Friday, June 12, 2009

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Rani Mukherji playing Neetu Singh - now that is a match made in heaven.*

The rest of this movie seemed to require me to buy into a concept I just flat-out refuse to accept: the god who brings particular people together is equally willing to make them suffer - and this is the same god that characters say they are motivated to find and want to see in each other. You want to unite with the qualities of someone who bumps off your fiancé and father before you can be "happy"? No thanks. That's just really mean and twisted. Yeah, god made sure that Taani and Surinder eventually figured out how to love each other - or in Taani's case, maybe just to accept the kind of love that was on offer - but god also felt the need to put them through a heck of a lot before they got there. I can understand how one could interpret the concept of god as it played out in the love story as not so much literally divine and more a recognition of another person's kindness, care-taking, positive outlook, etc. But personally I felt much of the lingo and its setting, especially the symbolism of the multi-culti "Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai," was religious and theist. With Taani's big revelation occurring at the Golden Temple after saying a direct-address prayer to god, I couldn't really see it any other way. While watching, this led me to snark about whether Aditya Chopra is thus equating himself with god, since he's the actual writer of this story. But either way, whoever this "god" is, god doesn't mind people being miserable, hai na?

In addition to wondering whether the kind of godliness that the movie showed was something to value in a relationship, I also found parts of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi regressive in some of the ways I feel about DDLJ. My feminist hackles went way up when an emotional and rattled Taani prays "Please show me god too," then looks up to see Surinder in fuzzy focus, then squints and he becomes clear, and the song says "I see my god in you, I don't know what to do. I can't help but bow before you" and touches his feet. I wrote VOMIT in my notes. And when she corrects the dance competition announcer that their names are "Mr. and Mrs. Surinder Sahni," I wrote it again. Their age difference makes it all the more creepy, as though Surinder becomes a stand-in for her father.

The movie also suffers from what I uncreatively call a Really Stupid Idea (also seen in films like Shaadi Se Pehle and Chori Chori Chupke Chupke). Surinder very sweetly wants Taani to understand that he loves her just as she is - a wonderful idea, well played in stories like Bridget Jones's Diary - and to enjoy a love that blossoms slowly and sweetly - also a lovely idea - but then puts a lot of energy into trying to show her "his" love by acting like someone he very much isn't and plotting to force her hand, as it were. That hypocrisy aside, trying to build a relationship on such a fundamental lie is ridiculous. And how did she not notice? Granted one might not go around trying to figure out if one's dance partner is one's husband, but Shahrukh Khan's nose is so distinctive. (Though maybe that's a sign of how little attention Taani paid to Surinder, how little impact he made on her - i.e., if she can't tell that's a duplicate, she must not know the original very well.)

One last gripe: more proper SRK dancing, please! I realize the script wouldn't really allow it, but it's hard not to resent the waste of talent, especially given the setting. Who says "Let's have a movie with dance lessons, dance practice, a dance competition, and movie-related fantasy sequences and star SRK in the whole thing! In fact, let's give him two characters! But - and here's where our plan is really unique - not let him use his full range in any of them!"?

Here's what I did like. Anushka Sharma was charming and has a sweet, captivating smile. I'll look forward to her next project. Shahrukh's dancing ability may have been squandered, but his skills at projecting empathetic dorkiness and social insecurity made Surinder quite endearing when his lines weren't making me want to slap him. The wardrobe and makeup department made excellent choices and must have worked very well with SRK to use such simple tools - baggy shirt and pants, middle-aged man sneakers, flat hair - to help create the very distinct Surinder and Raj. "Haule Haule" was an adorable blend of Surinder's reality and fantasy and felt to me exactly the way Surinder would dream. As lost and confused as she was - and fair enough, given what she's been through - Taani was no weakling. My favorite moment from her was her deft and sensible pin-pop of Surinder's humorously irrelevant notion of "macho." Amritsar shone too - and I squealed with delight when I recognized one of the exterior shots and a verbal reference. (Khalsa College was the exterior of the site of the dance class,

and towards the end Surinder invites Taani to a movie at the Rialto, which was not far from where I stayed in 2006 and was showing Phir Hera Pheri when I walked by.)

