Aditya Chopra Week! Adi’s Men, Flawed But Not Fragile

Thank you Kainaat! And SRK, of course. Kainaat quoted SRK describing Adi as someone who writes movies about men while his father wrote movies about women, and that started me thinking a whole thing.

It’s true, Adi does write movies about men. Or rather, the scripts he writes and directs himself (versus the many scripts and stories he comes up with and other artists bring to fruition). But that doesn’t offend me, as a woman. I don’t feel ignored, nor do I have a hard time relating to his characters. Why is that?

Pin on SRK in Films
I care deeply about Suri

I think there are two reasons, related to the men themselves and to the way they interact with the greater narrative.

First, the men themselves. There are two kinds of male characters that, as a woman, I cannot relate to. I can enjoy watching them, but I cannot sympathize with them. The first is the Perfect Man. This would be a hero like Salman Khan in Ek Tha Tiger. I like him, I enjoy watching him, I admire his bravery and honesty and so forth, but I can’t put myself in his shoes. The gender divide, combined with the human versus inhuman perfection divide, is just too large.

And the second kind of male character is the one that seems to demand my pity. The one who you can only relate to if you feel more sympathy for him than any other character in the film. Reversing the situation, making it a female character, and the film could work for me. Something like Veere Di Wedding, for instance, I am aware that objectively the protagonists haven’t “earned” my sympathy, their life is better than some of the other people onscreen. But because they are women dealing with problems that I relate to because of a shared gendered divide of social responsibilities, I can relate to them. And yet something like Bachne Ae Haseeno I can’t enjoy in the same way since I cannot sympathize with the protagonist and instead find myself relating to the love interests.

Bachna Ae Haseeno - Wikipedia
Did not care about Ranbir at all, cared very much about the women and was frustrated we did not get enough of them

I’m not saying I can’t enjoy those two kinds of films, just that I enjoy them without relating to the protagonist. I work a little harder to find other characters I can identify with, or I keep an emotional distance and enjoy the film as an experience without fully losing myself in it. Those films will never be my favorite in the whole world, because they won’t speak to me fully.

And yet Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge are my favorite films in the whole world, with male protagonists. Why do I love them, why can I lose myself in them utterly, across that gender divide?

I think the key is that the heroes fall between the two common extremes. They are not perfect, they have flaws, they have feelings, they try and fail and make mistakes. But at the same time, they are not fragile. They can handle being hurt, failing, and will get up and try to succeed again. The audience isn’t supposed to care about them because they are so weak and broken, but just because we like them. They are average, that is what it is. Average people who happen to be men.

How does this play out film by film?

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayange

Let’s consider “Raj” in this movie. One of the first things we learn about him is that he is always late. That isn’t a “tragic flaw” or a “noble flaw”, it’s just a flaw. He’s late, and then he fails to graduate from college. Does this depress him? Does he consider tragic suicide? Naaaaah. Sure, he feels bad, and is worried about disappointing his father, and a little embarrassed. But he picks himself up and tries to do better.

DDLJ Shahrukh Khan Entry Scene #srk #ddlj #shahrukh #dialogues ...
His initial intro is about making him that “perfect” kind of guy. And then it is immediately destroyed by showing him being late, flunking college, etc. etc. He is young and smart and fast and so on, but he’s not perfect.

He is out late with his friends and they want beer. He lies a bit to get into a store and buy some even though the store is closing. He is smart enough to pull off the trick, almost, but then it falls apart. He is ethical enough to leave money behind and not just steal the beer. So, shallow and young and wants beer. Smart enough to pull off a trick but not so smart as to pull it off perfectly. And still honest enough to be sure to pay, even while feeling triumphant with his cleverness in getting beer.

And then there is the way he interacts with girls. While his friends are a little shy and hold back, he bravely barrels ahead and tries to build a connection to the opposite sex. And he is so-so at it. With a girl like Sheena, who is the bravest one of her group of friends, it works. He has a line he can use as an opening and then just sort of feel his way from there. But with any non-Sheena kind of girl, he isn’t all that smooth. More likely to get the Kajol response of disinterest and moving on. This is not the perfect ladies man of other films. But also not terrified lost lover. He keeps in there trying, he isn’t afraid of girls, just a little lost with them.

Here's why Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge works even 22 years after ...
And over the course of the film, he learns to not be so nervous around girls, to just talk to the girl he likes like she is a person and like he is a person

Basically, this is your typical 21 year old boy/man. He is struggling with regulation of life like waking up on time. He is still a little afraid of his father. He is still a little lost with girls, but eager to spend time with them. He will find his way slowly, he will grow up. And that’s what we see over the rest of the film. In fits and starts he learns how to accommodate himself to his better nature, to figure out his values and live by them, even to wake up early in the morning when it really matters.

