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Doli Saja Ke Rakhna (India, 1998)

My rating: +2 (Loved it)
Bechdel Test:
2 out of 3 (possibly you could say there’s a conversation between two mothers that is not entirely about men, but since it’s mainly about an upcoming wedding which does involve a man, I’m not going to count it)
Director: Priyadarshan
Music:
A.R. Rahman
Cast
Akshaye KhannaJyothikaAnupam Kher, Amrish Puri, Paresh Rawal, Moushumi Chatterjee, Aruna Irani
Plot: A love story in which the lovers’ families very violently show their dissapproval.

About the film

Bollywood (particularly in the 1990s) has done a lot of melodramatic beating scenes – the hero proving his love by getting beaten up to a pulp and that sort of thing. I get a bizarre sort of enjoyment out of them. There’s probably many strange reasons for this (and judging by how popular this theme is, I can’t be the only one). But I think my love of melodrama and dislike of the whole macho ideal play into this a lot.
This film doesn’t disappoint on that count 😉 The hero and in some scenes also his sidekicks go through a loooot of beatings and other indignities. There’s a beautiful fantasy dance sequence in which the heroine is reading a novel and imagining herself as the princess and the hero as the peasant boy. Even in this fantasy, the hero must go through a certain amount of indignity and violence before he gets the girl –  the sultan-like figure sentences him to death and the hero is trussed up and blindfolded as he awaits his beheading.
I really enjoy watching Akshaye Khanna getting beaten up on screen (weird, but true).  Like with everything else he does – he’s very earnest in those scenes. There’s no attempt to make the scenes more dignified, he just earnestly goes through with them and for me there’s something very beautiful about that.

But the beatings aren’t the only highlight of the film 😉 It features one of the most wonderfully awkward first date scenes ever. They end up talking about the weather and have amazing lines like “Do you watch weather forecasts?”. The date is interrupted just as the hero decides he must show the heroine some grass seeds and is crawling on his hands and knees in front of her, trying to find some.
The second date doesn’t disappoint on wonderfully awkward lines either (Inder tries to find out how she feels about kissing).

I really appreciate the scene in which the hero asks her if she loves him back. A lot of the time in Bollywood the hero assumes that if he tries hard enough he will win the girl over, so he doesn’t necessarily ask or take a no answer seriously. Inder asks and there’s a sense that if Pallavi says no, he will walk away from the relationship, even though he’s completely stricken with her and has by this point already taken some nasty beatings from her brothers.

What really stunned me though is the second half of the film.  It has many of the problems that second halves of 90s Bollywood romances usually do. The first half tends to be there for them to fall in love and set up the drama that will make their love difficult. The second is when all the family drama comes together with lots of soap operaish melodrama and far-fetched scenarios.
Dola Saja Ke Rakhna is the first film I’ve seen that has all of that non-sensical second half drama happening and yet it didn’t bother me. If anything, I got a bigger emotional kick out of the second half than I did from the first.
SPOILER ALERT! (select the whitespace to view the text) In the middle of the second half, the lovers make a rather unusual decision. Having eloped together after some nasty happenings, they then change their minds and decide to give up on their love and return to their families. The scene in which they talk this over is really intense. By this point they’ve been completely shunned by both their families and both are heart-broken at the thought of having to remain away from their families for the rest of their lives. When the heroine asks the question “Should we separate?”  it’s an amazing moment. What’s even more amazing is that in some ways they separate out of love for each other – they don’t want to see the other partner so unhappy. And if the English subtitles are to be believed, they even use the word “possessive” to describe the love of their families when they try to make sense of why all of this is happening to them. For me it was a really beautiful scene and an amazing contrast of two kinds of loves – the possessive kind their families feel for them and the pure, non-possessive kind they feel for each other.
And then there’s the scene towards the end of the film that blew me away. The heroine is serving drinks to both her own and Inder’s families. Finally, just one glass remains on the tray – she has to take it to Inder and face him in front of everybody without being able to express any of the love they’ve given up on. It’s a very awkward moment. A lot of discomfort passes through the room. All the two of them do is look at each other, but it’s so so beautiful and so much emotion passes between them.
Eventually, the families do finally recognise their children’s love for what it is. It turns out that just as the two lovers didn’t want to make each other unhappy by separating from their families, their families don’t want to make the two of them unhappy either. It’s a very convoluted path to get to a happy ending! END SPOILER

