One Off Speculative Post: Epic Historic Romances India Should Make Instead of War Films, Including Shahrukh as Jahangir in a Nur Jahan Love Story!

I never thought I would say this, but I am so sick of big battles! With horses and swords and elephants. Okay, I tell a lie, I will never be sick of elephants. But the other stuff, yes. Let’s have more historical romances!

Edwina Mountbatten and Nehru’s Perfect Pure Love

(Miss Braganza, Filmikudhi, and Reflects on Life helped me with this)

Real story, Edwina Mountbatten was born into the British upper crust on her father’s side, and new money converted Jews on her mother’s side. Her mother died when she was 11 and her father remarried when she was 14. After a miserable time in boarding school, her grandfather (ethnically Jewish millionaire) invited her to live with him and be his hostess. By age 20, she was one of the leading hostesses in London. By 21, her grandfather had died and she became independent and one of the richest young women in England. She married at 22 to another 22 year old, a naval officer royal by birth (great grandson of Queen Victoria and nephew of the Empress of Russia), who had seen action in WWI at age 16. They had two daughters, the first a year and a half after marriage and the second 5 years later. Mountbatten continued as a Navy Officer with success after success in his career. Both Edwina and Mountbatten had long term affairs with other people, Edwina in particular spent her 30s traveling around European resorts, with a string of interesting lovers. And then WWII started and she found her calling, dedicating herself to organizing relief efforts and medical campaigns and raising funds. She and her husband became partners, both deeply serious about the work they were carrying out for the war effort which continued post-war into his diplomatic career. It was after the war, at a political conference in Singapore, that Edwina met Nehru.

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Meanwhile, Nehru was married at 27 to a 16 year old young woman. As he put it “I almost overlooked her”. But Kamala, his wife, slowly brought herself to his attention. A quiet slightly built woman, she had enormous reserves of strength and bravery, helping her husband to organize protests and treating the poor and generally doing good. She slowly withered away of tuberculosis, finally dying in Germany. Nehru begged to be released from jail and flew to her side to be with her, and was devastated when she died. He never married again, although it is rumored that he had relationships with other women during his long period of widowhood. He always liked intelligent women, whether it was his sister or his wife or his (supposed) long term girlfriend and fellow freedom fighter Padmaja Naidu. That is part of why it isn’t clear what his relationships were with these women, he was a man who was capable of having deep respectful non-romantic relationships with women along with romantic ones. By the time he met Edwina, he was 57, his wife had been dead 21 years, and after years of devoting his heart to the freedom struggle he had aged from a passionate young man to a savvy politician who could take the long view of history.

Edwina and Nehru immediately felt something special between each other. It was noticed by everyone around them. After Singapore, they stayed in touch, and a year later Edwina’s husband was made the last Viceroy of India, and with Nehru the unofficial leader of free India the three of them were constantly in each others pockets. For a year and a half, they were in the same place and, although very busy, were able to see each other. It is unclear if they ever slept together, but again their connection (physical, spiritual, mental) was so obvious everyone around them could see it. After that year and a half, Edwina went back to England and took up again her life of service. Nehru went on to be the Father of India. They wrote to each other all those years, Edwina read his letters every night and kept them with her always. When she went in for surgery a few years before her death, she handed them over to her husband for safekeeping as her most prized possessions. Edwina died before Nehru, in 1960, 12 years after the time they lived in the same country. She died with Nehru’s letters spread out on the bed on top of her. Nehru sent an Indian battleship to follow her burial at sea and have a wreath cast after her body.

Now, my vision for this movie! I want to do it arty-style in two ways. First, since Edwina and Nehru both lived many lives and were many people, I want them each to be played by 3-4 different actors. Second, I want to consciously ignore the political and historical aspects. This is a love story that, against all odds and expectations, and unrelated to all the rest of what was happening, blossomed within a high pressure important situation. The feel I want is two people who lived separate lives on opposite sides of the world, and yet they have this brief impossible connection.

I want Alia as the young Edwina, vibrant and witty and confident. We can start on her wedding day, see her strained relationship with her stepmother and father and how she misses her grandfather, then her joy in being settled for life with this handsome intelligent young man of proper class. Only for us to return the day her daughter is born to find them carefully discussing the possibility of an open marriage, neither of them wants to tie the other down, his career takes him away for long periods, and so on.

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Alia and Sid maybe as the young Mountbattens?

Meanwhile, Vikrant Massay as the young Nehru, reluctantly agreeing to marriage although he would prefer to dedicate himself solely to the freedom struggle. He goes on a trip, without his wife, immediately after the wedding. But when he returns, he starts to notice her in a new way. By the time their daughter is born, they are devoted to each other and Nehru swears he will never marry anyone else, even if she is never able to have another child.

