This is an overall fun 90s kind of movie, and then halfway through POW! Shahrukh!
This was not the first movie Shahrukh filmed, it came after Dil Aashna Hai and during Chamatkar. And after his 3 successful TV series, and years of playing around as part of a theater group, plus that one funky art film he had the small role in back in Delhi. Shahrukh was already comfortable on camera, with a charming haircut and a way with dialogue. And thank goodness, because his good performance is what saves this movie. That isn’t me talking as a Shahrukh fan, just observing the film. It needs an actor who can instantly charm the audience and make us believe in his emotion journey in very little time. And at the same time who wasn’t so famous that he would turn his nose up at this small role. Hiring a popular TV actor with stage experience who was hungry for work was a smart move, just like hiring Sushant Singh Rajput or Amit Sadh or Rajkummar Rao would be a smart move now.
Ultimately this is Divya Bharti’s movie. Next to her, Rishi Kapoor. And then Sushma Seth. And only after all of them, does Shahrukh get a chance for a part. I can see why the original actor walked out thanks to the small role, and I can also see what a disaster of a film it would have been if the audience couldn’t believe in that particular role even in that small amount of time.
One interesting thing about this film is that Shahrukh’s role isn’t the only small one. Dalip Tahil shows up for almost no time at all in a father role, Alok Nath is there as a loyal lawyer. Amrish Puri and Mohnish Behl split the villain duties. There was just so much time and so much space for good actors in good roles! The same kind of film today would have half that cast.
And half the plot too! This movie has an entire film plot just in the first half, and then takes off and smashes on a second plot in the second half. This best part is, all of that time is mostly about Divya, which means we get all kinds of interesting unintentional feminist content. Or is it unintentional? I mean, where do we draw the line? When someone sits down and says “I am going to write a script from the perspective of a young girl and all the terrible things that could happen to her, it will be interesting and entertaining.” Or when someone sits down and says “I am going to write a script from the perspective of a young girl and all the terrible things that could happen to her, it will be informative and uplifting”? The end result is the same script, the only change is how it is presented.
(A woman’s love fantasy song! With no agenda beyond “hey, let’s put in a love song here to show how the heroine is feeling”)
In this movie we have a widow remarrying, a woman’s sexual desire being respected, and a woman’s rape accusation being instantly believed and acted upon. And also Shahrukh, thank goodness, because if his role was no good than all the rest of it would have fallen apart and it would turn from a story about Divya to a story about everyone else.
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Rishi Kapoor is an ancestral prince with a hobby career of being a singing star. He goes to do a show off in a vacation town and his local agent is Deven Varma who’s niece Divya Bharti is a big fan of Rishi. She stalks him and gets his autograph and charms him and they fall in love. But then he reveals his feelings in front of the town and shames her, and she cries and he agrees to a quick wedding. They return home, he introduces her to his mother Sushma Seth and all is happy, only his evil uncle Amrish Puri and cousin Mohnish Behl are furious and worried they will lose their inheritance. Mohnish tries to rape Divya, Rishi arrives and throws Mohnish out. Then Mohnish leads a gang to find Divya and Rishi alone and kill them. Rishi kills Mohnish and sends Divya away, she rushes back to Sushma and they leave the house in the dead of night and come to the city where they meet with the family lawyer Alok Nath and he straightens out their finances and finds them a house. Enter Shahrukh! A poor little rich boy with a gang of useless friends, uselessly roaming the city. He sees Divya and falls in love at first sight. He considers some kind of kidnap scenario because he is so in love he can’t think straight, but then stops himself. He stalks and tries to woo her, and falls out with his father because he wants to marry a widow which would shock all of society. Finally he goes and talks to Sushma and she is convinced that Divya should marry him, should choose life and hope and a future. Divya marries him, but on his wedding night Shahrukh makes clear he will not touch her until he is sure she cares for him. He goes out and gets a job, is a wonderful cheerful son-in-law and husband, and then gets into a slight accident and Divya rushes to him in fear and realizes she loves him now. They are completely happy, until one night Shahrukh is walking the city and sees a stranger in trouble, Rishi!!!! Shahrukh and Rishi become friends and finally Shahrukh invites him home. Everyone recognizes each other immediately but doesn’t say anything because it is too late. Shahrukh overhears the truth and confronts them, Rishi and Sushma decide that Divya clearly loves her new husband, they should just leave. But Amrish has arrived and tries to kill all of them. Rishi, again, dies saving Divya and Shahrukh and she happily embrace. HAPPY ENDING.
