This is NOT a review of Sanam Tere Kasam. Okay, the second half is. But the first half is just a discussion of female romantic fantasies, and it’s important, and you should read it even if you don’t care about the rest of it.
I know this is a fond favorite for some of my readers, but you don’t mind if joke about it a little, right? Like, you are aware that this is a little sappy and fantasy-fulfilling and ridiculous from the plot side of things? If your reaction is “This is the most realistic and perfect presentation of love I have ever seen!”, then maybe don’t read on. If your reaction is “This is like a romance novel come to life and that’s why I love it!”, then go for it. Because that was my reaction too!
You ready for an embarrassing confession? I own all the Twilight books. And I have read them. More like devoured them. It was a difficult time in my life, I was living at my parents for a month while my apartment got cleared of bedbugs. So I was putting in a shift at work, then going home and washing everything I owned, and then going over to my parents’ place, showering, and crawling into bed and trying not to think about little bugs growing fat on my blood. So, perfect time to read a terrible but addictive romance!
In my R…Rajkumar post, I talked about how I legitimately feel “guilty” for watching that movie. Not just “oh, this is bad for me” guilt like when I have chocolate for breakfast, but “oh, this is bad for the world” guilt like when I don’t recycle. I do NOT feel guilty for enjoying Twilight, or many other terribly written romances. I know some people do, the abusive relationship implications and general stupidity of a teenager giving up everything for love make them concerned for, like, the world.
But for me, the poor quality of the writing balances out the flawed message. This is not a book that is going to secretly work on my subconscious and make me want a boyfriend who watches me while I sleep. It’s straight up trash that buys into female fantasies that already exist, doesn’t try to make new ones. And they are female fantasies we are all very aware of within ourselves, no need to guard against them or anything. Especially when the writing is so obviously bad that you can easily see and avoid the brainwashing.
A lot of these fantasies come out of the same place, that women tend to do more of the “emotional labor” in relationships. There’s a lot of worrying about other people’s feelings, and remembering special occasions, and generally taking care of people. So being “passive” in a romantic fantasy isn’t necessarily about women losing their power, it’s about them losing their responsibilities. Let the man make all the moves and decide the future, I’m exhausted because I just spent all day working customer service and then cleaning bedbugs out of my apartment!
That’s the appeal, I think, of this film. For the woman who has sooooooooooo much responsibility, both emotional and in the wider society, the idea of a hero who is somehow outside of society and can pull you out of it too, and can also do all the emotional work of taking care of you and nurturing the relationship, that’s pretty darn perfect! Oh, and he’s rich. Don’t forget that. If I am fantasizing after working 8 hours and then shopping for discounts at the grocery store, I want a rich hero!
(Here, you can see right on the poster that it is a movie for women. See how he is all naked and vulnerable and she is all protected?)
Oh, and also the idea of being desirable. Just take it as a given that women are taught their value is tied to their appearance. Don’t even try to fight that part of it. Since we have that as an exhausting constant concern, the fantasy would be to find out that we don’t have to worry about it. Not because appearance doesn’t matter (again, don’t even try to fight that battle), but because we are beautiful already just by being ourselves. Which is where the love triangles come in, that one hero who is devoted and passionate may think we are beautiful, but that’s not enough to give the sweet sweet validation high you really need. No, you need multiple male characters (yes yes, they have to be male, again, just don’t fight it, this is the world you live in by the time you are 2 years old if you are female) to also see your beauty. Your natural beauty, not your “make-over” beauty, but what you look like when you role out of bed. That’s the fantasy, to no longer have to spend all that time prepping before leaving the house, or else waste all that energy feeling guilty for not prepping before leaving the house (I didn’t bother putting on mascara this morning and it’s making me feel more guilty than not doing my dishes last night), because you have firm reinforcement that your appearance is acceptable to society even if you don’t do anything about it.
It’s not just a matter of slapping an outsider hero who takes control of everything on top of a passive heroine who doesn’t have to wear make-up. You need all the fal-de-rol (sp?) and fripperies around it too. The fantasy touches in Twilight, the period touches in the traditional romance novels, and in this film, the great songs! And really pretty visuals in general. Great costumes, great looking characters (but in a way that doesn’t make you hate them), and really nice color palette. And then you just sit back and let the romantic fantasy wash over you.
