Friday Classics: Deewana, Shahrukh’s Power Punch Entry

Yaaaaay, a new Shahrukh review! Of a really interesting movie. Like, I think I would be interested in it even if Shahrukh weren’t the star.

This was not the first movie Shahrukh filmed, it came after Dil Aashna Hai and during Chamatkar. And after his 3 successful TV series, and years of playing around as part of a theater group, plus that one funky art film he had the small role in back in Delhi. Shahrukh was already comfortable on camera, with a charming haircut and a way with dialogue. And thank goodness, because his good performance is what saves this movie. That isn’t me talking as a Shahrukh fan, just observing the film. It needs an actor who can instantly charm the audience and make us believe in his emotion journey in very little time. And at the same time who wasn’t so famous that he would turn his nose up at this small role. Hiring a popular TV actor with stage experience who was hungry for work was a smart move, just like hiring Sushant Singh Rajput or Amit Sadh or Rajkummar Rao would be a smart move now.

Image result for deewana poster

Ultimately this is Divya Bharti’s movie. Next to her, Rishi Kapoor. And then Sushma Seth. And only after all of them, does Shahrukh get a chance for a part. I can see why the original actor walked out thanks to the small role, and I can also see what a disaster of a film it would have been if the audience couldn’t believe in that particular role even in that small amount of time.

One interesting thing about this film is that Shahrukh’s role isn’t the only small one. Dalip Tahil shows up for almost no time at all in a father role, Alok Nath is there as a loyal lawyer. Amrish Puri and Mohnish Behl split the villain duties. There was just so much time and so much space for good actors in good roles! The same kind of film today would have half that cast.

And half the plot too! This movie has an entire film plot just in the first half, and then takes off and smashes on a second plot in the second half. This best part is, all of that time is mostly about Divya, which means we get all kinds of interesting unintentional feminist content. Or is it unintentional? I mean, where do we draw the line? When someone sits down and says “I am going to write a script from the perspective of a young girl and all the terrible things that could happen to her, it will be interesting and entertaining.” Or when someone sits down and says “I am going to write a script from the perspective of a young girl and all the terrible things that could happen to her, it will be informative and uplifting”? The end result is the same script, the only change is how it is presented.

A woman’s love fantasy song! With no agenda beyond “hey, let’s put in a love song here to show how the heroine is feeling”

In this movie we have a widow remarrying, a woman’s sexual desire being respected, and a woman’s rape accusation being instantly believed and acted upon. And also Shahrukh, thank goodness, because if his role was no good than all the rest of it would have fallen apart and it would turn from a story about Divya to a story about everyone else.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Rishi Kapoor is an ancestral prince with a hobby career of being a singing star. He goes to do a show off in a vacation town and his local agent is Deven Varma who’s niece Divya Bharti is a big fan of Rishi. She stalks him and gets his autograph and charms him and they fall in love. But then he reveals his feelings in front of the town and shames her, and she cries and he agrees to a quick wedding. They return home, he introduces her to his mother Sushma Seth and all is happy, only his evil uncle Amrish Puri and cousin Mohnish Behl are furious and worried they will lose their inheritance. Mohnish tries to rape Divya, Rishi arrives and throws Mohnish out. Then Mohnish leads a gang to find Divya and Rishi alone and kill them. Rishi kills Mohnish and sends Divya away, she rushes back to Sushma and they leave the house in the dead of night and come to the city where they meet with the family lawyer Alok Nath and he straightens out their finances and finds them a house. Enter Shahrukh! A poor little rich boy with a gang of useless friends, uselessly roaming the city. He sees Divya and falls in love at first sight. He considers some kind of kidnap scenario because he is so in love he can’t think straight, but then stops himself. He stalks and tries to woo her, and falls out with his father because he wants to marry a widow which would shock all of society. Finally he goes and talks to Sushma and she is convinced that Divya should marry him, should choose life and hope and a future. Divya marries him, but on his wedding night Shahrukh makes clear he will not touch her until he is sure she cares for him. He goes out and gets a job, is a wonderful cheerful son-in-law and husband, and then gets into a slight accident and Divya rushes to him in fear and realizes she loves him now. They are completely happy, until one night Shahrukh is walking the city and sees a stranger in trouble, Rishi!!!! Shahrukh and Rishi become friends and finally Shahrukh invites him home. Everyone recognizes each other immediately but doesn’t say anything because it is too late. Shahrukh overhears the truth and confronts them, Rishi and Sushma decide that Divya clearly loves her new husband, they should just leave. But Amrish has arrived and tries to kill all of them. Rishi, again, dies saving Divya and Shahrukh and she happily embrace. HAPPY ENDING.

