Shahrukh Birthday Countdown, Ram-Jaane! Juhi and Shahrukh, Always the Best

This is a reposted review from Juhi Week, so it’s mostly about how great they are as a pair. An excellent reason to review the film!

This is Juhi week but, let’s be real, this is a Shahrukh movie. The tribute to Juhi is that she manages to make an impact in the middle of the Shahrukh Show. Part of it is that this is from the early period of Shahrukh’s career when he was hoping around like a cartoon character trying to make sure we remembered him on screen. But part of it is also the pure structure of the film, Shahrukh is the title character, the plot revolves around him and many separate equal relationships (including with Juhi), he is the thing that matters most. But Juhi makes an impact, unlike Boring Dude (I refuse to look up his actor name, he didn’t earn that), and Tinu Anand, and Deven Verma, and all the other many many characters. I actually care about Juhi on her own, not just as she relates to Shahrukh’s central character. How often can you say that about the “girlfriend” characters in these kinds of films?

Image result for ram jaane poster

The pity of it is that Juhi’s character isn’t paired with Shahrukh’s nearly enough. They just fit together in this film, they have the same vibrancy onscreen, and their onscreen personalities match as well. Both of them feel childlike at this point. Shahrukh’s energy is very teenage boy feeling, or even younger, leaping around and just having fun with the world and not thinking about the consequences. And Juhi feels girlish, sweet, like she is living in a pretty little safe world of childhood. The two of them together are the shy good girl in class being teased by the class clown. This particular innocence is what makes Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman so special, and Yes Boss poignant as they are children pretending to be grown up. And One 2 Ka 4 just plain fun as they bounce between childhood and maturity interaction to interaction.

This film is just not as good as those others largely because it doesn’t put the Juhi-Shahrukh relationship front and center. Shahrukh is left bouncing off of actors who don’t have nearly as much energy as he does. It’s just boring in a lot of scenes. And then there are those moments when we are supposed to care about Boring Dude, and obviously we don’t, which is why his name is Boring Dude. The biggest problem is that the plot is far far too confused. There are two main points to it, the first being the choices our hero makes and how those affect the boys who look up to him. And the second being the tragedy of the Juhi-Shahrukh-Boring Dude love triangle. Either of those points would make a good movie, but you can’t really have both of them, not without tying them together far more clearly than the film manages. Worse than that, there is way WAY too much time spent on needless plotty stuff unrelated to those themes. I just don’t care about the gangster-police-political stuff. It works as a support for “why our hero is the way he is because of SOCIETY”, there’s just far too much of it and it is far too intricate to serve that small purpose.

And then, let me go back to that central theme again for a moment. If you lay out the whole plot of the film, you can almost find a perfect pattern of “Boring Dude is boring and only succeeds because Shahrukh is interesting and breaks the rules.” But if that was the real message, we need far more justification for Boring Dude being worth it, and it doesn’t fit with the way the love triangle plays out. Alternative theme would be “Boring Dude is right and Shahrukh just brings disaster to his life”, but the whole rest of the film fails to establish that, since the film has a sub-message of “all of society is corrupt and stacked against the little guy”.

Ultimately the basic problem is that this film takes a perfect 90 minute American classic (Angels with Dirty Faces) and tries to turn it into a 2 hour and 40 minute Hindi film, and it just doesn’t work. But Shahrukh and Juhi are awesome.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Let’s start with the end. Angels With Dirty Faces builds to this amazing all time great film moment when Jimmy Cagney fakes fear before his execution in order to scare the street boys who worship him into going straight. It’s a powerful film moment, so raw it is hard to watch, and it ties into the whole message of the film. Jimmy’s character isn’t bad at heart, and he was forced into a life of crime because he had no other option. The little boys who worship him have choices, they can choose between Jimmy or Pat O’Brien, the kindly priest. The end is about Jimmy acknowledging that, while he does not regret or feel guilt for his own choices, he also does not want these boys to follow him. The final line is Pat O’Brien asking the boys to say a prayer for “a boy who couldn’t run as fast as I could”. A sign that all of life is random fate, Jimmy and Pat could have traded places just as easily, what defined Jimmy wasn’t what he did in life but the one time he had a choice and chose to do something to help others (turn his back on the hero worship of the boys in order to drive them to a better life).

Ram Jaane doesn’t end like that. Oh sure, Shahrukh fakes fear before the execution for the same reason. But the end-end, is Juhi revealing to Boring Dude that Shahrukh purposefully drove her away, and then Juhi and Boring Dude sending the orphans to school having accepted Shahrukh’s sacrifice and moved on with their lives. The relationship with Juhi is put front and center, and the moment of wistful acknowledgement that Boring Dude and Shahrukh could have changed places and we should always remember the sinners is taken away.