I wish there were movies made like this. Not this movie exactly, but LIKE this movie. Same whole-hearted commitment to the romantic fantasy for the female audience, slightly better script and less ridiculous plot. One of the people who recommended it to me (I want to say Filmilibrarian? But I could be wrong) said that it was the kind of film that got her into Indian cinema to begin with. And that’s exactly right! This kind of swoony romance is a long-term genre in Indian film. Maybe not always the most popular of genres, and usually with some comedy or action scenes thrown in, but it was always there. And now the straight up romances have been shoved into some kind of female-audience ghetto, just like they are in America. We get the rare Badrinath Ki Dulhania, but more and more the good romances are more like Happy Bhaag Jayegi or Running Shaadi, a great script wasted with no budget or promotions. Or this movie which, okay, is not a GREAT script, but it’s not terrible! Take one more pass at the dialogue, put in a big catchy promo song, and promote it as the all ages film it is, and it could have made decent box office. But instead it had a barely known southern star, and a Pakistani model as the leads, songs that never really cracked the charts, and box office so terrible that it will continue to scare producers away from this kind of film.
Oh well, in this case I am not that upset, because while I can see all the reasons it is appealing as a film, I also found the plot RIDICULOUS!!!
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Okay, try not to laugh, our heroine is a librarian. A dowdy glasses wearing librarian. And our hero is a tattooed poor little rich boy recently released from juvenile detention. It’s like someone just reached into two hats labeled “romance heroine” and “romance hero” and went with what they got. Could have just as easily been “widow who’s sworn never to love again” and “cowboy who doesn’t trust women but just inherited a baby”.
What makes this film watchable, enjoyable even, is that they kind of dig out some vague social statement behind the two roles. She isn’t just “dowdy librarian”. We see that her naturally retiring nature was encouraged by her authoritarian father. She was never supposed to talk to boys or have friends or be outside of the house, so she didn’t do those things. Her sister, who is more naturally outgoing, fought back against those restrictions. But Mawra, our heroine, isn’t a fighter so she just went with the flow and ended up being more and more retiring. Incapable of putting herself forward and demanding what she wants from life.
Our “bad boy” hero is this perfect combination of sacrificial and giving (so our heroine can relax and let someone else take care of her), but also tough on the outside so he can protect her. Not protect her from dull stuff like rapists and gangsters like in another movie, but the really bad stuff, parental disapproval and feeling like you aren’t “cool” and don’t have any friends and needing to find an apartment. Blech! Let our tattooed bad boy take care of all that! And then look at us soulfully and tell us how beautiful we are. Sure, in “real life”, that would get super boring after about a day, but this isn’t real life, this is a fantasy.
Oh right, actual plot. Our dowdy heroine lives in a dowdy respectable apartment complex with her prettier younger sister and her authoritarian father and doormat mother. Recently moved in to the first floor of the building is the “bad boy”, Harshvadhan Rane, with tattoos and all, recently released from juvenile detention. He doesn’t belong in this boring middle-class world and everyone tries to avoid him. But they can’t throw him out, because for some reason he inherited the apartment from the respectable middle-class woman who used to live there.
Our dowdy heroine’s problem is that her sister is in love and engaged, but her parents refuse to let her marry until the dowdy big sister is married. So she goes to sexy boad boy downstairs for help with a make-over so she can get a man. This sounds SO STUPID when reading the wikipedia plot summary, but in reality, it’s kind of the smartest part of the film.
Remember Pardes? On watch 3 or 4, I suddenly realized that it wasn’t about a love triangle between the fiance and his brother. It’s about the “fixer” who pushes these matches together between two people with nothing in common eventually taking responsibility for his actions breaking the match just like he put it together in the first place. And the romance is about someone who knows all our flaws, knows them so well that he was able to get rid of them, loving you anyway. In fact, loving you because of your “flaws”.
That’s what this movie is digging in to as well, but even more so, because it adds on the frustration of the very people who caused those flaws now turning around and blaming you for them. Mawra doesn’t wear make-up and prefers baggy dowdy salwars and only goes from home to work and home again because that is what her father told her to do. And now he is blaming her because she can’t get a man to marry her, even though it is the very things he turned her into that are stopping her from finding someone. And Mawra herself has a crush on Anurag Sinha, but doesn’t now how to act on it, because she doesn’t have the tools. It’s the purest form of torture! Not able to fulfill her family’s desires, not able to fulfill her own desires, and somehow believing herself to blame for it all as well.
And the only solution to this, the big fantasy solution, is to just leave them all behind. Leave all those people who take and take and go with someone who gives and gives, yes! That’s the dream! And for a real fantasy, have them throw you out. So you don’t have to feel guilty for leaving (seriously, being a woman suuuuuuuuuuuucks!).
Which is what we get here. Our heroine, in an effort to somehow please everyone around her, is driven to ask the “bad boy” downstairs for help in the middle of the night, wanting him to get her in touch with one of his girlfriends for make-over advice. And it has to be the middle of the night, because things just came to a head with her sister and her parents are coming back tomorrow. So this is her one gap between doing things that her father would approve of and doing the things her sister needs her to do. Anyway, middle of the night, they are caught together, there is a misunderstanding, her father slaps her and throws her out of his family. Woo-hoo!!!! No family!!!