The overall thrust of the film is Divya as a young girl who romanticizes this perfect love with Rishi, aging into a woman who is convinced to a deeper love with her new husband. And the tragedy of Rishi who, through no fault of his own, lost the love of his wife. But it only works if we can believe that Divya truly loves Shahrukh more than she loved Rishi, which means we have to believe that Shahrukh is lovable despite only getting a tiny tiny bit of screentime. The tormented motherless rich boy, the passionate instant love, the way marriage changes him (he explicitly says “I am a householder now”) we have to buy into that whooooole journey, or else the ending doesn’t work. I could say the same thing about the other lead roles (Divya, Rishi, Sushma) but at least those have more screentime and writing to support them. Shahrukh had to make it work out of nothing at all.

Overall this is really a remarkably well-written and constructed film considering that it is Raj Kanwar’s first film as a director. One thing I noticed on this watch is how the first half has conscious parelals to the second, but with the genders flipped. Divya falls in love with Rishi at first sight (while watching his concert). She stalks him along with her group of friends. She convinces him to marry her by expressing her emotional distress and desire for him. This is the same pattern played out in the second half, Shahrukh falls in love at first sight, stalks with friends, and expresses his emotional distress and depth of his love which convinces her to marry him. The movie only underlines this slightly by having both love stories including the object of desire offering a loving nickname as a symbol of love (“Sonu” in the first half and “Raju” in the other). Otherwise it is simply there for the audience to see.

It’s not that Divya “becomes” the man in the second half, or is the man in the first half. The two romances are still gendered. The man is the one who proposes, once the romance starts for real the man must take the lead, the bride is shy and uncertain in the bedroom, and so on. It’s just that when she was young and carefree, she was fearless in her love. In the second half, she is damaged, someone else has to be as fearless as she was in order to break through. And since that someone else is a man, he does it by giving flowers and throwing colors on her on Holi and begging her mother-in-law to agree to their wedding. Instead of peaking at her through windows and crying until she proposes (like Divya did in the first half).

Rishi’s character and romance with Divya are really interesting to me on this watch. To be fair, that is partly because they were a lot fresher to me because usually I just skip to the interval and watch the Shahrukh part. Right at the start, Sushma sends Rishi off for his performance and there is dialogue about how he hasn’t quite grown up yet. He falls for Divya and romances her, but doesn’t realize he has to marry her until she pushes. But after marriage, he starts to grow up. They return home and his mother makes him go to meetings at the lawyers and encourages him to start working for a child. And then it is all cut short with his “death”. Divya goes on, moves to the city, is responsible for Sushma, grows up. And Shahrukh lives after marriage, gets a job, is good to Sushma, grows up and earns Divya’s love. But Rishi is trapped in time, never really growing up because he didn’t have a chance to grow up.

It’s kind of interesting that Rishi, the much much older actor, plays the one who is mentally “younger”. But then it also kind of makes sense. Rishi’s character is supposed to be one who is resisting growing up, and it was that resistance that made him still play the youthful lover into middle-age as in this movie. We look at him and Divya together and we see a man who was supposed to be a grown up and doesn’t want to, and a young girl who at first finds it charming and then frustrating. Versus with Shahrukh, a young man eager to grow up and take on responsibilities.

