In Honor of Yashji’s Birthday, a Discussion of Film Endings!

This is in honor of Yashji because I think we can all agree he had TERRIBLE endings! Big picture they were fine, the right people ended up together and all that. But the specifics of how they played out tended to be “and then a plane explodes for no reason” kind of randomness.

In one of my film grad school classes, we briefly discussed the way films create endings. The human mind wants completion, so if your script/film is in trouble, there are some ways to trick the mind into thinking it has completion when it doesn’t. A classic one would be to end on a clinch. Maybe the actual plot of the film isn’t a romance, but so long as you end with the hero and heroine locked in an embrace, you feel like it is an ending. That’s the example I learned, but off the top of my head I can think of others. Two buddy cops arm in arm laughing at a joke, the cowboy hero riding off into the sunset, someone dying, it feels like an ending even though there are tons of loose ends left in the rest of the film.

Moses Sapir on Twitter: "Amitabh Bachchan ji and Waheeda Rehman ji ~ Kabhi  Kabhie' @SrBachchan Happy Birthday Waheeda Ji… "
Waheeda and Amitabh are together at the end of Kabhi Kabhi, why? No really reason, but it feels like an ending.

That’s from my film class, there’s another thing I think of a lot from a Rakesh Roshan interview with Ganti. He talked about the pre-interval finale. He said you want the audience to go out on a high, so they will come back. He talked in terms of volume, you want the volume to go up to 10 for that bit. But the problem is, you don’t want the rest of the movie at 5 just so you can go up to 10 for the interval finale. So what you do is, the whole movie is at 10, and then you drop down to 8 right before the interval, just so it feels like you are going up when you raise it again at the interval. He was talking pre-interval, but the same holds true for the end of the film. You want a boring bit, and then a really exciting bit so people go out on a high.

And then there’s the “going out” part of it. Folks aren’t going to stick around for a slow reflective ending. They are going to see the end of the movie and then immediately start rumbling around and getting ready to go. Theaters want that too, they need to get the last crowd out and the new crowd in as quickly as possible.

So the ideal ending closes with a visual that gives a feeling of completion (whether real or false), that is at a level 10 in excitement, and that is quick and cuts straight to the credits. None of those things relate to the actual plot of the movie.

With all those restrictions in mind, do you see why most films seem to end with a fight scene? It’s exciting, it feels like a resolution, and when it is over you can have two lines of dialogue, or a clinch, or something, and then the film is clearly done and everyone will walk out happily.

Alternatively, a wedding! Same idea, big happy visual that feels like completion even if it really isn’t.

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai CLIMAX 2.0: Anjali with Rahul or Aman or no one, how  would you like the film to end? | PINKVILLA
Nothing is resolved here! No one has talked to each other! There are so many loose ends! But hey, wedding!

To see what I mean, let’s look at some Yash Chopra movies (since it is his day, after all). Jab Tak Hain Jaan, for instance, we have all the excitement of the confrontation between SRK and Kat once he regains his memory, and then the energy drops down for all these talky talky talky bits for a while, and finally we have Kat show up in Kashmir and see Shahrukh again, and then they embrace. Nothing is really resolved! They had that big fight and all the issues they brought up are still there, they never talked through them. But it feels resolved because we have that nice embrace. And we are happy with the embrace because we had all that boring bit right before it and are ready for a more exciting something. And most importantly, the embrace goes right into the end credits song, so we know it is time to stand up and walk out.

Pictures | 5 Best Scenes | Jab Tak Hai Jaan - Filmibeat
This was a pretty great scene, and then NEVER ADDRESSED! Just goes from this to “happy ending embrace”

Dil To Pagal Hai, talky talky boring, then big dramatic tape playing at the play, and embrace. That doesn’t resolve if Karisma or Madhuri will be the star of Shahrukh’s next play, or how Akshay’s parents will feel about the broken engagement, or lots of other little things. But it is a super dramatic moment, and is a relief after the dull bits right before, so we accept it as completion.

20 Years Later, Nisha from Dil to Pagal Hai Talks About How Rahul Almost  Ruined Her Life
This bit is great of course, perfect to leave it open. But the Madhuri-SRK resolution feels like they just needed a filmi ending, not organic at all.

