DDLJ Part 48: Father and Son Comedy Team

I’m back! I am starting fresh, with a sprinkling of Christmas cheer and happiness, and a new system for pulling images that hopefully makes this less horrible of a process for me, so let’s see how I do. UPDATE: oh right, I forgot the other reason I stopped these posts, it’s been an hour and this post only got 4 views so far. Not a lot of interest for intense scene by scene discussion.

In the last section, Anupam Kher arrived in India, immediately tried to take charge and fix things for his son in the way of overbearing parents every where, and instead made things worse. He agreed to an engagement with Preeti/Mandira Bedi, not realizing that Shahrukh was actually in love with Kajol. This is typical father stuff, especially in a patriarchy, Anupam just assuming Shahrukh can’t do anything for himself and blustering in without talking to his son.

What is less typical is the scene after that, where Shahrukh immediately spoke bluntly to his father, both telling him the truth of his life without fear and criticizing Anupam. Unlike Kajol, who is so afraid of her father that she keeps the reality of her life from him and would never EVER consider criticizing him, Shahrukh has a more open and fearless relationship with his father. And the benefit of that is shown at the end of the scene, after Shahrukh has yelled furious at Anupam, Anupam admits that he came mostly because he missed Shahrukh and they embrace. All that honesty and irritation and so on, comes along with a deep love and understanding. Anupam isn’t afraid to be vulnerable with Shahrukh, and that means Shahrukh is comfortable pointing out his mistakes, but also loves him enough to forgive and understand those mistakes.

And now we see why Shahrukh loves Anupam! In this scene, Anupam promises to fix his mistakes, and he does. What we see over and over again is Shahrukh uncomfortable and starting to talk, to do something, and Anupam talking over him and fixing things on his behalf.

This is also a very active section. Both Shahrukh and Anupam are extremely physical actors (part of the reason they are so believable as father and son), and in a fast moving comic scene like this, they go all out with the gestures and facial expressions and so on.

Look at this shot, after a whole movie of Shahrukh’s “Raj” being almost manic in his behavior, for once his scene partner is moving more and bigger than he is.

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Look at how Shahrukh has to hustle to turn and move as fast as Anupam. Kind of a risky shot too, having the actors turn fully away from the camera. A calculated risk, this scene works because of the speed of it. Better to keep the camera more or less stationary and let the actors move about.

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It also slightly builds some comic tension. We see them talking about how they will fix this (talking over each other and moving over each other too, see how Anupam is still waving his hands while Shahrukh is raising a finger?), while we see the door they are moving towards, reminding us that their excited plans could still fall apart based on what is knocking on that door, the sound and image coming together to break through Anupam and Shahrukh’s cross talk and cross-gestures.

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Small touch, but I also like the shirt drapped on the chair back here. This is such a tidy little guest room/set. The shirt makes it feel more like the room where Shahrukh is actually staying, instead of a set. As do the lit lamps.

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Perfect timing here, just as Anupam says “matter laid to rest for a month”, he opens the door. A little technique touch, Anupam timed his movement to the door so that his dialogue ended as he arrived. Without feeling like he was doing that.

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Anupam timed his own dialogue to reach the door, but once they get there, they need an exchange that has to work just right between both Anupam and Shahrukh. Anupam pulls open the door and declares “SIMRAN!”, Shahrukh corrects him “preeti”, and Anupam shouts “PREETI!” The audience can’t help but laugh at this, the speed with which these two conmen are shifting their story, Anupam’s confused attempt to fix things, Shahrukh’s anxious fear he will mess up. And of course Mandira Bedi’s innocent face not noticing anything.

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And just as Shahrukh tosses the right name to Anupam, he also tosses Anupam his hat. An extra physical touch to the verbal humor, extra tricky timing (I can picture Shahrukh in a farce play in Delhi learning this kind of comic timing and physical/verbal combo).

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Looking at this, I am appreciating for the first time how important Mandira Bedi is to making this scene work. A comic team needs a straight woman. Her innocence and stillness in contrast with Anupam and Shahrukh’s nerves and fast lies just make what they are doing funnier. Plus, she adds that right amount of nervous tension to the scene for the audience, we are terrified the whole time that Mandira will figure out the truth.

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We also get to see, thanks to Mandira, where Shahrukh got his charm and way of behaving with women. Anupam has no romantic interest in Mandira, but he is kind and informal and genuinely warm with her. Shahrukh’s flirtation with Kajol and the other women in the first half was a combination of horny teenage boy flirting, and also this kind of warmth and informality with women.

