This is one post that’s been in the works for a very long time… it’s the follow-up to my ‘wedding fever’ post, and it’s all about the lessons I learned, and questions I came up with, after my most recent viewing of ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun…!’ (HAHK)
There may be a few people reading this who haven’t seen HAHK, a MASSIVE Bollywood hit movie from the 90s, so for their benefit, here’s a little bit of background info. Directed by Sooraj Barjatya, the music from HAHK was provided by Raam-Laxman. The songs from the film were even more successful than the movie itself – ‘Joote Dedo (Paise Lelo)’, ‘Wah Wah Ramji’, ‘Dhiktana Dhiktana’, ‘Didi Tera Dewar Deewana’, ‘Lo Chali Main’, ‘Chocolate Limejuice’, ‘Maaye Ni Maaye’, ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun’, ‘Samdhi Samdhan’, ‘Yeh Mausam Ka Jaadu’, ‘Pehla Pehla Pyar Hai’… some of the songs are quiet and romantic, most of them are joyful and playful… and I personally think they are all lovely. And as Alan has noted, one of the really charming things about the music of HAHK is the way the melodies from the songs are intertwined and woven into each other throughout the film.
HAHK stars an effervescent Madhuri Dixit (as Nisha) at the height of her powers, and a younger, actually quite endearing Salman Khan (as Prem). Nisha and Prem are two fun-loving young people who are thrown together when their respective siblings, Nisha’s didi Pooja and Prem’s bhaiyya Rajesh, (played by Renuka Shahane and Mohnish Behl) marry each other. From the engagement ceremony, to the wedding ceremonies (lavishly depicted), to a number of family events thereafter, the film is a veritable deluge of sweet, celebratory songs, and the songs actually tell a great deal of the story. The story itself is simple and can actually be summarised in 5 sentences:
1. Pooja and Rajesh’s families decide to get them married.
2. Pooja and Rajesh get married and live happily together with Rajesh’s family.
3. Nisha comes to visit, and she and Prem fall in love.
4. Uh oh – whip out your hanky, because things get very sad.
5. But everything comes out right in the end… thanks to Tuffy the dog.
HAHK is definitely one of my favourite Hindi movies – if I had a top 20 it would be somewhere on the list. I never tire of the beautiful songs, and I find the characters utterly and irresistibly charming. I recognise members of my family in the fictitious personae of the film, and I immediately warm to the overt emotion – the spirit and heart that the film is unabashedly dipped in. The sweetness of the film, excessive as it is, never seems to cloy for me (I have to say I could do with less of Tuffy the dog though)….
However, there are many who would disagree with me. HAHK is often decried as extremely cheesy, sickeningly saccharine, plotless and dumb, strictly for the dead of brain…. On that last point though, when I watched HAHK recently for the umpteenth time, I came away with some lessons, observations and questions that I immediately thought it would be fun and interesting to write about…
1. Love means sacrifice: I’ll start with one of the more serious lessons of the film, and one that I actually agree with. The overwhelming message of HAHK is that when you truly love someone, you’re ready to make sacrifices for them – to even deprive yourself of your own happiness and satisfaction. Kailashnath (played by Alok Nath) is Prem and Rajesh’s old bachelor uncle, who has raised them as his own sons after their parents’ untimely death. We are informed early in the film that at least part of the reason why Kailashnath is an old bachelor is his commitment to his two nephews – i.e. he has given up the dream of marriage and children for his boys, and is therefore left to sing harmless love-songs to married women (but more on that later).
Our lead characters, Prem and Nisha, make the ultimate sacrifice later in the film, a sacrifice that appears to be partly motivated by misplaced but understandable guilt… luckily for them, Tuffy comes to the rescue…. Note: it’s always a good idea to have a wonder dog around when you decide to sacrifice your happiness on the altar of filial love.
Because love, in the world of HAHK, means never having to say ‘Me! Me! Me!’; the character of Aunty (played by Bindu, in an OTT but very effective comic performance), is vilified for being utterly self-seeking and unconcerned with the needs of others.
Like I said, I agree with this message, although perhaps not with the exaggerated version of it that’s presented in the film. But its exaggeration for dramatic effect doesn’t detract from its veracity. I definitely think it’s a lesson we all need to learn and be reminded of from time to time.
2. A woman’s place is in the kitchen: Now this one pops up in lots of Hindi movies, as it does in real life. This is one ‘lesson’ that irritates me and totally rubs me the wrong way. Pooja’s home-making abilities are richly praised in this film (there is the obligatory scene with her slaving away for the family at the stove), and her mother (played by Reema Lagoo) urges younger daughter Nisha to spend time with Pooja so that she can learn how to run her own home efficiently when the time comes. Just in case you missed it, the message is re-emphasized when the spoilt Rita (played really well by Sahila Chaddha) uses salt to make a sweet (instead of sugar) – earning her lots of censure and abuse from Aunty. Yawwwnn…
It’s not all bad, though – HAHK is actually a bit progressive in this regard, because Pooja does get time off from kitchen duty to play a rollicking game of cricket – one in which she thrashes her hubby’s team. More significantly, the character of Professor Siddharth Chaudhary (played by Anupam Kher) loves the kitchen! He even wears a cute apron that proclaims him ‘The World’s Greatest Cook’…
3. Weddings are a good time/place to fall in love: You hear this bandied about quite a bit in the ‘real world’ as well – that weddings are a good opportunity to meet potential romantic partners… Hmmm, I don’t really agree, especially since I’ve been to a gazillion weddings and have never met anyone even remotely ‘potential’ at one…. I’m also not sure this really fits in where HAHK is concerned – Prem and Nisha are definitely attracted to each other during the period of Rajesh and Pooja’s wedding; and there is a lot of teasing and flirting, but they don’t actually fall in love until after the wedding, during Nisha’s visit to Prem’s home.
