insisting on the play acting because they play together, it’s something she can ask as a friend and expect him to do. He is trying to keep their relationship professional and she is pushing through that because she misses her friend.
Which brings us to the second half of the song. Shahrukh leaps up to the top of the stairs and turns away from her to face the camera, the first time he has stopped looking at her since the moment on the train. And he visibly prepares himself. This is the culmination of this whole journey of the song. At first it was simply about play acting. Then it changed into creating a bond between two people, an intimacy. Just now it was about him trying to figure out his own feelings, understand this bond he now feels. But he is making a choice here, his gaze will no longer be passive and thoughtful, it will be acting, bringing her too him, forcing her to feel something like he is feeling. And at the same time declaring his own emotions.
He turns back and gazes steadily at Anushka as he runs lightly down the stairs to her. It’s not just the gaze, it’s the movement. He is declaring that he is no longer a boring proper tour guide (the way he tried to be a moment ago), he is now an excited real person, he has personality. It’s a difference already. And then he reaches the bottom of the stairs and maintains eye contact as he draws her in and kisses her forehead.
As Shahrukh draws her through the crowd to their table, the important thing is that he never stops looking at her. He risks hitting waiters, walking into tables, because the most important thing is to keep looking at her, she is the most important thing. Anushka isn’t sure how to react. At first, she keeps looking around, like she is worried about the world around them and if they will run into things, if people are watching. But as he keeps looking at her, slowly she returns his gaze. By the end they are staring into each others eyes again. Not as a joke, and not as an experiment, but because they can’t help themselves. Until finally she has to lower her eyes.
This all started with a joke of Anushka pretending to be “watched” while Shahrukh looked at her. And it ends with that in the most intimate real way. Shahrukh is gazing at her and causing her to feel so much that she must lower her eyes and simply enjoy his look.