On Valentine's Day, revisiting ten 'love' moments in Hindi films, from The Namesake to Laal Kaptaan
This list attempts to take a broader look at a moment of shared intimacy, which might not necessarily be just about expressing love, but even reminisce about its beauty.
It's that day when Yash Chopra told us we would meet our 'soul mates'. Valentine's Day has been the subject of many campus romances, where young men and women have been encouraged to wear their heart on their sleeves. Hindi cinema, in spite of its reputation of being majorly about 'love stories', has rarely seen sincere and deeply-felt romances off late. It's a bit like the Indian cricket team's reputation at playing spin on rank turners in the subcontinent. Rarely has 'love' delivered on the big screen, where it isn't a teary-eyed Shah Rukh Khan breaking into a monologue on a railway station. This list attempts to take a broader look at a moment of shared intimacy, which might not necessarily be just about expressing love, but even reminisce about its beauty.
Here are the 10 most effervescent moments on screen since 2000, that singlehandedly popped the 'love' quotient of a Hindi film:
Monsoon Wedding - PK Dubey's proposal for Alice
Arguably the most sincere love track in a (semi) Hindi film since 2000, PK Dubey (Vijay Raaz) and Alice's (Tilottama Shome) love story culminates into (what can only be described as) a heart-melting proposal scene. Raaz is pitch perfect as the hard-nosed wedding contractor who likes cutting corners, and bullshits his clients as if it were his second nature. But this put-on persona falls apart each time Dubey sees Alice, the domestic help of the Verma mansion. A middle-aged man living in a congested neighbourhood of Delhi with a mother who has all but given up on her dreams of 'playing with grandchildren', Dubey becomes so infatuated with Alice's seeming simplicity and innocence, that he begins to feel something that he probably hasn't allowed himself to feel in more than a decade. So it's only understandable that love not only makes him a 'better man' (he follows up on most of his promises to the Mehra wedding), but also uses his genda phool sensibility to sweep Alice off her feet. In the end, as the skies cut loose and the Mehra family celebrates their daughter's wedding after a tumultuous week of tragedies and heartbreak, it's heartening to see Dubey and Alice join the celebrations as a groom and bride to be.
Swades - when Gita helps Mohan tie his dhoti
It's rather strange that Shah Rukh Khan, Hindi cinema's unofficial 'king of romance', was at the height of his (post-2000) rom-com hero powers in what's widely considered his most 'topical' film. Director Ashutosh Gowariker is beautifully reined-in about the underlying sexual tension between Mohan (Khan) and Gita (Gayatri Joshi), that gradually escalates from infatuation, harmless flirting, into a full-blown Bollywood romance, replete with tears and longing. And it's all reflected perfectly in a moment that involves Mohan, Gita and a dhoti. Mohan wants to wear a dhoti to the Dusshera celebrations, but doesn’t know how. Instead of Kaveri Amma (Kishori Ballal), it is Gita who comes to his aid. Mohan, despite reservations about Gita’s skills, is asked to stand quietly and follow instructions. This scene, where Gita neatly folds the pleats of his dhoti, getting closer to him one pleat at a time, plays out on a knife's edge. It could have very easily left a bad taste in the largely 'family viewers' of Hindi cinema, but it doesn’t. Gita's poise in this scene, feels like payback for an entire generation of women, whose twirling sarees have been used as props for titillation in Hindi cinema. A special word for Rahman's background score (which is sensational throughout) in this particular scene, where he uses a tabla beat to underline the naughty undertone, as Mohan stands around, blushing.
The Namesake - the scene in Victoria Memorial
The 2006 film is one of the most wholesome film adaptations, where director Mira Nair manages to distill the flavour of Jhumpa Lahiri's near-invisible details of a Bengali (and as an extension, Indian) households in America. And yet, one of the most memorable things in the film was Ashoke (a career-best Irrfan) and Ashima Ganguli's (Tabu) shy romance. We've rarely seen such a nuanced depiction of middle-aged romance in an Indian household - one that's limited to subtle nudges, stolen glances and (sometimes) quiet disagreements - all of which stays hidden from the children. Ashoke and Ashima's love story isn't one that happened at first sight, but one that's gradually happened while building a life together over many, many years. To a point, that they never really get the chance to verbalise their love for each other until about two decades after being married to each other. It's during an evening walk in the Victoria Memorial gardens, that Ashima prods the question to Ashoke 'Do you want me to say 'I love you?' Like the Americans do?' To which Ashoke breaks into a wide smile and says 'Haan' (yes in Bengali). Until then, Ashima's only way of professing her love to Ashoke had been to remember how he likes a small portion of dal and rice, to finish off every meal.
