Christmas Week: Hum Saath Saath Hain, the Ramayana in Bright Colors

I thought I’d reviewed this movie, but I’d just hosted a tweetalong. Oh well, I am sure I can zip out some kind of a review in no time.

This is the almost-but-not-quite-as-good Sooraj Barjatya movie. It doesn’t have the pure original innocence of Maine Pyar Kiya, or the stunning sweet magic of Hum Aapke Hain Koun, but it ALMOST does! If you like the other two films, and are in a Rajshri movie, I recommend it. But be aware it is just one half step farther towards “so bad it’s good” and away from “just plain good as it was intended to be seen”.

Image result for hum saath saath hain poster

Really it’s just a problem of “bigger isn’t always better”. Maine Pyar Kiya had one love story, Hum Aapke Hain Koun had two, and Hum Saath Saath Hain has THREE! So many songs, so many costume changes, so many sets. And all of that didn’t leave much space for a thing we call “plot” that is based on something else called “conflict”. There’s a joke that Hum Aapke Hain Koun is a 3 and a half hour wedding video, Hum Saath Saath Hain is more like a 3 and a half hour family reunion movie.

But it works because Sooraj was still perfectly tuned in to his Barjatya magic, and so was his cast. One thing that I don’t think Sooraj gets enough credit for is how he handles his actors. He brings out a sweet seriousness in all of them, from Salman Khan to Saif Ali Khan, from Tabu to Karisma, there is uniformity of tone that is remarkable. It all starts from that, if we can believe in the performances, than the ridiculous set designs and costumes and all the rest also work. And we will be happy enough spending time in this world that we won’t mind the lack of conflict.

Of course there are still some creaks and weaknesses to the system, especially in this film. Barjatya loves to give us the idea of a big family, and a big world of people. But he doesn’t always have the time to fill in all those people. In this movie we have a group of random nasty women who for some reason are best friends with Reema Lagoo, and random motivations for Karisma and Sonali’s father’s that don’t really make sense either. And Shakti Kapoor is here too for a reason I never quite followed. Hum Aapke Hain Kaun has a similarly large cast, but in that case there was a little bit of time to establish them all. Vivah, thank goodness, corrected by cutting down the cast to a reasonable size and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo both had a small cast, and simpler character types with less establishment needed for who they are and what they want. Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon is of course the worst of them all, but the slight fissures in the Barjatya system were already showing here.

But it’s still not bad! Great performances, great songs, pretty settings, and that strange “why does this feel both wholesome and sexual?” Rajshri feeling. Truly, I recommend it. If you are in the right mood.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

The big thing to know about this movie is that it is the Ramayana. Down to the character’s names. If you are aware of that, then you watch the film with this lovely sense of inevitability and awareness of how the plot is going to go (eventually, once it starts). And an awareness of the little leaps and originalities in the plot, since it is taking an established template of a story with an established interpretation and tweaking it just slightly.

The Ramayana tells the story of a jealous stepmother who arranged for her oldest stepson to be exiled with his wife so that her son could rule. The son, being a decent sort, refused the thrown and insisted on ruling as a regent for his brother, not the true ruler, until his brother returned. That’s just a tiny tiny part of the whole thing, and the first choice this film makes is to focus on this small section of the tale instead of the rest of it. The second choice this film makes is to make sure we really REALLY feel how horrible it is when this family separates, be letting us see how wonderful it is when they are together.

The second choice is a bit of a gamble, will the audience be willing to sit around and watch hours and hours of singing and dancing? But it mostly pays off. Once we hit the conflict of “who gets the biggest bedroom?” it actually does feel like conflict, instead of stupid. Mostly. If you are in the right mood.

Anyway, “plot”! Reema Lagoo and Alok Nath are married. Alok had one son already when they married, Mohnish Bhel who has a minor deformity of his hand but his family loves him all the more for it. Reema and Alok’s oldest son is Salman, then their daughter Neelam, then their son Saif. Alok has a very successful business (although he was poor and struggling when he married Reema) and all three sons are expected to continue in the family business. There is currently a big plan to build a new factory near their ancestral village where they used to spend every summer. Neelam is now married and happy with her husband Mahesh Thakur, which means it is time for all the other kids to be married in order, bam bam bam.