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Look at how he is making Mandira smile! This is why she fell for Shahrukh to begin with, in her world of patriarchy where her job was to bring the tea in and out for her brother and his friends, having men who treated her as a person that they enjoyed talking to is a revelation.

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Shahrukh has almost no more dialogue for the rest of this scene, but his expressions replace the dialogue. Anupam is smiling and rushing Mandira around, Shahrukh is just sitting there with a goofy strained smile, worried what his Dad will do next.

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Not just his expressions, his whole body is constantly moving with the effort to NOT take control of the situation. Anupam’s arrival was about overly confident father’s making decisions they think are best and actually messing things up for their son’s. This scene is about a father who actually can handle this and knows what he is doing, and a son who doesn’t trust him and is twisted up trying to let go and not take control.

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The placement tells us that too, Anupam is literally inserting himself into the interaction between Shahrukh and Preeti.

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This is a very fast talking scene, but also a fast moving scene. The three of them are sitting on the bed, the camera is a little closer and focused. We need to be able to see all three faces clearly for the humor to work. But Adi still wanted the humor of fast moving to go with fast talking, so there is little stuff like Anupam taking the milk and quickly drinking it in between words.

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They all look down together for a second, Shahrukh to fiddle with his arms, Anupam at his glass, and Mandira in her shyness. I doubt this was choreographed, more just a sign of how synced up all three actors are in this scene.

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Mandira puts a new complication in place, Anupam isn’t thinking and let’s it go, Shahrukh reaches out to try to stop him. The audience laughs at Mandira’s unaware attitude, Shahrukh’s panic, and Anupam’s unawareness.

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And then one of Shahrukh’s few lines, thrown in with a perfect strained voice, while his hands flutter with the urge to take over and fix things.

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And Anupam turns from Mandira to Shahrukh, as he shifts from pleasing Mandira to pleasing Shahrukh. Another layer to the humor here, Anupam being pushed and pulled between the two.

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He hands off the milk cup to Shahrukh, who looks at it in puzzlement then sets it down on the floor. Probably not planned business, Anupam needed his hands free for his gestures and handed off the cup without thinking. But Shahrukh still has the camera on him and so handles the cup with the same nervous energy that would fit with his character in this moment.

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Shahrukh and Anupam immitating the same hand gesture at the same time, again probably not planned, just two actors so in sync that they do the same thing together.

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Shahrukh-the-actor knows the scene is about to end, so he starts ramping up his “nervous” posture and gestures just as Anupam-the-actor is ramping up his “manic trying to fix things” gestures.

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I’m gonna give you three frames without comment, just so you can see Shahrukh and Anupam moving about.

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Anupam is getting to the point he planned to make at the beginning, that they have to move the wedding because of a made up excuse around Shahrukh’s mother, and Shahrukh is increasingly nervous as Anupam reaches this point. While Anupam is increasingly confident.

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It looks like it is working and Shahrukh just barely begins to smile while Anupam stands and moves on. Anupam also grabs Mandira’s hand at this point. Again, like father like son, he just doesn’t have that sense of “invisible force field” around women that the other men in the movie do.

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The scene ends with a series of Shahrukh expressions. First strained smile as Anupam and Mandira leave, crisis ending.

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Then exhausted slack face and he can stop faking.

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Eye rolling mime of “I am going to crash and sleep”

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Empty frame telling the audience “scene over, crisis done”. And the shirt and guitar to remind us that Shahrukh is just a lazy messy boy after all, we can picture him sound asleep on the bed in the middle of his mess.

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And then just as we relax, a surprise pop up from Shahrukh as he remembers a new crisis! The surprise of it, after we have had the visual clue of “scene ending”, makes us laugh.

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And final funny image, Shahrukh moving so fast he is a blur as he takes off for the next scene.

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One thing this film does really really well is alternating pacing. We have fast sequences, followed by slow sequences (the next few scenes will be very slow). It keeps the audience involved and interested, to have that pacing shaken up. If everything is fast, then the “fast” loses impact. A scene like this wouldn’t be funny at all if the whole movie were like that. We had the slow scene with Amrish Puri, then Shahrukh coming home and being buttonholed by Satish Shah and his wife, Anupam’s arrival, and the speed increasing with each scene until this one. And then the next scene is going to slow things down again.

On the other hand, a movie with all slow scenes is a hard sell as well. You need these shots of adrenaline to shake things up, or the audience starts to fall asleep during the slow bits. DDLJ perfectly alternates between the two speeds.

And most impressive, it alternates between the two speeds NOT WITH EDITING. Most modern movies use editing to control pacing. A movie will have a scene with fast fast cuts, shot-reaction-shot, or cutaways to random things, or just edits to hide mistakes in dialogue. And the slow scene will have slow motion, inserted background shots, sloooooooooow pans, and so on. This movie makes the camera work and editing invisible. Any pacing is from the performances alone.

