Sweet geeky Punjabis meet Barbara Cartland! How can that not be delightful? As usual I am late to this party, which normally would stop me from writing about it but since in this case I found the film so much more wonderful than most of my friends and blogging compadres did, I feel the need to bloble (blog+burble) away. Incidentally, I watched RNBDJ with my sister, who also loved it, and it helped to have each other’s company and input on the rare occasions (almost entirely at the end) where the hackles did rise.
I am not a fan of Adi Chopra’s; I know I’ve mentioned elsewhere here that I did not like DDLJ much at all. But I didn’t feel this was permeated to nearly the same annoying degree of condescending-men-know-best that his other films have been, thanks in large part to Taani’s character (very nicely acted by Anushka Sharma); but also in large part thanks to the characters of Suri/Raj and Bobby Khosla (also well acted by Shah Rukh Khan and Vinay Pathak). All three are so patently ineffective at being that sort of paternalistic man that it is a joy to watch Suri’s bumbling but well-intentioned efforts to win Taani’s heart succeed—and succeed precisely because he is inept at “macho.”
Her father’s wanting her to be married off before he dies didn’t bother me much either, since I think most parents (even mine!) worry about their children being “alone” in the world. And in Indian society anyway it’s my experience that unmarried women are pitied by men and women alike! Family life is so important there that I can believe a woman who has just lost her beloved fiance and is about to lose her only remaining family member is more likely to feel that it doesn’t matter any more whom she marries, rather than that she doesn’t want to marry anybody (which would be more likely how I’d feel).
Other criticism of this that I have read centered around how unrealistic it is: well, it is, yes! Duh! But I don’t necessarily require realism from an all-out entertainer like this. I’ve confessed my weakness for romance novels on this blog before. The premise of this film could have been lifted (if I believed that Adi Chopra reads Barbara Cartland, which I don’t really, although it might endear him more to me) almost exactly (except with genders reversed) from one of my favorite Cartland novels called “Desire of the Heart.” That novel’s tagline is: “Dangerous Masquerade: She was flirting with a reckless deception to hold the man she loved.” (I know, I know! But when you are an unattractive teenager you long for someone to come along and transform you, too!)
The heroine in this book marries a man whom she loves, but who does not love her (a marriage of “convenience”) although he doesn’t treat her badly. She transforms herself from an awkward, dowdy country mouse into a beautiful woman with the help of a friend, and wins her husband’s love as a stranger not by changing her essential self, just the external trappings (which give her the confidence to get to know him and allow him to get to know her).
At the end she tests his love just as Surinder did in this—and this is where the movie did fail a bit for me. Her husband tells his dowdy wife that he’s fallen in love with another woman and offers her a generous divorce settlement. Maybe given Indian culture (or more specifically Adi Chopra’s mind-set) this could not happen when a woman was leaving her marriage instead of a man. But it is the point where I rolled my eyes finally: to believe in Taani’s epiphany that her husband and marriage was more important than her happiness with Raj exasperated me. I would have much preferred that she be honest with Suri about her feelings for Raj, and then have him show up for the final competition as Suri. His plan to just walk away if she decided on running away with Raj made me want to scream—it is a supreme and total Fail. Suri’s selfish, misplaced pride and insecurity gets to dictate the course of her life. I wanted to slap him for it.
However, this glitch at the end was pretty minor for me compared to the major goodness throughout the rest of it. Even all the religious overtones didn’t bother me too much—I personally am much closer to atheism on the belief spectrum, but I’ve long ago accepted that in Hindi film I’m going to have to let that go. At least Surinder many times said that he saw God in Taani, and it wasn’t the one-sided woman seeing God in her husband that I usually have to swallow. And here are some of the things I loved about it.
The Bobby-Suri bromance: The two of them are so hilarious together, and so…well, GEEKY. Bobby is a wannabe hipster who just *doesn’t* quite cut it, although Suri certainly thinks he’s got some authority. But they are both such nice, sweet, well-intentioned guys who care about each other.
And Bobby’s advice to Suri—although he doesn’t take it—to tell Taani the truth, along with his attempts to point out how unfair Suri is being to her go a long way towards mitigating my irritation at Suri’s choices. At least I am not the only one thinking “No that’s wrong!!!”
Bobby Khosla: Vinay Pathak is great. His Bobby is a blond-spiky-haired goofball in gaudy shirts trying so desperately to be cool. And he’s such an unashamed sentimentalist, bless him.
Surinder Sahni: I think this is one of SRK’s best performances. So many little details go into making this character someone to root for: his wish for his wife’s pain to diminish, and for her to retain her true character; his empathy for how she must be feeling when she comes to his home as a bride in mourning; and above all, his inept fumblings and deep-rooted insecurities—how can you not want him to get his girl?
And how sweet is his unabashed infatuation for the tiffin which for him symbolizes his wife’s care:
I also love his complete dislike for Raj’s tight clothes!
I didn’t even care that his obviously low-level clerking job at Punjab Power could not possibly justify his luxuriously gorgeous house. It just made me giggle every time he said:
The flamboyant Raj: I loved that despite his changed appearance, Raj was really no different than Suri—still the same personality, but thinking that he looked cool as Raj helped Suri come out of his shell (way too much, a great deal of the time!). The film could not have worked at all if Suri had been suddenly transformed into someone more “Shah Rukh Khan-like”—and it could have been difficult to resist the temptation to make him that way—but keeping Raj as ineptly uncool as Suri is was perfect (although his endless film-title dialogues wore a bit thin).
Taani: As many people have pointed out, Anushka Sharma is perfect in this role. She’s not too glamorous, not too gullible, not too sweet; instead she’s a normal girl who has found herself in a situation of her own making, and she tries to make the best of it without losing sight of who she is. She also has the good sense to first dislike the idiot Raj, and then to realize that he has some wonderful qualities. If she was slower to notice that about her husband, can we blame her? He didn’t do nearly as much to draw her attention to himself.
The songs: I loved Salim-Suleiman’s songs, all of them, and like most people really enjoyed the cameo appearances and cinematic references to stars and days gone by. It was especially nice to see Rani, whom we don’t see nearly enough of these days.
And I can never NOT love a Shammi reference!
The cinematography: From the gorgeous house where Suri and Taani lived, to the streets of Amritsar and the Golden Temple, and the song picturizations, I thought the film was beautifully shot and presented. I already wanted to see Amritsar: now I really really really want to.
In short (too late! I know!), I liked just about everything here—the characters (all the minor characters were well-drawn too), the story, the performances, the music, the dialogues and above all the humor. Anything I disliked pales next to how much I just really enjoyed sitting through this. If only Dara Singh had been in it too! For other—different!—takes on this by people whose opinions I respect you can go here and here (if you haven’t read them already).
Edited to add: And for a much more eloquent and well-written view of this film that mirrors mine almost exactly (including the Cartland reference!), go here!