I was looking for a review to repost and discovered I had done two mini-reviews, one about this film as showing a matriarchy, the other about it as showing an interesting idea of different kinds of love. But no actual regular review! So, time to write that. (previous posts on Matriarchy and on love triangles)
This is a very well-made film. You know the saying “too many cooks spoil the broth”? This is the opposite of that, too many cooks in a miserable irritated argumentative way created a really great super flavorful broth. It’s the only time Karan wrote a script and let someone else direct it, which he HATED, but boy does it work well! Karan was miserable seeing someone take his work and not do it the way he would have done it, but the tension between script and visual style adds so much to the film. This is the Karan movie that feels like a Karan movie, but also just a little bit extra, and is all the better for it.
The visual rhythm of this film is post-modern, meta, clever, superficial. And then the storyline is completely emotional, traditional, melodramatic. It could be a mess, but instead it ends up feeling like the most delightful swirl of flavors. Just as you get tired of the too-clever-by-half talking heads and breaking the 4th wall and stuff, you get a sincere sobbing scene. And just as all the crying feels like too much, you get another clever little commentary on the NRI community and a 4th wall breaking. moment.
The performances have to tread that line as well. The two male leads, Shahrukh and Saif, dance back and forth effortlessly. They go straight up comedy, and then straight up drama, and make it all feel of a piece. Preity, our heroine, struggles a bit. When she reaches for emotion, it lands on “grumpy” instead of “depressed” more often than not. She’s got a lovely touch with the comic scenes, and her general “Preity” feeling of being fearless and strong and rule breaking is perfect for the role. But despite being the protagonist of the film, it’s the heroes who do the heavy lifting to make the plot work.
And then there are the songs, which tie it all together. It’s a very good soundtrack, each song a hit. And the visuals are colorful, rhythmic, with great easy to follow hook steps in the dances. But it’s the lyrics that make it all work. Akhtar wrote the lyrics, and they do what poetry is supposed to do, express the things that you feel but can’t say. This is one of those films where the songs don’t move the plot forward, but they deepen our understanding in such a way that the film would be empty without them. That’s a Karan touch, understanding the importance of songs, and coming through the foreign structure, the songs are maybe better than in any of this other films.
Really, this film is just amazing. A little slice of a moment in time when the NRI setting and characters were blossoming, when Karan was creatively strong but still flexible, when Saif and Shahrukh had the casual skills needed without the mature depth of later, and when Javed Akhtar was still doing lyrics for shallow little silly love songs and party songs, when Shahrukh Khan was king of the world and could legitimately when the world looked like it was moving in one direction before it changed and started moving in another.
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The plot of this film is STRONG. It starts with a heroine who really needs to get married, Preity, trapped in a difficult family situation with no options in front of her. And then it turns into a love triangle, her two options, the exciting magical charming new man Shahrukh, or the boring familiar best friend Saif. She falls for Shahrukh, he rejects her, she finds comfort in a sensible relationship with Saif who has fallen in love with her. And then she learns that Shahrukh is dying, he loves her but rejected her because he has no future. With much agony, she decides to marry Saif after all, and he decides to marry her knowing that he is second best. Shahrukh dies, having said goodbye to everyone.
It’s like a beautiful machine, everything is worked out just right. Start with the love triangle, magical fun love versus stable friend love. Then say “but, why does she have to choose? If we are doing a modern American setting, why can’t she just stay single?”. Okay, you build in her complicated bad family setting so she HAS to get married to be happy. And then you say, “the point of the magical fun love is that you would always pick it over stability if you could, why does she pick stability this time?” Okay, you give the magical fun love a flaw that isn’t really a flaw. He can’t be cruel or unfaithful or any of that, because then you will miss the message of picking the sensible man over the perfect one. Death! That’s a good flaw. So now we have a tragic love triangle where everyone is doing everything right and no one is wrong, and it is just sad. Seem simple, but every little possible dead alley and mistake was worked out in advance.
At the same time, nothing is actually “new” about this movie. It’s not trite, it’s timeless. Family defines you, you can stay in the same family your whole life, or you can break out and start new. Preity is stuck in a terrible family, she needs to break out and be new. And her mother, Jaya, wants that for her, wants her to be able to start fresh. That’s always the same, good parents want you to break free and try your wings and be happy, and marriage is a part of that. So now we have Preity considering her options for a marriage partnership.
There’s two options, does she want someone who she barely knows who is exciting and means change and difference? Or does she want someone who she really knows and really knows her and means stability and safety? She wants someone exciting and different. But, in the end, not that much.
The first time I watched this movie, I was furious that Preity and Shahrukh didn’t end up together. Sure, he’s dying, but love is love! Get married, let him die, and then marry Saif later if you want. On later watchings, I was happy she ended up with Saif, he was stable and really knew her and in the long run, they had a lot more in common and a deeper more stable kind of love. And finally, now, I am thinking that there is a reason Preity and Shahrukh didn’t end up together. It wasn’t just the movie that made them not get married, it was the people in the film. Preity didn’t stop her wedding, Shahrukh didn’t propose, even Saif didn’t back out. Love isn’t enough. There’s more to life than that. That’s what the film is saying. Look to tomorrow, make your decisions with care, just as the world of this film was built with care.