In addition to Surinder's original wish to let love come softly, I even like the movie's tag line "There is an extraordinary love story in every ordinary jodi." It feels like an invitation to explore down those back lanes and bustling streets, to see what stories lurk in the people you pass everyday, to find something interesting and moving where you least expect it. If Chopra had stuck to those things, I would have liked this much more. Too bad the script veered off into senseless and forced.

* Lara Dutta as Helen? Not so much.

24 comments:

Temple said...

Hi Beth - I already commented over on PPCC when this came out so I won't re-post all that blather here. But I saw many more positives than negatives in RNBDJ. And I saw the movie more than once in the cinema so clearly I found bits to enjoy. I just read my old comments and they still seem accurate to me. Slightlt OT - Did you see Anushka Sharma perform at the Starscreen ( I think) awards? (the one where Ashutosh Gowariker had a hissy fit at Sajid Khan). Anyway - She wasn't the best dancer but she lit up the stage with her smile and what seems to be a real joy at performing. I hope she makes some good choices for her next few movies.

Ellie said...

I agree with all of your criticisms on an intellectual level, but somehow I still absolutely love this movie. The only part that I had trouble watching was the egregiously terrible sumo bit-- that was truly embarrassing and unspeakable. I suppose that I don't see anything inherently anti-feminist in seeing "God" in a man-- ALWAYS assuming that he sees God in you too; and as Suri made his respect as well as his love for Taani clear, that part worked for me. It's the sort of devotion that is on the order of Karwa Chauth-- a festival that makes a lot of sense to me, especially as men have started fasting with their wives these days. Frankly, you could have cut out all of the scenes without Suri in them and I wouldn't have cared-- SRK was just so good as Suri that the entire movie was saved for me. I also loved Suri's determination not only to love Taani for who she is, but to be loved himself for who he is (after he gets over the Raj business). I'm a big sucker for movies that reward "unattractive" or uncool people for being good human beings.

katherine said...

You know, I absolutely adored this film when I saw it in the theatre -- but now I'm wondering how I'll feel about it when I watch it again on DVD.

Though I think I've gotten *really* good at not thinking about a lot of stuff, and just going along for the ride.

I did understand why SRK couldn't dance in this one, though I'm with you -- why have him in a film that's going to require dance sequences, and then squander him.

Suri was adorable though.

Nida said...

First of all, lol about SRK's nose :)

Secondly, I couldn't agree with you more. I think this film had the potential to be a really great love after marriage story, because I did enjoy SRK as Suri and Anushka as Taani. Instead, it went into the whole godliness thing, and then Raj was just plain irritating. In short, I don't think I'm much of an Aditya Chopra fan.

I loved the cameos though (although I am so with you on the Lara Dutta as Helen bit--Um, not quite, Adi).!

I may try this again on DVD if only for the songs and SRK and Anushka, but I'm in no rush, either.

Banno said...

Yes, Aditya Chopra's brand of paternal feudalism gets my hackles up too. The same reason why I can never get down to enjoying DDLJ fully.

But I loved Suri in this film, AND he did remind me of my own father. Right down to his clothes and hair. That was what made the film for me.

bawa said...

Just reading about it made my hackles rise, so I will give this one a miss.
One of the things I take seriously re sikhism (because of the golden temple) in the movie is Not to "worship" any human being...
And my mum set the karva chauth example for everyone in the family in her first year of marriage..What? Fast for husband? You can't be serious...with the result that every women in the family before and after stopped doing it. Dad was relieved as he has never set store by rituals.

So all in all, I think I will give this one a miss except for the Haule Haule song, which is quite pretty.

