DDLJ Part 49: The Romance of a Fight

An SRKajol scene! Always the most interesting ones to discuss. Although by this point in the film/my analysis, I’m not sure if there is that much new for me to pick up between them. But I will try because Rachel said she was depressed last night and I want to cheer her up!

The last few scenes were extremely comic, and fast paced. Adi was smart enough to put in a transition to this scene, but also confident enough in his art to make it a small transition. We go from Shahrukh flying out of frame, to a slow pan along the terrace with the night sky in the background and the ladder visible between the houses.

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And then Shahrukh’s knee, leaning on the wall, lights in the distance behind him, no dialogue.

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And finally Shahrukh, at peace, laying with his head in Kajol’s lap as she strokes his hair. It’s a beautiful image, the pure composition of it could be a painting of Krishna-Radha, or Guinevere and Lancelot, or any iconic set of lovers. But Shahrukh is in jeans and a knit shirt, and they are on an every day terrace, not a forest glen.

Most romance films, not just in Hindi cinema but in all industries everywhere in the world, pick between light and deep. If you are light, then it is all about jokes and flirtations and cool clothes. If you are deep, it is all about long slow moments of gazing into each other’s eyes and love at first sight. Aditya set out to show a couple that is both at once, always. The jokes have a tinge of deep sacrificial love underneath them, and the moments of peaceful love still have that surface possibility of irritation and disagreement.

This is why (despite all those people telling me to think otherwise) I still think this movie shows a healthy relationship ideal. You can love someone and not always like them. A relationship isn’t about “perfection”, and it definitely isn’t about changing yourself for the other person, it is about constantly rubbing up against each other the wrong way but still loving each other enough to forgive it.

This scene starts with a moment of pure love, the silent steady deep that is why no matter how different they are, Shahrukh and Kajol will always be together. It’s not a big moment in a mustard field or a Swiss mountain top, it’s an everyday moment, thousands of boys across Punjab sneak across terraces at night to sit like this with their girlfriends. But just because it is everyday doesn’t make it less magical.

It’s also magical because we can see the difference in this silent moment between them from how they are everywhere else in life. Shahrukh is always moving in this film, especially in the last few scenes. And yet here, on Kajol’s lap, he is still and at peace. The one still place in his life and world. And Kajol is so powerless everywhere in her life, obeying her mother, her father, her aunts and uncles and grandmother. But here she is the one taking care of him, the mature powerful one. That’s why love is magic and special, you are more yourself with the person you love, in that little bubble of the two of you, than anywhere else in life.

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Which leads to this argument! Love this argument, especially in context. It’s funny, because it is a reprise of the conversation Shahrukh just had with Mandira Bedi. But it’s also funny because we see how totally different the conversation is when it is Kajol and Shahrukh versus Shahrukh-Anupam Mandira. Even though it starts the same why, with the well brought up good little Punjabi girl shyly mentioning Karwa Chauth.

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This is how well written and directed this story is! Kajol says her line and Shahrukh’s eyes pop open, and the audience starts to laugh. We don’t need the connecting line, we know that Kajol means Karwa Chauth and Shahrukh is already thinking “Oh no! I’m gonna have to get out of this again!”

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And then thinking “wait, maybe if I pretend I don’t know I can buy time and somehow avoid it all”.

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Let’s take a moment for this funky camera angle too! In today’s world it would be no big deal, you just move your handy light weight digital camera over his face. Heck, you could even use a drone! But back then, they would have had to move some big heavy old-school thing right over his face. AND light it! See the spotlight just on his head? It’s a weird lighting arrangement, obviously artificial, but we the audience don’t notice it because we are so focused on his facial expressions (as was intended).

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And now we are back to the other shot, so we can appreciate both faces at once. Kajol’s performance in this film is, in some ways, more remarkable than Shahrukh’s. Shahrukh is playing “himself”, or at least, the self he usually plays onscreen. A better more layered version than usual, but still the active funny cocky young guy. But Kajol is playing a character completely unlike her standard role. Instead of being loud and confident and fearless, she is dignified, quiet, mature. But still with an inner strength that lets her challenge Shahrukh.

