You thought we were done with Karan Johar, didn’t you? But no! I have one more thing to say that occurred to me while we were doing our Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham watch. And this thing will also, once again, give me a chance to rewrite the endings of Karan Johar movies which is my favorite thing of course.
I don’t actually think it is a problem that Karan Johar women tend not to speak up about what they think. He writes good female characters, and he gets at the idea that women are taught to be sweet and accommodating, and not say the uncomfortable things they are thinking, just be quiet about it. Not all his women, because again he writes good female characters, and not all women react like that. But more do than men, and they do it in a particular “smiling and holding it in and then passive aggressively finding a way to show what I am thinking for years later until people figure it out without me needing to actually use words to tell them”.
So lets look at what would happen in Karan Johar movies if those women who are thinking these things were had someone standing next to them saying “I feel like you are thinking a thing and not saying it and maybe you should say it and see what happens.”
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai: What if Tina Had Told Rahul He Was in Love With Anjali as Soon as She Thought of It?
Kuch Kuch! Tina and Anjali are such great contrasting characters. More alike than they are different, which is why they are friends. They both have big hearts, don’t believe in appearances, and are endlessly loyal. But they way they are in the world is very different. Anjali is incapable of not showing what she is thinking right there on her face, she hasn’t learned that coping skill yet. Tina already has (dead mother, lived away from home for a while, it’s right there in the script), so she is always quiet and cautious and hides who she really is.
But what if Tina had been brave enough to say what she is thinking? She sussed out the Anjali-Rahul dynamic right away and asked Anjali if she was in love. But then didn’t push Anjali when she denied it. She brought it up with her father, but was quiet when he told her she was wrong. Finally, she saw Rahul and Anjali say good-bye and was absolutely sure that they were meant to be together. At which point she…..did nothing.
Again, not a bad character note! Tina is someone who has a hard time speaking up and disagreeing with people. And she is in love with Rahul herself and knows that he loves her right now. Totally reasonable for her to hide her thoughts inside and try to forget, until it comes time for her to write her Death Letters when the whole story comes pouring out of her.
But what if she had spoken up? What if Rahul had turned away from saying good-bye to Anjali and Tina had said “we have to talk”. What if she had laid out all the reasons she believed Rahul and Anjali were on the way to being in love, and Anjali was already in love alone? What if Tina had said, for her own happiness, she was going to break off their engagement?
Now Rahul is in a situation where the idea of being in love with Anjali is in his head, even though he isn’t actually in love with her yet. For his own pride, he has to prove that he is right and he really loves Tina. That’s juicy! Especially because Anjali now has reasons on reasons on reasons not to admit her own feelings.
Obvious next step, Rahul has to track down Anjali and get her to work with him to convince Tina they are NOT in love. To help, Rahul brings in Anjali’s next door neighbor Aman. He will pretend to be engaged to Anjali, they will invite Tina to the engagement party, she will meet Rahul again there and see that he is over Anjali.
As Anjali prepares for her fake-engagement, she gains confidence in herself as a woman, her Mom helps her pick out dressy clothes she likes and encourages her to dance in public instead of just in dance classes. Plus, Aman next door has had a crush on her since they were kids and keeps telling her that she is beautiful and flirting with her and stuff, which helps her start to believe she is desirable. Meanwhile, Rahul is surprised by his reaction the first time he sees her in a new light, when he watches her in her classical dance class. At first he really likes Aman and encourages him in his feelings for Anjali without really taking them seriously (how could anyone like Anjali? She’s just a friend person! Not a regular girl). Tina arrives and Rahul starts hanging out with her again while Anjali is with Aman. Tina continues her streak of truth telling and tells Rahul that Aman truly loves Anjali and could make her happy if only Anjali could forget Rahul.
Flip! Rahul eventually realizes that he is in love with Anjali, but also sees her being so happy with Aman, and finds an old letter she wrote to her mother about how miserable Rahul had made her, and decides he doesn’t deserve her. So he gets Tina to pretend they are in love again in order to force Anjali to agree to marry Aman for real-real. Oh the DRAMA!!!!!!!
Finale! Double engagement! But in the middle, Anjali says “No, this is wrong, stop this”. And then she says what she thinks, that she is still in love with Rahul in her heart and is not ready to move on yet. Someday maybe she will be, but not yet. She doesn’t have to get engaged on Aman’s timeline or anyone else’s, she will be fine on her own.
Alternative Kuch Kuch with Women Saying What She Thinks: Anjali Telling Aman She Doesn’t Want to Marry Him
It’s not like she’s been lying to him. We are introduced with their engagement with Aman being clear that Anjali is not in love with him, isn’t even eager to marry him. But she has agreed out of free will, and Aman is confident he can make her happy. She just hasn’t been telling him the whole truth, keeping her love for Rahul private. Only now Rahul is here in the present not just the past. Should she still stay quiet? That’s the whole debate we can see in Kajol’s performance. She was hurt so bad in the past, she doesn’t dare admit her feelings again.
But what if she did! What if she was brave enough to say “I think I am still in love with Rahul, and I think he may be in love with me now, and I don’t want to marry Aman any more”? I think that could be a fascinating consideration of female agency in a patriarchy.