Reema said...

I still love this movie to bits hehe. I think one think that goes against it is that SRK is Suri. Some people just can't get past Taani not recognizing Raj, but it's because we know who it is. And it's SRK, who is so recognizable to us. Makes it hard to believe for some people that she wouldn't see it right away.

The gripe I have is the sumo scene as well, but I look past it because I really love the rest of it. And I adore Anushka, she has such a beautiful smile. Her next film is a YRF one with Shahid Kapoor, so looking forward to that.

memsaab said...

I haven't seen this yet, although I want to despite the Adi Chopra thing (I cannot STAND him, or any of his movies up till now anyway).

I'm totally with you on the VOMIT thing too. It's only marginally more bearable in films from the 50s-60s, and that was a LOOONNNGGGG time ago. AC should have learned something by now! (What does Rani see in him, what????)

eliza bennet said...

Reading the opening of this post I understand that you opposed to the beliefs of the characters in the film. As a viewer I don't have this kind of concern on the characters religious beliefs or whether they are atheists or not.

I thought the film was pro female and the touching feet is a cultural act as far as I know since I saw it too many times done by too many characters to and by both women and men. And her saying that they are Mr.and Mrs. Sinha was a very good gesture that made Suri happy since it meant that she loves and accepts him too. I thought it cute and love how Suri seems really happy when she takes his arm.

Creation of Raj character I can understand since Taani would never relax with Suri - not only his presence constantly reminds her of the painful memories but also she wants to kill the old Taani - which Suri fell head over heels in love with-. Now yeah initially he was trying to improve his looks to draw her attention but when they were partnered in the dance class and she was not able to see through the disguise, he saw this as an opportunity to make her smile again and get away from her dreary life.

The only thing I didn't like in Suri was how he gambled with Taani's heart. If she has chosen Raj then she would be heartbroken once again since she would lose him and she would feel betrayed and probably would take ages to recover even if she could. This was the only thing that made me not so sympathetic to Suri but maybe made him even more human and realistic in his unrecognised selfishness.

Filmi Girl said...

I haven't seen this yet but I probably will at some point. I have a feeling that this will be one of those films we agree on - if the PPCC's review is anything to go by!

I saw a shaky cam version of the Phir Milenge song when it first came out and the guy taking the video gave his own commentary of squeals of delight and loudly pointing out who the actresses were supposed to be. Delightful!! XD

Anonymous said...

I've been too busy to even check Bwhat, but needed a break today so checked your blog for a quick bolly-fix - and must comment :-)

I ABSOLUTELY agree with the feministic/paternalistic arguments made here and elsewhere - AC needs to check which century he's living in. Taani's father really was a twit - if he was her only relative, couln't he make sure his daughter had a job/career? She was obviously educated and fairly well off. I HATE that aspect of most modern Hindi movies - that the women are never shown simply living tgheir lives, earning a living etc. A paternalistic husband also seems to be an AC staple - That was one of the things that irked me about DDLJ the most...the whole men-know-best schtick.....

All that apart, loved Amritsar in this movie, loved SRK's mutters about tight pants and really loved the house - reminded me of my grandparents' old house in Delhi. (Though there was no way Taani's mild attempts at housekeeping would have had it looking that way!)

In my opinion, AC's idea (I assume) that Taani's sorrow and happiness were both orchestrated by the same God, is a fairly widespread belief, that some folks debate isn't true of Hinduism - Karma dictates your sorrows - not even the Gods can change your Karma. But that argument can go nowhere in a hurry, so will stop :-)

Bitterlemons

Beth said...

Temple - I re-read your comments over there before I wrote this, actually. I understand, logically, your thoughts (I think), but I don't empathize with the film in the same way, I guess.

I definitely want to see more of Anushka! She's adorable and maybe even a bit feisty!

Ellie - Oh the sumo. So dumb.

