Sunday Rerun: Maine Pyar Kiya! For Bhagyashree’s Birthday!

Oops, this isn’t actually a rerun! I thought I had reviewed it, but I had just hosted a tweetalong viewing which isn’t the same thing. So let me quickly right this review.

This is a movie that shouldn’t be as special as it is. The plot is nothing new, almost trite. The look of it is old-fashioned, boring camera work for the most part and only a few sets. And the moral is so old it’s almost regressive. But at the same time it is the same as so many other movies, it is also different from so many other movies. Somehow the feel of it is something unique, there is no other film before or since that quite captures the same unapologetic innocent magic of first love.

Image result for maine pyar kiya poster

Part of this is the cast. Mohnish Bahl was new, Salman Khan was new, Bhagyashree was new. But their later performances aren’t the same as the ones in this film. It isn’t that they were new, but that they were raw and Sooraj Barjatya (the director/writer) could mold them as he wanted. Sooraj’s spirit is what fills this whole movie and the freedom he had with the untried cast and support of his producer is what makes it special.

When Salman went back to work with Sooraj again for Prem Ratan Dhan Payo he talked about getting back into the Sooraj mindset, how Sooraj has a kind of lightness and peace inside of him that everyone around him feels and which changes how you behave, how you perform, how you think of your characters. I think that’s what we are seeing in its purest form in Maine Pyar Kiya. It’s a silly silly movie, but it doesn’t feel silly, because the hand at the wheel believes in it fully and so does everyone else involved.

That’s what’s missing especially in recent movies. It’s not about the characters being less innocent, it’s about the filmmaker being less innocent. They have to be meta, they have to be cynical, they have to wink at the audience and say “ha-ha, I know this is a silly plot”. Sooraj doesn’t do that, ever, but especially in this movie. It’s not a silly plot to him, and that makes us believe it isn’t silly either.

Yes this is a couple where they are so innocent, they embarrassed for him to even see her ankles. Yes part of the plot involves an animal having a flashback to explain it’s motivations. Yes there is a Rock Factory where our hero works because it is noble and scenic. Yes our heroine is so innocent it seems like she could hardly function in the world. But Sooraj believes in this world, so his actors believe in this world, so I the viewer believe in this world.

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Bhagyashree is a poor rural girl whose father takes her to stay in the household of his oldest friend, a rich city man, while he has to travel for work. Salman is the son of the household, the two young people fall in love while they share the house, with the blessing of Salman’s mother Reema Lagoo. But then his rich father finds out and disapproves of the romance and sends Bhagyashree away. Salman follows her to her rural village and gets a job at the local Rock Factory to prove himself. In the end, Bhagyashree’s father Alok Nath is won over by Salman’s persistence, just as Salman’s mother and father arrive from the city to give their own blessing, and Evil Mohnish Bahl arrives to beat up Salman and destroy him once and for all.

To understand why this standard story (young man and woman who are living in the same household slowly fall in love) became such a sensation, we have to start with understanding the company that made it, Rajshri. Rajshri was an old family film company, like many others, with one big difference. Rajshri was a production house, and also a distribution company. The standard structure in India is for one company to make the movie, and then a second company to purchase the product from them and bring it to the public. What happens over and over again, especially today, is that the second company just doesn’t seem to understand or believe in the product. The release is flawed, the film doesn’t get enough time to find an audience, the promotions make it look like something other than it is, and so on. But Rajshri could take care of their own films. Their films are odd family focused old-fashioned movies, they have a history of taking these little non-commercial films and giving them a slow easy release until they can find their own audience. Opposite Sholay, they released Jai Santoshi Maa, a story of a young bride who prays so faithfully that the Goddess takes personal attention of her problems and fixes them. It was a sensation, while the men and middle-classes were going to Sholay, the women and families flocked to Jai Santoshi Maa.

Image result for jai santoshi maa

Rajshri was in financial trouble during 1989 when they started working on Maine Pyar Kiya, but they were an old company and they were smart enough to know they should stay the course. Sooraj was the son and grandson of Rajshri owners, he was only 23 but it was a family business and it was time for him to step up. His Dad gave him the writing prompt, and he took it from their and beat out his first script. They scrapped together the money to make the thing (2 million in 2018 American money), most of it budgeted for sets. They built a pretty flexible house space to use for almost every scene in the first half, and then found a rural area with lovely scenery for the second half. The actual cast was a last minute thing, Salman was an actor with one movie as a supporting character, Bhagyashree was a TV actress, Mohnish Bahl was a friend of Salman’s who he suggested for the villain’s role, and Reema Lagoo, Alok Nath, and the rest of the older generation were regular character actors who had worked with Rajshri before. The composer was from the Marathi industry, never had a big hit in Hindi before. The centerpiece was the film itself, not the individual artists, and the film itself was something special.