I really like this about HAHK, by the way – you can actually see the growth and development of a relationship between these two. At first, there’s curiosity – you can tell they’re a bit intrigued by each other, then there’s lots of teasing, baiting, back-and-forth repartee, and flirtation (along with physical chemistry), then a little stroppiness here and there… then finally there’s a deeper understanding between them as they really get to know each and to understand what they mean to each other (hence ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun…!’) So the deep love they share by the end of the film doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere as it typically does in Bollywood – you can see it evolve as the characters evolve, and I really like that.
Another thing I really like is that in this film, unlike many Bollywood movies, opposites do not attract… it’s more ‘birds of a feather’… so the mischievous, extroverted and lively Nisha and Prem hook up, while the reserved and subdued Pooja and Rajesh end up together. I love this – in so many Bollywood films, it’s a hook-up between the lively, bold, boisterous guy and the quiet, shy, eyes-always-downcast girl. Here Nisha gives Prem as good as she gets, and it’s clear that he respects her for it and would have her no other way.
4. Treating people badly makes you scary: It really, really does – I mean, just look at Aunty! 'Nuff said.
Ok, so I have no screencaps of Chacha (can you blame me?), but there she is right at the back of this publicity pic, in orange
5. There are some perks to being a confirmed bachelor: Kailashnath actually gets to sing a sweet love-song to Mrs. Choudhury, paying tribute to the evergreen beauty and grace of his old college-mate. Would Professor Choudhury (and the rest of the crowd) had sat by, smiling benignly and playing musical instruments, if Kailashnath had been married? No way… that would’ve been the height of disrespect, to the wife (or wives), to the professor, to the gathering. Here though, it’s sweet and charming – and completely harmless. Random thought: I guess the fact that it’s considered harmless could make it easier for the bachelor to take things further without arousing suspicion – like, ‘you all think I am too old and crusty to tempt a woman? Ha – now watch me run away with your wife!’ (And watch me run away with this silly random train of thought).
6. Go on and kiss that frog: (remember ‘Kiss the Girl’ from ‘The Little Mermaid’? That was so fun – but I digress). Yes, kiss that frog because he might just turn into the handsome prince you’ve been waiting for (or not – but you’ll never know unless you try…)
Hmm… I’m a bit leery about this one – while I agree that the best things sometimes come in the most unlikely packages, there is no doubt in my mind that under certain circumstances, the frog must never ever be kissed. Luckily for Rita though, it works out for her. The earnest, goofy and actually quite sweet Bhola Prasad falls in love with her at first sight, as Dushyanta did with Shakuntala (in Hindu mythology). In fact, every time Bhola sees Rita, he actually sees Shakuntala. Rita, on the other hand, is irritated by Bhola’s attentions – until one fateful day, when she in turn sees him as Dushyanta – and falls madly in love too. Aww… who knows why she decided to kiss this frog? Perhaps she finally saw the goodness and sincerity of his heart (one scene between them lends credence to this theory), maybe she just got sick of sitting around and watching other people hook up… whatever it was, I thought this was a funny and quite cute little sub-plot.
7. There is nothing, absolutely nothing more fun than laughing, dancing, joking and sharing special moments with your family: So true. And HAHK is big (no, HUGE) on this.
8. There is a time to be born and a time to die: Birth and death are daily realities of our lives – as one lamp is lit, another is extinguished. Anyone who’s seen the film will get this. This, of course, is very true… and it’s directly linked to the next point, which is also my first question:
9. Why do the best people die young? Why oh why? HAHK doesn’t really answer this age-old question, but it does refer to the bit about some people being like angels who bless us with their presence in this world for a while, do lots of wonderful things for us, and then they have to go…. Sad stuff, huh?
10. On a cheerier note, who am I to you? The big question of the movie – so big that it deserves an ellipsis and exclamation point for emphasis (see the title of the movie), but what on earth is the answer? I have no idea – is it ‘the one I love’, ‘my love’, ‘my everything’, ‘my world’, ‘my life’ (I know, how sappy can I get? I can feel myself turning into a giant cheeseball) or what? Some subtitling in the songs (especially the title song) would’ve helped, I think… or maybe the songs don’t answer the question either. Or maybe it’s a rhetorical question… I don’t really care about this, to be honest….
11. This most recent viewing of HAHK did clear up one big mystery for me, though. I finally understand why I am so in love with Bette Davis’s eyes. I mean, yes they are the most beautiful, expressive pair of eyes ever, and will always be (to me), but the intensity of my love for them has always been a bit of a mystery... now I totally get it – it’s the black-and-white! Watch Salman’s big ol’ eyes in the opening credits of HAHK and tell me if you don’t think they’re absolutely gorgeous (which they are - despite my many other criticisms of the man, I’ll admit that he does have truly lovely eyes). So monochrome definitely enhances the eyes… why am I only just getting this? Thank you HAHK, thank you…
Ok... so this photo doesn't quite illustrate my point... will try to find something better.
So who says that HAHK has nothing to offer anyone but the brain-dead, nothing to stimulate that grey matter? I obviously take a contrary view… while some of my lessons might be frivolous and silly (and what’s life without some silliness and frivolity anyway?) there is definitely some stuff in there worth mulling over…. This was fun!!
Up next… I’ll be bringing in September with a return to my first love – the next post is all about ‘Apne’… the Deol-fest.