How refreshing! A hero who is a person! Who we like just because he is likable, because he is trying, because we would like him if we met him in real life.

Mohabbatein

Mohabbatein has two heroes of the “perfect” and “pitiful” variety. Amitabh is the pitiful, he made terrible mistakes but his life is so sad that we should all weep for him. Shahrukh is the perfect, he wants nothing for himself, never makes a mistake, just sweeps through life. This is why it is my least favorite film, and probably yours as well. There is nothing to relate to, it just feels dull because there is so little movement in the two central characters.

Mohabbatein - Movies on Google Play
Boring!

But the narrative isn’t actually about them. They are the lead characters, but not the protagonists. Nothing happens in their story, they are set up as opposing powers in the stories of others, the three young men Jimmy Shergill, Uday Chopra, and Jugal Hansraj. And those three young men each tread that same careful line as Shahrukh in DDLJ.

Mohabbatein is a very silly movie, but Adi successfully wrote three college boys, each with their own individual perfections and problems, each also believably boyish and a little immature. This exact same story could so easily turn into men versus women, or a sort of group stalking scenario. But instead it felt like three average young men doing their best to win three average young woman.

Mohabbatein 2000 Wallpapers | uday-choprakim-sharmajugal ...
Unfortunately the stylist didn’t get the message about “average”, and so there is another flaw with the script saying they are regular flawed people, and them looking model perfect sexy.

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Adi is making his point most clearly in this film, because for once he is dealing with a mature man. The boy-men, they tend to posture as though they are perfect. They don’t believe it inside, they know they are still growing up, but they are hiding their insecurities by playing the role of being special. In this film, Surinder Sahni is old enough to know exactly what he is.

Adi removed all those childish boyish things young man try and placed them onto “Raj”, Surinder’s alter ego. Surinder himself is neither perfect nor pitiful, a nice man trying his best to do the right thing. He doesn’t make small daily mistakes like the other heroes, there is no joke that goes too far or accidental insult leading to a fight. He also can’t be romantic, can’t be handsome, can’t be all those “perfect” things. He just is what he is.

Recast Your Favorite Movie Challenge | K-Drama Amino
Masculinity and identity is a life time struggle, but it gets easier when you are older. Surinder can’t figure out how to talk to girls, but he can get himself up in the morning for work, he can maintain his household, and by the end of the film he knows for sure who he is and who he is not and that he cannot change.

Befikre

Ranveer is Aditya’s modern hero, put opposite a modern heroine. With new different modern strengths and weaknesses. He is smart, he can make friends, he can learn languages. But he can sometimes be a little selfish, a little arrogant, a little locked in his own opinion without realizing it and locked away from his own feelings.

I love Ranveer’s character in this movie, because his weaknesses and his strengths take so long to fully be understood by both us and him. Which is also very human and real. At the start Ranveer thinks he has his life together, he has a girlfriend and it is fun and not serious, they fight a lot, and finally break up. He is sad, but it will pass, no big deal, modern relationship. It takes until almost the end of the movie for Ranveer to understand that he really loved his girlfriend, and he forced the break up because he was insecure.

Befikre' box office collection Day 4: Ranveer-Vaani's film ...
A hero who was insecure because his girlfriend was far more sexually experienced than he was, put that guilt on her as well, lead to a lot of fights, finally broke up, and two years later he apologized to her because he was completely wrong to think like that. How refreshingly flawed! And how refreshingly fixing himself and taking responsibility for his own mistakes!

Look at that! A hero who is insecure in his romantic relationship and it is not tragic, just something he has to grow out of. Human.

That is what is special, in the end, about Aditya’s heroes. In a film world of SuperMen, they are simply human.

8 thoughts on “Aditya Chopra Week! Adi’s Men, Flawed But Not Fragile

  1. I don’t know why you keep ignoring Dil To Pagal Hai, a film which Aditya Chopra wrote. He is credited as the sole writer in the film, if I remember the opening correctly. Certainly there was no plethora of writers there. He also wrote most of JTHJ, didn’t he? So I put forward a different proposition for you to consider — while Adi may write interesting and relatable male characters, he seems to have some of the same trouble as his heroes when he tries to write women, i.e., not being able to really relate to them. Now this is not true of DDLJ, but then there is the whole controversy of who really wrote that script. If it was really written by a woman (Honey Irani), then that would explain how we got the two strong women (Kajol and her mother), while Adi added touches to flesh out Raj in his own “average guy” mode. In Mohabbattein I felt all the characters were types rather than people, so not much to say there.

