These are all just brilliant, and work so much better as period pieces than they did as modern day. Truly, I can’t even pick a favorite among them! Can you?
Jab Tak Hain Jaan: Independence Movement to Sino-Indian War
One (of many) problems with the original JTHJ was the crazed homicidal mania of London cars for Shahrukh Khan. So a simple fix would be to put it during a period when physical danger was an actual everyday event that would make sense. Another problem is Katrina’s strange “bargains” with God. What would make more sense is if she really felt she was committing a sin somehow, that Shahrukh was injured as punishment for her sin, and therefore breaking it off with him would be doing what God wanted. So we can set it in the past and make her a traditional old-fashioned type who sees even just an engagement as a sacrament. Or heck, make her married like the heroine was in the original so it truly would be a sin by anyone’s mark. And all of this becomes easier if we set it in the past.
Starting in 1944. WWII is winding down, Shahrukh was sent by his mother from the Punjab to Bombay in order to escape family pressure to participate in the freedom movement after his older brothers were all arrested and/or killed. In Bombay, Shahrukh leads a bit of a double life, on the one hand being a carefree day worker enjoying the sights and sounds of the big city. On the other hand, having found the local Independence group and doing small tasks for them, delivering messages and so on under the noses of the police because he is just the happy street musician that everyone likes.
(And maybe his disturbing youth make-up would be less disturbing surrounded by period costumes)
Kat is an Anglo-Indian. Her father is a wealthy Indian businessman, her mother a British woman, daughter of a colonial officer. Her father has secret leanings towards Independence, but her beloved grandfather is heartbroken at the idea of being thrown out of the country he thinks of as his home. Her mother is a more for Independence than her father even, a firebrand not afraid to speak her mind. Her mother also fully embraced Hinduism and helped arrange her engagement to a similarly high profile and wealthy young man, from a family that is even more aggressively for Independence than they are. It is a marriage that makes everyone happy based on the compatibility of the couple and the similarity of the families, and also because they see it as uniting two great Indian families, creating a power block that can help to push the British out. Kat’s engagement is, for her, religious AND a promise to her parents AND the one thing she can do to help the Independence movement.
So when she starts running into Shahrukh outside her father’s luxury hotel and asks him to help her learn a Punjabi folk song, and then he takes her to a lowclass party and gets her to loosen up, she resists falling in love with him. She takes him to the Indian Gate and makes him swear with her not to fall in love, swearing to the spirit of India, the one thing they both revere (Shahrukh is a Marxist style atheist, so he makes fun of her belief in God). But then, inevitably, they fall in love after all. There is a protest outside her hotel, the police do a lathi charge, she is caught up in it when trying to make peace between the protesters and the police, Shahrukh drops his guitar and rushes in to save her. And then they are in love.
(This might also make more sense as a gathering of Punjabi workers in Bombay, part political and part social, hiding in abandoned factories so the police won’t break them up as an illegal gathering)
Katrina is conflicted, but Shahrukh is not. While she is worried about her parents and her relationship with God and her duty to her family and to the country, Shahrukh has a strong feeling of everything changing any day, so they should just live for now. Be happy, don’t think about the future because once Independence comes, it will all be different.
And then it all comes to a head with the 1944 Bombay docks disaster. The biggest disaster in Bombay history. Kat and Shahrukh are lazing around at his room in the chawl by the docks when the explosion hits. All is confusion and dusty haze, Katrina hallucinates and has a vision and realizes that this is her punishment, for letting down God, her family, and India. She finds Shahrukh in the confusion, he has no heartbeat, so she asks for forgiveness from God and India, swears that she will dedicate her life to serving her country and the people and never again put temporary happiness ahead of the long term good. And Shahrukh wakes up.
And then we jump forward 18 years (I also want to change the story structure quite a bit so we start in the past and then are thrown into the future with no explanation for what happened). Shahrukh is now in his late 30s, and a responsible army officer. He was a hero in the Sino-Indian war and peppy young reporter Anushka Sharma is desperate to interview him in Delhi where he is staying for a triumphal awards ceremony and so on. She follows him around and nags and nags until finally he gives in, taken by her determination. She can follow him around and write her story.