Silsila, that is the most ridiculous. Yashji had a clear eye right up to the finale. He knew he wanted the marriages to break up, Jaya to tell Amitabh she had learned to love him but let him go anyway, and he knew he wanted Amitabh and Rekha to realize the shallowness of their connection and return to their spouses. But without any idea of how to make that happen, he fell back on a big action scene, randomly put the two men in danger so everyone could realize who they really cared about. We get the big high drama that is satisfying, and we end with Jaya and Amitabh united (and all the other plot bits forgotten because we are happy to see them together). And then we get a snippet of song that tells us it is time to stand up and walk out.

Post-Punk Cinema Club: Silsila (1981)

And finally, a GOOD Yashji ending! Deewar, that actually works. It follows a similar pattern, but the final moment is an actual resolution to everything. There’s the high drama of Amitabh’s death, and then we go straight to Shashi’s medal ceremony which he turns into a tribute to Amitabh. The central conflict of the film is that Amitabh’s sacrifices are not appreciated by his family, or society in general. Everything else spins off from that. The gangsters are caught, the crime plot is resolved, Amitabh dies, all the lessor plot questions get tied up with a bow, and then we have the final moment that resolves the central theme of the film.

Deewar [1975] | Harveypam's Blog

Okay, that’s all I’ve got on endings. Now, you talk! What endings do you actually like? What endings can you not stand? What endings do you think are most obviously the “well, the audience wants to go out on a high note so we will throw something in” strategy?

9 thoughts on “In Honor of Yashji’s Birthday, a Discussion of Film Endings!

  1. Silsila ending is not perfect but can we talk about Kabhie Kabhie? It was one of the most ridiculous climaxes ever. Suddenly everybody was there in this mini forest on fire, the horses included. It was such a mess.

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    • Yes! We had that great exciting talky confrontation the night before, and then suddenly everything’s on fire and chasing each other and somehow that resolves all their problems?

      On Sun, Sep 27, 2020 at 2:21 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I think Daag had a nice ending…you get the dramatic court scene and it did tie up all the relationships nicely…actually now that I think about it did they become a Throuple at the end?? Was this the first throuple in Indian cinema?

    Chandni had such a weird climax…you get the dramatic wedding and Rishi falling/Sridevi screaming…that’s a nice high…but then instead of resolving things there, we cut to that weird scene of Jackie talking as if he is married but then turns out the right people ended up together anyway…I just found it strange and unnecessary…

    Ooh and I really disliked Lamhe ending…I get why he wanted them to end up together…but I found it too abrupt…Anil has spent his whole life obsessed with dead Sridevi…and Anupam Kher gives him one dressing down and now suddenly he realizes he loves the daughter?? Maybe some time needed to pass…maybe after 5years Waheeda is dead…Anil comes back for her funeral…sees Sridevi and then realizes he is in love…or maybe Anil just agrees to be with her but says I can’t ever fully be with you…just some acknowledgment that it’s going to take a lot of time/talking for this to work out…

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    • This definitely wasn’t the first throuple in Indian film, I’ll just have to think for a bit to come up with the other ones. The whole first wife/second wife thing is so ingrained, I am sure it was around before this.

      Yes to both Chandni and Lamhe! Chandni, I guess there was a cool little surprise of Rishi and Sridevi marrying instead of Vinod and Sridevi, but it was so rushed! We just needed like one more talking scene to work this through. Or even a build to the wedding, like Sridevi getting ready, and Rishi being a sad witness, and then Vinod surprising them by announcing he wanted them to marry each other and was removing himself.

      Lamhe, yeah, they didn’t quite sell it right. I like your idea of a few years later. Or even just some more transition scenes establishing that Anil is solidly lin love with Sridevi 2 before he just pops up and proposes. Like, a sad “missing you” love song would fit in there very well.

      On Sun, Sep 27, 2020 at 5:57 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. SRK getting beaten to death at the end of Darr was a bit too much for me. I guess it resolves the central conflict, so it has that going for it, but I found it really hard to watch. And I forgot what Juhi is supposed to do after that scene, marry Sonny? After watching him do that? Eesh.

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    • There’s an argument that Darr is about Juhi defeating SRK more than Sunny. SRK wins the first fight, kidnaps Juhi, then she faces him down and makes him doubt himself, and only then can Sunny defeat him. Also, Juhi was already married to Sunny, which leaves it interestingly open-ended, will she still love him after the fight? Will their marriage change?

      On Mon, Sep 28, 2020 at 10:59 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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