2010 Week: Darling! Prabhas Being Charming in the Middle of a Pointless Plot for 3 Hours

What a delightfully silly inconsequential movie.  There is no real “reason” to watch it, besides it just making you smile.  Oh, and yes, as I was told, Prabhas’ rough voice saying “darling” is indeed addictive and delightful.

This is a dumb movie but also a clever movie.  Stick with me on this!  The plot as a whole is dumb dumb dumb.  And the costumes are dumb and the dialogue is dumb and even the acting is, yes, dumb.  But!!!!  There are little things scattered through out that are just all kinds of clever.  You don’t watch the film for the big stuff like “what a brilliant performance!” you watch it for the little stuff like “Prabhas looked really cute when he was worried and rubbing his fingers on his lips”.  Or “what a cool little twist moment” versus “what a brilliant deep theme filled over arching narrative”.  If it didn’t have those clever moments, it would be unwatchable.  But since it does, it becomes extremely pleasant.

Image result for darling telugu poster

Along with all the pleasant fun stuff, there’s also the Kajal Aggarwal-Prabhas chemistry, which is quite decent.  And okay songs.  And Switzerland, always pretty.  And two seriously clever fight scenes.  Really, there is loads to enjoy!  It’s a very enjoyable film, even if it isn’t the most brilliant and perfect film.

One of the best things about it is that it avoids having a villain, of any kind.  Everyone is friends.  The gangsters are friends, the heroine’s domineering father is a friend, the rival suitor is a friend, everyone is just generally pleasant and happy to go along and keep things enjoyable.  It’s a movie that privileges friendship and love over hatred and violence.  And I guess that is the most dumb-but-clever thing of all.

(Sister, this is a good movie that we will watch in November, don’t read the SPOILERS)

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We open with a discussion of friendship and a flashback.  A group of college students are saying good-bye, but one of them declares they will never say good-bye, they will just decide to stay friends and keep in touch.  15 years later, they are at their annual get together complete with wives and kids, and Li’l Prabhas is performing, and then is joined by Li’l Kajal.  Everyone says good-bye, Kajal is going to Switzerland with her father, someone else is going to Delhi, but they all promise to stay in touch.  And then we cut to present day Prabhas, just graduated college and out for a good time.  But has no interest in girls, just music and his friends.  Which is why he is so surprised when one of his friends, a girl, says she loves him.  And even more surprised when he learns she tried to kill herself and her gangster father is furious with him.  Prabhas is distracted, because there is a full reunion of the college gang coming up for the first time in years, and Kajal is coming, he can’t wait to see her again.  But when his friends are kidnapped, he has to go talk to the gangster Mukesh Rishi and explain why he can’t marry his daughter.

And…..FLASHBACK!  Last year Prabhas and his band/friends went to a Telugu music festival in Switzerland.  He saw a girl riding a bike and fell in love with her, started following her around.  She was wild and crazy and amoral, he convinced her that he could read all her bad deeds on her face, she slowly becomes “good” and he also saves her little brother and friend when they are kidnapped by evil Swiss kidnappers.  However, he promised his friends he wouldn’t say “I love you” first, so he has to wait for her to confess her love.  Just as she finally does, after he gives her a clue by giving her back a gift she gave him, she is HIT BY A CAR!  And falls into a coma.  In the present day, Prabhas tells the (no crying) Mukesh Rishi that he has faith she will come back to him and that is why he can’t marry anyone else.

This is a decent and enjoyable first half.  Prabhas rescues the brother with a big fun fight scene.  It’s kind of fun to see Kajal be totally wild to the point of stealing chocolate bars from a Priest.  And there are clever little things like Prabhas stalking Kajal, seeing her fall in the water and drop her packages when trying to cross a ditch, and then building her a bridge to cross before she has to come back the other way.

But it’s also super flawed and kind of lazy, with stuff like them never explaining how Prabhas doesn’t realize Kajal is the daughter of his father’s old friend, the ridiculous idea of a Telugu music festival in Switzerland, and even things like Kajal responding to the surprise bridge by leaving a little tacky homemade necklace which then turns into a love MacGuffin.  But it’s so ugly and lame!  And so awkward that she would even leave him a present then and that he would hold onto it.  And that’s on top of the usual crazy romance concept, with him falling in love at first sight, stalking her, her being convinced he can read her past misdeeds in her face to the point of covering her face with a scarf, and so on.  It almost redeems itself with someone finally being hit by a car while dramatically running down the road after their true love (I always get nervous about road safety in that situation), but it’s still pretty lame.

And then, TWIST!!!!  It was all made up!!!!!  Prabhas has been thinking about Kajal and looking at her photos online for years, but he still hasn’t met her.  He took her, and all the various friends of his father, and put them into a made up story in Switzerland.  And now the pressure is on, he has to meet Kajal and make her fall in love with him within the ten day family get together or else Mukesh Rishi will realize he lied.

