Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi requires some determined suspension of disbelief. A prematurely middle aged man marries a bright, lovely young girl immediately after she experiences a family tragedy. He loves her on sight, she doesn’t see him at all. He changes himself to become a man she could love. But he does it in an extreme way. He masquerades as another man, utterly different from his everyday self, and starts to woo her. What happens if she recognises him? What if she prefers the ‘other man’? How can he get himself out of this situation? And who will win the big dance competition?

I’m not telling.

I really like this film. It has excellent acting by Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma, and characters I could empathise with or understand, even when I didn’t agree. I know some people object to the premise that she doesn’t recognise her husband immediately. Personally, I think that if you suspect every man who looks vaguely like your husband or boyfriend is him in disguise, you probably have bigger issues than the film does. Aditya Chopra hits some false notes including a ridiculous sumo wrestling interlude, but it’s really a story about people not gimmicks so I can turn a blind eye. There is ample entertainment in the romance, humour (please note I am not using the C word), dancing and music.

Surinder Sahni works at Punjab Power (motto: Lighting Up Your Life) and lives all alone in his family home, a huge ornate house. He is an unassuming man who has fallen into a rut. Until he falls for Taani. Seeing her disappointment on top of her grief he wants to do something to make her happy, or at least stop her from giving up on happiness. Surinder is considerate as well as shy and doesn’t presume on his new wife. He sleeps in the attic room and calls her Taani-ji, so painfully polite. Suri doesn’t do macho or overbearing – he is atypical for a romantic lead. In his own beige way he tries to show his feelings, hoping his actions will speak for him. He sees her laugh watching movies and tries to understand the appeal of filmi heroes but he is worlds away from that flashy style. This is one of my favourite Shah Rukh performances. He plays Suri as mostly subdued, with a shy romantic streak blooming as he dares to dream.

The expression on his face when he sees the tiffin Taani has prepared for him is priceless. Shah Rukh strikes the right blend of physical comedy and heartstring tugging pathos as Suri.

 

 

Suri’s flamboyant hairdresser friend Bobby (Vinay Pathak in excellent form) helps with a makeover. The idea is Suri will go watch Taani at her new dance class, and then surprise her with the new look. But he can’t stop himself from trying to get closer to her. And so Raj is born; vulgar, extrovert, inappropriate Raj Kapoor who can say and do things that Suri won’t.

Shah Rukh doesn’t play Raj as cool – he is a nerd’s idea of a cool dude and always that bit off key. I’m not surprised Taani didn’t recognise him. He has terrible fashion sense and constantly over-accessorises (thanks to Aki Narula). There are some delightful moments of Raj getting cocky, only to have Suri’s panic leak through when he doesn’t know what to do next. Raj becomes Taani’s dance partner for a competition – another touch of fate or divine intervention. The relationship has a rocky start but Taani can’t help eventually responding to Raj’s simple warmth.

He helps her reconnect with life in a way that Suri’s patient hands-off approach doesn’t. Shah Rukh portrays two quite distinct characters, and I could see Raj growing and becoming more of a second skin over time.

Raj is a drug that Suri cannot kick. When Bobby challenges him, Suri admits he can’t stop. The deception escalates and as Raj he taunts himself over his failure. This dark tone of self awareness and self delusion made Suri’s deception seem more real.

He created a mask and resented being trapped behind it. As Suri he wants Taani to see the real Suri, and fall in love with him as he is. As Raj, he is spontaneous and affectionate. But what happens to Suri if Raj succeeds in winning Taani’s love? And if Suri kills off Raj, what will that mean to Taani?

Taani is the apple of her father’s eye, and about to marry the man she loves. A few tragic minutes later she is married to Suri and relocated to Amritsar. At that time she may not have cared much for her future as she was traumatised and grieving. Anushka has a natural and happy quality, but she can turn that off in an instant, and she portrayed the conflicting emotions and loyalties very well.  Taani rarely looks at her husband, and certainly doesn’t see him so I could believe she didn’t recognise him in disguise. The more Suri tries to engage her, the more she blocks him out. She’s not a crying whinging wet dishrag though – Taani is a spirited woman and even does a Dhoom style motorbike stunt. She really comes to life when she forgets herself in things that had been her pleasures in her old life, especially dancing.

She resents feeling indebted to Suri even as she appreciates his generosity, but is making the best of things. Taani doesn’t have friends in Amritsar apart from Raj, who refuses to not be allowed to be her friend, so he is her only confidant. She comes to a crisis point, and I think it was as much about wanting to actively live again as her attraction to Raj.