The overall thrust of the film is Divya as a young girl who romanticizes this perfect love with Rishi, aging into a woman who is convinced to a deeper love with her new husband. And the tragedy of Rishi who, through no fault of his own, lost the love of his wife. But it only works if we can believe that Divya truly loves Shahrukh more than she loved Rishi, which means we have to believe that Shahrukh is lovable despite only getting a tiny tiny bit of screentime. The tormented motherless rich boy, the passionate instant love, the way marriage changes him (he explicitly says “I am a householder now”) we have to buy into that whooooole journey, or else the ending doesn’t work. I could say the same thing about the other lead roles (Divya, Rishi, Sushma) but at least those have more screentime and writing to support them. Shahrukh had to make it work out of nothing at all.
Overall this is really a remarkably well-written and constructed film considering that it is Raj Kanwar’s first film as a director. One thing I noticed on this watch is how the first half has conscious parelals to the second, but with the genders flipped. Divya falls in love with Rishi at first sight (while watching his concert). She stalks him along with her group of friends. She convinces him to marry her by expressing her emotional distress and desire for him. This is the same pattern played out in the second half, Shahrukh falls in love at first sight, stalks with friends, and expresses his emotional distress and depth of his love which convinces her to marry him. The movie only underlines this slightly by having both love stories including the object of desire offering a loving nickname as a symbol of love (“Sonu” in the first half and “Raju” in the other). Otherwise it is simply there for the audience to see.
It’s not that Divya “becomes” the man in the second half, or is the man in the first half. The two romances are still gendered. The man is the one who proposes, once the romance starts for real the man must take the lead, the bride is shy and uncertain in the bedroom, and so on. It’s just that when she was young and carefree, she was fearless in her love. In the second half, she is damaged, someone else has to be as fearless as she was in order to break through. And since that someone else is a man, he does it by giving flowers and throwing colors on her on Holi and begging her mother-in-law to agree to their wedding. Instead of peaking at her through windows and crying until she proposes (like Divya did in the first half).
Rishi’s character and romance with Divya are really interesting to me on this watch. To be fair, that is partly because they were a lot fresher to me because usually I just skip to the interval and watch the Shahrukh part. Right at the start, Sushma sends Rishi off for his performance and there is dialogue about how he hasn’t quite grown up yet. He falls for Divya and romances her, but doesn’t realize he has to marry her until she pushes. But after marriage, he starts to grow up. They return home and his mother makes him go to meetings at the lawyers and encourages him to start working for a child. And then it is all cut short with his “death”. Divya goes on, moves to the city, is responsible for Sushma, grows up. And Shahrukh lives after marriage, gets a job, is good to Sushma, grows up and earns Divya’s love. But Rishi is trapped in time, never really growing up because he didn’t have a chance to grow up.
It’s kind of interesting that Rishi, the much much older actor, plays the one who is mentally “younger”. But then it also kind of makes sense. Rishi’s character is supposed to be one who is resisting growing up, and it was that resistance that made him still play the youthful lover into middle-age as in this movie. We look at him and Divya together and we see a man who was supposed to be a grown up and doesn’t want to, and a young girl who at first finds it charming and then frustrating. Versus with Shahrukh, a young man eager to grow up and take on responsibilities.
Mostly this is just a fun interesting twisty masala film. With a strong heroine who gets just what she wants. And a very promising performance from the younger hero, a promising actor named “Shahrukh Khan”.
Now, mostly silly but a little serious discussion question, is Divya supposed to not have consummated her marriage with Rishi before his death? A large part of the widow remarriage taboo is the fact of them losing their virginity already to another man. The movie throws in comments about Mohnish ruining her before Rishi has a chance to give her a baby, they go away to the honeymoon cottage specifically to have sex and then are interrupted by goons, is that what we are supposed to be seeing?