    DTPH also has a rather unbelievable male protagonist, but then the heroine is equally unreal. The only semi-relatable character was Nisha, and may be that’s why Karishma won the National award for that performance. πŸ™‚ In RNBDJ, Anushka’s character was a little thin on motivation and development, don’t you think? And then we have JTHJ, where both the lead women were unbelievable in their own way. Of course, that could be said of SRK’s character, too, so maybe Yash Chopra wrote him. πŸ™‚

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    • I debated in this post and decided to limit it to only the ones he wrote and directed, put them in their own separate category. I’m actually working on a post now that is going to deal with all his scripts (like, Ek Tha Tiger).

      I would say that Adi can write good female characters, but his interest is more in the male characters. I really like what he did with the heroines of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Befikre, while still making the protagonist of the film the hero. Even in War, Vaani Kapoor barely had a part, but he still made her a single mother, and capable of challenging Hrithik, more than just eye candy.

      On Thu, May 21, 2020 at 8:50 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • It’s full of controversy.

      Honey Irani, after leaving Javed, started working as a writer partly to make money and partly to fill her days. Yashji and Pam Aunty helped her and took her scripts. She wrote some great movies for them, Lamhe and Aaina and Darr.

      She was never fully credited, I mean, everyone agrees she wrote the big picture story and then Yashji and the dialogue writers and others filled in the gaps. It wasn’t a script start to finish all written by her. In the case of DDLJ, she claims she narrated the story to the Chopras, and then Adi took it and claimed full credit.

      I believe Honey believes that, but I don’t think she is right, if that makes sense. She always did the big picture of the stories, so maybe she came to the Chopras and said “what about a love story where the hero travels to the heroine’s house and wins over her family during the preparation for her wedding?” or something like that. But there are so many stories of Adi having the whole script of DDLJ in his head and at his fingertips during filming, and so many stories even before that about him pounding out the details in advance, it’s his script. Honey could have given some kernel of an idea at some point, but Adi took it and turned it into a real movie. Even Honey I think is claiming that, she’s not saying “he stole my script”, she’s saying “my narration gave him the idea”.

      In different circumstances, yes, maybe she could have gotten credit. I don’t mean “different” like if Adi hadn’t been Yash’s son, but if he hadn’t been so obsessive about perfecting the script, far more than writer/directors usually are. If she had made the narration, Adi had said “I like it, write it up”, then hired someone else for the dialogue, and so on, she would still have gotten the “story by” credit. But Adi did soooooooooooooo much work before filming, by the time the camera’s rolled any initial “story by” kind of credit was just buried under everything else to the point that I can believe the Chopras truly didn’t remember Honey’s original idea.

      And then the film came out and Honey made a big big stink about it being her idea, including shouting outside their house the night Adi won the FilmFare. Honey in general sounds like a somewhat difficult person. While someone else may have decided it wasn’t worth it and just let it go in order to save the friendship, she is more likely to stick her neck out and stick to what she thinks is right. For someone else to throw off years of friendship in this way, I would say “they must have really really done her wrong to care that much”, but for Honey, I think she tends to care that much more easily? If that makes sense?

      Anyway, in later years Honey wrote stuff like Kaho Na…Pyar Hai and Krrish and Koi Mil Gaya, big hits but to me without the depth that makes DDLJ stand out. On the other hand, Adi wrote Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Veer-Zaara, Bunty Aur Babli, Aaje Nachle, stuff like that. For me the proof is in the pudding, Honey has continued to come up with good steady story ideas but not real character dramas. Adi on the other hand has the sort of character richness and complex relationships that I think of as DDLJ. So to my mind, it is definitely his script. Even if Honey at some point had a similar idea that she passed on to the Chopras.

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  2. Since generally most stories are told from the male perspective, it’s not Adi, but Yashji who is the exception then. I have no problems with that, I mostly don’t even notice whose story it is, just that Shahrukh’s quote stuck with me. But Yashji directed plenty of male protagonist movies so I guess Shah is referring to movies with himself. Even then, DTPH, Veer Zara, JTHJ are about the man’s journey, no?

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    • DTPH is arguably Madhuri’s story, but the chemistry was so far off I don’t know if that came through. Veer-Zaara could also be Preity’s story, she is the one who goes on a journey to a new country and stuff. And Rani as the lawyer too.

      I don’t think the firm line works either, maybe it is more that both Adi and Yashji told stories that had strong male and female characters, but only Yashji had movies where the lead actor was officially female (Lamhe and Chandni).

      On Thu, May 21, 2020 at 2:12 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

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