[Spoilers abound! Image-heavy post!]
Many thanks to Antarra for sending me Suhaag, which is impossible to get in my town!
Doc Bollywood has just posted about Suhaag too!
Can we talk about title for a moment? Is it used ironically? My Oxford Hindi-English dictionary says suhaag means "the auspicious state of wifehood." But other than the birth of her children, there is exactly one remotely good thing that happens to Durga (Nirupa Roy) because of her relationship with villain Vikram (Amjad Khan). There are several very bad things: he refuses to recognize their marriage; he refuses to recognize their twin boys or give them any support and therefore they are split up by evil Jaggi (Kader Khan), with one, Kishan (Shashi), being raised in poverty by single Durga and another, Amit (Amitabh), being raised by creepy Jeevan in a bar; the confrontation over this issue causes her father to have a heart attack and die; as adults, her sons are both physically injured by Vikram; and he lies to her, kidnaps her, and abandons her in a car wreck as he flees the police. To quote her dad, Vikram destroyed Durga's life. Yeah, totally auspicious.
Which leads me to my only real problem with this movie. Despite all the wrong and harm that he does - and I haven't even listed his deeds as a general criminal blight on society - Durga goes on and on about how Vikram is her husband and she owes him support and respect and blah blah blah.
Even at the big climatic fight scene at the end, when creepy Jeevan demands payment from Durga to tell her where her long-lost son is, she won't give up her mangal sutra with the rest of her jewelry. "Not this, no. The mangal sutra is my husband's memeto. I can't let it go, no matter what." Oh, the memento of the guy who blinded one of your sons, shot the other in the arm, and kidnapped you just now and brought you into this giant rambling fight? The one who's putting you and all the people you love in all this danger? Yeah, he's a peach. Do be sure you stay with him. Vikram then snatches it from her and says "Mere gold rolled on to this damn thread carries no weight." What possible reason, other than that in name they are married and were never technically separated, though lord knows they are in deed, does Durga have to maintain any sort of connection to or relationship with this man? I know it's 70s Bollywood, but this bothers me. I feel like the movie is saying that it's worse to be an unmarried mother, or a widow, than to put yourself and your loved ones in the path of a violent criminal who, in the 20+ years you have known him (or 41, if we want to go by Shashi's actual age), has given you nothing but financial, physical, and emotional grief and pain.
(On the plus side, the fact that Vikram and Durga are married does prevent any teeth-gnashing over her being "spoiled" or worthless etc.)
I've also been debating with myself over how much I care, and what it says about masala conventions, that sometimes the ironies and coincidences are so predictable and obvious that they're no longer very interesting. What does it mean for us, as viewers, that we expect the least likely thing and it is almost always delivered (and eventually becomes not unlikely at all - in fact, usually requisite)? Discuss amongst yourselves. In Suhaag's defense, of course this debate is not unique to or inherent in this film more notably than most other masala that comes to mind. I just happened to get to this particular stage of philosophizing about masala during this movie, somewhere around the time the two separated twins are almost immediately juxtaposed again.
It's never too soon to find your long-lost son!
As I watched this movie a second time and took notes, I kept writing "O THE IRONY" when really predictable things happened (yes, I am a snarky brat sometimes), like when the son that Durga raised turns out to be the cop and the one that creepy Jeevan (whose character is named Bhaskar, but that's not as evocative as "creepy Jeevan")
raised turns out to be the alcoholic petty criminal. Or when Vikram, while fleeing the police, leaps over a garden wall to find Durga celebrating Karva Chauth. At first I thought, "Using tons of irony, no matter how predictable or ubiquitous the setup, is a way to create dramatic tension and then resolve it, and you know how you like to have things all resolved at the end." But then I thought, "It's not actual tension if I knew it was coming and am certain it will be resolved, and also the repeated use of these tricks can foster some really lazy writing, unsubtle setups, and unnecessary, overworked convolutions." And then I thought, "Well, maybe letting the audience know things that the characters don't is a way to get the audience invested in the story and to feel good about that involvement." But then I thought, "But it's not particularly satisfying or special to be let in on information that you already know, is it?" And then I thought, "Okay, but think how nice it would be if the random people who impact our world and life's seemingly disparate events were all proven to be meaningful and purposeful. What if they all actually have past relationships with us or our inner circle, or have long-sought information and can explain why things have happened the way they have, or lead you to discoveries that make you feel complete, whole, and loved?" And that's when the conventional masala ironies and coincidences won. I'd shake my first at you, Manmohan Desai and Prayag Raj and Kader Khan and Salim-Javed, but I'd rather you just come and write my life.
