Shahrukh Birthday Countdown: Chaahat! Shahrukh Plays the Damsel in Distress

Such an interesting movie! Shahrukh is sexually objectified and blackmailed and powerless, just like a girl.

This is a movie that is simply entertaining. Don’t look for logic, or deep meaning, or layered characters. It’s here to be fun and make us forget the world for a few hours. And Shahrukh throws himself completely into that kind of performance. When he is sad, he isn’t just “sad”, he is “sing to a puppy” sad. When he is happy, he isn’t just “happy”, he is “cartwheels on the street” happy. And when he is injured, he doesn’t just keep fighting because he is the hero, he TIES UP HIS BROKEN LEG WITH DANCING BELLS!!!! I mean, that doesn’t even make sense! It’s just the most extreme filmi masala-y possible way to indicate that, although he is a performer, he is also hardcore and tough.

Image result for chaahat poster

This is one of Shahrukh’s two films with Mahesh Bhatt and his only film opposite Pooja Bhatt. He seems a bit cursed with the Bhatt sisters, Pooja in this comes off as more motherly than romantic, while Alia felt more like his daughter than a potential romantic prospect in Dear Zindagi. Pooja is lovely here, but her style doesn’t really fit with Shahrukh’s. Fits with me, I would borrow her clothes in a heartbeat! But layered loose very modest clothing is an odd match with Shahrukh’s skinny modern energy. She feels like the wise older woman who should be mothering him, not the young woman he is sweeping off her feet. And the characters don’t help, she plays a confident independent doctor, he is a performer who still lives with his father. Just a total miss-match, the film falters (for me) whenever it focuses on their romance.

But then, that is also a little bit on purpose. The concept of this film (which I LOVE) is to flip the genders on a familiar storyline. The women in the love triangle, Ramya on one side and Pooja on the other, are supposed to be the ones with the power and agency. Shahrukh is the poor pitiful one passively enduring all the slings and arrows of fate. And also the one who’s body is desired and sexualized. He even gets the sexy dance number!

Best bit is, the film manages to make him victimized by another man. Removing the gender flip in that area. Naseeruddin (through complex backwards film logic) becomes the one who threatens him, blackmails him, and forces him to do what he does not want to do.

If you think of Shahrukh as a feminine star, the “heroine” on occasion, than this film is arguably his most “heroine” role. He is tormented, victimized, sexually attacked, and then shamed for being a victim. Truly, the full female experience.

That’s why the last half hour is so INSANE. After Shahrukh being a “girl” for the whole movie, the last half hour has to ridiculously over-compensate by making him the strongest toughest fightingest man in the world. I should hate this for enforcing gender roles and not trusting different kinds of masculinity or whatever. But by the time Shahrukh is leaping on Anupam’s shoulders to pull men off horses, I don’t even care about the gender message. It’s too fun to not enjoy it! And really, that’s what you could say about this whole film.

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Such a great plot! So familiar, but not usually done this way. Shahrukh and Anupam are performers happy in their little Rajasthan village. Shahrukh gently flirts with tourists and picks up some extra money by having dinner with them. Anupam wants him to marry, but Shahrukh wants to stay with Anupam. Anupam gets sick and has to go to Bombay for treatment. Shahrukh takes him and starts singing outside a hotel. Inside the hotel, Ramya Krishnan is having a birthday party thrown by her brother Naseeruddin Shah. She sees and desires Shahrukh and asks her brother for him. Naseerji tracks down Shahrukh and offers him a job singing in their hotel in return for a favor to be named later. Meanwhile, Shahrukh twice randomly bumps into Pooja Bhatt and decides she is his fated wife. Pooja is Anupam’s doctor, Anupam decides Pooja is perfect for his son. And Pooja herself loves this naive different young man. After a slight misunderstanding, Shahrukh learns the woman his father wants him to marry is the woman he is in love with and the engagement is confirmed. Ramya makes him an indecent proposal, Shahrukh turns her down, but then learns he can’t get a job at any other place in town because Naseerji has warned them off. Shahrukh finally agrees to give himself to Ramya, and confesses the deal he has made to Pooja. She honors him for doing all of this for his father, and decides to marry someone else. But Anupam is disgusted when he learns the truth and throws Shahrukh away from him. Shahrukh, in response, goes to Pooja and insists that they will marry after all and he will take her to his village. He fights off the goons who would stop them and they all return to the village. Where Naseerji shows up and kills Anupam and kidnaps Pooja. Shahrukh follows them back to the city and rescues Pooja while Naseerji accidentally shoots Ramya and breaks his heart.