I think my main problem with Surinder's eventual tactic is that he was sort of hostile about it. Of course he has every right to be loved for who he is - we all do, as long as we are not abusive or psychopathic or whatever - but for someone who spent half the story pretending to be someone else and to try to get to someone's heart via that identity, it seemed so rigid.

The god thing just doesn't work for me, but I do agree that the writers seemed to have it go in both directions - that is, it was not only Taani who wanted to see (and saw) the divine in her partner.

katherine - I'll be interested to know what you think!

I wish the movie had focused on Suri learning to be a more extroverted, more capable version of himself rather than the weird alter ego thing.

Nida - Yeah! Raj was so blech. I too am not much of an AC fan.

Banno - Yes! I'm loving your terminology.

bawa - Hee! Great story.

Reema - I thought about that, but I do think that as a human being SRK is pretty unqiue-looking and therefore identifiable. It's just one of those movie things we accept, though - just like we're supposed to accept that Kajol does not recognize Aamir's voice in Fanaa.

memsaab - I think I would have vomited if the worship had been in the other direction (gender-wise) as well. I thought about that a lot - if it were a woman trying to win over a new husband etc etc.

eliza - Sorry, I was unclear. My problem with the internal reasoning of the film is not that the characters are theist but that they seem to want to find a version of the divine that I think the film portrays in a negative, unappealing way. That is, why do they want to find the god that has been evidenced in the film?

As for Suri being happy, I'm sort of glad for him, but I think there are some things that make him happy that I have issues with, like having his wife do all the serving at a party that she 1) was not consulted in throwing [nor was he, I realize, but he could tell people not to come over] and 2) was very reasonably and understandably not in any emotional state to participate in.

And as for making Taani happy through Raj, why not try to help Taani make some actual friends? Granted that wouldn't enable him to spy on her, but why not help her build something that would last instead of something he'd eventually have to destroy?

I just think the whole set-up is flawed. It's not an evil movie or anything like that - I didn't hate it the way I thought I would - but I think the sweet aspects of the character of Suri were wasted in the rest of this silliness and really dense ideas. And I agree with you that it was mean of Suri to gamble with Taani - I hadn't even thought about that.

Filmi Girl - I'll definitely want to know what you think :) I was not as bothered by it as PPCC was but I can't anticipate I'll ever feel the need to see it again. It's one of those movies that I don't think anyone would give two hoots about if it didn't involve the actors and director/writer that it did, like KANK. This movie is generating far more discussion because of SRK and AC than it is really worth as a film.

Sujoy said...

I don't know how much more negative I can think and say about this movie. The only positives that I can gather from this movie is the Phir Milenge -Bollywood tribute song, and Haule Haule. Of course, Dance pe Chance is a good track - but on me iPod.

The absolute suspension of belief required to digest the very notion of the main plot is way too much to demand. And yes, I totally agree with your thoughts on SRK's nose,and also him trying to woo his own wife by being someone else, rather than himself.Such a waste of money, time, energy and talent.

P.S. It was hilarious to see SRK rehearsing in the Dance pe Chance song in his Chaddis in the balcony.

P.S.2: Kajol as Nargis
Bips as Sharmila/Asha Parekh
Priety as Sharmila/some random 70s heroine
Rani as Neetu Singh(Kapur)
Lara as Helen (Whaaaaa!!!)
Some bad casting.

veracious said...

I only skimmed the review because I haven't seen the movie yet .. I hope to, one day, maybe it'll make our yearly international film festival or something. I'm not expecting anything but to be entertained by the Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte picturization. Rani as Neetu Singh? DO WANT.

shell said...

It looks as if I'm in the minority on this one, but it is one of my fav's. Could be that I've only seen 50 or so films and most of then are from the 2000's, but what can I say? I like what I like.

Raka said...

Hey now, I enoyed Lara Dutta as Helen. I enjoyed RNBDJ b/c as has been said before, it reminds me of my father. My evil sources tell me 'My Name is Khan' is being shot on 7th and Branan in SF and SRK is staying in the Westin. scurry around, minions.