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You can look at their previous films together to see the difference, the Shahrukh in DDLJ is mostly the same Shahrukh we see in Baazigar and Karan-Arjun. But the Kajol in DDLJ is totally unlike the Kajol in Baazigar or Karan-Arjun. And this scene is a great showpiece for that, the way her hand gently touches her face as she strokes Shahrukh’s head, the way her head tilts towards him, the soft reflective way she makes her request, totally unlike the usual big gestures and big declarations in the Kajol characters.

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This speech is Kajol’s moment to shine a bit, and Shahrukh let’s her, while still reacting. The speech is about Kajol being sweet and mature and loving, while Shahrukh is getting irritated because it’s just a hassle for him. It’s funny, with the contrast. But it is also about letting the contrast be in the background. For the strength of their relationship to work in the film, we need to take BOTH characters seriously and understand things from both sides. So yes, Shahrukh is making an irritated face. But we aren’t focused on his face (literally the camera is not focused on it any more), we are seeing both faces. We need to appreciate his irritation, but also Kajol’s loving confidence at the same time. And Shahrukh’s performance is calibrated for that, a big expression so the audience gets his reaction, but the rest of his body still so he isn’t taking the moment fully away from Kajol.

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Even here, he has a great line with “hands off”, but he is still still while Kajol’s hand is moving and her head. We get his line, but also her reaction.

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And then it shifts fully to him. But again, only works because it is in reaction to Kajol’s speech. If we had had his face the whole time she was talking, it would have felt like we were just marking time until Shahrukh reacted. And the reaction wouldn’t have been as funny because the audience wouldn’t have seen both sides at once. Here we can understand both Kajol’s loving speech, and expectation that this is the first time Shahrukh learned it was Karwa Chauth and thought about all this, and we can understand Shahrukh’s feeling of “Not this AGAIN!” That’s what makes it funny, seeing the conflict between their two world views and understanding both sides.

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Like I said, this must have been a moderately complex lighting and camera arrangement, I am sure there is a version of this scene that was shot entirely with this angle, just Shahrukh’s reactions. And I am sure he reacted in a clear funny way with full expression on his face. But then they looked at it and realized no, it is stronger to just use the Shahrukh face shots as punctuation to Kajol’s speech.

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And then he moves. This is what I was talking about with the movement between sweet deep love and funny love. The actors placement in this scene gives us that. We start with just quietly being together in this very classical pose. And then suddenly he pops up and they are facing each other and talking like people, not lovers. Because that’s real, that’s life, sometimes you are perfect dream lovers, and sometimes you are just people talking.

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And as people, there is SO MUCH that goes into this scene. We have Shahrukh starting by making one of his dangerous jokes that goes a little bit too far, the same kind of teasing we saw him use on her in the first half, his default way of trying to break through her calm security. He goes extreme and over the top with his jokes in order to try to get a reaction from her.

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And the more she is silent, the bigger he goes, trying to get a reaction.

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There’s also their postures here. Kajol is a little little person, which filmmakers usually try to hide. Heck, her personality usually hides it! She is a big loud person, so filmmakers naturally put her in a look with big hair and bright clothes and loud gestures and she ends up looking bigger than she is in reality.

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Shahrukh is the opposite, especially at this point in his career, he was playing the “sweet young boy” so filmmakers tended to make him look skinnier and smaller than he was in reality, lots of bobbing his head down in front of older men and raising his head to look up at the camera.

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But in this sequence, Aditya wanted to let us see Kajol as a tiny person and Shahrukh as a large one. Starting with the opening shot with Kajol sitting knees up and small and Shahrukh stretched out and looking large. And then moving right into this with Kajol tiny and still while Shahrukh looms over her and waves his hands.

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The point isn’t “Shahrukh is scaring and dominating Kajol”, the point is “Shahrukh SHOULD be scaring and dominating Kajol, he is bigger and louder than her, but in fact with her still smallness she is controlling everything”.

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That’s what makes this speech funny. Just like before when Kajol was talking and we were laughing imagining Shahrukh’s reaction and knowing it isn’t what she expects, we are doing the same here. Shahrukh thinks he is being loud and confident and funny and convincing her. But we, the audience, can see in her firm face and stillness that she is just gathering together her stubbornness and is completely unmoved.

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The weird thing is, they are misunderstanding each other here because they love each other so much. With Mandira, having this same argument, Shahrukh and Anupam conned her by figuring out what she would understand and turning their argument into that. But here, Shahrukh is incapable of lying to Kajol, or being anything other than his natural self. Which means he isn’t thinking about how this behavior will just serve to make Kajol angrier, not convince her.