Maine Pyar Kiya is like watching a love story between two kindergartners in adult bodies. And yet also believable. Bhagyashree is a very sweet young woman who has lived a sheltered life with her father, off in an idyllic natural world. And Salman is just a nice guy. He’s rich, from the city, even studied overseas, but none of that touched him. It’s possible, some people are like that. And he has a sweet mother who kept his household sweet and pure and taught him to aspire to that in life. So when Salman falls in love with sweet Bhagyashree, he doesn’t even fully understand what “love” is, and Bhagyashree is even more innocent than he is.

This film is my ideal for “hero follows the lead of the heroine because it’s what gentleman do”. Bhagyashree is very innocent, doesn’t know anything of the world. Salman knows a lot more than she does, but their romance follows Bhagyashree’s speed and he is happy with that. The party scene is the most perfect distillation of this idea. It’s a house party, with music and food and dancing and drinking. Salman knows how to be there, how to greet the host, how to find food, and so on. He’s been at these parties before. But he knows that Bhagyashree hasn’t. So he tries to keep an eye on her, and instead of dancing they just stand in the corner and talk. And he’s happy with that, he’s happier just standing and talking to her than he would be dancing with the rest of the crowd. They play out a little dance of him pushing and her resisting, but the issue is over whether she will leave the house to go have a picnic with him, not sex. Or her saying “I love you”. The one moment he goes too far, gives her a sexy dress, he immediately regrets it and covers her up again. And it’s not even that sexy of a dress! Which is the point. In Salman’s world, this is a nothing dress. But it’s a big deal for Bhagyashree, so it’s a big deal for him.

That’s the point of the “ankle” scene as well. Bhagyashree hurts her ankle and Salman has to put liniment on it, but she is uncomfortable with that. So he offers to do it with his eyes closed. This is INSANE. But it’s what makes Bhagyashree feel comfortable. And, on the other hand, since just touching her ankle is a big deal for Bhagyashree, suddenly it feels like a big deal for Salman too.

Part of Salman slowing down to Bhagyashree’s speed, is the slowness of even realizing they are in love. They first time they meet, she is shy, so he tells her not to feel bad, they will be friends, and friends never have to feel embarrassed. He establishes the rules of “friendship, so nothing scary” right at the start and Bhagyashree relaxes into that. They get closer and closer, they spend all their time together, they are only happy together, but Bhagyashree is only comfortable with this if it is friendship so Salman agrees to that same premise, and neither of them move towards “maybe we are in love”.

The party scene, again, is so important. It’s the same party scene as in Bobby, another super super innocent sweet young romance. Our hero takes our super sweet young heroine to a house party, it’s too much for her and makes her question everything about their connection, and then they end up coming back together closer than ever. At this super creepy freaky party, Bhagyashree is almost raped by Mohnish Bahl. Salman saves her and fights Mohnish Bahl, but the little bubble of innocence is broken. And that’s a scary thing, but also a good thing.

Okay, rape is not good. But the end result of the bubble broken and the two of them thrust into the scary world of “how do we define this if it is more than friendship” is good. As a narrative technique, the attempted rape is perfect. Here is Bhagyashree, so scared and nervous about all these adult things, having the scariest thing possible happen to her. Salman saves her, and suddenly both of them are in an adult world far more efficiently than any other event would have done it. And then Mohnish Bahl’s creepy speech makes it even better! Tying the yuchy stuff he tried to do, to the sweet relationship between them, saying that they were related and making it feel ugly and wrong.

This is an interesting movie for taking the ugly and wrong stuff and making it okay. Salman gives the “friendship” idea to make Bhagyashree feel comfortable after she walks in on him in the bathroom. So, she saw his penis. That is how they met. But it’s okay, because Salman makes it okay, and they take a step back and choose friendship. And then Mohnish takes the worst possible version of their relationship, essentially saying Bhagyashree is Salman’s live in sex toy that he calls a “friend”, and Salman makes that okay too. He responds by leaving a cute little novelty toy for Bhagyashree, going back to an adorable childish version of “love”, and that makes it all okay too. You can take a step back if you want, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Salman and Bhagyashree take a big step back in the second half of the film, in order to move forward. After having months in the same house, spending every day together, basically already living their post-marriage life, Bhagyashree is dragged back home by her father and Salman follows her. But this time he is living in the workers camp while she is in her home, he is working all day every day while she is living her life, they barely see each other. And that’s all okay too. While in another movie they would have eloped, in this movie they say “okay, we will do this for a while, because it’s what we have to do for now”.

No, it’s what BHAGYASHREE wants, once again. In the male version of “Dil Deewana”, when Salman has followed her home, he shows how he could easily just leave with her. She leaves her house to come to him. But that wouldn’t make her happy, she loves her father and doesn’t want to leave him. So Salman follows her lead again and instead of eloping, he asks her father what he needs to do to get his blessing.

Maybe that’s the magic dust on this movie? It’s a love story with the traditional very innocent Indian film heroine, and a hero who decides to do everything as she wishes and at her pace. A love story as a sweet shy inexperienced young woman would want to have it.

This isn’t a love story about young people trying to remain pure and deny their urges, or following social rules, or any of that surface stuff. It’s about a young woman who is truly purely innocent, from the inside, and her spirit makes the whole film special.

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