Edwina in her 30s is Kalki Koechlin. Sophisticated, smart, known through out Europe, and having a string of affairs. She and her husband are friends and friendly, but not true partners. She spends her time traveling for months at a go, and is always meeting and romancing (and being romanced by) new men. Maybe a song number? With a slinky 1930s ballgown? But there is a tinge of sorrow there, a sense of potential wasted and Edwina wishing she could do more. We end with a sudden jump forward to 1940, to see Edwina briefly as she was then, commander of an ambulance brigade, on the front lines saving lives and organizing massive endeavors.

Nehru in his 30s is Jim Sarbh, passionate and devoted to the cause of India, but hiding a terrible sorrow as he watches his beloved wife fade away. He is torn between two masters, reaching the peak when he chooses to walk away from jail, from the struggle, from India herself in order to be by his wife’s side in Germany as she dies over months. After her death, he vows he will never again open his heart that much, will never allow a woman to come between him and his country. And then a sudden jump for him, working long hours for the country, and then returning to an empty house to write and work more.

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Tiny Indira!

And finally, Nehru in his 50s and Edwina in her 40s and the meeting in Singapore. Nehru is Naseeruddin Shah and Edwina is Ratna Pathak (indulge me, it makes me smile). They notice each other immediately and ask their respective aids who the other one is, and then manouver to be introduced. They talk like they have known each other their whole lives, stay up all night sharing stories, by the next day they are casually lighting each other’s cigarettes, sitting close together, everyone notices. Nehru’s aid tries to talk to him about it, Mountbatten tries to talk to Edwina, they both dismiss the concerns. For a brief time, they live in a little bubble of love. Although they never sleep together, or even kiss. Song. They say good-bye, but acknowledge it will never really be good-bye, once they have met they cannot be fully separated again.

And then the period together in India. We see the massive changes only in a distance, because as soon as Nehru and Edwina are together, the world fades away. They stroll on the veranda, they sit together, they smile at each other, it is enough. And then they say good-bye again, this time with a solemn handshake.

And the final era. Edwina is Shabana Azmi now, Nehru is still Naseerji. Edwina returns to her charity work and takes on new projects. Nehru tries to hold his country together. They both have confrontations with their daughters over how they were not present during their childhoods and find the strength in their love for each other and the letters they share to build a better relationship. Edwina and her husband respect each other now and are partners, he is sent on a series of diplomatic missions with her by his side. But there is no hint of romantic love. When she has to have emergency surgery, she hands Mountbatten her stack of letters from “him” and begs him to take care of them for her. She keeps them always on her bedside or under her pillow, and one night dies suddenly clutching the letters. Nehru gets the word in India, from Indira who breaks it gently (although she did not approve of this relationship for her father, she still knows how much this will hurt him). He pulls out a faded rose that Edwina gave him the night they met and puts it in a diplomatic pouch. The rose ends up being received and woven into a funeral wreath, thrown by an Indian Navy ship after Edwina’s burial at sea. Final poetic image, the body and the wreath gently floating down under the water together, hidden from all the pomp above, just as their love story was hidden away, oooooooo.

Nur Jahan and Jahinger

Nur Jahan was Jahinger’s last and most beloved wife, married when he was 42 and she was 35. She was a widow, he had 20 other wives. After marriage, she was elevated to be his co-royal, even riding an elephant into battle (ooo, elephant!) at one point. So it’s a love story between two mature adults who have Seen Stuff, and they love each other and also respect each other. Also, elephants. It’s the perfect movie.

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I want to make this the story of Nur Jahan more than Jahinger. Her life and young womanhood before she became Empress. I vote we start with Aditi Rao Hydari as a teenager, very very smart, very sophisticated (her father was an adviser to the emperor), being told that she will be married off to a powerful successful soldier. It’s a good marriage in that she will have a lot of honor and freedom in her husband’s household, but she is a little frustrated at the idea of stopping all her schooling and going off to a semi-backwater kingdom. On the wedding night though, her husband is kind and respectful and acknowledges that she has seen a lot and knows a lot more than him, and she is won over by his niceness.

Years pass, and she is more or less happy in her marriage, and ages into being Tabu. Her husband isn’t cruel, she has a daughter she loves, but she is still bored. She craves news from the capital. And as her husband ages, he becomes more and more set in his ways, while she can see more clearly what should happen. He is not willing to take her advice, and she is more frustrated that he is not taking it. Which means they fight all the time, to the point that their daughter notices it. It all peaks at high drama when he decides to go against his governor, is arrested for treason, and fights his way out. Nur is grief stricken and also furious when she hears, furious that he did not follow her advice and yet still sad that he is dead. In this confused state, she receives word that the Emperor wants her and her daughter to come and live under his protection at the palace. She arrives, scared and grieving, and is surprised to find herself flourishing. The women of the palace are intelligent and interesting, she has all kinds of interesting information to learn and things to discuss, in the end she puts her grief and anger at her husband to bed by acknowledging that he was not her soulmate, they were not right for each other, but he was a good man and she was happy she had that time with him. And only then, after she has made a new happy life for herself, do we see her good friend in the harem repeating something Tabu said to her that was wise and witty and we see a shadowy figure and hear a familiar voice saying “who is this woman?” It’s Shahrukh! And also, Jahengir! One of his wives is Tabu’s good friend in the harem and, after hearing stories of her wit and wisdom, he wants to meet her. His wife helps arrange an “accidental” meeting in the marketplace and Shahrukh is immediately struck by Tabu. He asks permission to court her.

