Discussion Post: What Makes a Happy Ending?

Thank you TownsandTulips! This is such a great interesting question! At least, it is interesting to me, hopefully to other people too.

Let’s use DDLJ as an example. At the end of the film, Kajol and Shahrukh are on the train, embracing, on their way back to London to be married. But what guarantee do we have that they will be married forever and not get divorced? Or that Shahrukh won’t lose his money, or they will have a hard time having children, or someone in their family will get sick, or all kinds of other bad things might happen? This “happy ending” isn’t a certainty.

Kajol says DDLJ's train scene was 'pure chaos' | Pakistan Today

In film critical theory, it’s long been acknowledged that the whole idea of a “happy ending” is to give narrative closure to create audience satisfaction. So, for instance, at the end of an action movie even if you haven’t really explained all the plot points well, and there’s various people still in exploding buildings and stuff, so long as you have the hero and heroine embracing, the audience feels like it is an “ending”. There’s something very deep down satisfying about seeing a couple united.

Well, it’s satisfying in that moment, but often as you get away from the theater and farther from the movie, you find yourself less and less happy. Sometimes that “happy ending” is just a momentary sensation of completion, but not “real”. On the other hand, sometimes even though you accept that it has no guarantee of happiness for the characters, that ending still feels earned.

When I think about DDLJ, I think “okay, Simran and Raj could get a divorce in ten years, they are very young, they could grow apart. Or all sorts of hard things could happen to them, life has no guarantees. But no matter what, in this one moment, they have achieved pure happiness through their own efforts. And that will carry through the rest of their lives”. The “happy ending” isn’t because of what happens, it is because of what it means for the characters.

In Mujshe Dosti Karoge, for instance, Rani and Hrithik do nothing to earn their “happy ending”. But in subsequent watches, I still find that moment “happy”, because of the promise of friendship from Kareena to them. That is what they will always have and will carry through forever. If it had just been God making them get married, it would be empty, but knowing about the love and sacrifice of their friend, which they earned through their own friendship, gives it value.

Let's be clear – Tina is the only bechaari in Mujhse Dosti Karoge

In the same way, the “happy ending” of Hum Aapke Hain Koun isn’t Madhuri and Salman getting married, but rather their families telling them that they want them to be happy no matter what, nothing else matters, which was earned by their own sacrifices again and again.

50 Shades of Bollywood Lovin': And they lived happily ever after! -  Rediff.com movies

But in Dil To Pagal Hai, I don’t feel that “happy” part of it. Our hero and heroine haven’t really grown or changed or “earned” their ending in any way. And I don’t feel that the friends and family around them have changed all that much either.

Srk Best Dialogue - video dailymotion

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is kind of a weird exception. In that case, I don’t think the happy ending is really “earned” by our hero and heroine. But on the other hand, the film builds their relationships so well that I can believe they really will be happy together forever and ever.

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai CLIMAX 2.0: Anjali with Rahul or Aman or no one, how  would you like the film to end? | PINKVILLA

So I guess I am coming up with three kinds of happy endings:

Ones that feel fully “earned”, our central characters have grown and changed and learned and even if this happiness is fleeting, that sense of accomplishment and receiving their heart’s desires will stay.

Ones that feel empty because they weren’t really “earned”, they just sort of happened to the characters.

Ones that have so fully convinced the audience of what should happen that we don’t care how it happens, we just want it to come. (this last I think is the rarest)

Do you agree with my three categories? Which movies, to you, fit into each category?


19 thoughts on “Discussion Post: What Makes a Happy Ending?

  1. I disagree about KKHH. I think they have earned it. He has learned that he was in love with his best friend all that time and that there can be more than one love. He loved Rani and would have been perfectly happy with her but there would have always been the Anjali hole in his heart. If he had chosen Anjali earlier before he had matured he would always have wanted to know what would have happened had he gone the “sexy girl” route. They needed the time and dead Rani’s blessing.
    I also disagree about ‘what might happen after’ as a dark spot on happy endings. We watch movies Just for that reason: real life is complex, happy films don’t have to be.


    • I don’t know if “what might happen after” is it exactly now that you point that out. Maybe it is more about “what feels like a truly happy ending?” And it’s a moment of pure happiness so that you know everything will be okay after that. Loves united, mother and child embracing, villain arrested and justice served, like that. The story feels “complete” somehow.

      On Thu, Nov 12, 2020 at 1:13 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

  2. # Ones that feel empty because they weren’t really “earned”, they just sort of happened to the characters. #

    From the newest ones – Giny weds Sunny.


    • YES!!!! That ending brought no satisfaction at all. I would also say Gori Tere Pyar Mein and Break Ka Baad and FOR SURE Bachne Ae Haseeno.

      On Thu, Nov 12, 2020 at 3:29 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



        • Yes! That ending came out of nowhere and really did not feel earned. And was not a “well, even if life happens, this one moment of joy will carry them through” feeling, more of a “this is a nice moment, but it’s not life changing” feeling.

