Monday, June 29, 2009

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (A Match Made in Heaven, 2008) is a film that divides people. At least it divides me from most other people, who hated it. Here are some sample responses:

"...a disappointingly ordinary and sloppy script that is not at all engaging beyond the first few minutes..." (theBollywoodFan)

"...nothing but mediocre fluff..." (Bitten By Bollywood)

"...it's not bad - it's terrible." (The Post-Punk Cinema Club)
In fact, PPCC's savaging dissuaded us from trying to see the movie in our regional Hindi cinema. We bought the DVD, of course, being the helpless Shah Rukh Khan fans that we are, but it was with some trepidation that we popped it into the machine.

And while RNBDJ isn't a timeless masterpiece of cinematic art, it isn't terrible. Despite its occasional weaknesses, implausibilities, and (as Beth points out in her mixed review) somewhat heavy-handed religiosity, we actually found it to be highly enjoyable.

As the film opens, Surinder Sahni (Shah Rukh Khan)--a quiet, ordinary office worker--is bringing home his new bride Taani (newcomer Anushka Sharma). It's a shock to see SRK so radically deglamorized as Suri:

Suri
We sense that something is wrong, and soon discover that Suri and Taani's marriage has been hastily arranged. Suri had been attending Taani's wedding as a guest of her father when the news came that on the way to the wedding the groom and his family had been killed in a horrific bus accident. Taani's father collapses, and on his deathbed begs her to marry Suri so that he can die in peace. Completely numbed by the loss of her fiance and the impending death of her father, Taani agrees.

So not only do Suri and Taani barely know one another, Taani is in deep mourning for her fiance, her father, and for her former life:

I have to kill the old Taani
Suri is older, and a painfully shy man. He's fallen instantly and hopelessly in love with the vivacious Taani, and expresses his wish for a "soft, sweet, slow" blossoming of affection in the delightful fantasy song "Haule Haule" (sung by Sukhwinder Singh; soundtrack composed by Salim-Sulaiman). But Suri realizes that a declaration of his feelings would be horrendously inappropriate. Not only that--Taani tells him straight out that love is out of the question:

I won't be able to love
So they sleep separately and eat meals in uncomfortable silence. Taani's one pleasure is going to the movies; there Suri sees her laugh for the first time since their marriage. When Taani starts attending dance classes, it gives Suri a (bad) idea: having his salon-owner buddy Bobby (Vinay Pathak) give him a makeover in the style of Taani's filmi heroes. In his new guise--torn T-shirts, tight jeans, gelled hair, and sans moustache--Suri goes to the dance class and by unlikely coincidence gets paired with Taani. Suri calls it the hand of God (we know better: it's the hand of screenwriter-director Aditya Chopra). Suri introduces himself to Taani with the generic filmi name "Raj Kapoor"; and it's not just Raj's clothes and hair that are different from Suri's, but his personality. Suri may be introverted, but Raj is brash and outspoken to the point of obnoxiousness.

Raj
Initially it's going to be a one-time thing, but as it turns out Suri actually enjoys being Raj and sharing the dance classes with Taani. Raj clearly has a freedom that Suri has never allowed himself; and he can express feelings that Suri could never utter:

As Raj you can tell her what's in your heart
Taani is at first angered by Raj's outrageous flirting and his clueless incompetence on the dance floor, but soon comes to realize that under all his flash he's really a decent guy. In "Dance Pe Chance" (sung by Sunidhi Chauhan and Labh Janjua) we're treated to the amusing spectacle of Taani (Bollywood novice Sharma) schooling the awkward Raj (in reality the graceful and athletic superstar SRK) in Bollydance moves.

Suri also comes to realize that Raj isn't just liberating for him, but for Taani as well: she can dance, laugh, and recover something of her former high-spirited self in Raj's company. And here is where the flaws in Suri's plan become apparent. Taani enjoys herself so much with Raj that Suri starts to become jealous--of himself! He reads her newfound happiness with Raj as a sign of her dissatisfaction with Suri, and decides to force her to choose between them. As Bobby points out, this false choice is highly perverse:

You're being unfair to your wife, Suri
And this is where my logical brain centers, disarmed for most of the film, started to make their presence known again--but not before the gut-wrenching scene where Taani makes her choice.

