Monday, April 18, 2011

Review of “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun”

As in Ghosh’s review, I can understand why critics refer to “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” as “fourteen songs and a funeral.” Much screen time is devoted to song and dance, celebration, and happy conversation between the two families. Overall, the plot is formulaic and I think it lacks originality and the controversy that has made the other Bollywood films we have watched captivating. However, it is supposed to be a family film and fulfills this role well. Social norms are not threatened and the viewer goes away feeling that all is right in the world. For the purpose of this class, I think it gives us even more insight into Indian family life and culture. It also presents us with another version of a joint Indian family, this one being heavily idealized.
There is remarkably little animosity or instances of underhanded tricks in “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun,” unlike the last two movies we watched. The instances of trickery, such as when Rashej is not told why they are taking the trip and when the girls steal the shoes, are, like the rest of the film, lighthearted and good-natured. The film is full of touching moments, as when Prem does not want Rashej to go abroad on his behalf so near to Pooja’s delivery. Pooja and Rashej respond by telling Prem that they are doing it to help his future and they have nothing to worry about with Prem watching over Pooja. These moments are most exemplified in the game of “musical pillows,” when the characters go around the circle praising one another. Similarly, the characters present each other with gifts at every meeting and good-bye. The merging family we are presented with is almost ridiculously affectionate and loving. It is almost as if the union is meant to occur, as the family patriarchs were close friends in college.
Like many of the other films we have watched (“Devdas,” “Gadar”), “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” represents the idealized, romanticized world of extremely wealthy Indian families. Unlike either “Devdas” or “Gadar,” this film does not contain families of different social classes leading to a prevention of marriage and the ultimate heartbreak of the main characters. A love film at it’s center, “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” it is a story of simple, straighforward love between two young couples. The untimely death of Pooja is the only instance of tragedy in the film. Though the families’ desire to have Nisha marry Rashej causes some anguish, the situation is ultimately rectified by Nisha and Prem’s love, as well as the respect the characters have for one another. Nisha’s willingness to give up her love for Prem in order to help her niece and family is just one more example of the familial love and respect seen in “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun.”
Ghosh points out that the story largely takes place within the family’s home and garden. The few non-members of the family - the dog, family friends, and the servants - are treated as members of the family and warmly welcomed. Overall, the characters get along perfectly and only disagree when pretending to refuse each others’ presents. Even Rita’s unrequited love for Prem serves to increase the audience’s like for Prem, rather than being presented as tragic. As Rita is obviously not good enough for Prem, the story is set up for a young woman who is. All of these factors are similar to Hollywood family films. However, the setting of the film further exemplifies the utopia that Bharucha discusses. By removing the chaos and reality of life outside the family’s walls, the audience is also able to forget this reality and be transported to the idyllic world the characters occupy. Even the temple, which does exist outside of the home, is placed out of its context and exists solely as a location for the beginnings of Rashej and Pooja’s love story.
Much of the story’s plot development takes place during the songs. For example, we learn that Pooja is pregnant during the song “Dikhtana.” Nisha and Prem’s love is also developed in song, specifically when they are in his car and he sings “Mausum Ka Jadu” and their explaining their love for one another in “Mujhse Juda Hokar.” Pooja’s and Rashej’s love is similarly first described in “Wah Wah Ramji.” So, though critics accuse the film of being nothing but “14 songs and a funeral,” they should consider how integral these songs are for the plot. In song, the characters are able to elucidate emotions that would sound silly or corny outside of the song. However, the theme of the songs grow redundant as the film progresses and the audience begins to notice that they are all singing about uncomplicated love.
I think Ghosh’s review overplays the “undercurrents of erotic tension.” Though there is flirtatious behavior between characters who are not married or supposed to be flirting, I think this is as far as it goes. I do not believe the characters would allow their friendly banter to lead to any inappropriate actions. Rather, the characters have a lot of affection for one another and this banter is yet another way of presenting it to the audience.
Bharucha’s article about the film takes quite a different approach, considering the film vacuous and perpetuating the homogenity and unnecessary splendor of the upper class. I agree with this accusation - the family home is enormous and luxurious, a sad opposite to the reality of the vast majority of Indian families. This is exemplified in the film’s use of food. Like Bharucha discussed, food is a pervasive character throughout the film, reiterating the wealth and splendor of the family. With the gift-giving and luxurious home, this is just another example of the utopic world the film operates within.
However, it is important to consider - from purely an economic standpoint - how many fewer of those families the film is marketed towards would have paid to see the film had it been set in a less splendid home. Like the draw of masala films, audiences look for something different and exciting in their entertainment that they do not experience in their everyday life. We should also look at what the family’s lifestyle is suggesting to the audience, though. Is this just another example of American consumerism spreading throughout the world? Does the harmonious and blessed home life that Rashej and Prem enjoy lead the viewer to covet material wealth, so that they too can enjoy a similar life? My western perspective suggests yes, but I am not sure that someone with an emic Indian perspective would agree.
I also agree with Bharucha that the film is banal. There are no controversial elements and the story is very predictable. Rashej and Pooja, as well as Prem and Nisha, are so immediately attracted to one another that they hardly have a storyline. I found myself wondering how no one in either family recognized Prem and Nisha’s relationship earlier. Though Pooja’s sudden death was startling, it did not lead to an interesting plot. Rather, there was a short funeral where everyone was appropriately observant and then the family immediately set to finding a mother for Pooja’s baby. Nisha was the obvious choice, so she was chosen. Her love for Prem was equally obvious, and it too won out in the end.
The scene where Lallu is called away for a family illness was really interesting to me. Unlike the rest of the film, there is a hint of conflict. When Bindu suggests to Pooja that the telegram might be a scam, it says a lot about the culture the characters live in. Bindu would not have questioned the motives of a member of the two main families, yet her discriminatory classism leads her to immediately be suspicious of a servant being given money without proof of its destination. This prejudice is not addressed, instead, Pooja’s goodness is further demonstrated when she gives the money to Lallu anyway. It is significant that she does not reprimand Bindu for her insinuation. It implies to me that she is giving Lallu the money because she knows and trusts him, instead of doing so because the lower classes are not inherently to be distrusted.
The sexual undercurrents discussed by Ghosh could be seen as threatening or inappropriate in another film, but “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” chooses to present itself through rose-colored glasses. Any possible indiscretions are simply not plausible in such a white-washed world as this film presents. There are no subplots to speak of, no heart-wrenching sadness, and no action or violence. There are not even instances of dissent or the need for compromise. All of these elements characterize Bollywood films and are sorely lacking in “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun,” which is so formulaic that it could have been a Disney classic.
Overall, “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” is most successful in the role of a light-hearted, feel-good family film. It does not push the boundaries of Indian societal norms, nor does it pull at the heartstrings of its viewers. Rather, it presents a utopic world and the idyllic love stories between two young, beautiful, and rich couples.

No comments:

Post a Comment