          On Fri, Nov 13, 2020 at 4:16 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  3. This is so interesting!! My favorite endings are the happy earned ones but not necessarily in the traditional everyone unites manner…So one of my favorite “happy” endings is Arth…Shabana has definitely earned that ending – yeah it’s not finding love/relationship but she found self-respect, confidence, and independence…what could be happier?? Even Smita Patil earns her happy ending…mental peace and stability!!

    Another one of my favorite earned endings is Lootera…yes its bittersweet…one person is dead another will die soon…but it’s so satisfying and beautiful…after years of grief/anger…she earns closure and he earns redemption!!


    • Oh, those are really good “happy endings”!!!! Both of them are just a moment in time, no guarantees, but Shabana has the tools inside of her now to keep going no matter what happens in future. And Lootera has that one beautiful moment of redemption that no one else will ever know about, but which is still worthwhile.


  4. Happy endings! Love them! I also wonder if we can believe in the happy ending when we believe in the character growth and the values espoused by the narrative. We can root for characters and invest in them and they may have ‘earned’ it, but their happy ending may still ring hollow because we don’t believe in those values ourselves. For example, in a movie all about marriage (I had an example here, but it’s slipped my mind, so let’s take HAHK), I may like the characters, I may even root for them to be happy (I certainly didn’t want Madhuri to marry Mohnish) and yet, the ending of family approval and marriage doesn’t resonate with me (due to a lot of reasons such as the fact that Madhuri is apparently still studying Computers and yet everyone seems to want her only as a housewife?? Is she quitting her studies? Is this all happening over summer break? Is it a certification course?) and thus I can’t feel that satisfaction that I’d feel over, say, DDLJ where both characters are pushed time over time to do better and in fact, grow away from their own self-perceptions, rather than just doing what they’ve always done.


    • Yes, I get what you mean. A happy ending is satisfying when you can relate a little bit to the characters who are feeling happy and why. Like, a little girl reunited with her parents at the end, that works, because I can remembering being a little girl and wanting to be with my parents. But if I had a bad relationship with my parents as a kid, it wouldn’t feel happy. I’ll give you another example, Maine Pyar Kiya. Love that ending, it is delightfully entertaining. But it doesn’t feel supr super happy because it’s just a young couple getting married and immediately entering the family business. While Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania does feel happy, because it is a young couple that is going to have a free life and keep growing and experimenting and changing.

      On Fri, Nov 13, 2020 at 9:47 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



    • I kind of feel this way about K3G. It’s good that the family forgives each other, but it also feels like restoration of the patriarchy.

      Also, and I know we disagree on this one, Margaret, but the RNBDJ rubs me a bit wrong because it feels like it’s all about Taani coming around to accepting Suri and less like he had to face down parts of himself that needed to shift to make room for her in his life. Like at least lose the mustache.


      • Oh, definitely K3G. Although it’s such a complex ending, it’s like half and half. I think the Jaya ending is perfect, I think the Kajol-SRK ending is perfect (that final conversation when she supports him totally), even the SRK-Hrithik ending is perfect (him agreeing to go home again because he can’t say no to Hrithik). But the Amitabh stuff is a MESS. And so is the Hrithik-Kareena stuff.

        On Sat, Nov 14, 2020 at 12:27 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  5. Let’s try this with Shahid:

    – Jab We Met: inevitable, and also earned. Top satisfaction rating.
    – Vivah: earned
    – Udta Punjab: earned
    – Shaandaar: unearned, not satisfying
    – Kabir Singh: what do you think? I’d say the whole film is about earning the ending, but I’m still not convinced it’s happy.


    • Yes! Shaandaar is so unearned, it bothers me endlessly. It’s like the ending just kind of happened to the characters.

      For Kabir Singh, I think it is an earned ending, but the point of the film is twofold: first, that he spends a whole lot of time NOT earning that ending, that if he had followed his heart and buckled down and tried sooner it could have happened a lot more easily. And second, that it is the ending they chose, whether it was “right” for them or not.

      On Sat, Nov 14, 2020 at 12:36 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  6. Follow up question – does an unearned happy ending equate to a bad movie?

    Example: Badrinath Ki Dulhania. The main reason why I don’t like that movie is because, after everything that happened, I don’t think Varun truly deserves his happy ending. The same could probably be said about ADHM, but I don’t think I would consider that a happy ending.

    It definitely takes a lot of thought, because it requires going back through the endings of movies you probably didn’t like, but this could be an interesting add-on to this.


    • I think you may be on to something here! It’s not that a bad ending retroactively makes the rest of the movie bad, but that a GOOD ending is built up through out the film. The bad ending is just the clearest moment of problems that were there all along.

      Going with your Badrinath example, for Varun to have earned his ending, he would need to have been a more understanding character through out, more considerate of Alia’s needs start to finish (put more of the “evil” stuff on his Dad and less on him, somehow), quicker to turn supportive when he learned the truth, and so on. His character was slightly flawed start to finish, and the end result of that was an ending that didn’t feel earned. In contrast, Humpty’s character start to finish had so many little moments building him as a sweet, kind, loving, honest, decent kind of person. So that ending felt earned.

      On Wed, Dec 30, 2020 at 5:40 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



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