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Kajol’s doing the same. With her father, she turns off the dance music and pretends to be a “good girl”. With her friends, she pretends to be confident and modern a bit. With her sister and her mother, she is honest but in a way that will please them, that they can process. But with Shahrukh, she will always be herself. She isn’t going to show off and leap in and challenge him before he is done talking like she would with a friend. And she isn’t going to hang her head and agree like she would with her father. She is going to look him straight in the eye and be unmoved.

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Shahrukh is imitating her here, moving fast and talking fast while she is silent. This is a very small gender role reversal, along with everything else. Comedy of this type, the cross talk comedy, is often about the still silent man reacting to the crazy woman. In Hindi film, “Basanti” is the archetypal comic female character. But here, Shahrukh is being the “Basanti”, talking fast and being silly in contrast to his strong silent scene partner.

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It’s a fun little speech for watching Shahrukh go through all these emotions while Kajol is still. He starts out joking a bit, then makes fun of her, and then gets legitimately angry right at her. And she doesn’t laugh or react to his start (“do you want to kill me?”), or get angry at his unflattering imitation of her, or even here when he starts his real argument. You can see Shahrukh going farther and farther thinking she isn’t reacting, while Kajol is silently getting angrier and angrier without him noticing. Again, that’s why it is funny!

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This is the big shift. Film character work is all about picking who the audience relates to based on whose face we see. Shahrukh is now in profile to the camera as he reaches the big finish of his speech while Kajol turns to face it directly. The audience is now sure that Kajol is angry and following her thoughts, while Shahrukh has become the “other” that we listen to and wait to be punished.

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And again, this is part of building them up as an iconic romantic couple. If we were always on Shahrukh’s side, of Kajol was just his “heroine”, then it wouldn’t be a romance, it would be a Shahrukh film. And if Shahrukh was the boring ideal hero who showed up to be Kajol’s happy ending and never did anything wrong, then it would be a Kajol movie and not a romance.

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But what draws the audience in here is that we are both of them, Shahrukh listening to Kajol’s dreamy request and getting alarmed, and now Kajol listening to Shahrukh’s dumb speech and getting angry.

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And now they are both turned away from the camera, the audience is back in the position of observer, just in time to enjoy this fight as a fight without feeling angry or part of it.

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This whole film, and the relationship it shows, is such a tightrope of power dynamics. In the reality of the world, Shahrukh has all the power. We see that over and over again. The film is very realistic about their power imbalance, starting with the trip through Europe where Kajol is incapable of anything from driving a car to buying food because she was never taught that, and Shahrukh must do it for her. But at the same time, within their relationship, Kajol has the power because Shahrukh was trained to respect her powerlessness.

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That’s what Karwa Chauth is about. The woman is fasting and the woman must rely on the man to feed her or she will starve. But the flip side of that is that the man is trained to respect her fast and sacrifice, and a “good” man will be more trapped by her weakness than she is by his strength.

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If Kajol sticks with this declaration and refuses to eat or drink unless Shahrukh feeds her, then she has all the power. Shahrukh joked about walking into the room and declaring his love, but it was a joke with truth in it. If Kajol is dying of thirst, he HAS to do that unless she relents.

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And the end of this scene puts a subtle button on that power. The last scene ended with Shahrukh rushing off frame because he forgot his date with Kajol. This scene ends with Kajol sweeping away from him. He runs to her, she runs away from him. She is able to just walk away from him while he is constantly pulled towards her.

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The rest of this scene was about SRKajol as a couple, but the ending is about Shahrukh alone, and is why women fell in love with him in this film. It’s a combination of Aditya’s direction and Shahrukh’s performance, and it brings something wholey new to the character of the romantic lead.

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Kajol sweeps away while he stumbles over her name and tries to make her come back, and then he makes a face of irritation.

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Now, what we know from Society, and from earlier interactions, is that if he wanted to Shahrukh could call her back. There’s an alternative resolution to this scene, where Shahrukh forces Kajol to prove her love by total obedience. And she would do it, that’s the other part of their power dynamic. In the reality of the world, Shahrukh holds all the power (because he has been brought up as a Man, while Kajol has been kept from the world). In the bubble of their relationship, Kajol holds all the power because Shahrukh hates to displease her while she is confident that she will never really hurt him. But at the deepest level of their relationship, the romantic dynamic in which they were both raised, Shahrukh could literally order her to kill herself and she would do it. To put it simply, to the outer world Shahrukh has all the power. In their inner world, Kajol has all the power in day to day things. But at the deep important level, Shahrukh controls her utterly because Kajol has been trained that a woman in love owes everything including life to her husband.

