Madhuri Week! SUCH FUN!!!!! And here is a review of a Madhuri movie you can watch, right now, on Netflix
The first thing to know about this movie is Madhuri. And the last thing too, she is just everything here. But I guess what makes this unlike other Madhuri movies, especially her recent ones, is that she is allowed to be everything. She is drunk, she is sexy, she is funny, she is angry, she is scared, she is a wife and a mother and a daughter and a daughter-in-law. She is everything that a woman her age would be in real life, and yet without ever losing her own essential identity, disappearing into those roles. It’s the kind of movie we have been wanting for our mature actresses in Hindi film for years and never getting. Well-worth breaking out of your usual language barrier to find it.
I don’t know anyone else in the cast, but they are all good too. Madhuri’s friend is slightly over the top in a few scenes, but in an appropriate way. Madhuri’s daughter is perfectly teenage. And Madhuri’s husband is SEXY!!!! Not at first, seems totally dull and uninteresting at first, but then the movie goes on and OH MY. A very appropriate OH MY, sexy for his wife and no one else just like a husband should be, totally dull around the kids and parents (their loss).
Oh, I do know one other person!!!! Renuka Shahane is lovely as a mother of teenagers, as lovely as she was 24 years ago in Hum Aapke Hain Koun as a young bride. And huh, it didn’t occur to me until just now that this was the first reunion between her and Madhuri since then. No wonder their scenes together felt so powerful.
The plot is something you probably know from the trailers, but don’t assume that is all there is. When the movie started, I saw it as a simple thing, blunt and predictable. But that was just to get us to the first step, as it kept expanding out there were so many other and more character motivations that you had to fill in for yourself, to understand what had not been said under all that bluntness. It’s a movie that rewards careful watching, eventually. The first few scenes are pretty bad and kind of TV movie feeling, not a lot of originality. But it expands out from there, and slowly all those layers fill in.
(and yes, Madhuri dances. But only way at the end, you have to wait for it.)
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The essential plot idea is pretty simple, and explained in the trailer. Madhuri is a housewife who receives a heart from a 20 year old college student who died in a car accident. She tracks down the family of the college student and decides to complete the “Bucket List” that the college student had written. The movie fills in a few details missing from the trailer, that Madhuri figures out who the donor was through looking at newspaper articles for that day, that she learns from her parents about a get together of her friends to share memories and memorabilia and crashes that, and therefore is there when they pull out and find her “Bucket List”. Most important is the explanation for why a young woman would have a “Bucket List”, it’s not things to do before she dies, it’s things to do before she turns 21. And Madhuri only has 6 months if she wants to complete the list.
The turning 21 deadline at first seems an arbitrary plot requirement, a nice deadline for Madhuri and an explanation for this young girl having such a list. But it’s not, her friend casually says that she picked the 21 deadline because she said once you turn 21, you have to be a “woman” and not just a girl, you have to live life for others and can’t have fun any more. So she wants to do everything fun before then.
That’s the real meaning, Madhuri is over that 21 barrier and has nothing for herself, does nothing for herself. She starts out trying to fulfill these frivolous desires for the young woman, and then it turns into rediscovering her own pre-marriage self, her own need to be seen and recognized as a person in her own right.
There are complications to all this thanks to the heart transplant. For once, this is a movie that doesn’t treat the transplant as the magic perfect everything is okay now cure. Early on, we have a flashback to the doctor explaining that they can guarantee only 7-8 years. 20-30 years are possible, even likely, but they can only guarantee 7-8. It is not said directly again until the very end, but Madhuri mentions wanting to do what she can while she is alive, wanting to make every moment a happy one. That is what is behind it all, without her explicitly stating it, she has to figure out her own “Bucket List” because she truly could die very soon, still. It is only at the end when she has her last major fight with her husband that she declares she can’t afford to waste any more time, she only has a few years to live.
The husband’s character is actually more interesting to me than Madhuri’s. Madhuri is a combination of a woman who has learned to live for others and forget herself, and a person working through the possibility of a death sentence and changing herself as she feels her time running out. But the husband is different.
Especially the way the heart transplant weighs on him. At first he seems, not exactly cold, but not very romantic. He is nervous and waiting during her surgery, but her final message to him isn’t “I love you” but rather a list of instructions for the household in case she doesn’t wake up. At the meeting when the doctor gives her the death sentence, Madhuri immediately starts thinking about how old her children will be and her husband doesn’t seem sympathetic, more irritated. Worst of all, the first time they have sex post-surgery, it is a calculated decision based on the time line, and preceded by turning out the lights and setting the alarms for tomorrow. Not exactly passionate, or even loving. Madhuri asks his permission (explicitly his permission, not his opinion) to pursue her Bucket List project and he gives it casually and somewhat coldly, reminding her not to forget her duties to herself or her home in pursuit of this project. And then, seemingly out of nowhere while Madhuri is struggling with learning to ride a motorcycle, he appears and casually gets on behind her and gently guides her hands and feet. It is SOOOOOO SEXY. And also very unexpected, everything up until this moment has indicated a husband who would be more like to yell at her for doing something so unrespectable, or even just not really care. Not to gently get behind her and help. And not to cause such a flurry of desire and happiness from her, familiar desire and happiness that suddenly makes you see years and years of passion and satisfaction from each other that went before all this bland practicalness we see now.