Taani finally allows herself to love and to reconnect with life. While Anushka is very pretty she seems real, not a plastic beauty, and I found her convincing and appealing. I also had severe wardrobe envy when I saw Taani’s clothes, especially her lovely embroidered dupattas.

The theme of a couple brought together by God is always present. The presence of religious observance and ritual in their lives helps give that more resonance as it seems like a genuine belief not just a dramatic conceit. The gold of the temple at Amritsar is picked out in  Taani’s dress, the yellow tiffin, Suri’s car, the new bedsheets and flowers Taani leaves in his room. For him, Taani is divine love and she is lighting up his life.  The corny picturisation of Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai can’t detract from the message of seeing an aspect of divinity in the one you love, or who loves you.

I really like that it shows Suri seeing himself as Suri, but Taani sees only Raj. The tension in the bizarre love triangle is well maintained even in lighter moments. I think that the inherent acknowledgement that some characters were not always behaving well made it more palatable and less WTF, so the resolution is oddly satisfying. My eye-rolling muscles barely got warmed up, I just went with it and enjoyed the unravelling.

Whether it is the bustle of Amritsar, Suri’s majestic old house, Taani’s clothes, the framing or the use of colour, Ravi K Chandran makes it look stunning and it’s a total pleasure to watch. This traditional sounding song is over the opening titles but not on the soundtrack, and it is a beautiful start to the film.

The Salim-Sulaiman soundtrack is mostly excellent and Jaideep Sahni’s lyrics seem to match the story very well. Haule Haule is beautiful, and the choreography is perfect uncle-in-love style. Retro tributes are now old hat, but the clever lyrics made up of film songs and titles and the vocal by Sonu Nigam lift Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte. Shah Rukh really gets the style of the Hindi film greats he mimics, particularly in the Rishi Kapoor segment. Lara Dutta is miscast as Helen, but Rani as Neetu more than makes up for that. I much prefer the songs Vaibhavi Merchant choreographed. Shiamak’s style is too reminiscent of 80s TV variety shows and I’ve seen enough of that to last me. Dance Pe Chance and the dance competition numbers are not memorable, although I appreciated Anushka and Shah Rukh maintaining their characters in the dances so they worked as drama rather than as songs. But so much colour and movement can’t be a bad thing.

See this for an unusual romance, good songs, beautiful visual design and of course the lovely performances by Shah Rukh and Anushka. Just remember to suspend that disbelief! 4 stars!

Heather says: I am quite ambivalent about this film. On one hand I do really like Shahrukh’s ebullient Raj and most of the time I like his characterisation of the more reserved and introverted Suri. But on the other hand there is much of the story that I don’t like, and I’m not very impressed with the character of Taani despite Anushka Sharma’s best efforts.  Taani seems a very superficial character and the few personality traits she is allowed to display switch on and off depending on how much comedy Aditya Chopra wants to include in the scene. When she is allowed to be cheery and feisty I quite like her, but most of the time she is too one dimensional and is only there as a reason for Shahrukh to play dress-up.

As far as the story goes, I don’t like the way that Taani is pressured into marriage with Suri at such a difficult time in her life. However even worse is the direction the story moves in later on, when Suri decides to make his wife choose between Raj and himself. It’s manipulative, very unfair and just plain wrong. I don’t see how such a plan can possibly demonstrate true love and I think Taani would be much better to leave Suri and Raj altogether!

What I do like though is the character of Bobby Khosla and I think that Vinay Pathak did a great job with his role as Suri’s friend. There are a few scenes near the beginning where the character of Suri is initially developed that are also quite sweet and hold a lot of promise but unfortunately I don’t think the film ever delivers on these. While both Shahrukh and Anushka bring everything they can to their roles, ultimately it’s the story that lets it all down in the end. The songs are great and I love Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte, but for the rest, it’s not a film I particularly enjoy. I think it’s worth watching for Shahrukh, who does have some excellent comedy moments and he at least seems to be enjoying himself. The rest is disappointing. 3 stars.

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Kandukondain Kandukondain

Kandukondain Kandukondain is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and one of the first Tamil films I saw. It’s still one of my favourites, largely due to the good performances and the strong screenplay. Tabu and Aishwarya Rai play the sisters – sensible, thoughtful Sowmya, and the mercurial Meenakshi. Rajiv Menon retains some of the novel’s ambiguity about whose way is ultimately better, and he and dialogue writer Sujatha focus on the characters and how they develop.

