Monday, February 26, 2007

simranderella and other stories

Circumstances caused me, last week, to watch a film I had last seen in 1995 – that cult family drama called ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.’ I hated it passionately at the age of eleven, foolishly having characterized it as peddling “too much drama.” In the interim, my heart has aged, and not too well, so I now begin to understand what my father, when accused of having shed uncharacteristic tears at some point in the film, shrugged and said to me, “I’m growing old.”

The film has aged very badly too. The costumes are vomit-worthy, the music is tinny, the hairstyles trapped in the unfortunate nineties-with-an-eighties-hangover time warp, the overall look and feel clumsily lurching between hyped-up bucolism (bucolicity? Bucolicness? What did I just make up?) and drab, dated suburbanity. I don’t know why this is, since that particular cinema house from which this film comes has managed to merge these styles with more success even in considerably earlier films – ‘Lamhe’ comes to mind. A question for the ages?

Anyway, as I seem to be trying hard to confess, the film was a tad more palatable this time around. It tries, as much as its male protagonist, to please everyone, and if this isn’t entirely possible, well, the filmmakers have had eleven years to get over it. I have come around to the opinion that this is not tantamount to complete dishonesty. Perhaps my own state of mind – having just come off a weekend of watching the pathetic ‘Mujhse Dosti Karoge’ and some uninspiring football – had something to do with it. It’s not a family drama so much as a fairytale, and all the singing and dancing and screen time given to the hero-dude’s sycophantic attempts to woo the father of the bride didn’t in the slightest obscure the fact that it’s a female folk tale. Simranderella. I don’t overly care about the morality of the hero’s decision to ‘stay and fight’ or whatever dudely preoccupations he seems to reflect when he insists that he won’t elope with her. She is interesting. Here you have an obviously smart, repressed woman browbeaten into submitting to her father’s insane forced-marriage fantasies. Travel opens her mind; she meets clever, rich adorable young people on her tour of Europe and realizes that what she wants is completely different from what her father wants. Power conspires most cruelly against her.

I think her romance is almost incidental to her misery at having to suffer these apparently reduced circumstances. So her fiancé is a bit of a prick, but what would it matter if he himself was as clever and rich and adorable as the rest of them? He’s just so completely besides the point. The heart of the matter is revealed in one of Farida Jalal’s better moments in the film. In spite of her mother’s best efforts to equip Simran for a life that is entirely self-determined, both mother and daughter become powerless when they realize that they have been living in a fantasy, and that while lying in wait for the right moment for Simran to spread her wings – or something – they have allowed themselves be caught up in a cycle of endless compromise, vicious and self-perpetrating. “When you were born, I promised myself that in spite of having buried my own hopes and dreams, I would let you live for your own.” (I paraphrase, bear with me.) In a flash, you see how it’s all going to go down, and you can imagine Simran, having given in to social pressure, having the same conversation with her own kid twenty years later, telling her apologetically that she hoped her (daughter’s) life would be different from her own.

Then the moment is buried in a load of self-denying crap, and then the hero shows up and everything gets kind of thrown out of focus. But for the rest of the film the romance was sidelined for me, so much so that even the rather crudely-created, “Can I take your property away from you?” vibe with which Raj approaches the dad-in-law when asking for Simran’s hand in marriage didn’t make me vomit. I thought to myself, well, but this is brilliant. If a rather large cheque, or an airline ticket showed up on the doorstep of the household, waving at Simran, she’d just as easily be saved. She’s young and divided and unsure of herself, but she knows what she wants. Her only problem is that she also believes that it’s not as important as what the others want. She has no problems with running away. She goes her previous blockbuster avatar, Madhuri Dixit in ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun,’ one better. She has a voice. She can’t snatch her wrist out of her father’s grip, but she’s not going to stay quiet as she watches her train chug out of the hopeless little Punjabi hamlet they want to coop her up in. I mean, this girl doesn’t sit around celebrating other people’s weddings. She writes poetry and stuff. There’s hope for her.

In all escapist fantasies, the protagonist is compelled to be passive. It wouldn’t be escapism if we were selfish and stubborn and refused to believe that there were powers greater than our own with a hand in our stories. Simran’s problem is entirely self-created, as is her refusal to get out of it. She’s just lucky enough to be saved by her sporadic attempts at making a break for it, in the moments when she allows people to read what she’s written and hear what she’s said.