Suhaag does has brilliant moments of less obvious, smaller-scale ironies. For example, still unaware of who his and Durga's sons have grown out to be, Vikram makes a threatening phone call to the police officer investigating him - who is, of course, Kishan. When Kishan demands to know who's speaking, Vikram growls "Tumhara baap." Hee. What makes this work for me is that it's a throw-away line, an aside. The plot doesn't hinge on it. Earlier in the film, Amit's love interest Basanti (Rekha) sings to him that she will never give in to his proposals, that she'll only leave her dancing if she's in handcuffs. Later, Amit has become a police officer, and as she reveals her tragic back story of poverty and an attack in self-defense against a rapist, he has to arrest her for murder, leading her away in handcuffs.
During the arrest, Amit and Basanti have voice-overs of the song, their sad faces giving the flirting lyrics a new meaning. Sniff. There are some good masala in-jokes and self-contained references, too. Amit repeatedly uses the phrase "You can be sure I'll do X Y Z, or I'm no Amit." Later, Kishan borrows it. In a lengthy conversation about arranging a marriage, it is the mother, not one of the intendeds, who hides behind a tree. Fab!
Other than that, I thought Suhaag was really fun. As people pointed out during the masala polls back in September, this movie has pretty much everything you could ever want. In fact, the rest of this writeup will consist basically of a big list of R(ecommended) M(asala) A(llowance) items and related images and comments. And as other blogs have said in their reviews, a plot summary is pointless, and I think I already blew a gasket working through the issues of female submission and overuse of overblown irony, so a list is probably all I have left in my brain. Here we go!
What's with the shoe theme? In addition to Amit's loopy sandal-as-weapon and accompanying patter,
there's Vikram's shoe-based threat (so it's inherited, maybe?),
Annu (Parveen Babi, in full-on blink-blink Barbie mode, despite being a medical student) leaving her sandals behind in Kishan's jeep, thus providing a clue for Durga that Kishan has finally found a girl,
I like how Durga quotes Amit's line. Self-referential! Woot!
and Annu messing up the housework Durga asks her to do to show Kishan what a fine homemaker she would be.
That's what happens during half of my cooking attempts too.
Oh! And later still, Kishan orders Vikram to make sure his shoes keep talking so that he (Kishan) can use the sound of his (Vikram's) footsteps to keep his (Kishan's) gun trained on Vikram's location. Back to Vikram and his talking shoes! See? That's good irony because it's taut.
Decked-out lair! I always like monumental stair cases and living rooms in Bollywood homes.
A dragon presides over meetings.
Several of you have asked me what I think of Vikram's smokey glass ticket window/puppet theater/cupola. Frankly, I think it's pretty stupid. Even if you couldn't see through the glass, which you can, he usually walks into it from a meeting, so everyone present sees perfectly well who is in there. It would be a lot cooler if it worked like a magician's box - a henchman could spin it, tap on it once, and open the door to reveal that Vikram has disappeared! Also, there's a gap between the dark glass and the wooden base, so you can see part of the person's torso. A serious design flaw.
It doesn't even have any interesting controls in it, does it? No buttons to make the room revolve or rockets fire or chairs tip backward into a lava/piranha/fire pit? Maybe it's supposed to be pointless and just serves to show that Vikram is so rich and powerful that has resources to spare on such frivolities and has no fear of showing his face?
Child alcohol abuse! By which I mean both abuse of alcohol by children and abuse of children via alcohol. Shaaaame, Kader Khan and creepy Jeevan! Poor Kishan, forced to drink in an "evil game of quarters" (great turn of phrase, Doc Bollywood!) to get money to pay for Ma's medicines! Noble Amit, helping his drunken, unbeknownst-to-him brother, then punished with more of the same by creepy Jeevan!
The den of iniquity. Oh how I love this. It's even better than the actual villain lair.
Note the green toothy thing in the background.