The heroines’ characters required little adaptation. Regency heroines and filmi ones tend to spend a lot of time waiting for the right man or angling for a suitable husband so it probably wasn’t much of a challenge. The suitably ladylike occupations of music and teaching are retained which happily allows for more songs than one might expect from Jane Austen. The female characters in the film are memorable, distinct and very appealing. And I do like the image of big burly film directors reading Austen or Georgette Heyer for their inspiration!

Tabu has a lovely gravity that makes Sowmya very sympathetic. There are small things that make her seem so real – in scenes talking to her ailing grandfather Tabu’s face was sweet and serene, but the sudden slight tension in her throat gave away her real feelings. Tabu’s performance was wonderful, and I totally believed it when Sowmya decided to open her heart to a persistent suitor only to find that she may have been mistaken.

True Love rarely runs smoothly and there are obstacles, real and imagined, that try Sowmya’s patience and resilience, challenging her apparent acceptance of her lot in life. Her confusion and disappointment over Manohar was palpable.

Sowmya thinks that her bad luck has relegated her to a life of service and domesticity in the family home. Her journey towards accepting that she has a right to her own love and happiness is one of the elements of the novel that I enjoyed. She avoids being a stereotypical Regency novel spinster – she is intelligent, personable and has a sense of fun. Sowmya also has a decent job and shows determination in pursuing a career and financial independence.

This is one of the films that made me decide Aishwarya is a capable actor but needs a director who can coach her. She has a lively spark that suited this version of Marianne Dashwood, and Meenu’s feisty streak was always in evidence. The opening song shows off Meenakshi’s extrovert nature, features some excellent dancers and lets Aish show off her animal impressions including a valiant attempt at tiger face.

Aish and Tabu had great rapport and details like the way they leaned in to speak to each other, or would catch each others hand as they talked were really charming. But Meenakshi wasn’t all sweetness.

When she was angry she let fly, and Aish was excellent in those high energy dramatic scenes. Meenu confronted her mother over a family secret, and threw Bala’s love back in his face with no compunction. But she wasn’t malicious so much as impulsive and emotional, and I think the script and the performance combined to show this clearly.

Meenu grows to realise that love encompasses respect and friendship, not just passionate attraction to a dream hero. She doesn’t exactly become her sensible sister but she decides what she needs from her life partner and chooses to look beyond the obvious. When Srikanth makes an offer he thinks she won’t refuse, things become crystal clear to Meenu. She sets about getting her way with all the vigour she had previously put into avoiding Bala.

Mammootty is excellent as the embittered drunk with a loosely fitted prosthetic leg, Bala (based on Colonel Brandon). Living with his war injuries and a sense of disillusionment he seems intent on pissing his life away. He is drawn to Meenakshi’s beauty but I think it is her fiery temper and cheeky disrespect that really captures him. Mammootty transforms from angry man to shy boy and then seems to regain his love of life and enjoyment of people, resuming a full and happy life with no booze and less anger.

Unlike Colonel Brandon, he has loyal sidekick Sivagnanam (the excellent Manivannan) to provide strategic advice and moral support. The ‘talk to the hand’ scene was sweet and very funny. Bala had the maturity and patience to deal with Meenu, and the intelligence to realise that she would come round or not but he couldn’t force it.

He helps the family from decency, not to buy Meenu’s favour. His thoughtfulness and generosity made Bala a hero. And of course he does save her life.

When it looks like Bala might see his dreams come true, Mammootty shows the underlying vulnerability gradually give way to joy. It’s such a well judged performance and he supports Aish beautifully.

Ajith is hampered by the least successful storyline. In the novel Edward Ferrars is gentry with strong principles and a secret engagement he is unable to break, torn by his love for Elinor and his duty. Making Manohar an ambitious film director didn’t carry the same limitations and so he came across as more selfish and whiny than noble.

Manohar made the decision to leave Sowmya until he had made his first film. There was no need to make such a choice and it was silly. I struggled to see him as the right man for smart sensible Sowmya. The supposed ‘other woman’, the top actress and action hero Nandini Verma (Pooja Batra) was lots of fun but again her occupation and personality didn’t match the dynamic from the novel and it fizzled. Instead of being worried about being forced to marry an unsuitable woman and lose the one he loved, Manohar often looked quite content with his situation.

Well, until the day he decided he was finally ready to claim Sowmya. Ajith was adequate in the role but the lack of credible tension in his story left me unconvinced.