Mostly this is just a fun interesting twisty masala film. With a strong heroine who gets just what she wants. And a very promising performance from the younger hero, a promising actor named “Shahrukh Khan”.

Now, mostly silly but a little serious discussion question, is Divya supposed to not have consummated her marriage with Rishi before his death? A large part of the widow remarriage taboo is the fact of them losing their virginity already to another man. The movie throws in comments about Mohnish ruining her before Rishi has a chance to give her a baby, they go away to the honeymoon cottage specifically to have sex and then are interrupted by goons, is that what we are supposed to be seeing?

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20 thoughts on “Friday Classics: Deewana, Shahrukh’s Power Punch Entry

  1. “Then Mohnish leads a gang to find Divya and Rishi alone and kill them. Rishi kills Mohnish and sends Divya away…” So at which point is Rishi presumed dead by his wife and mother? Confusing 🤔

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    • Yeah, but it’s pretty confusing moment! Rishi is shot, and then falls over a waterfall or something? I couldn’t figure out how to describe it clearly.

      On Sat, Oct 19, 2019 at 8:17 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Ha! And there’s a movie out there now that, 20 years from now, we will look back on as the first sign of a new hero and now we look at and go “why does this guy get so much screentime?” Like Rajkummar in Talaash.

      On Sat, Oct 19, 2019 at 10:36 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Funny how perspective can change according to circumstances. I saw it as a ShahRukh fan, at that stage only knew Rishi from that tiny cameo in Om Shanti Om, so I was bemused at his being presented as the romantic hero.

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  3. Before Shahrukh came on the screen, I thought that Amrish Puri was the most attractive male character in the film. Certainly hotter than chubby, sweater-wearing Rishi. Only in the second half, when he was bearded, did Rishi look anything like a viable leading man.

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  4. I liked sweet, kind, boyish Rishi. It made him much younger and – in my eyes – the age gap less prominent. He loved and respected Divya, so it didn’t bother me that he was a bit chubby and wore sweaters. In the second part, he had lost the youthful sparkle…I wonder what life would have become for the four main characters without the ‘intervention’ of Amrish Puri. The trinity broken was not meant to sustain.
    I found Divya’s Character very interesting. She was a confident although very young woman who gave strong signals for what she wanted and didn’t want which – again in my eyes – made her older than she was.

    if I hadn’t known about him before, I would not have found ShahRukh’s entry so impressive, it’s only the moment when he gazes at Divya while taken to the police car that he becomes a person of heightened interest…and even more through his confrontation with his father (I forgot to look for the subtitles!). It is rather quickly clear that the audience will meet an intense performance.
    ShahRukh does everything ‘right’ although Divya first doesn’t think likewise. Eventually, It’s his caring and lively nature and his respectful and loving demeanour and her own longing that makes her care for him, too, and openly respond with her own love for him.

    I loved your review, especially the part about the structure. When I watch a movie just for entertainment, I quasi imbibe the structure while experiencing the movie…it’s only by discussing that the structure becomes a part of my analysis (with the exception of JHM because earlier it had been titled “The Ring” and during the shooting in Budapest I had noticed the concentration on ‘ring-forms’…and knowing Imtiaz’ Sufi affinity, I saw the movie with a certain structure in my mind …but not in my feelings…ha!).
    Here I get the feeling of – partly inversely – parallelism (similar to you) which is even in dialogues, only spoken by the other gender. There was one scene that especially pleased me: in the first part , the five friends – in full daylight – jump outstretching their arms to a plane passing over their heads (copied??? in RangDeBasanti years later), in the second part , the five friends have their arms outstretched in a similar gesture when opening the garage gate, seen standing in a contre-jour shot from inside the garage.

    I did not watch any other movie of Raj Kanwar. Has he maintained what he promises to be able to bring on screen with his first – really skilled – movie?