He is there for her and supportive until she has a panic attack while trying to perform at a concert (another Bucket List item). And suddenly he yells at her, yells at the kids who are helping her (friends of the donor), and declares this is a terrible idea and he told her from the start not to do anything to hurt herself. And that’s when it clicks into place.
We have to remember that we are coming into this film at the very end of a long hard journey for this couple. A heart transplant comes after years of medical emergencies and fears and struggle. No wonder he is so stern and cautious, and no wonder he has lost the ability to see her as a person or as a desirable woman when he has no doubt spent years just seeing her as a patient he has to keep alive. The kids can bounce back, even the parents can recover a little more easily, but to find the joy and romance in marriage again after years of it being a caretaker-patient relationship, that is something a lot harder. For both parts of the couple, Madhuri dealing with this sudden rush of desire and aliveness as she comes back to health and at the same time faces death, and her husband struggling to keep up as he still fears her death.
Maybe I am reading more depth into the presentation of their relationship than is actually there. But I don’t think so. It’s under the surface most of the time, but it is the unspoken that comes out in their final fight. Madhuri’s husband has a job offer in San Jose in America, and at the last minute Madhuri refuses to go with him. Half of the fight is over the way she feels she has never had a choice, she has given everything over to her husband. But half of it is about Madhuri seeing her life as about making the most of the limited time she has left, and her husband seeing it as doing whatever possible to extend that time. He says that the whole reason he wants to go to San Jose is for her, for the medical facilities available. This isn’t the usual selfish stick in the mud desi husband that we have seen in other “middle-aged housewife finds herself” films. Yes, he assumes his wife will stay home and take care of the household, and generally ask his permission for most things. But beyond that is the basic conflict of how to deal with a medical death sentence, do you want to live long or do you want to live well?
Madhuri and her husband have the greatest exploration of their relationship, but all the relationships in this film have a similar depth to them. Madhuri and her daughter, which starts out as the typical rebellious teenager and mother relationship, has a lot more to it. She may be rebelling, but she is also willing to help her mother when she can, put her video on youtube and answer questions. At the end of the film, she overhears Madhuri calmly telling her husband that she may be dead in 7 years, she doesn’t have time to waste. And later asks her mother about it and cries. This is normal teenage rebellion, yes, but over a basic level of closeness to her mother that is still there. And with a light topping of guilt and fear left over from her mother’s illness, always ready to break to the surface again.
Madhuri and her donor’s twin brother, that is a fascinating relationship! He starts out as the most resentful and resisting towards her. And then he seems to come around, at least he is there in the group helping her complete the items on her list. But it is always boiling in the background until it comes to the surface after she has her panic attack, he is angry that she is getting all this praise and somehow his sister is getting lost in the story.
He’s right, his sister is getting lost. Madhuri is finding herself and her own life now, not just doing it for his sister. But that isn’t necessarily wrong. What I love about this part of the film is that he confronts Madhuri, and her husband yells at her, and she just keeps going. A younger heroine in a different film would try to defend herself, or explain, or change her behavior in responses. But Madhuri is a mature adult woman, she made her decisions with a lot of care and she will not be shaken from them easily. She decided to do this, to complete the list, because she thinks it is the right thing to do. And she will not lose that just because other people tell her she is wrong. And she is wise enough to know that she can’t change anyone else’s mind either. The brother comes around, eventually, after going through his own grief journey. He sees the value in having Madhuri in his life and the life of his family, not to replace his sister but to help them remember her. And we didn’t need a trite confrontation or big emotional speech to get there, the film just showed us the relationship changing.
Just as we don’t need a big emotional speech to get us through to the end scene of the film. Months after everything else, after Madhuri and her husband fought and forgave, after she built up a connection to everyone in her donor’s family, after her daughter got scared about her health and they came back together, we see Madhuri and her family in a much better balance. Her mother and father in law help serve the food, she gets to have her favorite dessert just like everyone else, and when she wants to, she gets to leave the house and ride off to have her own adventures. We don’t need all the steps of how we got from where she was to here, we can fill it in from what we saw, it’s a happy ending that doesn’t just feel earned, but logical.