Srikanth (Abbas) was perfect for the film’s Mr Willoughby. I don’t think he is at all attractive but his entrepreneurial character and silly floppy hair fit the style of the society man on the make. And talk about making an entrance…

The wet shirt scene was completely unnecessary and did him no favours in the inevitable comparison. Srikanth was self centred, self satisfied and avoided responsibility. His relationship with Meenu was based on his surface appeal and her dreamy silly notions and very pretty face.  Srikanth was devoid of substance and sense, and seemed genuinely shocked when things fell apart.

The supporting cast are all very good. Shamili as little sister Kamala, Srividya as the mother who wanted the best for her girls and Manivannan as Bala’s friend were all great. Rajiv Menon and dialogue writer Sujatha gave the support actors lots to do which helped reinforce the domestic feel. Bala’s mother (I think) is obsessed with weddings, and long suffering Sivagnanam even gets the family cats married to keep her quiet. Thankfully the comedy is centred on necessary characters and incidents.

The soundtrack is lovely but the song picturisations are a mixed bag. Some look amazing and others are like something from a high school rock eisteddfod. Some have a bit of both!

Cinematographer Ravi K Chandran made the most of the lovely rural locations, and also captured the more enclosed and subdued lighting of the city. He certainly made his leading ladies look stunning.

It’s a beautiful film, with a quality AR Rahman soundtrack and some excellent performances. And it’s one of the more successful adaptations of a novel I know well and am very fond of.  4 stars!

Heather says: I’m generally not a fan of adaptations of Jane Austin. I fell in love with her books as a child, in fact Sense and Sensibility was the first I read, and so far nothing on either the big or small screen has lived up to my expectations. Kandukondain Kandukondain is no exception, although I do think it is one of the best adaptations I have seen.  Despite that, I failed to connect with the characters and although the whole film looks beautiful and has some lovely songs in the soundtrack, it’s not a film I really enjoyed.

Kandukondain Kandukondain is shot to make the best use of scenery and to accentuate colour in the landscapes as might be expected from someone with Rajiv Menon’s background.  The indoor scenes look just as good and I like the way the colour and light of the first half gives way to duller lighting when they move to Chennai and the family have to fend for themselves. In fact this is the best part of the film for me as I enjoyed Sowmya’s search for work which felt very realistic. Meenakshi’s singing and her career problems were also well depicted and I loved the way that Mahalakshmi was also secretly working. At this point I was able to forget any Jane Austin links and the characters started to come alive. But then the film went back to the respective love stories and I lost interest  again. I didn’t feel that the original characters from the book were well adapted into modern-day romances. While I thought the lives of the sisters were modernised and well written into an Indian setting, the men, (with the exception of Major Bala) seemed to be poor copies of the Jane Austin characters and I didn’t like them at all. Ajith was fine as the film director but like Temple I had problems with his decision not to marry until he had made his first film. Or rather not so much the reluctance to marry until he was established, which did have some legitimacy, but rather the long separation without any contact which just seemed ridiculous. Abbas looked too much like Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet for me to be able to see him without grinning. Especially when he donned a cloak in one of the songs! His character isn’t supposed to be likeable but I couldn’t even find him charming here, and Meenakshi’s devotion to him was only based on his ability to recite poetry. Again this follows the book to some extent but there is so much more to the whole romance than that and for me it wasn’t well brought out in the film. Aishwarya was absolutely stunning as Meenakshi, but I thought there was too much beauty and not enough depth in her portrayal. However I think this is more the fault of the character she played rather than a problem with her performance, which was actually quite natural and one of her best. Despite the changes in the story, I wasn’t able to forget that Meenakshi was basically Marianne from the book and in that context she wasn’t my mental view of that character. Although Sowmya was a more individual character and I thought that Tabu gave a good performance, I couldn’t connect with her at all. By the end I really didn’t care if she managed to get married or not despite having originally felt some sympathy for her. I wanted her to get on with her life on her own terms and not be so reliant on a rather weak man. But then, that’s often a problem with both film and regency romance heroines. The one character that I really enjoyed watching was Major Bala. Mammootty was fantastic and I did empathise with his situation and his attempts to win Meenakshi. His performance was the definite stand out and his interactions with his friend Sivagnanam were some of my favourite moments in the film.

There is nothing really wrong with Kandukondain Kandukondain and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been able to just forget about Sense and Sensibility. But I would much rather read the original book again rather than watch the film.   It still gets 3 stars from me but they are nearly all for Mammootty and a beautiful soundtrack.