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”.
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.
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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.