Band Baaja Baraat - when Bittu and Shruti kiss
Hindi cinema's kissing has often been sloppy. and that's where Maneesh Sharma's Band Baaja Baraat scored over other films. Starring two relative fresh actors from the YRF stable (Ranveer Singh's first film and Anushka Sharma's third film), Sharma managed to mine this moment in a way where it never looked manufactured. Bittu (Singh) and Shruti (Sharma) have really hit the big leagues in their business, it's turned into an all-night rager. One by one everyone leaves the office, as a medley of YRF's biggest dance hits keep playing in the background. At one point, there's only Bittu and Shruti, who seem drunk beyond their wits. Shruti extends her neck and buries her face into Bittu's chest. They hug, and just like that they kiss. In a place, where moments like these have usually been inter-cut to cross-pollinating flowers, lightning strikes and other such visuals, this one's fairly straight forward without necessarily appearing contrived. To both Singh and Sharma's credit, they manage to leave behind their movie star (who are they dating?) baggage, and immerse themselves into the reality of Shruti and Bittu. The scene is treated in a very matter-of-fact way, much like how both Shruti and Bittu treat it in their own respective lives. Long before it became popular, this was the first indication of a 'new India'.
Rockstar - 'Aur Ho'
Imtiaz Ali's less-than-convincing portrait of a homegrown rockstar and his tragic love story, is enshrined with a song so full of passion, that it becomes impossible to be dismissive of it. Jordan has made his way to Prague, where he will be collaborating with a Czech opera singer (Alma Ferovic), and emerges the song of an all-consuming love affair. Mohit Chauhan's vocals are on fire in this song, as the passionate affair between Jordan (Ranbir Kapoor) and Heer (Nargis Fakhri) engulfs everything within its reach. Rahman's melody is full of rage, longing and a primal desire for their loved one's touch. Beyond right and wrong, there's a field - this song breathes life into Rumi's famous quote.
Lootera - Intermission match-cut
There should be little doubt in anyone's mind that Vikramaditya Motwane's Lootera is one of the most confidently mounted Hindi love stories in the last 20 years. Partially inspired from a short story as well known as The Last Leaf, Motwane weaves enough authenticity into his setting and his two lead characters, which makes us hold our breath for this tragic love story even though we know what to expect. And one of the high points of this meticulously-staged period romance, is its interval scene. We're told about Varun's (Ranveer Singh) betrayal beforehand, and we even see both Varun and Dev (Vikrant Massey) tip-toe their way out of the Ray-Chaudhuri mansion. But it's in Motwane's exceptional staging how he manages to bring the film's tragedy to the forefront. As the idols are found to be stolen, Motwane (with the help of some noir background score by Amit Trivedi) efficiently cuts to the Zamindar (Barun Chanda) discovering a tunnel (in pure Shawshank fashion!), to discovering that all the currency notes he got for selling his valuables were fake. Meanwhile, as Varun enters a Calcutta club to meet his mentor (Arif Zakaria), Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) sees her distraught father. Amit Trivedi's main theme begins to play, and Motwane cuts between the four faces of Zakaria, Chanda, Sinha and Singh's seething stare. Nothing is said, and yet, everyone knows by now that Pakhi's 'fairytale' has been lost forever.