Based on decor alone, it's where I picture Teleport City, Todd, House in Rlyeh, and Lurple hanging out, even if they don't deal drugs or lace women's drinks. And while we're at the cartoon haunted house drug den, who invited Björn Borg?
How is it possible to make our Shashi so fugly! I am shocked and appalled!
This is the film of a thousand Shashi faces, as previewed in the sequence of stills of Kishan yelling at Amit. Inspector Kishan is easily ruffled, so a drunk Annu, a meddling mother, a surprise bhangra engagement, and other masala wackadoo bits lead to many funny expressions. He rolls his eyes at least three times in "Main To Beghar Hoon" alone.
I love this bit with Kishan trying help rambling drunk Annu back to the jeep. For once, passers-by seem concerned and intervene when a woman appears to be in danger, so Kishan has to flash his badge to prove he's on the up and up.
Funny, funny fake-pretend potential in-laws doing bhangra in the park that is really in London even though nobody says anything about being in London (or anywhere other than Bombay, for that matter).
I am so going to use that line.
Shashi clinking his bangles!
The very best thing in the whole movie: its generous helping of very fine Shashitabh! So loving! They're such a cute team! Even when each thinks the other is a villain and they fight!
There's even a song celebrating Shashitabh! Wheeeee! I can now die happy.
YEAH YOU ARE! Dil squish, as PPCC would say.
Amitabh is once again really funny. I love the character of Amit, cheery and goofy, a man of both thought and action, a man with a moral code. He worries about his path and his qualities.
He's so pleased with his new respectability! So cute!
And he occasionally breaks the fourth wall.
Yay mini Amitabh in the bottle!
Yay fierce mugging! Yay random jolly dancing! Yay fear of authority!
Are there lots of Sholay references or what? Shoes as a weapon! Coin flipping! Stepping on broken glass as you make a huge sacrifice for one you love! Comic scene of a drunk guy on top of a tall structure threatening suicide!
Durga's house has at least two stuffed and mounted animals in it. I don't really know why I noticed these, other than that they seem incongruous given that this is neither an ancient ancestral home nor a country lodge near good hunting grounds. Also, the way the lion is mounted reminded me a lot of the Ashoka column.
The clothes! Oh how we love our 70s magic masala clothes! Great neckwear!
Yes I do. You're Colonel Sanders.
As Doc Bollywood points out, the first time Shashi appears on screen, you just see his feet in a menacing walk...in black leather pants and cape and carrying a cane. Badass!
Sadly that is the most badass - and most rawr-evoking - that Shashi looks for the rest of the film. It's downhill from here almost immediately. Oh my stars. The open shirt, the high-waisted pants....
Just another everyday conversation.....
Ah, the helicopter. Actually, my favorite part of this sequence is that Amit is wearing a yellow t-shirt emblazoned with a classic 70s smiley face and the words "KISS ME."
Durga hasn't exactly had an easy life, but she hasn't suffered as long or as much as other Nirupa mas we've met. Her relationship with the son she raised is so cute and affectionate.
And Nirupa actually has some lines that aren't just wailing or pleading! She gets to be funny!
Rekha looks super pretty here, with quite possibly the best hair ever.
Sadly neither she nor Parveen has a lot to do.
Valuable life lesson: never go upstairs with Ranjeet.
My favorite exposition-of-a-written-letter ploy: ghostly face of the writer reads her words!
Questionable medicine: how does being hit on the head by a chandelier cause blindness?
Sanket, can you help us out with this one?
Annu's hostel has posters from Grease and lots of Elvis. I'm really delighted by the juxtaposition of Elvis with Amitabh Bachchan
Somehow it speaks to the well-orderedness of the cosmos, don't you think?
Despite excellent Shashitabhity (Shashitabhness? Shashitabhiance? Shashitabhiality?), Suhaag has not dislodged Parvarish from my top masala spot. I just wasn't quite on board with all of it. In addition to my problems discussed above, its heroines lack oomph and are not remotely used to their full potential, which means it will never get full marks from me. However, it has some really nice touches - a more well-rounded ma, some loony lines, a good serving of small but satisfying jokes in addition to the larger comic threads, and very fine songs (oops! I forgot to talk about those. They're really good, especially "Aye Yaar Sun"). It's solid masala goodness with a few sublimely cute and silly moments and a lot to enjoy throughout.