Christmas Week: Prem Ratan Dhan Payo! A Happy Film for the Whole Family

This is a movie I like more and more as time goes on. It’s happy, it’s loving, and bright colored and cheerful. It’s also completely illogical, but that doesn’t really matter.

I saw Prem Ratan Dhan Payo in theaters twice and bought it on DVD the day it came out, but I’ve only watched it 1 and a half times since it left theaters (the half is because my sister already watched the first half while I was at work, and then we watched the end together).  But you know, I think I may like it even more on DVD than I did on the big screen.

A big part of that is just the quality of the subtitles.  They are definitely slightly better for dialogue on the DVD than they were on the theatrical release.  But more importantly, they didn’t exist at all for the songs (at least, not on the theatrical prints I saw), but they are there and are pretty good on the DVD.

I can kind of survive with out subtitles, I can get the big words and the general sense of things.  And if the subtitles are bad, I know how they are bad and what they are missing.  But my ideal situation is good subtitles that fill in all my little Hindi gaps.  Which is what I had on the DVD.

Two songs in particular really benefited from subtitles.  First, the “Let’s Sing About Food!” song, which was so much more delightfully foodie with all the subtitles in place.  And it set a nice tone for our hero and our hero’s view of romance.  There really is nothing sexual or overly romantic in his mind, it is all about food and gifts and the same kind of romance that a 5 year old boy might dream of.  It’s sweet!  And immediately cancels any concerns the audience might have about him taking advantage of his fake relationship with Sonam.  He wouldn’t even know how to take advantage of it!

(the official youtube version is still subtitle-less, but this one has nice subtitles all written out for me)

And the other song that really benefited was the notebook one, when Sonam is listing all her complaints about Salman.  I actually didn’t realize how repetative it was, I thought it was multiple small complaints.  But actually, it was just variations on a theme of the exact same complaint.  Which made it stronger.  Sonam doesn’t want him to do something he can write down in a notebook, she doesn’t want the sort of masculine “how can I fix this?” take on things.  She wants big worldview kind of changes.  She wants him to learn to consider others, to understand that he can’t always have what he wants, that sometimes she needs to be able to take the lead and make choices.  The notebook is a joke, not because it looks silly, but because they kinds of things she is asking for can’t be written down in a notebook.  On the other hand, the notebook is a solution, because it shows that he is actually listening and taking her seriously, and that’s all she really wants.

(Again, the official version still doesn’t have subtitles.  I think this is the earlier trailer version, and it’s got a lot of scenes that didn’t make the movie.  But I think it is even cuter than what they ended up including!)

I actually think this song is wonderfully feminist.  This is what needs to change in the world, not little things like pay inequality or education, those are just symptoms.  The big problem is attitude.  And that’s what is so hard to grasp, just like Salman here, the first thought is “okay, tell me the problem, I’ll fix it, and everything will be perfect.”  But it’s not that simple, it’s a daily constant adjustment in every part of life.  And because it is related to an overall attitude adjustment on the part of Prince Salman, we can see the same problem with all the women in Prince Salman’s life.  His sisters as well, he thinks he can just fix it somehow.  But they aren’t looking for a quick fix, they are looking for a big paradigm shift, and until he realizes that, and starts really listening to what they want and being open to considering their point of view, they will never see eye to eye.

Every time I watch this movie, I like Dilwale Salman more and more, and I hate Prince Salman more and more.  Actually, that’s not true, I hate Prince Salman’s father who has stuck him with all these problems more and more.  The king had children with 3 women, and never seemed able to really take responsibility for all the problems that created.  Like, if Prince Salman (well, Dilwale Salman pretending to be Prince Salman) has the authority and ability to divide the inheritance equally between all the children, why didn’t the King just set up his will like that to begin with?  Why didn’t he buy his mistress a nice house while she was alive so she would have something to leave her daughters?  Why didn’t he sit down and talk with his daughters so they understood that he loved them and respected their mother?  And why, after having so many challenges in his own romantic life, did he try to force his son into an arranged marriage?  I don’t know if it is an accident or on purpose, but the message I keep getting from this movie is that ancestral patriarchal authority just ruins everything.

