I have been so blog-lazy this week. I didn’t even remember my daily posts, because I’m not thinking in terms of days of the week, I thinking of “scrap metal day” followed by “painter day” followed by “plumber day” followed by “movers day” and so on. Anyway, I need to give my mind an escape from the complicated logistics of moving, and Vivah is the BEST escape.
The thing about this movie is, it is an escape but also not an escape. It sort of strips away all the parts of life that don’t matter, no concern about money or promotions at work or politics, and gets to the parts that do: marriage, and family. Rajshri makes “family” movies, meaning that you can see them with your whole family, but also that they are ABOUT family.
Family movies are a blockbuster genre in Indian film, all Indian films from all languages. But there’s something special about the Rajshri version. In a lot of family movies, it feels like they are shoving FAMILY VALUES down your throat. Like, they are having an imaginary argument with someone who doesn’t believe in FAMILY VALUES. In Rajshri films, they just exist. This is the world of these characters, and maybe not every family is like this, but isn’t it fun to imagine for a while that you are part of a family that is. Sure, there’s the Evil people who don’t value Family, but they are set up as contrasting to this particular family, not as contrasting to society in general. Let this family, who is happy, do their thing. But your family doesn’t necessarily have to do the same thing.
This movie is particularly interesting because it shows an unhappy family. But a family that is happier being unhappy together than they would be being unhappy apart, if you see what I mean. There are two families being joined in marriage, one is large and perfect, the other is small and flawed, but they are both households that see each other as units, that cannot conceive of living outside of the web of family and home. This is a choice they have made in how they want to live their lives.
It’s also interesting because the LACK of conflict turns out to be the greatest twist. Like almost all Rajshri films, we build and build and build through a whole lot of pleasant nothingness, waiting for something real to happen. And then it doesn’t happen. That’s the twist. The big thing happens, and everything works out any way. It’s just the most pleasant movie!
Plus, of course, Shahid Kapoor looking like a little angel with secret devil thoughts.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Really, nothing happens in this movie. Amrita Rao is an orphan being raised in the household of her uncle Alok Nath. Alok Nath arranges a meeting with wealthy city boy Shahid Kapoor who lives in a large house in a large combined family. Shahid and Amrita hit it off and get engaged. They prepare for the engagement, including phone calls, family visits, even a family weekend house trip to the country. In the background is a little family tension, because Alok Nath’s wife is jealous of the money being spent on her niece. And then as the house is being decorated for the wedding, it catches fire. Amrita goes back inside to save her younger cousin, burning herself. At the hospital, Shahid has a last minute marriage with her in order to be her medical next of kin. He cares for her through her recovery until, finally, he brings her home.
There is a question in the background of this movie, what is the commitment inherent in an engagement? Especially an arranged engagement? This is an agreement between two people and also two families. It’s not legal, it’s not religious, it’s just an exchange of words and promises. How binding is it?
This movie says, it’s a bond that matters. Everyone went into it this with open eyes, both the families and the couple. They did the work to make the bond strong. And at the last minute, when all that was left was the final wedding ceremony, the bond was so strong that the ceremony was truly an after thought.
Not that it’s a perfect movie by any means! For one thing, they hit us over the head again and again with how Amrita Rao is the “pretty” one and her sister is the “ugly” one. Value on beauty is always bad, but in this case it is explicitly clearly about skin tone, so BAD! BAD FILM!!!! No one ever questions the conclusion, that Amrita is prettier than her cousin, even if they question that it should have so much power in the relationship.
For another, the patriarch gets off scottfree AGAIN. Alok is all excited to marry his niece to this great family, ready to spend lavishly on the wedding, to give her the family jewels, etc. etc. His wife brings up actually pretty legitimate issues about how they are going to afford this, and that their own daughter needs to have something saved for her. And in the end, it all works out, Amrita’s goodness wins over her aunt without Alok needing to raise a finger. UGH!
The patriarchy in general is a bit UGH. There’s a casual comment about how after marriage, Amrita will be “allowed” to finish her degree and then “encouraged” to work. For the family business of course. Amrita and her cousin’s only value is in marriage, obviously.
But there’s patriarchy, and there’s patriarchy. If you accept the basic premise that a woman’s value is in marriage and so on, then this is a really good version of it. Amrita is given full opportunities to reject the proposal, as much as Shahid is. It’s a fully mutual decision (beyond the whole “her value on the marriage market is everything” issue). They fall in love during the engagement mutually as well. He doesn’t “pursue” her or anything, it’s just that they spend more time together and really really like each other. Finally you have Amrita’s big heroic moment being saving her cousin, another woman, not a man. Which leads to her resolution, reunion with her aunt, yet another woman.
And the ending. In which the point is, nothing changes. Amrita is burned, not just disfigured but requiring intensive care for months and months. It is the kind of situation in which many married couples might split up, and in this case Shahid and his family unquestioningly stand by their commitment. Her value is NOT just in her body, and romance is more than love letters and phone calls. There are two very on the nose moments late in the film. The first is when the doctor, Hot Hot Mohnish Bahl, points out how strange it is to see the two families around a marriage come together over a burn victim instead of separate. Because of course, bride burnings are so so so so common. And the second is when they have their first night together, and the moment of intimacy is Shahid changing her bandages. Marriage is about bodily intimacy, caring for the body of your wife, not just using it.
Anyway, I like this movie! Maybe you don’t, but I do!