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