Also every time I watch this movie, I am more and more fascinated by what a horrible death trap the king built for his children!  Not only is it on the edge of a waterfall and only accessible by small boat, it is made of glass!  And has no guard rails around the roof!  And then he puts in a mirror maze, so they can run at top speed at glass and break their little noses!  Oh, and then he adds in swords.  And fireworks!  Like, if he was in America, he could be legitimately brought up on charges of child endangerment.

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(Who would let their children play here?  Even before it was all dusty and depressing?)

Let’s see, what else?  I love love love the older sister character.  She is so unapologetically strong.  She works for a living and she supports her household and she stands up to her brother.  And the solution is to listen to her and give her exactly what she wants.  Because she is right and he is wrong and she never needed to apologize or change.  I was all set for a “oh, forgive my feminine weakness, now I realize that I should have listened to the Men all along” scene, but no!  It was the reverse!  She had to forgive his masculine pride once he realized he should have been listening to her.  Even at the end-end, she still hasn’t changed her personality.  She smiles a little more, but she tells him that she still isn’t “filmi”.

The younger sister was okay, the whole soccer playing thing was a little one dimensional for character development.  But I appreciate that they stuck with it straight through, that she really did have this interest and was good at it, it wasn’t just something she did while waiting for a Man to give her a better life.  And I really liked her costuming for playing soccer, it wasn’t some fancy or sexy outfit, it was kind of dirty and loose and practical.  What a teenage girl would actually wear to play, not a director’s vision of what she should wear.

Okay, the plot itself is totally ridiculous.  The villains are just sooooooooooo villainess.  And the good guys are soooooooooo good.  I did appreciate that the good guys knew right from the start who was behind it all, because it would have really been stretching belief to think they didn’t know the guy who is wearing a leather jacket and drinking from a flask while he drives his sports car is the bad guy.  Did not appreciate the whole “oh well, we’re brothers!  We’ll forgive each other!” resolution.  Although it was what I expected, having seen a Rajshri film before.  And I know, ultimately, I shouldn’t be complaining because the plot wasn’t written with me in mind.

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(so evil!)

This whole film is clearly built for children, like 2 to 10 years old children.  There’s a nice lesson about being not fighting with your brothers and sisters, there’s a sword fight for the boys to enjoy (multiple sword fights!) and pretty clothes for the girls, there’s plenty of child actors and extras onscreen for you to relate to, and the romance is at about the level a kid could understand (he likes her because she is nice and pretty, she likes him because he is funny and kind).  And that’s awesome!  It is really hard to make a live action movie with kids in mind without sort of creeping over into fakeness or surreality.  But all of these actors fully committed to their child-friendly personas, and never let so much as a wink slip through to show they didn’t take it seriously.  And the directing was amazing.  It was all huge and beautiful and in your face, in a way that a kid can appreciate, but also in a way that an adult cold enjoy.

Which brings me to the only way this was better in theaters than on DVD.  Like I said, I liked watching it on DVD better than in theaters in most ways.  The subtitles were a big thing, the ability to fast-forward or leave during the draggy parts, the ability to rewind and watch again the awesome bits, or pause to appreciate a particular costume or setting, that was all great.  But I did miss seeing it surrounded by many many children, the way I did in theaters.  Even if they weren’t part of my group, just hearing little high pitched voices asking questions or gasping at certain moments, or seeing little heads bob up and down on their seats in excitement, it added a whole other layer to the experience, really helped me understand why this film was made the way it was.

Which is why I probably enjoy it most when I am feeling ready to retreat into childhood.  Like, this week, I am fighting off a headache (massive spring storms coming to town, lots of huge pressure shifts, means lots of achey heads for me), and all I want to do is come home from work, curl up in bed, and pretend I am a little kid again.  So Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is perfect.  And again, works better on DVD, where I can fade in and out of sleep while watching it from my bed, instead of seeing it in the theaters where I have to be all alert and aware and sitting up straight and not falling asleep.

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