Look at this idea. Anjali sees her engagement ring in the middle of dancing with Rahul. But instead of running away, she looks away for a moment, then turns back and takes a deep breath and says “Rahul, I have to tell you something. I am engaged. He is a very nice man, and could probably make me happy. What you may not know is that I was in love with you in college. I thought I was over it, but seeing you again it has all come back. I am going to break my engagement, and if you are interested, you can look me up.”
What I want next is for Rahul to NOT listen to her! Because this isn’t about him and Anjali, obviously, it’s about him and Aman. It isn’t “right” for him to have romanced an engaged woman no matter the circumstances. Aman shows up that night just like in the original version, Rahul meets him and recognizes him from the exchange at the Business Conference. Anjali tells Aman her feelings, and he of course turns around and talks to Rahul. Rahul apologizes to him, Aman offers to step back, they are all man-man-man at each other. They decide to both court her simultaneously. The tell her they are both backing off, but trade of spending time with her. Anjali is all confused, until Little Anjali overhears a conversation between Rahul and Aman explaining the whole thing. She turns around and tells it all to Big Anjali and her grandma, all the women are angry about it.
She leaves camp that night and Aman follows her. Weeks later, Rahul gets an invitation to her wedding. He goes to see her before the ceremony and passionately declares his love, saying he knows it is “wrong”, but he doesn’t care any more what Aman thinks, he just wants Anjali. Anjali goes downstairs for the ceremony, but at the last minute Aman steps back and Anjali explains, this is her wedding for her and Shahrukh. She decided to punish him by making him feel powerless just for a little bit. She talked to Aman again and explained that she really truly did not love him, he agreed to help her as a friend. Wedding, Happy Ending, we all learn a lesson.
Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham: What if Jaya Just Told People Things?
Jaya is a smart lady, she knows her authoritarian husband will never listen to what other people think, and she knows her loving son will eventually follow his heart away. She tries to tell her husband not to go for an arranged marriage, and she is worried when her son starts talking about love. But she doesn’t SAY anything!!!!
Okay, she does say something, but way way at the end of things. What if she had said the same thing earlier? What if the night Amitabh throws Shahrukh out of the house, Jaya confronts him? Tells him he is wrong? Gives him an ultimatum?
Instead of Farida Jalal going to London with them, it would be Jaya. Hrithik would be left back in India with only his father and no idea why. The film as it is, is about Shahrukh being lonely and missing his parents, and Hrithik missing his brother. But if we put Jaya with Shahrukh, then it becomes solely about Hrithik and Shahrukh and Amitabh and Shahrukh. I think that is an equally interesting story. Shahrukh has his mother and his mother has him, this powerful love, but over the years they are surprised by how much they miss Amitabh and Hrithik. And Amitabh has to admit that he misses both his estranged son and his wife. Hrithik would go to London to bring his mother back for his father. Jaya would have recognized him but not really, and the breaking point would be at the mall when Jaya and Amitabh are briefly reunited before Shahrukh appears and Amitabh backs away. And then Jaya would talk with Kajol about how she loves and misses Amitabh, but also loves Shahrukh. And Hrithik would be having a similar conversation with Amitabh. Until the next morning, Amitabh is standing outside the house in London waiting for Jaya and asking her to come home.
Kabhil Alvida Na Kehna: what if Rani Had Told Abhishek As Soon as She Fell in Love with Shahrukh?
Rani didn’t want to marry Abhishek to begin with, there’s that. But moving past that, years into their marriage she fell in love with Shahrukh. Shahrukh didn’t say anything to his wife, but then they had had a good marriage in the past, and they had a kid together, it was different. And anyway, I am more interested in Rani’s personality of knowing what she wants but not being able to just speak up and say it.
What if Rani realizes she is in love with Shahrukh, has that conversation with him in the middle of the night, and then comes home and wakes up Abhishek and tells him how she is feeling?
This would be FASCINATING, right? Instead of our lovers passively moving through the plot, suddenly they have to ACT and do something! I would say that Abhishek, when told by Rani in a calm honest way that she was in love with someone else, would probably react a lot better than her telling him months later that she had been actively having an affair. He would be sad, but probably not angry. He would want to fix the marriage, offer counseling, say he loved her, and so on. And on the flipside, if Rani decided to talk to Abhishek and Shahrukh wasn’t ready to talk to Rani, that would be a pretty big break between the couple.
Instead of this movie about a heroine who never has a choose in her life, who falls into a marriage she doesn’t want, falls into an affair without really deciding to do it, falls into sex without really deciding, and then makes a decision to tell her husband only to agree when he ends the marriage, and then wait around for him to forgive her and seek her out, we could have a Rani who is empowered! And a Shahrukh who is disempowered! He is stuck with a girlfriend who has already told her husband and is working on her marriage, and a wife he isn’t sure he wants to leave or not.
That’s a juice-y second half, right? A legitimate tension, will Shahrukh be brave enough to blow up his marriage too? And will Abhishek manage to win Rani back? Will this secret relationship survive now that it is more public? So many options! Especially assuming Rani tells Abhishek she is in love with someone, but doesn’t tell him the name of the person. So Abhishek keeps hanging out with his new friends Shahrukh and Preity without knowing Shahrukh is the man Rani loves.
And then Karan moved on to different kinds of stories, I can’t think of similar moments in Student of the Year or Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, those heroines weren’t the same kind of quiet internal types. But these three films, it is fascinating to consider how things would have been different if the women had spoken up!
What do you think? Which alternate version do you like best?