So, we have an innocent young dancer, performing to help his dying father, who is desired and pressured by a powerful rich woman. And eventually must give up his own decent good love with a doctor because he is trapped by someone else’s desire. Very familiar story, only usually it is told about a young female dancer, a decent male doctor, and an indecent evil rich man. Heck, even the twist with Pooja deciding to marry the boy next door is familiar, only usually it is the girl next door, the boring bland girl that is the substitute when you can’t get the exciting one you really want.

This isn’t the first time Shahrukh has had this kind of triangle. Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman was similar, and was based on Shree 420 which also had the same idea. A new boy in town, meets a “good” girl and a “rich” girl, the two women representing two possible futures, the selfish capitalist one or the good socialist one. But this time, it’s not a matter of Shahrukh being torn between idealogies, or two women fighting for his mind and soul. Nope, it is entirely about his body. His juicy young body. Ramya wants it, and so does Pooja (in a more wholesome way).

Really a remarkably body-focused kind of film. For most of it, we have Shahrukh’s body as an object of desire. Moving in dance, smiling, attracting both Pooja and Ramya primarily based on his looks. And then in the last half hour we have the body as a weapon, an abused and beaten weapon that endures tortures to exact vengeance.

The film works best when Shahrukh is merely a body. The title is “desire”, after all. The whole plot is about people desiring him and what that brings about. The film falters when it starts to switch to Shahrukh making a choice between the two women. After he decides to stand up for himself, there are a lot of speeches about how Pooja is a better woman than Ramya and why she is a better woman. It kind of works, Pooja’s love is unselfish, she just wants what is best for Shahrukh. Ramya’s love is selfish, she desires to possess him. But what doesn’t work is the idea that Shahrukh is the one to make this decision. It should be Pooja rescuing him, once again. Even their first meeting was her saving him from being hit by a car. Let Pooja confront and defeat Ramya, just as the “good” lover defeats the “bad” lover in every woman-in-distress film, and the whole movie feels more balanced.

But then we lose the last half hour sequence of fight scenes, and I just can’t bring myself to give those up. So I guess I will have to live with the unbalanced plot and ridiculous gendered heroics, because it is worth it.

6 thoughts on “Shahrukh Birthday Countdown: Chaahat! Shahrukh Plays the Damsel in Distress

  1. Yes yes yes, but I think you’ve undersold the SRK-Anupam bromance, which is one of the most entertaining parts to watch. Though I guess it is also the one part, besides the ending fight scenes, that doesn’t really fit the classic heroine storyline. The bromance and Ramya and Naseeruddin as villains are my favorite parts of this one. And I don’t even mind the bloodbath at the end (was this just how they ended all the movies for a while? half an hour of people getting drenched in red paint? how many SRK movies up to this point on your list share this ‘and then they all fought like crazy until half the leads were killed off, the end’?) because it’s so acrobatic and nutso.

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    • Oh! Now I am thinking about the bromance! And what really sticks in your mind (for me at least) is how suddenly it ends, as soon as Anupam learns his son has sold himself, he is all disgusted and disapproving. So maybe what it is is this great father-son bromance that is the only non-female part of the character, and then even that turns into SRK as the “girl” when Anupam has to play the disapproving “you have brought shame on the family” father for a little bit.

      And yes! I think they did all have to end in a nutso bloodbath for a while! And now I am thinking about a post on “movie endings”.

      On Sat, Sep 26, 2020 at 11:26 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I challenge you to think of a SRK romance with worse chemistry. And Alia doesn’t count as I don’t think he was supposed to be into her Dear Zindagi.

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        • True, but I think I still prefer the glimpses of youthfulness in Pooja here with SRK, to the dancing but always feeling distant in DTPH

          On Mon, Sep 28, 2020 at 11:09 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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