Salman and Saif already have semi-official engagements with old family friends, shy Sonali Bendre who is the daughter of their family doctor and a doctor herself. And bright happy Karisma Kapoor who is the daughter of a neighbor at their family estate in the country. And then at Alok and Reema’s anniversary party, an old friend and his daughter Tabu show up and Tabu likes Mohnish right away. He honestly tells her about his weak arm, but she wants to marry him all the more for his honesty. Everything is working perfectly! Mohnish and Tabu will be married, and then Salman and Sonali, and then Saif and Karisma. For their honeymoon, Mohnish and Tabu take the whole family with them to the family estate, plus Sonali, and all three couples flirt and romance like crazy.

And then, finally, CONFLICT! Neelam and Mohnish show up on their doorstep, sobbing. Mohnish is the younger brother of his family, he and Neelam always spent more time with the children and taking care of the home while his older brother and his wife worked. But now his brother is jealous of Mohnish living off of him and doing no work, and has thrown Mohnish out! This is very distressing for everyone in the family, and it is especially distressing for Reema who suddenly fears that her other children may face a similar fate since all the family wealth is combined and in control of Mohnish. She suggests that there be a fair division of responsibility and assets, starting by assigning bedrooms in the household differently. Mohnish, heartbroken at the idea of giving up the biggest bedroom, leaves for the country with his wife Tabu to stay in the family house and work on building the new factory. Salman returns from a trip to learn what has happened and furiously refuses to take official control of the company, but instead just hold the place until Mohnish returns. And Saif decides to flee to the country and show his support of Mohnish. In addition, both younger brothers refuse to move forward with their marriages until the family conflict is resolved.

This is all extremely dramatic, of course. But dramatic in a slightly clever way. The basic outline of the Ramayana story demands that the stepmother will send the son and his wife into exile, that the other sons will remain united on his side, and so on. But the way it plays out in this film feels like something that is happening fresh, not inevitable. Plus, you just like all these people! Salman is sweet and a little quiet and clearly revers his brother, Mohnish is a decent guy who thinks no woman will want him with his disabled arm, even Karisma is interesting as her father greedily encourages the feud (think it will end up giving his potential son-in-law Saif more power in the family), while Karisma tries to end it.

Beyond the Ramayana, it also encourages basic Indian family structure and THAT I am a little less thrilled about. The lesson of “joint families are the best, daughters-in-law should be considered part of their married family over their original family, families should always always be together” is a bit strong. If I were looking at these characters and this family in this film in isolation, I would be fine with it. But in context of Indian society, and with an awareness of all the social pressure to live out the fantasy this film is selling, it is A Lot.

But on the other hand, Salman washes a minivan shirtless, Saif jumps around like a monkey, there is an alphabet song that will stick in your head until the day you die, and during Christmas week when the family is all around and you are filled with good will and just want to watch people eat and sing and then eat some more, this is perfect.

And this is also perfect.

16 thoughts on “Christmas Week: Hum Saath Saath Hain, the Ramayana in Bright Colors

  1. “And then, finally, CONFLICT! Neelam and Mohnish show up on their doorstep, sobbing. Mohnish is the younger brother of his family, he and Neelam always spent more time with the children and taking care of the home while his older brother and his wife worked. But now his brother is jealous of Mohnish living off of him and doing no work, and has thrown Mohnish out! This is very distressing for everyone in the family, and it is especially distressing for Reema who suddenly fears that her other children may face a similar fate since all the family wealth is combined and in control of Mohnish. She suggests that there be a fair division of responsibility and assets, starting by assigning bedrooms in the household differently. Mohnish, heartbroken at the idea of giving up the biggest bedroom, leaves for the country with his wife Tabu to stay in the family house and work on building the new factory. Salman returns from a trip to learn what has happened and furiously refuses to take official control of the company, but instead just hold the place until Mohnish returns. And Saif decides to flee to the country and show his support of Mohnish. ”
    So many Mohnishs, so confusing!