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And so another movie would end this scene on the romantic note of Shahrukh calling Kajol back and her declaring that she will do whatever he orders because she trusts him more than life itself (as she says later in the film). Shahrukh’s character has that option available to him and the audience knows it.

But his face here smiles and says “I like this. I like when she speaks up for herself, I like giving up control, I like it when she is strong and I want her to be stronger even if she disagrees with me.”

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And look at his comment here! It’s true, first of all, and that’s a credit to the whole rest of the film that the audience can see that. Amrish Puri is the “antagonist”, and he is Kajol’s father not her mother. And yet we can see through out the film that Kajol is far more like him than she is Farida Jalal. She is stubborn, she is silent in her anger and then makes pronouncements that are unbreakable, she likes rules and traditions. Her character is a combination of many things, the insecurity of a woman raised in a patriarchal society with no power, but also the personality and behavior she learned from her father.

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And Shahrukh finds this endearing! He has a hard time with Amrish Puri, but he appreciates those same traits when they are in Kajol, a sign of his love. And a sign that he is not trapped by gender roles. He can see that Kajol inherited her personality from her father, not her mother. And he is okay with that, it is natural and good to him.

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This is just a small little scene, “filler” really. The movie is now on track for the finale, this whole Karwa Chauth sequence, starting with the last comic scene with Mandira, is just marking time before we get to the finale. But in another way, nothing is filler. The more we see Shahrukh and Kajol together, the more we understand their relationship, the more we appreciate it and the more we are committed to the finale.

The next terrace scene, with Kajol giving up all power to Shahrukh, wouldn’t be as strong without this scene before showing the normal way they interact when things are not so serious. Shahrukh’s fight scene at the end wouldn’t be as impactful without this scene showing how he wants to avoid conflict if possible instead of seeking it out. And the loving sequences after this as Kajol fasts and Shahrukh tries to help her wouldn’t have that same sweetness without knowing that Shahrukh didn’t want her to fast in the first place, and yet is still supporting her.

In a film like this, everything matters.

10 thoughts on “DDLJ Part 49: The Romance of a Fight

  1. And therein lies the magic of Shahrukh’s character in DDLJ and it’s translated into how women see him off camera. Maybe it’s just my fantasy, but I believe him in scenes like these because it’s not just acting…it reflects what he actually thinks of women…respects their power, their agency. It’s a game changer for Hindi cinema I think. But you’d know that way better than I would! PS Margaret, save your CA trip for fall because you need to be at my event…probably October or November.

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    • Yes! And this is really subtle, but I think what makes a difference too is that his smile at the end is loving but not indulgent. It could have shaded slightly into “cute little girl throwing a fit” but instead it felt like “I love it when she is strong and confident”. And of course the “just like her father” line ties into that, he is saying she is just like a strong man, not like a cute little girl.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think, DDLJ, is a movie with a pleasant balance of giving agency to the protagonists. And I also agree with you, Rachel. As DDLJ was a movie I watched after already knew about ShahRukh through very different movies, I had the feeling that it reflected a lot of ShahRukh’s relations with women which will be have the ingrdients of teasing, of naughtiness and guiding but equally of loving a girl’s/woman’s strengths, giving her space and a voice he would listen to.

    I immensely love the framing of this scene!

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    • I love that the fight ends with Kajol giving an ultimatum and storming out, what you would usually expect from a male character, and then Shahrukh gives the happy smile at her strength like you would usually see from a female character.

      On Wed, Jan 1, 2020 at 7:42 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • As it is an emotionally important scene, I like the choosing of a curved balustrade where both are positioned in a quite harmonious way.

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        • Yes, and the almost unmoving camera, it’s just about the two of them talking, not any fancy movements.

          On Wed, Jan 1, 2020 at 11:13 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I think the “just like your father” is the best moment. As you have said it shows his respect for the hard nosed tough minded person she can be.

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    • Yes! And gives me hope for their future relationship, they are going to fight, but so long as they can respond with love and respect, it will be fine.

      On Tue, Apr 21, 2020 at 2:45 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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