Anonymous said...

I've come in late, but felt I must!
The reason Raj emerged was;
-he wanted to watch Tani enjoying and being happy
-he got roped in to dance and wants to escape
-Bobby tells him he can't do that because his love story is now being written by god and not him, so he has to continue
-when finally he does decide to bail out, she finds him and asks him to come back
-by now escape is impossible

As for the 'god' angle - what many have missed out is that Suri tells her he loves her more than god.
-another thing being missed out is that *they* are not sikhs. Punjabi hindus go to gurudwaras too, and if Tani touched his feet/worshipped him then she wasn't breaking rules of sikhism.

The other things - all about 'God' etc, well, these *philosophies* do exist, and it was both ways.

moviemeh said...

This is a great blog and I do appreciate your reviewing style. You helped me hone my own thinking on this movie.

I would have called this movie "Fanfare for the Boring Man", and after watching it I felt that if someone didn't like this movie, s/he probably didn't like conventional Bollywood at all (this was before I read your review). I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. In a sense, this movie seemed like a mosaic of many other Bollywood movies.

As for your criticisms:

Although I believe in God, I always take the God talk in any Bollywood or Hollywood movie with a grain of salt, because I am not Hindu, Sufi, Muslim, Jain, etc. and because I expect that Bollywood has no more interest in correct theology than Hollywood. I also think that When the friend says something like "None of us are gods. We are all human beings who feel pain, " (wish I could find the exact quote) I think it is really giving the viewer leeway to try and figure out what is really happening with those two.

I don't get what you are are saying about God making people suffer. We live in a world with actual suffering, not just lovesick suffering, and God is in that world as far as I know.

Disguises always work! That is a very Shakespearean tradition, I'm told.

The bit about the dying father forcing his daughter to marry a man she didn't choose -- that is more an indictment of Indian culture than this movie. It also seems to be kind of a Bollywood convention: a marriage starts off loveless and they fall in love afterwards.

It was really nice seeing Shah Rukh Khan in what starts off as almost an Ajay Devgan type role and seeing him nail it and then some (except I don't remember ever seeing Ajay dance, which was the SRK twist to it. I agree the dance aspect was underutilized) I think there is more complexity to both protagonists than you give them credit for. I think Suri's purpose really evolves throughout the movie as he thinks it all through.

Beth said...

Sujoy - Hee! I've mostly given up trying to figure out why sometimes I am happy (eager, even) to suspend disbelief, or find myself suspending it without even noticing, and sometimes I do so only grudgingly, and other times I just refuse or remain totally uninspired to try.

veracious - I think that's a good way to go in (probably is for many movies). And yes yes Rani-Neetu! I want more of that!

shell - I'm beginning to feel like most people love it! :)

Raka - I can definitely imagine that seeing a dad-like person on screen would be fun! As for SF, I saw some good pictures from the streets and a facebook friend got a good picture with him :)

Anonymous - I don't quite agree with your line of logic about Raj, but I think that's because my standard of "can't" or "had to" is not the one the movie wants me to have. And that's fine - I just didn't get fully into the world the movie created.

I certainly did not mean to imply that some of the characters' philosophies are not realistic - they're just not ones that I personally find compelling on screen, and as am probably not explaining sufficiently, I find them an odd choice to value given all the other context in the film.

moviemeh - I really value this comment! You've hit on one of the reasons I love reading blogs - I learn a lot about my own thoughts on a movie when I read other people's! I appreciate your approach in outlining our differences of opinion.

I'm pretty sure I have not figured out the right approach to filmified concepts of God. I'm trying, but I'm not there yet.