Memsaab, in her insightful review, draws parallels between RNBDJ and a Barbara Cartland novel, Desire of the Heart. And she's exactly right: RNBDJ is a male romance, in which the characters of Suri and Raj represent the split in the male psyche: the geeky, quiet, considerate Suri, and the would-be hero Raj. Of course, Raj (being Suri) is fairly inept at playing the hero; and Suri (being Raj) eventually rises to the occasion and reveals the truth of his feelings to Taani.

All the principles give excellent performances in RNBDJ. It would have been easy for Shah Rukh to make Suri and Raj two entirely distinct characters, but SRK does something subtler: he lets us see the Suri inside Raj, and the Raj inside Suri. (His drunken conversation with himself just before the interval gets an instant nomination for my all-time SRK highlights disc.) Anushka Sharma believably negotiates Taani's rollercoaster of emotions; she's utterly charming in the role of an ordinary woman who finds herself in unexpectedly deep emotional waters. And Vinay Pathak does a great job as the volatile Bobby--if only all of us had friends so loyal. (Amazingly enough, we'd seen Vinay in Fire (1996), Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1998), Water (2005), and Aaja Nachle (2007), and didn't recognize him.)

The film is beautifully shot, and (a few lapses such as a magically vanishing scratch on Suri's forehead aside) well written. The Bollywood references are mind-bogglingly dense. As one example, when Raj takes his leave of Taani after the first dance class, he says, "Kabhi alvida naa kehna...hum hain rahi pyar ke...phir milenge....chalte chalte" (Never say goodbye...We are travellers on the path of love; we'll meet again as time goes by). This utterance includes references to no fewer than 8 films. Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna is the title of a 2005 film starring SRK, and a phrase from the title song of the 1976 film Chalte Chalte. "Hum hain rahi pyar ke" is a song from the 1957 film Nau do Gyrah starring Dev Anand; it is also the title of a 1993 film starring Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla. Phir Milenge is the title of a 2004 film starring Salman Khan and Shilpa Shetty. Chalte Chalte is the title of no less than three films, from 1947, 1976, and 2003 (the last starring SRK and Rani Mukherji); it's also a classic song from the film Pakeezah (1972). So one line has invoked all three superstar Khans, plus at least five vintage Bollywood films.

The references only get denser in the number "Phir milenge...chalte chalte" (sung by Sonu Nigam), which pays tribute to five Golden and Silver Age actors--Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, and Rishi Kapoor--and their leading ladies. During a dull movie Taani dozes off and suddenly imagines Raj hijacking the onscreen action (with help from Kajol, Bipasha Basu, Lara Dutta, Preity Zinta and Rani):



Despite the inevitable echoes of its hilarious predecessors "Dhoom Taana" from Om Shanti Om (2007) and "Wod Ladki Hai Kahan" from Dil Chahta Hai (2001), this number works brilliantly on its own terms. theBollywoodFan has detailed 28 specific references in this song in a highly enjoyable YouTube playlist; the main ones seem to be Shree 420 (1955), Johnny Mere Nam (1970), Teesri Manzil (1966), Aap Ki Kasam (1974), and Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin (1977).

So, as must be apparent, I join with Memsaab in disagreeing with the negative consensus on the film. I've already watched it three times, and I'm sure we'll return to it again in the future. Or as the film has it, phir milenge chalte chalte...

12 comments:

  1. Yaaayyy! That's two positive reviews in a week's time. ( I liked it a lot, too. ) I'm a huge sucker for filmi in-references and stuff like that, so that whole aspect made the film even more delightful to me. :-)

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  2. Three times?!? Wow.

    Was this actually mostly disliked at its release? I don't remember one way or the other. Seems like in the last few weeks, that tide is turning among most of us latecomers (though as you say, I'm decidedly mixed). With Ajnabi, October Zine, Memsaab, and now you saying such good things about it, I'm kind of wishing I hadn't seen it yet and could go in with more opinions to consider while watching.

    I wish "Phir Milenge" belonged to a stronger film, though in some ways Taani's escapist daydream is a nice balance to Suri's Raj scheme.

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  3. I didn't love this movie, but I thought the performances were great. I just thought it could have been better scripted. I definitely agree with you re SRK's monologue just before the intermission - who says the man can't act?

