Hum Aapke Hain Koun, 1994

HAHK (source: webmusicltd)

HAHK (source: musichouseltd)

Directed and screenplay by Sooraj Barjatya

This is my favorite Bollywood movie and one of my favorite movies in general (there’s my bias). The film was criticized at the time of release for not having a plot—for being merely a vehicle for the 14 songs, for being merely a wedding video.  I see their point, sort of. Anyone can be a critic. It’s more fun here to describe why I love it:

  1. Characterization. Rather than promoting a character by some standard description at the beginning of the film and then abandoning that description once the plot gets underway, this film practices through-characterization. The personalities and characteristics of the characters contribute just as much to the essence of the movie as the plot—perhaps more. The reason I love it is certainly because I love the characters. Here are only a few examples:
    1. Nisha and Pooja’s dad: Professor Choudhury loves to cook. The first time we see him, he is experimenting with a new recipe. This is treated in an offhand matter, supporting the more up-front movements of the characters. Pooja interacts with his cooking in a natural way, making it subtly clear that the family treasures this aspect of him, indulges him in it, and counts it as one of the foundations of their family. The Professor’s cooking comes up several more times in the film, sometimes in the background, sometimes to move a slight plot point forward (both his daughters are good cooks, too), and sometimes just to contribute to characterization on other levels. The Professor’s cooking is one of the balls swatted back and forth during a scene where Mrs. C. is upset with the Professor (but in a loving way, not an angry way).
    2. Nisha: The first time we hear about Nisha, we learn that she is the only one who can reason with her father, who can be stubborn in addition to acting very silly (in the way that dads are wont to do). Then we see her coming down the halls of her father’s college on roller skates. This is a pretty obvious way to show that she is still childlike, energetic, and playful at age 20 (or so), but it works. We see her skating again quite a bit later, and a roller skate in her room provides a push to one part of the plot. She loves candy—again, a little obvious, but used consistently (even becoming the center of one of her songs). The other ways she is still youthful are shown and are more realistic; many of us can identify with wanting to be with the group of kids at a traditional holiday celebration, and this is what Nisha does at a wedding—she leads the pack of little girls in the shoe-stealing tradition. Her other characteristics are more subtle and realistic, like how she needles Prem when she thinks he is only a flirt.
    3. Prem and his aunt: Prem is always flirting with his aunt who is a doctor. You can tell he has been doing it for many years, and the aunt kind of asks for it and eggs him on by scolding him with good humor. These two characters have such fun rapport; it’s almost as if she is his older sister, the way he keeps teasing her. It is a way to show how Prem’s teasing of women is harmless (though misconstrued as the opposite at first by Nisha). He teases her every time they are together, not just once.
    4. Pooja’s and Rajesh’s painting hobbies: This is first presented to the characters as a similarity between them; Pooja’s paintings are used twice as a push forward in their relationship; later, Rajesh’s paintings are used as a push forward in Nisha and Prem’s relationship. The paintings introduce another characteristic of Prem’s, that of his music-playing, and this is a point the comes up many more times in the movie.
    5. Two sets of loving families: The plot of HAHK is simple, especially compared to other Bollywoods, which I have admired on this site for being novel instead of short story-like. Prem and Nisha fall in love during the courtship, marriage, and gestation/birth of the first child between Prem’s brother and Nisha’s sister. Nisha’s father is a successful professor and his family of four is close. Prem’s adoptive father is very well off as well, and their family of the two orphaned brothers, the adoptive father, and the various extended family in and out of their house are very close. The families banter, coo, hug, tease, and know each other’s peculiarities with clarity and fondness. Critics should not underestimate the power (and skill needed) of presenting these relationships so they appear natural and genuine. Even Hollywood movies rarely succeed at this, and when they do, the movie is generally written off as a light comedy, no awards necessary (I’m thinking in particular of While You Were Sleeping). Genuine is hard to achieve. I don’t know that I would call the acting in this movie dramatic, but it feels real. I may have more of an affinity for it since it feels similar to my own family rapport.
  2. Falling in love believably: Rarely does a movie anywhere take time to show you a couple falling in love in believable and real ways. In this film, we see how Prem’s rambunctious-ness is misinterpreted by Nisha as rampant flirtatiousness. He is not the person she thinks he is, and unlike most films which might start in this manner, we are shown from the beginning that he is a thoughtful, loving person and that his flirtatiousness is just an outgrowth of his joyful nature. Nisha still teases and likes him as a person instead of becoming completely offended and acting all snotty. The movie takes its time showing how these two become friends and then more than friends. They do this under the radar of everyone except Prem’s best friend, and they do it somewhat under the radar of the movement of the film, since the songs usually happen because of a major life event in Nisha’s sister’s life, not Nisha’s. I just haven’t seen many films that succeed at a romantic relationship whilst busying itself with other duties close at hand.
  3. Music: As I stated in my review of Maine Pyar Kiya, it’s so hard to believe the same composer wrote the songs for both movies. HAHK has a whopping 14 songs, and each one is a gem. RamLaxman achieved his magnum opus with this film—there can be no argument. Each melody is pleasing and affective in its according emotion (sadness, joy, sadness & joy). During the wedding ceremony is one of my favorites: “Joote de do.” It shows the North Indian wedding ritual of girls stealing the groom’s shoes and demanding a ransom for them. The entire song is brilliantly choreographed, and I don’t mean just the parts where they are dancing together (which is definitely of the frontality aesethetic of Bollywood)—I mean how the people have been told to move around the set and where the camera focuses at certain times, etc. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere. During the last part of the wedding ceremony, the bride’s “thought voice” sings about how she is leaving her old life, the family she loves, and how her husband is her god now. She is happy but oh so sad, and the actress playing the sister shows the perfect expression for these thoughts. It’s a very tender moment all around. Tenderness—an underrated virtue. During a “baby shower,” there is a ridiculous song called “Didi tera devar deewana.” This was the most famous of all the famous songs from this film, and it is catchy, but the antics the girls get up to are just so silly. This is the only part of the film where it really crosses the line with silliness, but I still feel it is okay, since we’re going by Bollywood aesthetics here. It is totally the kind of silliness I get up to with my own sisters, so it’s not even like it isn’t realistic. My other favorite songs are “Pehla pehla” and “Maye ne Maye.” As in Bobby, a few times during the songs we are shown what the characters are imagining, and this works—as opposed to a dream or fantasy sequence.
  4. Inside jokes: Every relationship has its own language of past interactions and humor. Prem and Nisha meet in a situation where she is coughing to imitate her father’s colleugue; after that, they cough to each other as a way of announcing it is them, teasing the other, and acknowledging their affection. Other inside jokes help show more about their deepening friendship. It is most natural to have little phrases one tosses back and forth with loved ones that eventually make no sense to anyone else but seem like part of the language to those using them. Another of my favorite inside jokes is when Prem says he will become a sage if Nisha doesn’t marry him. Later, when she has lost a game and must do what he requests her to do, she refuses, so he turns around and sits like a sage. No one else notices, but it causes her to decide to do what he told her—make up a new song. The song she sings is about a girl who has fallen in love with a sage. In this way, the two get double enjoyment—love and the secret of it.
  5. Costumes: During the wedding, Nisha wears a green gangra choli. After the movie came out, these became extremely popular. It’s not hard to see why. No matter what your fashion sensibility, that is a timeless piece of fashion beauty. All the outfits Madhuri wears are beautiful and entirely suit her. I can’t say the same for Salman’s wardrobe, which is sort of like Balky from Perfect Strangers if his tailor had been on crack, but hey, it was the early 90’s, so it sort of just adds to the charm. I don’t think Madhuri ever wears two outfits that are the same color. During the green choli scene, the other women are wearing different shades of green. This helps her dress stand out even more.
  6. Acting: I said it before and I’ll say it again: you can’t discount acting like this just because it isn’t heavy drama. It takes a special skill to come off on screen as if you are moving and speaking like that is what you would naturally do, no script in sight. All of the characters achieve this. Even when it’s clear the director told them to make a silly, surprised facial expression, it doesn’t feel false. In fact, I think most people’s faces are much more expressive than anyone’s on film (I know mine is—that’s partially why I wouldn’t make a good actress). Again, I am biased because this is often how my family would act. I want to point out again Madhuri and Salman’s talent in this movie. Their types of characters may have been used in other films, but most actors wouldn’t be able to inhabit those characters to the level of realness that these two do. I think if Madhuri had been a Hollywood actress—or been an actress during the 50’s in Bollywood—she would have had more roles that exploited her talent.
  7. The Camera’s Gaze: Perhaps because this movie only covers the time period of a little more than a year, the camera can gaze for much longer onto its subjects. This allows us to see more good acting playing out, as opposed having to catch a quick facial expression and then get on with the story. You really feel the cameraman loves everyone, especially Madhuri and Salman. It lingers on their faces and their faces do not disappoint. I saw this movie before Khalnayak, and that is why I was surprised at how much less talented of an actress Madhuri seemed in that film—until I figured out this issue of the camera’s gaze. It’s like when Judy Garland felt beautiful for the first time when Vincent filmed her for Meet Me in St. Louis, or the home-movie clips at the beginning of Meet the Parents where you can tell the man behind the camera loves Juliet (and those clips were filmed by her then-husband). It makes a difference, just like it makes a difference in writing, when the director both knows his/her artistic vision and loves to gaze at the characters in the vision.