My issue with the suffering is that, as I understood it, the characters are desperate to find a love in which they see god, but it seems to me that the god they have evidence for is not one that seems all that lovable or desirable in a partner. If god is writing this story, then isn't this same god responsible for Taani's father's death, Surinder's loneliness, etc? It's not so much the god-ness but the puppet-master-ness that I don't find appealing (and wonder how the characters do). I don't understand how they reconcile those things (but then again, I don't really understand how real people do either. You raise a good point about filmi versions of theology not being particularly robust, though.

As for disguises and the movie convention of unrequited love in marriage turning to love, I agree - I just was not inspired to hop on board with these familiar expectations/tricks in this particular case.

I am glad you see evolution in Suri. I now feel far enough away from the film that I can't remember sufficiently to say much more on that, but in general I appreciate when stories let their characters evolve and learn and grow and act accordingly, and I think it's cool you found that in here, even if I didn't.

moviemeh said...

One last comment regarding what you say about the hypocrisy of Surinder:

Suri eventually realizes the very same hypocrisy you point out: he loves the old Taani and doesn't want her to change, and YET he is having to change to a whole different person to be someone who receives Taani's love. Realizing that is hypocrisy is the major turning point of the movie, that is why he decides Taani has to fall in love with Suri and not Raj for their love to last.

Rumela said...

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?

Thanks

Rumela
my site

Dawn said...

Beth,
I feel your review of rnbdj is very subjective, with what sounds like anger that A. Chopra could make God a lead character in a BW movie. Religion, worship, and honoring "god" is a fundamental part of BW and Indian culture, and is not a new theme or concept, wouldn't you agree? This is my all time favorite BW film, precisely for this reason, God was writing this love story...so I am more than a little biased, lol! But objectively speaking, this was an unique concept, that of ones tragedy, ones deep loneliness, an unlikely marriage, that one could turn to their own personal spirituality, to find purpose, help, and trust for the predicament he found himself to be in. Suri, who was humble, and shaped by his religion, living in a deeply religious city, faith being a part of his identity. I hope you can watch the film again sometime, and not be so harsh that Suri found a friend in Guru Nanik! :)

Beth said...

Dawn - I'm sure it is subjective, and I can't imagine I would claim to be able to write objectively about anything cultural. I haven't seen this film since I originally wrote about it, so my memory is fuzzy, but after re-reading this post I would say that my objection to the story is not that god is a character in it but that the characterization of god by the film and the relationship to god that the characters have/want don't make sense to me. It seems to me that the god in this film is really harsh to these characters yet they spend a lot of energy seeking divine advice or guidance.

I would like to think that my own atheism would not make me automatically dismiss the idea that a character has found a friend in god, especially such a sweet and likable character as Suri - I want the best for Suri, I do. I also agree with you that dealing with religion can be a big part of mainstream films, as are characters addressing the divine and films ascribing actions and decisions to the divine.

bookwormwendy said...

Okay, I get that the culture is very different and that your belief system is vastly different as well. However, BW is what it is. You either accept it or you don't. I would have to say that my own world views and religious beliefs are very different than what I see in their movies but I respect their beliefs and ideas anyway even when I don't agree. Their culture is not mine to change.
I didn't see a subservient Tani in this film. I saw mutual devotion at its close. In fact, Suri was "worshiping" her, if you will, long before she chose to bow at his feet. That's mutual, equal, if he's her god, she was his long before.
Okay, taking the religion out of it for a moment and looking at it as just two people, one in love and one learning what love is or isn't, I believe it does take a kind of devotion (not religious) to one another to make marriage work.
Also, I didn't see it as "god" inflicting pain on them. They chose to view it that way, which if you want my opinion is fairly common of mankind. God, choose one, gets an awful lot of credit for things both good and bad. So fate dealt them a bad hand and they attributed to the god they served.
This was less of a story of god, despite the title, as it was about two people overcoming circumstances and finding something to cling to and a real, deep abiding love in each other.
Okay, that my humble opinion but we're all different and that is what makes the world go around.
Just hard not to defend one of my favorite movies. :)