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  4. Yay! I was very happily surprised by it, and put it in the same category as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, which I also love. It's fluff, but it's romantic and entertaining and engaging fluff. Sometimes that's more than enough!

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  5. Ajnabi, I'm sorry that I overlooked your review! I really enjoy film references too, especially when they're done with such obvious affection.

    Beth, the three times I've watched RNBDJ to date were: once with my SRK fangirl partner, once on my own because I was having a hard time believing that I'd enjoyed the movie so much the first time, and then once as I was writing this post. (I'm really not an obsessive--at least, not as much of one as it may seem.) It could be that one reason I enjoyed the film so much is that my expectations had been reduced pretty much to zero by all the negative opinions I'd read. I also notice that most of the people who hated RNBDJ saw it in a theater, while most of those who feel more positively about it saw it on DVD. We do experience films differently in public and in private, and so I wonder whether that may play a role...

    Daddy's Girl, I agree that in addition to its many excellent scenes, the script also has its lapses. I could do without the Dhoom 2 sequence and the sumo wrestler, for example. But strangely, this cast made even those sequences work in terms of their characters. In the motorcycle chase, Taani comes out of her emotional shell and allows herself to feel an emotion, even if it's anger; and in the sumo match, Suri clearly wants to show Taani that he can be a hero too. But yes, it's the performances that make the these scenes (and the film as a whole) work.

    Memsaab, your comparison of RNBDJ to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is very apt. They are both sentimental favorites of mine--I've probably seen KKHH a dozen times--but I have friends to whom I could never recommend either one without endangering our friendship. Like you, I think both work extremely well on their own terms--but those are terms that clearly not everyone is willing to accept.

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  6. I LOVED this film and your insightful review. I can't believe I waited so long to see it. Just saw it last week. I will have to buy my own copy so I can watch it over (and over)again. I must eventually do a write up on it to join the pro Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi bloggers and will let you know. Jai RNBDJ!
    All teh best,
    Sita-ji

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  7. Sita-ji, it's intriguing to me that many of the people who rushed out to see RNBDJ in the theaters last winter tended to dislike it, while many of those who waited a bit (and, perhaps, approached it with more modest expectations) have enjoyed it. Thanks for your comment, and I'll look forward to reading your review!

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  8. Right on! It's the low expectations that worked, good point.
    All the best!
    Sitaji

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  9. Sita-ji, I don't want you to think that I'm saying that you have to watch RNBDJ with low expectations in order not to be disappointed! :) I do think that the movie created so much anticipation (it was Aditya Chopra's first return to directing since Mohabbatein (2001), his first reunion with SRK as a writer or director since Veer-Zaara (2004), etc.) that a letdown was almost inevitable. Perhaps its virtues were more apparent after the initial frenzy had died down somewhat.

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  10. Totally understood your point. ALso while I loved Veer Zaara I really didn't care for Mohabbatein, but maybe that was the wack setting I didn't like, but then again I really like the overuse of (maple?) leaves as well as Helen's cameo, and Amitabh being such a freak, and SRK being such a great violin player(who knew?) and, wait, did I say I didn't like it?;) See always something to like an remember from these films for me, even when I don't "like" them.

    All the best,
    Sita-ji

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  11. YAY! RNBDJ love! I was beginning to feel like a freak with no taste after reading countless bad reviews and now I find there is a little enclave of fans who appreciate this film. RNBDJ is my go-to film for a bit of 'comfort' viewing. Yeah, it has its flaws (what film doesn't?) but I will NEVER STOP LOVING THIS FILM. Thanks for the great review :)

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  12. Thanks, Ness--for me, too, RNBDJ just works in a really satisfying way. It's nice to see that there are others who share the feeling.

    Sita-ji, sorry to respond to your comment so belatedly. I agree with you about Mohabbatein--it's not my favorite SRK film, but I can still summon images and scenes from it even after only seeing it once. For me, it's Amitabh as the Angry Dad that's the major problem. Not to mention that Jimmy Shergill, Uday Chopra and Jugal Hansraj just aren't as compelling as SRK. Still, I'm thinking that this one is due for a re-watch...

    Apologies once more for my late response.

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