To be fair, I must warn you that there is a major flaw with this movie, and it is not that it has no conflict, as some critics said (the families all got along; no one was poor; etc). The problem is the conflict, which comes for the last half hour or so of the movie. I won’t give it away, but it’s so implausible. I am still trying to think of different ways it could end where a conflict could still bring about the same type of desperation we are briefly exposed to. I don’t know the answer. I just know that the implausible conflict does bring in to a play a beautiful part of Prem and Nisha’s characters. Some people say every great novel has one major flaw (or a flawed ending, or some such pronouncement).

Tidbits: This movie was the first to not release its video version before the film was released (releasing the video simultaneously was a common attempt at curbing piracy). Because of this and because the movie was great, it broke all box office records, and the record held for about ten more years. An Indian artist supposedly saw this movie 100 times and then made his own movie in a tribute to Indian womanhood, starring and meant to be Madhuri Dixit.

Rating: , only because I love it so much my sight is a little blinded. In fact, I think I know it is cheesy. But I just can’t help myself. Sometimes love just isn’t rational. I don’t know if other people would take to it as immediately as I did. At least there are no fight scenes. The songs are all well-integrated into the plot and well-structured. I want to give it 5, but I just don’t know. I’m not alone in loving this: here is another person’s take:

Library Collection: Again, I would say collect it for any purpose, and that isn’t a biased answer—it is historically important, and it is one of the most popular films of all time, so it would most likely be requested.

© 2009 Jill Wohlgemuth

About jillbrary

Spirit of the woods
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