Woo-hoo! Everyone’s favorite scene! And the post where I get to tie it all together and talk about soulmates and love triangles and stuff.
I just mentioned in my sex power romance post on Shahrukh how he uses sex as a character tool for the first time in this movie, most obviously in the Gazebo scene. He is actively seducing Kajol there and fully aware of what he is doing. Both as an actor, creating this tauntingly sexual moment onscreen without ever crossing the lines of the censors, and as a character gently teasing the woman he loves with sexual promises without ever crossing a line that would scare her off. This scene is sexy all on its own, but its real power comes in context because of how the film has slowly built up the Kajol-SRK relationship in a unique way, a friendship between a boy and a girl, a love story even, that is NOT sexual. And then, later, as a romance between a man and a woman who just met and are slowly navigating their attraction for each other. The Gazebo scene is when those two relationships finally merge, two people who already love each other but are just now falling in love.
Something I find fascinating to consider both in films and in real life is the difference between a soulmate and a lover. In my own experience, “soulmate” is a rare and wonderful relationship that can come up between two people in any relationship to each other. I’ve known parent-child soulmate pairs, sibling soulmates, and best friend soulmates. That one person who just “gets” you, who understands you more than anyone else, who you have to talk to everyday or you start to lose track of who you really are. Your other half without whom you always feel a little bit incomplete.
And on the other hand, there is your romantic partner. They make you feel sexy, happy, confident, wonderful. And as you come together and spend your lives together, you grow closer and closer with every passing year, you know each other inside and out, you rely on each other, you become accustomed to each other so that it seems impossible to survive apart.
And that brings me to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. What Karan is setting out to explore in this film is what happens when you have two opposite sex soulmates who do not become lovers until years later. There are plenty of movies that deal with the soulmate/romantic love question. The couple who meet and spark and immediately are like two halves of the same whole. But what about a couple that are only friends, only soulmates, and not romantically in love at all? How and why and when do they navigate that transition?
(JHMS is a different take on this same idea. They are soulmates who are attracted to each other, but are denying both the attraction and the soulmate bond, until both elements increasingly bloom forth and inform each other.)
Looked at purely from the perspective of the Kajol-Shahrukh relationship, Rani is a device to make clear the difference between soulmates and romantic loves. Shahrukh and Rani are in love, wonderful love. They meet and spark and challenge each other and get to know each other better and have little moments of euphoria and sexual attraction and excitement. Beyond that, they are a good pair. They like each other, they understand each other, they confide in each other.
Kajol and Shahrukh in the flashback sequences don’t have any of that. It’s not just that Shahrukh doesn’t love Kajol, it’s that Kajol’s “love” for Shahrukh isn’t really romantic love. The title song is brilliant in how it shows that, even as she decides she “loves” him, Kajol still doesn’t fully feel romantic love for him. She is dancing alone in a field, joyful with her decision and new awareness of her feelings. But she doesn’t dream of him embracing her, kissing her, the closest moment they have is him tickling her. It’s a strangely childish, asexual version of love.
And the song when Kajol learns Shahrukh loves Rani and will marry her does a similar job. Kajol’s misery is contrasted with their joyful united love. It’s not that her heart is broken, it is that she is excluded. Shahrukh and Rani are in their own little bubble now, and Kajol is left outside in the cold alone. It is not about her being jealous, or dreaming of what she could have had with Shahrukh, it is about her feeling cold and lonely, wrapping herself in heavy sweaters because it is all she has now.
And that’s where the brilliant train station good-bye scene comes in. Kajol and Shahrukh both play it so well. It’s not about them realizing they are in love, he makes no move to hold her, there is no “almost kiss” moment. Instead it is literally about “what will I do without you? How can I live?” When he chases the train down, it doesn’t feel like he has any goal in mind, like there is an attempt to catch the train or make one more plea, it feels like he is pulled towards her, any surface anger and frustration and logic is overcome by the need he feels for her. That is what Rani sees. Not that Kajol and Shahrukh are in love, but that they cannot live without each other. And by marrying him, Rani has forced them to separate.
Rani does not send Little Anjali off looking for Kajol because she died, she sends Little Anjali off because it is what she would have done herself. That moment at the train station, for Rani, is not about realizing Shahrukh loves someone else, it is realizing that Kajol and Shahrukh cannot and should not be permanently separated. She still marries Shahrukh, they are happy together, but she knows that someday she must reunite Shahrukh and Kajol if her husband is ever to be fully happy.
And that brings us to the second half and the courtship sequence. Starting with their reunion. When Kajol and Shahrukh first meet each other again, he doesn’t stare at her long hair or her sari or her make-up. She doesn’t reach to kiss him. It isn’t a moment of “oh wow, I am seeing you in a new light and now I am in love”. It is a moment of “I suddenly feel alive again for the first time in years and I am overwhelmed by the sensation”. It is the completion of that moment on the train platform, the moment when the world narrowed down to just those two people who needed only each other feeling their bond snap. And now suddenly feeling that bond lock back into place between them.