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    • Sorry! I had “Mahesh” wrong for Mohnish in the first draft, and then went back and tried to fix them all but forgot there was an actual Mahesh in the cast too.

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  2. I actually end up watching it more than Hum Aapke Hai Kaun and Maine Pyar Kiya because the conflict is just not as serious or dragged out as long (I just have to fast forward the little part in the middle where Reema Lagoo is overdramatically refusing to eat and crying in bed). But overall it really is just a happy movie with such fun songs.

    On a funnier note, my husband saw HSSH and Hum Aapke Hai Kaun on the same day (yes he is a very patient man) and his reaction was “Wait a good wife is one that does all the household chores and a family is only a family when the wife cooks and serves the men folk?! Why am I just finding this out almost a decade into this relationship?!” He cannot get over the portrayal of women in these movies.

    Also, my whenever my sister and I watch it, we still make fun of the flashback scene because apparently children ages 7-14 still need to be taught their A, B, Cs, and Kareena seems to have developed mini amnesia because she cannot recognize herself as a child multiple times!

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      • But wait! Maybe you have solved the issue you point out! As a child, Karisma was actually Kareena. But when her cousin Kareena died, her evil greedy uncle brought her over and convinced her she actually was Kareena and therefore Saif’s childhood fiance.

        That’s got to be a plot of some 70s movie, right? A child bride swap?

        On Wed, Dec 18, 2019 at 10:15 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Your husband is so awesome. What I mentioned about finding HSSH harder to enjoy because of the social context, that started coming up when I began meeting more older set in their ways Indian men and realized they watched those scenes going “oh how beautiful, Indian Tradition, just like when I was a kid, why can’t my wife/daughters act like that?”

      On Wed, Dec 18, 2019 at 10:15 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. All the Values – ha! Turns out this is what I was in the mood for heading into the holidays, just took me a while to finish because there were so many holiday doings that I kept turning it on very late and falling asleep. Had some trouble following who was who during that whole long beginning portion, especially which brother held which place in the family and who the extra uncles and aunties were supposed to be, I thought it was because I was sleepy but maybe it’s also just kind of hard to follow? Anyway, as you say once the couples get sorted out and the conflict arises it gets interesting, I was hooked for the family drama and resolution.

    Some disconnected thoughts:

    – The characters feel archetypal. You’re right that there is a consistent tone on the performances, but it also feels like they did a good part of the work through casting. Each actor is matched to his or her role, calm Mohnish, bubbly Karisma, strong Tabu, sunny but changeable Reema.

    – I know this is unlikely, but I kind of want you to do a whole post just on that intro song where they’re showing the family members to Tabu. There are so many layers to unpack. The character types they’re setting up, the details they use to typify those characters, the moment in time in the 90s when they would spend a whole song acting out this family structure for the audience, even the actors – watching Saif and Karisma do these roles knowing everything that came after adds another top note. (Himani Shivpuri surprised me, didn’t know she was such a good dancer.)

    – Alternatively, and equally unlikely, a “where are they now” post for the siblings and their spouses. It would be an interesting contrast of male and female career paths, for one thing. I really liked Neelam Kothari, and it looks like this was her last film?

    – Watching Salman in this was so interesting. On the one hand, I had trouble seeing him as the bookish, painfully shy brother. On the other, it feels like an early version of the avatar he’s built for himself – strong man of few words, who cares deeply about the vulnerable people of the world, and stands up for what’s right, while gazing soulfully through his lustrous eyelashes. Oh, and the horse, most manly on the horse.

    – The women are all faultlessly modest and supportive, even Karisma. Agree that it gets to feel suffocating. Tabu especially, for some reason, she’s so eyes-down and soft spoken, I kept wanting her to bust out and take over like she does in the roles she plays now.

    – I understood that Mohnish’s arm got maimed somehow rescuing his brothers as children. Salman has a line about it when he confronts his mother at the end.

    – Joining your team wishing for a second act for Karisma. I’d love to see her with Juhi, getting up to comic hijinks.

    That’s about all I can think of. Thanks, filmikudhi, for adding this to the holiday list!