This scene could be all one shot, just switching between cameras as they arrive at the door and it moves to a closer shot. Or it could be two shots mixed together, not sure. But it is certainly a lot of dialogue and a lot of business to do all at one go, either way. But Anupam and Shahrukh were perfectly ready to go and just did it, created the “speed” in their performances and all the camera had to do was record them.

And next we will see a scene that does the opposite, slows things way down purely through the actors, while the camera moves more than it does in this “fast” scene.

9 thoughts on “DDLJ Part 48: Father and Son Comedy Team

  1. Even with really little time at hand to enjoy all your multiple writings, I’ve to honour your comeback to your insightful scene-to-scene for DDLJ.
    Thanks, Margaret.
    I’ll go back to this when watching this scene again but even while reading it I had to chuckle.
    I think you’re right about both, ShahRukh and Anupam having a kind of natural sync when acting together. However I think that Adi had a certain ‘choreography’ in mind with Anupam being the center of action (which he built up physically in the part before the knock at the door).
    Mandira and the camera are the rather passive parts leaving the focus mostly on Anupam (I really like the scene on the bed with him trying to ‘get a grip’ on the mess he made.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • It feels very Marx Brothers to me, in the best possible way. The mixture of cross-talk and physical action and, most of all, the importance of having a “Straight woman” in the middle of everything so there is something to play off of. Love your point that the camera itself is another kind of “straight woman”, just passively watching what is happening and making the comedy all the funnier.

      On Thu, Dec 26, 2019 at 1:05 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Aaah! You’re back with these! Thank you, thank you! 😀

    One of my favourite comic parts, the other once being with Kuljit and SRK as he tries to wiggle out of the hunt. After reading your commentary on it, it makes me laugh even more now, seeing all the things you pointed out.

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    • Yes! On top of everything else special about DDLJ, it is one of the few Hindi films that is legitimately funny, even without knowing the language/culture. It’s all just universal goofing and mugging and perfect timing.

      On Thu, Dec 26, 2019 at 1:13 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Yes yes yes! So enjoyable to read your detailed take on this. Cleverly paced mirroring and I have to wonder how much of it is improv vs direction. I rewatched White Christmas the other night and it has a much much slower version of the classic 40s/50s musical comedy misunderstandings. But still lovely to watch again.

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    • White Christmas remake: https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2019/12/15/silly-sunday-my-favorite-christmas-movies-remade-in-india-white-christmas-best-man-holiday-frozen/

      Agree it has a similar classic comedy feel. And I am going to go out on a limb and say a lot of that is technical limitations. White Christmas, the Marx Brothers, this movie, they were all dealing with large slow moving cameras and limited film reels, leading to long takes and little camera motion. the comedy had to come from the performers, their movements, their fast talking, their reactions. Versus today when it is more likely to be editing and background music and special effects kind of stuff.

      Along those same lines, I am thinking this scene must have had a limited amount of improvisation just because of the camera work. They half to go to the door, then walk to the bed, then sit, then stand and leave Shahrukh alone on the bed. But maybe stuff like Anupam taking the milk and passing it off to Shahrukh, or Shahrukh tossing him his hat as he says “PREETI!” at the start, could had been worked out in the moment.

      Shahrukh and Anupam were filming Chaahat and Zamaana-Deewana simultaneous with this (I think, based on release dates), and both of those involved way more physical comedy. They must have been like a well-oiled machine by the time they got to his simple little easy scene.

      On Thu, Dec 26, 2019 at 1:59 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. I love ShahRukh and Anupam together, they are so comfortable, bounce off each other. Chahaat, Zemana Deewana, KKHH, funny stuff. I’ve just done a quick IMDB scroll through and they have done 11 films together , 12 If you count the Hey Baby cameo. Do they counts as a jodi?

    Anupam has an awesome filmography. He’s only 10 years older than ShahRukh, which just goes to show that looking cute and sexy are probably essential ingredients in becoming a multimillionaire superstar, rather than playing someone’s father all the time. But they are not necessary to have an amazing career.

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    • In a weird way I feel like the small age gap between SRK and Anupam helps them play father and son. In this scene, and in other movies, they really do feel like “buddies”, or like equals. In a way that an older Anupam couldn’t manage, and now today a younger Shahrukh couldn’t manage. I think casting them as father and son at odds would be a big mistake, but in all their roles where they are friendly goofy father and son, it works great!

      On Thu, Dec 26, 2019 at 3:25 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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