Harshvardhan, our perfect bad boy hero, picks her up at work (making all the cool business types who work near her lending library, including the guy she has a crush on, stop and stare). And he takes her back to a wonderful apartment that she has all to herself, and then takes her grocery shopping the next day, and doesn’t tell her she should or shouldn’t do anything, or make any demands on her. Heaven!
But remember how I said knowing that one person loves us just as we are isn’t quite enough? For the real fantasy, other disinterested people also need to give us that sweet sweet social validation. And therefore, Mawra has to get a “make-over” so the boy she has a crush on will return her feelings and generally people will react as though she is beautiful.
But it is a perfectly calibrated make-over, so we can keep both the “he sees her when no one else does and she is legitimately struggling in the world” effect of the first half, and the “she is beautiful without even realizing it” effect that we all crave (stupid mascara guilt!). Mawra sympathizes with Harshwardhan about his own family issues, and in the process reveals how miserable she is being removed from her family. And so Harsh turns it back on her, and instead of sucking up all her sympathy, he gives it back to her, taking her to a back alley blackmarket designer label dealer who can give her the make-over she thinks her family wants.
It’s a great make-over! I was kind of worried about that, knowing that the heroine is played by a model, that it would be one of those make overs where she doesn’t even look like the same person after. Or else that she would be transparently already pretty from the start. But it was just right, in the beginning she braided her hair and wore baggy salwars, telling the world to look at her like “little girl” or “old-fashioned”. Post-makeover, she looks just the same, only with her hair down and brushed away from her face, and adult clothes that actually fit her. She was “beautiful” all along, just had to change a few things to make people notice it.
And her crush does notice it, and proposes (sweet sweet validation!). But before that, Harsh commits himself to getting her married. This is the part that reminded me of Pardes. Getting married, finding a husband, is such a stressful time. You end up bonding with the one who you share it with, the person who builds you up and supports you in this incredibly sensitive moment. And Pardes and this film take the same idea, that you can be yourself with some lowclass outsider who is helping you with all this touchy stuff, and that makes it all the more romantic when that very person falls in love with you. So Harsh gives her the make over, then helps track down grooms, then after the engagement, he helps her pick out her wedding outfits and plan the ceremony and everything else.
And so, when the groom stands her up, it is the ideal romantic fulfillment for her to have sex with hot Harsh. He’s a “bad boy”, so he’s experienced. But they’ve also spent so much time together, that she can feel completely comfortable with him. And he’s been so super protective, she knows he will take care of her. That’s the sexual experience sweetspot, a little bit dangerous so you know he will be good at it, but totally familiar and trustworthy, so you know you will be safe with him.
Okay, then the film gets RIDICULOUS!!! There’s a monastery? But it’s also a little interesting in how the perspective shifts. We spent most of the first half of the film in Mawra’s mindset, so we could fully enjoy all the wonderfulness of leaving your family without guilt, and getting a makeover, and being proposed to by the boy you have a crush on, and so on. But now suddenly we shift over to Harsh, and stay with him for the rest of the film.
See, this is when Mawra disappears the morning after their night together, and Harsh finally tracks her down at a monastery (!!!!). Only to learn that she is dying (!!!!!) of random Attractive Movie Disease. No one wants to fantasize about dying. But fantasizing about how dramatically miserable everyone else around us will be if we were dying, now THAT’S a fantasy. Some hot tattoo guy who will take care of our every need and sob himself to sleep every night, oh yeah! That’s the stuff!
The only time we go back into Mawra’s perspective is when we get the final sweet twist on the romance. Mawra, being a good undemanding female character, refuses Harsh’s proposal, thinking it was made out of pity. But then goes to the library, where she used to work, to clear her head. And randomly pulls out the first book she recommended to Harsh (Catcher in the Rye, beloved of sensitive male souls everywhere), to find a note he wrote asking her out for coffee on the back of the check-in card. See!!!! He really did love her all along! And he is so emotionally self-contained, he didn’t even let her know, assuming she had seen the cards and didn’t want to respond. That’s what makes it awesome, not that he loved her all along, but that he never showed it! He just lived to serve, silently, whatever she wished, without wanting anything for himself. Basically, he was the ideal self-sacrificing Indian wife. Only, a man. Which means the woman gets to fantasize that she is the typical Indian husband. Perfect by in their essential essence, just there to be served and adored. So relaxing!
Oh, and then she dies. Which is sad I guess, that she dies of Movie Disease right after the wedding. But on the other hand, it also means we never lose the fantasy. She never has to clean a kitchen or change a diaper or any of those tedious things which in real life aren’t that bad and are definitely way better than dying, but would kind of spoil the fantasy.