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    • Yeah, definitely hard to follow! I got the 4 kids and their spouses eventually, but the older generation was really confusing in this movie. Rajshri always has a massive cast and big families, but in this one I don’t think it was as clear who was who and so on as it has been in other films from them.

      -Have you seen Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Koun? I’m really interested in the shift in Mohnish, in the first movie he is the rape-y villain. And then in the second he is the calm older brother, and that is the character type that works best for him and where he kind of stayed from then on.

      -Don’t forget, it’s also a whole song that is a medley of hit songs from other movies! So there’s that part as well, seeing these characters do an “amateur” version of professional film songs, but they are actually professionals.

      -Neelam! I always have a warm spot for her because of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Looks like she went into her family Jewelry business after she quit acting, and married Samir Soni who is another moderately successful actor.

      -Salman’s earliest films were all about him feeling the pain of others. And now that I think about it, that is consistent for his best performances, Tere Naam to Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Sometimes he is shy, sometimes he is tormented, but when he is the guy crying over the small child, that’s the Salman sweet spot.

      -After thinking deeply, I think if I were transported to live inside a Rajshri film I would most want to be one of the visiting Aunties. They get to eat all the food and enjoy the ridiculous family events, but they don’t have to Serve The Men and be silent and wear pastels all the time.

      -Huh! I have to rewatch the film looking for that. Or, not. It’s very long.

      -Yes! Karisma is great! Andaz Apna Apna is a hard watch (one of those cult comedies where you have to get into the flow of it), but it’s great for Karisma because she is an almost entirely comic lead, very little traditional “heroine” stuff at all.

      On Thu, Dec 26, 2019 at 11:35 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. As a movie in general, I kinda like this one sometimes and not so much sometimes. You’re right in that it can be enjoyable when you’re in the mood for it.

    On the level of it being a Ramayana retelling I kinda found it interesting that it is one that places more of a focus on the “Bharat” figure, the brother who is left behind to take the elder brother’s rightful place, and who uses his own acceptance of the position as an opportunity to rebel against this demand from his mother. So Mohnish leaving (Saif being the Laxman and Tabu being the Sita) is the big turning point – the Ram leaving Ayodhya moment – and there are some scenes showing Mohnish, Tabu and Saif settling in at the village, but the meat of the second half is largely about Salman’s pain at hurting his brother and sister in law, and his attempts to remind his mother of what they owe Mohnish. So it kinda focuses on the Kaikeyi figure’s guilt (though it only becomes clear when Neelam’s character returns home and begs her to let Mohnish return home) and the Bharat figure’s struggle. Which is not always an angle that gets explored that often, since the vanvas/exile in the forest is where all the action/meat of the story in the Ramayan is at. So I tend to like the second half of this one more than the first.

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    • Yes! The basic idea of taking the Ramayana and flipping it around is great. Not just focusing on Bharat, focusing on the women as well. Ram’s exile put everyone’s life on hold, including his sisters-in-law.

      On Tue, May 26, 2020 at 3:29 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Ooh yes. I recall Tabu’s father mentioning this towards the end of her pregnancy. Karisma didn’t participate in her college cultural program and Sonali travelled back to Rampur to look after Tabu and help with the delivery, as she’d promised Salman.

    Speaking of Tabu, I remember loving her and Mohnish in this. I know a lot of viewers tend to find them lowkey and pretty boring (at least among those I’m friends with) but they had these little moments I loved, right from the time Mohnish sends Tabu a letter asking her to consider other options. Like that little moment during the kanyadaan where she holds his hand in support, and Shakti Kapoor (who I believe is Mohnish’s bff in the film and has taken care of him like an older brother ever since his accident) and Neelam smile and move away. Or their bit in the Mhare Hiwda Mein Naache More song. I recall Sooraj mentioning in the making of this film that there was a moment where he thought she wasn’t emoting enough in a scene, but then he watched the rushes and she was phenomenal. Which I’m not at all surprised by…she’s *Tabu* after all.

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    • I love Tabu and Mohnish in this too! So good how the other brothers have love marriages, but Mohnish was always too responsible and humble to pursue that for himself.

      On Tue, May 26, 2020 at 9:30 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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