(I’m picturing a Sharmila Tagore type, wears practical saris and a big bouffant)
So Anushka gets to see Shahrukh’s Delhi life. Sees him partying with his army crew, and visiting his widowed sister-in-law and nieces and nephews and ill brother (sick from time in jail), and he turns introspective and talks about how he is in the army because his family paid a high price to create independent India and he has to do what little he can to keep their legacy moving forward. Anushka reveals a surprising depth as she admits to feeling the same way. She was 10 years old when they got Independence, her older brother and beloved Bhabhi actually did something to make it happen, she just enjoyed the celebration. So now, although she could have stayed home and enjoyed her family’s money, she has chosen to get a job and work in her own way for the betterment of the country.
Anushka teaches Shahrukh to laugh again and they get closer and closer, and she invites him to spend the rest of his leave in Bombay at her family home, they would all love to meet her. And he could help her convince them that she is doing real good honorable work and they should let her keep her Delhi job instead of forcing her to come home and get married. Shahrukh goes back and forth on it, but Anushka is sure he will come. She tells her friends (who are trying to convince her to just give up and get married) that he will come for her, she is sure. And, he does!!!! He shows up at her favorite cafe, which used to be his favorite cafe back when he was young, and surprises her just as she is telling her friends how sure she is. Happy Bombay Song!
Ending with them arriving at her parents home for him to be introduced to the family. Which is when he discovers……KAT IS ANUSHKA’S SISTER-IN-LAW!!!!!! Shahrukh immediately turns bitter and odd. Anushka can’t understand what is happening, Kat is silent and unreactive, it’s all terrible. Finally, Anushka takes Shahrukh aside and demands to know what is happening. He dances around it, but she figures out that the woman he told her about, the one who he was in love with the last time he was in Bombay, is her Bhabhi.
Everyone is now sad, Katrina with her perfectly nice husband and proper life and small children, Anushka with her sad dreams of being with Shahrukh shattered as she realizes he is still in love with Kat, and Shahrukh lost in memories of Kat as he walks through Bombay. Until, after a long night of wandering the city and having visions of the two of them young and in love, he lands up by the Gateway to India again. And he sees that the Indian flag is now flying over it, not the British flag. And it starts him thinking.
(This kind of vision. This is such a cool song, I wish more people had seen it)
He goes back to the house, and Anushka in a mature fashion greets him and accepts it when he asks to speak to Kat alone. He and Kat go walking in the garden, and he gives a big monologue. He still doesn’t believe in God or fate or any of that. But when he saw the Indian flag flying over the Gateway to India, he thought about their vow. He doesn’t think God saved his life because Katrina gave up their love affair, but he does think that they both sacrificed their youth working to build up their country. He woke up from that accident in the hospital with nothing left for him in Bombay, his home blown up and the one person he loved gone. He joined the underground and got serious about the independent movement. After Independence, he was one of the first Indian army officers to get a commission in the new army. And he can see in Katrina’s life here, and what Anushka told him about her family, that she also devoted her life to the country, in her own way. Running charity hospitals and founding charity schools, supporting her husband as he served in public office, and generally being that shining light of future new India that she planned to be. So maybe there was no grand plan, but maybe things worked out for the best after all. If they had gotten married back then, they would have been happy, they would be here now with children and a home of their own and 18 years of happiness. But they sacrificed all of that, for their country, and maybe it was for the best after all. And so it ends not with a shout but a whimper, Shahrukh kisses Kat on the cheek and then walks away from her. But Anushka sees this through the window and misunderstands.
Shahrukh is in his hotel room getting ready to leave to go back to Delhi, when he gets a knock at the door, a messenger delivering an invitation to Anushka’s grand engagement. She gave in and agreed to marry the man her family had picked out for her. Shahrukh holds the engagement card and we don’t know what he is going to do. Meanwhile, Anushka is getting ready for her engagement with all the women of the family fussing over her. Kat is there too, silently in the background. Anushka asks for some time alone with Kat. The other women leave them, and then Anushka asks her how she did it, how she forgot Shahrukh and settled for a sensible marriage with a sensible man. And Kat tells her “it was the hardest thing I ever had to do. It was the right thing to do back then. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you to do now.” Anushka goes out with that in her mind and sees the whole family waiting and the nice young man and at the last minute stands up and says “No. India is independent now, and so are Indian woman. I don’t know if the man I want to marry will have me, but that doesn’t mean I should just marry any man. I’m going to go to work and make this country better and I don’t need to be married to do it.”
Anushka walks out, triumphantly, having made her choice and taken a leap into the unknown. To find Shahrukh standing outside waiting. She asks why he didn’t come inside, and he explains that he tried to convince a woman to love him the way he wanted to be loved, to do what he wanted her to do, and it didn’t work. He is never going to do that again. So he decided to just stand here and wait and see what she decided for herself. But now that she has made that decision, he devoutly hopes she will consider coming with him to Delhi right now and getting married.