Tabu is conflicted. This is the man who ordered her husband’s death. But then, he also forgave her husband years earlier when he first rebelled. And he made sure she and her daughter lived a life of safety and comfort for all these years. And he’s hot. And smart, which is really the same thing. They have a long slow courtship of intellectual connection, he starts bringing her legal issues and government questions and having debates with her about them. She thinks he is just being polite, but is finally won over to loving him when she secretly observes his open court and hears him repeating and using her logic in his decisions. He wasn’t just being polite, he truly respected and appreciated her opinions.

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Shahrukh is always awesome when his character is named “Jahangir”

They marry, and on their wedding night have an awkward conversation about how this is far from the first time for both of them. But that brings its own strangeness, Tabu sleeping with someone new after years of marriage, Shahrukh sleeping with a non-virginal bride. They laugh a little, and talk a little, and finally kiss. It is magical and wonderful and the next day Shahrukh declares he will call her “Nur Mahal” (light of the palace). Marriage is always an adjustment of course, Tabu has advice from her best friend and fellow wife, but she also resents the time Shahrukh must spend away from her, and wants to be with him more. They fight and make-up and fight and make-up, she is the one person with no fear of the Emperor. In time he offers to let her sit in court with him, go hunting with him, be his true partner in every way. Until rebellion threatens, and Shahrukh is defeated in battle and captured. Tabu, in one long dark night, realizes that she has come to love him with all her heart, he is the true love of her life and she cannot continue without him. So she armors up and gets her elephant and goes out and rescues him. Although at first it looks like the rescue has failed when they are thrown into a cell together long enough for Shahrukh to say that all he wished for in captivity was to see her one last time. But then her plan works out and they are rescued. They return to the palace and Shahrukh declares that from now on she will no longer be “Nur Mahal” but will now be “Nur Jahan” (light of the world). BAM! End credit screen with the title, “NUR JAHAN”.

What do you think? Both pretty great, right? Casting, plot idea? Which do you want more?

13 thoughts on “One Off Speculative Post: Epic Historic Romances India Should Make Instead of War Films, Including Shahrukh as Jahangir in a Nur Jahan Love Story!

  1. I like the idea of four actors. And then, to get it made in India, just never mention that it’s about Nehru and Edwina while making it perfectly obvious that it is. Meghna Gulzar could pull this off.

    I just have a mental block about Naseeruddin as a romantic hero. Even in his younger days he just always gives off uncle vibes, like he’s wearing a sweater vest even when he isn’t. I struggle with this internally–I know he’s a great actor. I would put Neeraj Kabi in the role. He’s really attractive and he has a deep voice and commanding presence.

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    • But if we lose Naseerji, we also lose Ratna, because what’s the point of her without him.

      Neeraj Kabi and Dimple maybe? Or Shefali Shah and make it a total Once Again reunion?

      On Wed, Oct 2, 2019 at 1:13 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • How about Deepti Naval? I feel like she always has this classy quality that could make you believe she was fabulously rich and dedicated to her fellow man.

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        • I could see her for the last section, but she’s oooooooooold, I need someone younger for the passionate middle-aged affair part.

          On Wed, Oct 2, 2019 at 9:35 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Is she older than Ratna though? Isn’t Ratna like 60 or I’m I confused by her gray hair?

            Hmm. Maybe Shefali in that case. Madhuri? Madhuri always classes up the joint.

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          • She is 5 years older than Ratna (I had to look it up). So they are both far too old to play a 40-something woman. We need that feel of her still being vibrant and attractive to all, but choosing to fall in love with Gandhi. Konkona Sen Sharma is 39, what do you think about her? Or Rani?

            On Thu, Oct 3, 2019 at 10:45 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Oh! And Meghna can direct and Neeraj can play Nehru and it will be a total Talwar reunion!!!!

            Or Irrfan as Nehru? I love him, but I don’t know if he can play short enough to be Nehru.

            On Fri, Oct 4, 2019 at 8:57 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • So there was a nanosecond when they were actually planning to make Indian Summer into a movie, or at least it was rumoured, and at point they were saying Irrfan for Nehru, Cate Blanchett for Edwina. (I mean, he must be shorter than Cate Blanchett, right?) So it worked for someone, anyway. And would also be a Talwar reunion, and Irrfan and Konkona are great together.

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  2. I am 100% here for the Aditi/Tabu Nur Jahan casting! I feel like Aditi just has a face that’s suited for period dramas and if Shahrukh is Jahangir then we get the Tabu/Shahrukh romance we’ve all been waiting for!

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