She’s not a hero, because all her actions are, neatly enough, decided by the values of those she loves. But I quite like her. Making a choice out of all of what we have is sometimes more difficult than making the best of what you have. At the end of the film one lives in the hope that she will have grown enough, in twenty-five years’ time, to stand by her daughter when she tries to tell her father that she’s marrying someone he disapproves of (and trust me, that time will come, for happy-go-lucky and liberal are two very different things. There’s some ugly xenophobia lurking under that cheery, vacant exterior). Will she have something stashed away to give the kid as she packs up to leave? Maybe. There isn’t much money in poetry, but perhaps she’s gotten her own foothold in the family shares by then.


Notes: I spent a lot of last evening watching parts of the Filmfare awards, otherwise known as the annual ‘Let’s Make the Chopras Feel Special Tonite!!1!!1!' gala. I caught Hrithik Roshan doing his ‘Dhoom: 2’ dance. Surely I am not the only straight woman to be charmed by his outrageously campy twirling around? Also I’m not sure what they were up to with the creepy Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan puppet show. Her look, pithily characterized as “…Parvati bhaabi!” by Flatmate #2, is beginning to disturb me. She has yet to be accused of seeming natural, but last night you could have taken a match to her and smelt nothing but polythene.

Oh man, though, Sridevi. Bigamy has clearly done her a world of good. ‘Chaalbaaz’ wasn’t half as good-looking fifteen years ago. But that’s a story for another post.


And more notes: MARTY. And Helen Mirren! Well-deserved victories for ex-heroin addicts and Shakespeare veterans. That country is going Democratic again.

current musix: i’m shipping up to boston – the dropkick murphys.


  1. Let's not forget that there were victories for Al Gore, too, while we're talking about Democrats ;-)

  2. Ya rite! The delayed telecast is an hour away from my telly screen but I believe the (real) president was quite adorable and jokey while retaining his immensely intellectual vibe, is this true? I feel bad about having dismissed Al Gore for his hairstyle eight years ago, when I was young and foolish and blinded by Clintonian glam. It's like the Real Madrid bosses who thought Ronaldinho wasn't sexy enough for their team.

  3. Anonymous3:24 am

    this is probably the longest and most intellectual analysis of ddlj yet. (but that's not saying much, is it? so no need to feel pleased about it :) )

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  5. Haven't seen DDLJ in eons but it's interesting you say that it's aged badly. I always thought it held up much better than the other stuff the Chopra camp has produced since - Dil to Pagal Hai, Mohabbatein and other shudder inducing movies.
    Loved your analysis of Simran - it is spot on. And she is an interesting character. Btw, am I the only one who thinks that Veer Zaara was basically a rip off of DDLJ??

    Oscars: Thrilled about Marty and Helen mirren (gosh, she is awesomeness!) and Alan Arkin. Terribly sad about O'Toole. Al Gore - dude, easy on the burgers you know? And OMG Tom Cruise lost weight and his bangs. And was looking good for the first time in ages! Wonder if this will mean he'll return to relatively normal human state now. How boring would that be?

  6. @ anonymous: how kind of you to advise humility! here is the collected chopra-johar gold dvd set, which i am not going to give to you.

    @ szerelem: yeah! i was quite annoyed by all the gore gaal/kaale baal sterotypical praise of her that went around - does it take even a single-digit IQ to smell a rat in the fake appraisal of kajol's completely non-standard, unpunjabi, bespectacled, unkempt beauty? but an interesting woman can't be kept down.

    and if you're actually holding your breath for tom cruise to denuttify himself, can i make you the offer of an oxygen tank? *g* did you watch the ceremony, incidentally? i caught a bit of it. man, but dame mirren knows how to dress. and jack black and steve carrell = officially the most adorably hilarious musical actors in history. and now i'm going to go away and recover from the shock of having used the words 'jack black' and 'adorable' in the same sentence.

  7. Kausha9:37 pm

    DDLJ reminds me of the one that never made it to one of those KAran Johar movie marathons. though he did act in it!

    Marty, i mean finally. it's like a make up Oscar. Also, I wish O'Toole would've won. he deserves oe of those little buggers.

  8. Just saw bits of the show on the T.V at home and all that, which makes me bless internet video so much!
    Dame Helen looked amazing! Damn more Hollywood actresses need to be like her. Too many are, like Peter O'Toole said, vacant unlit lamp posts. Hehehehe.
    Steve Carrell is awesome. Have you seen him in Little Miss Sunshine? Oh, and I loved that the Academy snubbed Babel.