Once again, have only seen this movie a couple of times, and haven’t watched it in years. But I will soldier on and try to put up SOME kind of a review!
This is not a movie about Shahrukh, this is a movie about his heroine Deepa Sahi. Shahrukh represents one aspect of her, one lost opportunity of her life among many. But he represents that one aspect really REALLY well!
This is an Indian remake of Madam Bovary, a story that fits very well in the Indian context. Bored wife, strong class structure, village/city divide, it’s all there. Only challenge is casting, a woman to encompass all these different desires, and a man to represent Respectable Husband, Dissolute Aristocrat, and Young Passionate Innocent. That’s where Shahrukh shines, of the three men he is the most perfectly cast and most perfectly performing.
This film is distinctly betwixt and between, which you will either find charming or irritating. It’s a little bit magical realism, it’s a little bit traditional Hindi film (Shahrukh has a great stalking love song), and it’s a little bit western style internal art drama. I find it irritating myself, I’m never quite sure if I should be keeping my distance and appreciating the artifice, or letting go and falling into the emotion.
Shahrukh’s character is the one who is purest and most emotional, which is either because that is the only way he could act, or because that is the meaning of the character. While everyone else is torn by complex reasons of guilt and social pressure and blah blah blah, he just feels what he feels and acts on it. And therefore he gets the Hindi film style love song, and love at first sight, and all the rest.
Perhaps this film is intended as a commentary on those tropes? Our heroine keeps searching for the perfect dream lover, and failing to find him. Her lovers in turn try to make her into their own dreams as they want them to be, and fail also. Consumerism is there too, Ketan Mehta really hates consumerism. That’s another part of the fantasy sold by films. And yet, for me, the message just never quite gels. I don’t quite see what they were wanting to do, and I’m not sure if they knew either.
In a larger sense, and here is the real criticism of the film, there is no reason to watch this movie WITHOUT a message. It’s just not much fun. Or terribly entertaining. I kept waiting for the Point, because I wasn’t enjoying the journey. Even Shahrukh, young and charming as he is, just kind of feels like marking time after a while.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
I mean, it’s Madame Bovary. Bored wife of a doctor, so just on the edge of the elite of society, first seduced by a wealthy local aristocrat, then when he disposes of her and breaks her heart, finds solace in a young man who first fell for her when he was a callow teenager and now has returned with a little city gloss. Begins to go wild, spend money, travel to the city, until her debts become too large. She learns her silent dull husband has known of her problems all along, she learns the aristocrat will not pay her debts, even the young man at first refuses to give her money, or at least puts difficulties on it. In desperation, she kills herself. Or, in this version, takes a magic pill to give her all her desires and disappears.
So it’s a story of female unfulfillment, of never ending desire, of always running after that which you don’t have. And things she doesn’t have are represented by the casual power of the aristocrat, the youth of the young lover, and (originally) the stability of her doctor husband who saves her after the death of her father. More generally, what she wants is Freedom, the freedom that a woman in this society cannot have. The aristocrat can travel and see the world, the young lover can pursue a career and grow as a person, the doctor can find fulfillment in work, all of these doors are closed to her. And so she experiences them vicariously, through her lovers.
Can you hear the “blah blah blah” in the background there? I just have no interest in this kind of old hat version of trapped womanhood. Yes, the Feminine Mystique and all that, yes it is terrible to feel your potential is wasted, yes if women are trained to dedicate their lives to men then they will also seek rebellion through men. BORING!!!! Give me a maidservant heroine (Ankur) or a middle class wife who picks herself up and starts over (Arth), not the same old “wah wah, I am fed and clothed and warm, and yet I feel an existential misery”.
There’s two problems really, the first is that I have no pre-existing interest in this kind of story. And the second is that the film is not made well enough to force me to have an interest. If Deepa Sahi was incredibly irrisistably charming, than I would care about her and want her to be happy even if I knew her problems were of her own making. If the world of the film was intricate enough to draw me in, then I would be passionately interested in the plot and it would all feel new to me. But instead, it felt like Message was the headline of the movie and “character” and “entertainment” and “performances” all came after.
The pity is, it’s not a poorly made film. The characters are introduced clearly, shot by shot it is well-made, and there are some sequences that are just lovely. But somehow it never comes together in a way that makes me either care about it, or enjoy it. Beyond the obvious “hey, it’s young Shahrukh doing a sex scene!” enjoyment.