It’s a nice way of giving us two fun halves to the same movie, but also kind of a clever meta-statement.  For instance, the “real” Kajal is a gold medal scholar.  Prabhas friends ask him “why did you make her an idiot chocolate thief, in reality she is so smart?” and his response is “well, I had to make myself look better, you know?”  Which is of course the standard reasoning of the script writer, you come up with the perfect character for the hero actor (in the case of Prabhas, someone laid back and under-achieving) and then you create a heroine character who is somehow even worse in order to make him look good.  And that’s on top of the first half being in Switzerland (classic fake film location), and including one of those big filmi concerts, and a ridiculous fight scene, and even the silly “everyone in Europe wants to kidnap desis” idea.  The first half goes from kind of amusing to retroactively very clever.

And then the second half is the really delightful one.  Prabhas and his friends have to figure out a way to break through Kajal’s resistance, and at the same time compete with Vamsi Krishna, the far more accomplished son of another one of the friends’ group who Kajal’s father prefers.  Prabhas does a lot of rubbing his lips with his fingers as he tries to figure things out.  Plus there is a “real” fight, after Prabhas has avoided showing off his strength and seemed fairly lazy and useless, his father is threatened and of course he turns into a demon fighter.  And Kajal, slowly, is won over.

One of my favorite parts is that Prabhas is so sure he can win her over.  Not through big impressive feats, but he just wants a chance to talk to her alone for half an hour and he is sure he can do it.  In the “real” second half it isn’t about tricking her or silly games, it’s just about wanting to sit down and talk.

My least favorite part is how he finally does win her over.  His “sister”, the local daughter of one of the friends, comes to him and asks for his help because she is in love, he has a great job lined up in Australia, but they have to get married in ten days and his family is asking for an enormous dowry and she is sure her father won’t be willing to sell the family house to pay it.  Prabhas cleverly makes sure that she overhears when he goes to her father and says that a friend of his has a wonderful proposal, but there is a dowry.  Her father, despite her expectations, immediately plans to sell the family house but keep it a secret from her so she won’t feel guilty.  Prabhas then further makes sure that the rest of the group of friends agree to cover the dowry and help plan the wedding, so he doesn’t have to.  At which point the daughter rushes in, sobbing, and declaring she doesn’t want to get married because she loves her father too much.

Now, I was assuming this is what Prabhas was going for.  She loses interest in getting married, and her father (who arranged and hosted this whole event) gets confirmation of how much his friends still love him.  Because, OBVIOUSLY, it is not a happy ending to marry a man whose family is demanding an enormous dowry.  The happy ending is to declare that you/your daughter will never marry a man who doesn’t see that her worth is beyond any money.

But, no.  Dowry is a cultural tradition and we all understand that the poor groom can’t stand up to his parents and anyway a “good” groom would be one who has a cash value to him, if you love your daughter you will pay whatever it takes to buy her happiness.  Let’s have a big old wedding and pretend this is all okay and a marriage founded on a cash transaction is beautiful!!!!!

I hate dowry.  I hate dowry being accepted as a necessity.  But it is the only thing I really really hate in this movie.  So I am going to try not to worry about it.

The rest of it is, like, even more delightful!  Kajal and Prabhas get closer and closer during the wedding.  And finally they are clearly about to confess their love, when Prabhas’ father forbids him to say anything.  And, TWIST!!!!!  See, Prabhas’ father and Kajal’s father grew up together as best friends, Kajal’s grandfather took Prabhas’ father in when his parents died.  And then Kajal’s father fell in love with her mother and Prabhas’ father helped them elope, and both men were thrown out of the household and the family.  But now, Kajal’s cousin (her father’s sister’s son, so it’s not incest) saw her and fell in love at first sight.  His grandfather promised to forgive Prabhas’ father if only he makes this match happen.  Vamsi Krishna is that grandson, he was snuck into the party undercover, and now Prabhas’ father is banishing Prabhas so Vamsi will win out, because of his promise to the old man who raised him.

So, in the end, it all comes back to the bonds between people.  Prabhas’ father and his foster father, Prabhas and his father, and Prabhas’ father and his friends.  There is a net of people who care about each other and Prabhas is trapped in it.  He can’t dishonor his father by making him break a promise, and so he denies his love for Kajal when she confesses her own feelings.

But, and here’s the biggest tie first half to second half, the same tacky necklace that was randomly thrown in to the first half, shows up again.  We learn that Prabhas made it for Kajal and gave it to her when they said good-bye as children.  Kajal kept it all these years and shows it to him as proof of her love, he pretends he doesn’t care but she sees him secretly pick it up which gives her confidence in her love.

I am a little irritated that all these men got together and decided that Kajal’s opinions didn’t matter.  But then I am un-irritated because the film itself calls that out!  Kajal furiously declares her undying love and determination to make her own choice.  And her father does an immediate about face, declaring that he doesn’t care what his father wants, Prabhas’ father is a better man and all he cares about is what he thinks.  There is an immediate rejection of all this sacrifice and so on and return to “true friends just want you to be happy with what makes you happy”.

Which is the ending, Kajal running after Prabhas just in time to save him from Mukesh Rishi, who ends up crying at their true love instead of angry.  You just have to give people a chance and have faith, and they will always choose love.

Well, or a dowry.

(But look, Prabhas actually dances!  And dances well.  Worth watching just for that)

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