The end of the film is seeing Anushka and Shahrukh gleefully having a registrar wedding in Delhi followed by a big happy Punjabi party hosted by his family. And back in Bombay, the telegram arrives at Anushka’s family home, her family is excited, her brother says they should be proud to have a war hero in the family, her grandmother starts planning what jewels to send her, and in the background we see Kat pick up the telegram and smile and sigh and then we flashback to see she was the one who addressed the wedding invitation to Shahrukh and she was the one who put the clipping of Anushka’s first article on the dressing table to remind her of who she was before the wedding.
Mujshe Dosti Karoge in Colonial Times
Big problem with Mujshe Dosti Karoge, it exists in the modern world and computers don’t work like that. The whole idea of emails starts out reasonable, but then you get into the “did they just have the same email age 8 to 22?” kind of questions.
So, let’s change it! Same plot, but set 100 years earlier. Small mountain town with a large colonial presence, Hrithik’s father is offered a partnership in an Anglo-Indian business which means their family will be moving to London. Everyone is very sad. Lil’ Hrithik asks to write letters to Lil’ Kareena, she says yes without thinking. But gets bored when it comes time to write, so Lil’ Rani writes the letter back instead. For years they send letters back and forth that way, with huge gaps in between because of the distance London to Shimla. There is no point in talking about day to day stuff with the months between letters, so instead it is all about big ideas and books they are reading and what they think of current events and so on. And then Hrithik’s father is sent by his company back to India and brings his family back to the small mountain town for the summer.
(I mean, this is ridiculous! Facebook, anyone?)
Complications complications, Kareena has grown up flirty and westernized, she wears western style clothing and speaks good English and all that. Rani is still traditional and quiet and plans to be a teacher and maybe never marry. Hrithik naturally has more in common with Kareena, she can understand his London references and will go with him to British dances while Rani doesn’t know how to behave at those places. They fall in love. But Hrithik has to leave with his family to return to Bombay where his father is setting up a new business. Coincidentally, Rani also has to go to Bombay for a teacher training course. Naturally she travels with Hrithik’s family. His parents are both busy planning for their new home and new business, so Hrithik ends up spending time with Rani. They travel all through India and he gets to know her more and more on the train ride, and to appreciate her. Finally they arrive in Bombay, he offers to take her to see the biggest church in town, and they have the church moment when he figures out who she is. They agree not to say anything to his parents, instead to wait until the whole family travels back to the vacation town so they can tell his parents and her parents together. Only, they get off the train to learn that Kareena has been orphaned and has nothing, and she rushes into Hrithik’s arms.
Oh oh!!!! Kareena is PREGNANT! YES!!!! She tells Rani, and explains that it was before she met Hrithik, one of the British soldiers, he lied to her and seduced her. She didn’t realize she was pregnant until after she had fallen in love with Hrithik. And now her father is dead and she doesn’t know what to do. Rani decides for her, obviously she must marry Hrithik. And then Rani gives Hrithik the same challenge, if he loves her he will prove it by marrying her best friend.
(Doesn’t this whole thing make more sense of Kareena is pregnant and Rani knows it but Hrithik doesn’t?)
Hrithik delays the marriage by suggesting it take place in Bombay, happy trip to Bombay with all of them! Kareena is still scared and nervous but also excited about marrying the man she loves. Hrithik keeps pushing Rani to give him a good reason for this whole craziness, and she maintains her vow of silence with Kareena. Hrithik drags in Uday, his friend just returned from studying abroad. Everything keeps building and building. Until finally, the day before the wedding, Hrithik magically finds Kareena’s pregnancy pills and figures out what they are (I don’t know, maybe there is a scene earlier with him teasing a pregnant cousin or something?). He understand what Rani is doing and goes to her and tells her he honors her for her friendship and so on and so on. Until, the day of the wedding, as everyone is getting ready, Kareena has a change of heart. She asks to speak to Hrithik secretly, tells him that she is pregnant and she can’t marry him just to give her baby a family. Hrithik tells her that her baby already has a family, they don’t have to be married for that to happen. Kareena is happy, Hrithik is happy, and then Hrithik goes outside and his eyes lock with Rani, and everyone figures out what is happening. Kareena pushes Hrithik to Rani, Uday pushes Rani to Hrithik, HAPPINESS.