Only after that initial shock, do they have the conversation where Shahrukh points out her sari, and Kajol expresses sympathy about Rani’s death. They are beginning a mating dance that they never played out before, he is acknowledging that he now sees her as a woman, and she is acknowledging that he is now free to love again. And then their relationship goes through the standard beats of courtship, flirting on the basketball court which indicates his interest in her as a woman and awakens her sense of desire of him as a man, talking and getting to know each other, offering her his jacket, everything you would expect, culminating with the gazebo moment.
(See how this song draws a clear line between their past and present selves? The present couple are brand new, just falling in love. The past couple know each other inside and out already.)
This whole second half, to me, is saying “we have a bond that was there and is there and will never change, but I want to add on a new relationship, start from scratch as potential romantic partners”. What makes the gazebo scene powerful is that it brings that unbreakable bond into their romance.
Look at the opening, before they start dancing. It’s almost wordless (except for Kajol’s whispered “no music”). Shahrukh just has to kneel and gesture and Kajol gestures back, and they both know. And by this point in the film, the audience doesn’t find this remarkable or magical.
Compare it with, for instance, in the first half when Shahrukh tells Rani that his mother told him you bow before three women, the Goddess, your mother, and your wife, and later silently bows to her and lets her know he is serious about her. For that, he had to explain the meaning to her (and the audience) clearly, and even set up the second bow by reminding her again. And she didn’t have a response, didn’t know how to indicate that she felt the same way. It’s tingly and romantic because he is making a grand gesture and sweeping her off her feet and there is the friction of difference between them, will she understand? Will she respond in kind?
But between Kajol and Shahrukh, there is no need for explanation, no friction, no unknowingness. She immediately knows what he means and responds in kind when he starts wordlessly gesturing. And then he plays his fingers on the air, and she hears music. It’s a moment of magical realism in a movie that has no other magic, but it does not stand out as such to the audience. We don’t see it as magic, we don’t question it. Kajol and Shahrukh would naturally hear the same music in the air, it’s a continuation of all those moments in the film when their eyes met and it was as though it was only the two of them alone together in their own world.
And then, finally, they clasp hands. The most meaningful moment of the dance is that first moment when Shahrukh holds out his hand and Kajol drops hers into it. These are two halves finally coming together, something that is so right it inspires an exhale of relief from the audience as we watch it.
The dance together is a dance between soulmates and sexual partners, both at the same time. It is a discovery that these two realities can co-exist, the merging of their long time aching need for each other with this newly discovered fluttery feeling of love. When Shahrukh pulls her to him, it is romantic and sexual, but when they dance perfectly in rhythm in the rain to music only they can hear, it is soulmates. When he teases her with his finger, it is romantic. But when she spins away and stares in shock at what she is feeling and he waits behind her with a sympathetic face, it is because he knows her better than anyone else and can feel what she is feeling.
The rest of the film struggles to find a resolution beyond this moment, because what resolution can there be? There is nothing to say, there is no need to say or do anything. The connection between Shahrukh and Kajol flows back and forth without need for words. He knows she is engaged and will not be able to live with herself if she breaks the engagement. She knows he knows and will never move to break the engagement because it would not be honorable. But at the same time, having rediscovered their bond and integrated love and romance into it, separation is impossible. If their connection were merely romantic, it would end with high drama between them, speeches and ultimatums. But while the romance is what is breaking their heart, the soulmate connection is what is letting them understand the heartbreak at a depth too far for words.
And so it ends not with Kajol giving a speech or Shahrukh whisking her away, but with Kajol being locked in place, unable to move to a future without Shahrukh and Shahrukh being unable to walk away from her. This is the same position they held years earlier on the train platform, Kajol forcing herself to leave but unable to step away from the door where she locks eyes with Shahrukh and Shahrukh unable to move from the end of the train platform. That time Rani knew she had Shahrukh’s love, knew that what he and Kajol felt for each other was not the same as what she and Shahrukh had. And so she stood by and watched, planning to someday reunite them as friends and keep Shahrukh’s romantic love for herself. But this time, Salman knows he has lost entirely. Kajol is now twice Shahrukh’s, as he is twice hers, both a soulmate and a lover.
Or you can disagree with my theories! Say that Rani was Shahrukh’s true love and Kajol was the second choice, that Kajol always already felt romantic love for him, that it was just a college friendship from Shahrukh’s side that was re-sparked on a second meeting.
But if you agree with me a little bit, here is a question I debate through all of this: if Rani had lived, and Kajol married Salman, could there ever be a world where the two couples became friends and honored the SRKajol connection? Or would Kajol and Shahrukh have to stay apart in order to remain faithful to their respective spouses? Was romantic love always an inevitable part of their connection?