Masaan - Balloon scene
In a time, where every second filmmaker is venturing into making a 'small-town' romance, none have been able to bring an authenticity to it like Neeraj Ghaywan did to Deepak and Shalu's in Masaan. So it's hardly surprising that while many have often spoken about the film's cult heartbreak scene, where Deepak screams 'Yeh dukh kaahe khatam nahi hota be', the film also delivers one of the most giddy-with-excitement scenes about love at first sight. Deepak, like any boy growing up in a small town in the late 2000s, expresses his interest in a girl by sending her a 'friend request'. He also slides into her inbox and asks her if she would be visiting the Durga Puja celebrations. While at the Durga Puja pandal, both Deepak and Shalu stick to their respective groups, sizing each other from a distance. They bump into each other at a balloon stall, where he picks up the exact same balloon that Shalu has bought. In a moment of pure naive romance, Deepak pops the question by releasing his balloon in the air. There's a thin chance that Shalu will spot the balloon, let alone recognise it and understand what Deepak implies with it. As Swanand Kirkire's languorous vocals reach 'Tu Kisi Rail Se Guzarti Hai...' there's a momentary pause, and Deepak notices another balloon in the air. He's got his answer, and it's yes. Kirkire's vocals breathe the next 'Main Kisi Pul Sa Thartharata hoon', and the boys don't even attempt to hide their happiness for their friend.
Rangoon - Shahid Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut crawling in the mud
Vishal Bhardwaj's Rangoon was almost unhinged in its ambition, trying to place a love-triangle at the heart of a revisionist independence-struggle film. Add to that, the whole new angle of doing justice to a character heavily inspired by one of Indian cinema's early stuntwomen, Fearless Nadia, and the wheels were always going to come off by the end. However, it does give us one of the sexiest moments on screen, where a drunk Shahid Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut, crawl in the mud, playfully smack each other in the face, and then make passionate love. Bhardwaj films it exquisitely too, keeping the flirtatious energy alive through the scene, never making it look clumsy and half-hearted. The actors too, Kapoor and Ranaut, fully submit to their director's cause, therefore leaving us with one of the aesthetically shot love-making scenes in the last 20 years.
Aligarh boat scene - "Love, it's a beautiful word"
Hansal Mehta's film about a professor dismissed because of his sexual orientation, begins on a shocking note. It strips its protagonist, Ramchandra Siras (Manoj Bajpayee), off of every last shred of dignity. Bajpayee's performance as Siras is vulnerable, and it peaks during a revealing scene on a boat. Journalist Deepu Sebastian (Rajkummar Rao) asks him if he was ever forced to get married, and he openly discusses his failed marriage. Not because of his sexual orientation, but because of his overall lack of interest. The conversation slowly meanders to the man he was 'caught' with. "Do you think he was in on it? Was he your lover?", Sebastian asks point-blank. The professor winces at the young scribe's haste to label the characters in his life-story, and how he easily he trivialises a bond. Especially for a gay man, sentenced to a lifetime of loneliness. The scene ends with Sebastian asking for a selfie with Siras, and telling him that he's a really 'nice-looking' man. Siras blushes, casually dismisses Sebastian's compliments with a polite "thank you". It's apparent he doesn't trust these words, which he hasn't heard in a long time.
Laal Kaptaan - "Save me a place in hell, brother"
Navdeep Singh's Laal Kaptaan is a misfire of epic proportions, in spite of an intriguing premise and an agonisingly committed performance by Saif Ali Khan. Despite its best efforts, Singh's film never quite builds the illusion of 19th century India, where everyone is scrambling for their piece of a pie called India. And yet, it's in the film's last scene that Singh manages to unlock the 'masala' quotient of this old school revenge tale. When Gossain (Saif Ali Khan) finally brings justice to Rehmat Khan (Manav Vij), he reveals that he's actually his long-lost and presumed-to-be-dead brother. He was rescued by a tribe of Naga sadhus, and since then he has thirsted for his brother's betrayal. Right before the noose around Rehmat Khan's neck is tightened, he tells Gossain "my son will avenge my death one day. I'll see you in hell." To which Saif Ali Khan's character does something unexpected. He grabs Rehmat Khan with both his hands and kisses him on both cheeks and says, "save me a place in hell, brother." It's the rare masala moment in this ambitious-but-underachieving film, that pops. We feel their shared horror of the past, whose trauma they’ve never been able to outrun. Had Laal Kaptaan begun with this revelation in the beginning, we might have seen an entirely different film. What a pity, that the rest of the film isn't as great as this one moment between Saif Ali Khan and Manav Vij.
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