Dhoom 2: 1920s Edition
This is one of the silliest lightest stupidest movies, but if you just move it back a little in time, suddenly it becomes deep and layered. Abhishek is a local cop, Uday is his informer/unofficial partner. But Abhishek is a little conflicted about his place in the colonial regime. He has no problem investigating murders or robberies, but when he has a chance to help a protester avoid arrest, he will take it. Uday is fully and openly for Independence, and Abhishek enjoys teasing him about it a little, how he will spout all this revolutionary talk he reads in pamphlets without fully understanding it.
They are assigned a new case, simple robbery. Someone is going around stealing jewels from wealthy households. Abhishek brings in his informant, Aishwarya, a beautiful courtesan who would be hired to perform at wealthy households and then steal from them. Abhishek helped her get out of jail and now she owes him.
(Heck, they can just reuse Umrao Jaan footage)
Abhishek helps Aishwarya meet Hrithik by figuring out his pattern, he is drawing a giant circle around the city, so Abhi plants Aishwarya at the next obvious target and she and Hrithik have a teasing first meeting. They meet again when Hrithik comes to one of Aishwarya’s performances. Finally he agrees to take her own as his disciple. Hrithik is very westernized, fancy clothes and British food and all that, while Aishwarya is very desi, has her favorite street stalls and so on. They get to know each other better and better and Aishwarya begins to feel conflicted about what she is doing, but Abhishek drives her on and on.
Until Abhishek figures out Hrithik’s pattern. It isn’t a circle, it’s a giant spinning wheel, he is making the pattern from the center of the Indian flag (in that era, now it is an Asoka wheel). And he realizes Hrithik is only stealing from the worst of the wealthy collaborators and colonial officials. At the same time, Hrithik has told Aish that he now trusts her enough to show her where he hides his wealth. And he brings her to a printing press, he is selling the jewels to help support the printing of revolutionary pamphlets and books, in fact he himself is the famous anonymous writer “The Wheel”.
Now the question is, should Abhishek arrest him once he and Uday have realized that he is a freedom fighter? Uday and Abhishek have a big fight over it, Uday is all for letting him go, Abhishek is conflicted because Hrithik is also a thief and Abhishek swore to arrest all thieves. Abhishek goes home and talks to his wife who encourages him to follow his conscience. Just then, they get news of a new robbery. Abhishek races off to catch Hrithik and Aish, Uday goes with him only because Abhishek’s wife begged him to go and watch his back. There is a taut confrontation that ends with Abhishek shooting Hrithik just as Aish flings herself in front of him to save his life. The two of them topple off a high tower. Uday is so furious that he walks away from Abhishek and refuses to talk to him, their friendship is over.
Until, weeks later, Uday is at a revolutionary meeting, trying to convince them to let him participate more instead of just handing out pamphlets, when suddenly he is tapped on the shoulder and taken into a backroom. At the police station, Abhishek is staring at his resignation letter and considering signing it when he is called in for a new case, one he will definitely want. His old friend/partner has been kidnapped, a ransom note was delivered to the station for Abhishek. Abhishek follows the directions and lands up in the backroom of a small cafe. To see Hrithik! And Aish!!!!! And, stuffing his face with food, Uday!!!!! Hrithik explains that he got an anonymous note before he went out to steal that night, saying “wear rope”. He wasn’t expecting Aish to jump in front of him, but he managed to save both of them. Thank goodness Abhishek fired a blank. Hrithik escaped and reformed. His love for Aish and talking with her convinced him that there was more than one way to fund a revolution, instead of stealing from the rich, they are now putting on benefit concerts. They would never have contacted Abhishek again, except Hrithik saw Uday at a revolutionary meeting and learned their friendship was over. And so he is forcing them two of them in the room together to talk.
Uday is still angry, now that Abhishek didn’t trust him enough to share the plan. Abhishek explains that he couldn’t see Uday go to prison for this, he wanted to keep him out of it, that’s why he didn’t want him along that night. Uday asks if this means Abhishek is quitting the police force to join the revolution, Abhishek hesitates, then says “I have been thinking of a different way….”
And, END CREDITS MONTAGE! Of Uday and Abhishek working police cases and also secretly passing information to the underground, interviewing a woman about her stolen jewels and taking photos of the government papers in her husband’s safe at the same time, blocking off a crime scene in a smokey bar and then secretly inviting in a wounded revolutionary to hide in the backroom protected by the police tape, and like that.
(Abhishek looked so good in period clothes in Guru, wouldn’t you be up for a whole movie like that?)