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    • Raj Kunwar never grew to be a great or respected director, but looking at the few other films he made, they are all solid and decent. One of those directors who is just a good solid workmanlike director.

      Agree about Rishi and Divya not surviving in marriage as they were. I think that is deliberate, they are just singing and dancing through life. Whereas Shahrukh, immediately after marriage, goes out and gets a job. Of course they don’t get a chance to prove that they can be more, but that is why even when Rishi comes back there is no serious thought of him taking Shahrukh’s place. Shahrukh is a better husband, and a better son, than Rishi was.

      On Sun, Oct 20, 2019 at 4:16 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. I saw this during the early stages of my Shah Rukh fandom and exposure to Hindi movies. After seeing a few Shah Rukh movies, I thought I’d watch the remaining ones chronologically. So this was, maybe the 4th or 5th Shah Rukh movie I’d seen. I was befuddled by the excess of characters and plot, and found Rishi underwhelming as a romantic lead, but I was biased already.

    What I remember most from my first watch was Shah Rukh’s chemistry with Divya, with Rishi, and especially with Sushma Seth. That magical and poignant connection he has with mother-figures, in and outside of movies. Divya lit up the screen–that brief time between her realizing she loves Shah Rukh to Rishi showing up at the party is wonderful. I certainly think its a film that appreciates women and the ways that women can support each other within the strictures of a male-dominated society.

    I think I’ve only watched it all the way through twice–and two or three times have watched from Shah Rukh’s entry to the end. Thanks for revisiting it and reviewing it. I wouldn’t have gotten the parallels as clearly as you’ve pointed them out.

    Oh–and it’s kind of nice how far Sushant and Rajkummar have come since you first wrote this. 🙂

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    • Something that occurs to me with you pointing out how it is about women supporting each other, it’s not meaningless that Rishi was alive and they didn’t know. That is, it happened because when Divya returned to the house, Sushma immediately decided that the two of them should leave, and in the city she put all the money in Divya’s name. She could have stayed, they could have remained to live in Rishi’s memories, or maintain the ancestral estate, that would be the Patriarchal decision. But instead they cut lose and started over, putting the two female lives above any remembered male life.

      On Sun, Oct 20, 2019 at 1:46 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. Till Shahrukh’s entry, for me this movie blends with a bunch of other Sweater-wearing-Rishi Kapoor movies of the late 80s/ early 90s with Madhuri, Juhi, etc. The look and feel of the movie completely changes with SRK’s appearance. I imagine it must have been refreshing for the audience at the time to see a youthful, energetic hero with a different storyline. Ooh and I loved the ‘Aisi Deewangi’ song as a kid, particularly Divya with the big, curly hair, off shoulder top, skirt and tights. I wanted that look!

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    • Now I know what you mean with “Sweater-wearing-Rishi Kapoor. Deewana had been the first one I saw with Rishi (my Raj Kapoor experiences didn’t include him and I hadn’t watched his sons till then). So the first half wasn’t that boring for me. So I can understand the contrast-feeling for the Indian audience. It didn’t occur me when I watched Deewana for the first time…I simply thought that ShahRukh has earned fame and award rightly after this movie because of his performance and the traits of the character he played, not because of a refreshing contrast.

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      • Let me tell you though, I must have seen this film in the mid 90s when I was 7-8 years old (I know, too young to be watching these movies!) and even then I had the image of Rishi in sweaters always playing a rich guy from the city who comes to a village and falls in love with a local belle, followed by drama. So Deewana’s 2nd half was definitely new for me.
        That’s the thing with Shahrukh, right from the beginning he always felt different from the norm. I’m pretty sure the 1st time I saw him was in Baazigar and my reaction was pretty much like Kajol when she meets him, ‘Who IS this guy?’ I was all about Aamir then (so good-looking!), and was intrigued by this new actor with edgy attitude, which I now realize is part of his sexiness.

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