Like with most 90s Bollywood films, the film has that air of a low budget and poor production quality. That said, it is actually better quality than the average film of that era. They certainly had some very good ideas for shots and cuts.
One of my personal favourites is the first beating Inder and his two sidekicks receive. It’s quite unusual to do a beating scene in one shot, but that’s how they play it out. The camera shoots the action on one particular bit of wall. One after the other, each of the three people receiving the beating get thrown at that wall and then hit with enough “force” to remove them from the frame. Each of them has their shirt in a different state of disarray when they appear in shot which IMO adds to the whole choreography of it somehow. It’s nicely done.

The music in this film is a bit of a disappointment. I have a soft spot for A.R. Rahman – he really does help movies come to life, even when he’s not at his best (as is the case in this film). Nonetheless, the soundtrack does have an air of having been quickly put together. The music in this film was, apparently, originally used by A.R. Rahman in a Tamil movie and simply reused here.

Finally, most of the acting is of really high standard in this film. Unfortunately, I think the writing isn’t of high enough standard to really show off the skills of the actors 😛 But if you look beyond the writing and Bollywood clichés then there are some interesting performances.
This was the first time for me to see Jyothika, which is hardly surprising considering this was the only Hindi film she ever made. These days she can be seen mainly in Tamil films, though she’s made appearances in other languages as well.
What I most loved about her on screen is that I totally understood why the hero might be so stricken with her. Although she has none of the glamour that I usually associate with leading ladies in Bollywood, there’s something so shy, soft and adorable about her that I really had no trouble believing the hero could fall in love at first sight.
Besides that, she put in a very subtle and nuanced performance – even the most melodramatic scenes have a lot of restraint.
I loved Akshaye Khanna in this as well. It’s a very early role of his, but you can see he was already a very conscious performer. When he’s at his best, he really adds in a lot of detail. In the beating scenes, for example, his sidekicks are just acting out being hit, whereas he’s also playing out what’s going through Inder’s head – stuff like wondering where the next punch is going to come from.
I’m happy to have seen another romance with Akshaye Khanna where the chemistry between him and the heroine really works. Maybe I’m just being fussy, but in most of the films I’ve seen, I’ve not liked his romantic chemistry much. Not only that, but this is the first time I’ve liked his chemistry with a leading lady that is very shy and delicate rather than strong and forceful. There’s really a lot of beautifully tender and awkward moments between them.
Anupam Kher shows off why he’s so well respected as an actor. There are some really tender father-son scenes between him and Akshaye Khanna. I particularly liked the melodramatic one when he sees Inder after a really bad beating. It’s a shame that Anupam Kher’s role really isn’t written that well – the father’s actions feel very inconsistent and good acting can only go so far to fix those problems.
Amrish Puri is in a completely non-villainous role for once (he is a fisherman, the father of one of Inder’s friends), which is really weird but interesting. One thing that comes across is how powerful his on-screen presence is. In some ways I appreciate that even more seeing him in a role like this.
Paresh Rawal is somebody who I’ve really warmed up to during my Akshaye Khanna retrospective (they star opposite each other a lot). He’s at his best when he gets to do a lot nuance, which he has quite a bit of in this film. As Pallavi’s oldest brother he juggles a deep love for his sister with a deep dislike of Inder and rage at his sister when she falls for Inder anyway. Again, the writing is the not the most graceful at handling some of the contradictory things he does, but IMO you can see Paresh Rawal’s class as an actor all the same.
The two mothers (Moushumi Chatterjee and Aruna Irani) of the hero and heroine also put in good performances, though they are both rather on the sidelines for most of the film.

Overall, this is probably not exactly a great film, but it happens to totally rub me the right way and it does have some interesting things about it. It flopped when it originally came out and many people seem to hate it, but there is a small group of people (that clearly includes me) who absolutely love it.

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