(His name is “Ram Jaane”! Why aren’t they hitting the “randomness of God’s plan” note more?)

There are a lot of little details of Angels With Dirty Faces that are kept. The childhood flashback showing the younger Pat O’Brien, Jimmy Cagney, and Ann Sheridan are still there. And the moment when the hero is arrested as a child simply because his friend ran faster. The small details, being released from jail and maneuvering to get the money owed him. Having his pocket picked by the new gang of teenagers and then schooling them and winning their worship. But the problem is on top of that, there are way way too many other things added.

The biggest problem is that this film puts both more and less responsibility on society for the creation of our criminal hero. In the original, crime wasn’t a conscious choice, it was an act of childish desperation. He was arrested, his future-Priest friend wasn’t, he ended up sent to reform school and came out 15 years later a hardened criminal. But in this film, our hero is arrested and beaten by the police but then released. He chooses crime because it seems a glamorous way to escape the orphan life. On the other hand, his travails as an adult trying to get his evil money is tied back into the rest of the plot, the Evil People he is battling, including the corrupt cop who isn’t in the original film, are all trying to destroy the orphanage.

So we have a hero who makes a choice to take to crime, but then later only continues in crime and violence in order to protect the good people who are fighting crime. There’s NO LOGIC!!!! You can’t have it both ways, either he makes a choice to begin with and then continues as he began, or he is forced into it and continues to be forced into it. I mean, in real life that can happen, but this is a very message oriented film and the message is getting confused when you mix things up like that.

Speaking of confusion, there’s also the issue of the love triangle. It’s supposed to be Sangam-style, there is the boy who loves not wisely but too well, and then there’s the Boring Dude. The problem is, this film tries to suggest that start to finish our heroine is never intrigued by the too well lover because she is committed to the boring lover. In Sangam, our restrained proper hero and heroine had a restrained proper romance, and then she ended up forced into a marriage with their good friend. And within literally days, she was ALL ABOUT the other guy. Because, you know, his nickname is the “too well lover”. There’s something intoxicating about a guy who really really really likes you, especially when the other guy has proved how little you mean to him by passing your love on to someone else. Of course on the other hand we have the reverse story like Jeet, where the too well lover is the guy she moves on from in order to marry the nice restrained proper option. But because of the marriage, the nice restrained proper guy has to be fully committed to her and that is what wins her over.

(Look how much he loves her!)

Basically, women just want to be loved. When you look at a love triangle, most of the time it isn’t a matter of “who do I love more” so much as “who loves me more”. And in this movie we have sparkling interesting free thinking Juhi, and Boring Dude who never really seems that interested in her, versus Shahrukh whose whole life is about her. It’s an interesting love triangle, until Boring Dude asks Juhi to pretend to be in love with Shahrukh in order to save him. So, first, Boring Dude clearly does not care about Juhi as much as he should, both that he is willing to give her up and that he is handing her off into danger and misery. And second, now we get to see Juhi and Shahrukh together as a couple and it is literally unbelievable that she is not won over by him and his passionate joyful devotion.

The whole film falls apart at that point. The romance is suddenly foregrounded, partly because of Juhi and Shahrukh are the only interesting people but also just because that is how the script is written. The actually plot with villains and conflict revolves around the adorable orphans and troubled youths, but they have nothing to do with this love triangle so when the pop back into relevance I have a hard time remembering what is happening with them. And the romance stays in front straight through! Shahrukh has a great scene where he processes that Juhi was faking her feelings and immediately starts attacking and insulting her to drive her away from him. And then we dump that plot and move back to boring orphans, Shahrukh gets his great classic death scene, and then out of nowhere Juhi pops up again to bring a letter from Shahrukh revealing to her that he was just faking his misbehavior. What’s THAT about???? We have Juhi and Boring Dude crying over the letter, and then jump straight to the happy orphans and happy ending. So, they forgot Shahrukh that quickly? Even after knowing he was really a good guy? And most of all, why the heck do we need to revisit the Juhi plot when we had finally dragged focus back to the orphans?

In my version of this movie, I would have Juhi legitimately love Shahrukh so his attack would drive her to Boring Dude for the first time. Then she and Boring Dude would be married at the time that Shahrukh died and left the letter, so it is more about a poignant sweet good-bye to first love than a “how the heck can we be happy now?” moment. Alternatively, I would have killed off Boring Dude. Not just because he is boring (although that is a large part of it, if your name is Boring Dude you deserve death), but because it would have been a stronger support for their message. Shahrukh spends the film struggling between bad and good angels, and trying to make up for his lost youth. If we show Shahrukh’s redemption, Juhi choosing him, and Boring Dude dying in his place, suddenly the whole “bad boys aren’t really bad” message gets punched home. Plus, you know, SRK Juhi 4EVER.

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