In which I react to Rab ne bana di jodi. So SPOILER ALERT.
When I was a child, I was given a book called Thumbelina. The story of a thumb-sized girl and her adventures. There is a mole in the story: big, fat, ugly. Also rich and wanting to marry her. Hemmed in, Thumbelina is forced to contemplate marriage with him, till she escapes and meets a prince whom she falls in love with.
I hated the mole. Not for being ugly or rich or cruel, but for wanting to marry a girl against her will, in spite of her will. Inarticulately, even as a child, I was disgusted with such coercion that is not quite rape but something a little more insidious, equally vile.
Shahrukh Khan’s character Surinder in Rab ne bana di jodi is that mole. A small ‘ordinary’ man, a mofussil babu, oiled, slicked-back hair, ghonchu clothes and a very unbecoming moustache. He marries pretty, vivacious ‘Taaniji’ in emergency circumstances – she must, as her fiancé and father have died in quick succession; he wants to.
Taani tries rather gallantly to come to terms with her new circumstances. Her new husband is nice – leaves her alone for the most part and demands very little from her. He then senses she needs a little more excitement and deceives her by playing another man, ‘Raj’ – a younger, more vibrant man, more audacious, more fashionable, more expressive, more acceptable. But even as he plays this other role, he runs into a contradiction within himself. He wants her to love Surinder not Raj. Mind, he will do nothing to win her love – not throw in sparkling conversation, not dress less dowdily, not be more loving; he will merely sit mutely, chewing his food across the table from her every night, loving her in a smug, self-righteous way, willing her to choose him.
She does eventually – for a reason more stupid and facile than many that Bollywood routinely uses to advance its plots. She does because she wants to see ‘rab’ in someone, sends up a prayer and opens her eyes to see her husband walking towards her in out-of-focus, slow-motion. And presumably because heroines in Bollywood movies do not normally leave husbands who don’t attract them for men that do. Or perhaps because all a woman ever wants (as Taani says, speaking for all of us) is a man to love her ‘beintehaa’. By this illumination, what I am to do with my ever-growing scroll of ‘What-I-Want-In-A-Man,’ I don’t know. Or maybe, just maybe, because Aditya Chopra thought he had a title he liked and thought up a silly story to fit it.
The most perturbing aspect came with the end credits. A series of snapshots of the couple’s honeymoon in Japan – Taaniji (she is still Taaniji) is with Surinder, and there is no sign of Raj. She is smiling hugely, affectionate, clinging to her bashful, mustachioed and badly-dressed husband, and, Suri’s voiceover hints coyly, there is sex involved. In short, she is broken in.
I find myself puzzled at Aditya Chopra. Why de-sex, so de-glamourise your hero? To what end? Why hold the mundane over the exciting? Why root for blah? Was this or was this not the man who tortured Esha Deol and Aishwarya Rai into skeletal forms, so they could enhance movies from his stable? Why speak then for the sort of middle class Indian man who won’t step up to his wife, but expects her to step down to him?
To add insult to injury, Chopra makes a bad masala movie. The songs are horribly treated, all the basics of ‘build-up’ lie by the side, there is no chemistry, no attempt at chemistry. Very weak and so annoying.