Stop this DVD, I Wanna Get Off!: Veer Zara
Sometime in the late 1950s, the Hindi film industry discovered Muslims. No, I don’t mean they stumbled upon a slobbering, savage, huddled mass of them while excavating an ancient U.P paan shop, but they did arrive at a strange film formula: the ‘Muslim Social’. This instantly popular new genre comprised everything that its name suggests: opulent, white Lucknawi mansions (recreated on a Bombay soundstage) inhabited by achkan-wearing gents and their coterie of faithful servants of barely determinate gender, kiss-curl-ed heroines in yards of satin and chiffon embroidering rosebuds on white hankies for their spit-curl-ed beaus who have a penchant for speaking in rhyme, much ‘adaab’, ‘janaab’, ‘nawab’ and ‘tasleem’ and pounding at the ovaries from matriarchs in perpetual torment, and more paandans and pigeons than you could shake a gharara at. This was a self-contained world where the rest of India didn’t encroach; here, Rajendra Kumar’s katha-stained lips and Saadhana being wooed through the folds of a burqa were the height of romance. ‘Mere Mehboob’, ‘Chaudvin Ka Chand’, Pakeezah, Nikaah—– audiences lapped it up. But post-Nikaah, in which an obvously ambidextrous Deepak Parasher got out of being saddled with the decidedly feminine Salma Agha by using the get-out-of-matrimony-free ‘talaaq talaaq talaaq’ card, the Muslim Social seemed to lose its way, as well as its audience. Perhaps because the 80s were the era of gormless actioners and novelty flicks headlined by Jeetendra’s white loafers and Mithun’s gold lame jumpsuit, or perhaps because Amitabh’s Angry Young Man genre left little room for genteel romance. Or perhaps simply because people realised that India’s largest minority doesn’t live in a fucking time and space warp where Sharmila’s bikini and Shammi’s quivering bottom and Zeenat’s bra-less temple washdown seemingly never existed. The final stitch in the kafan would seem to have been delivered by Sawan Kumar Tak’s odious Bewafa Se Wafa, in which the Muslim clan are blissfully unaware of the reality of both infertilty treatment and artificial insemination and would rather the hero do his wife’s best friend in order to produce the family heir that the wife is unable or unwilling to issue forth, the selfish nose-pin-wearing tart.
As much as one was fond of the Muslim Social, I wasn’t exactly heartbroken to see it go; I wanted as much as anyone to see cinema’s Muslim population enter the 21st Century and stop wearing the Jinnahs’ hand-me-downs. However, when the Muslim Social disappeared, Muslims seemed to disappear off the Bollywood landscape along with it. The rest of India hadn’t existed in the world of the Muslim Social, and now, ironically enough, it seemed that for the Hindi film industry Muslims only existed within the confines of their specific outdated genre. Now they only popped up occasionally as supporting players to supporting players, usually to offer up some words of wisdom about patriotism and how darn rad it is to be a repressed minority.
So when in 2004 the house of Yash Chopra proudly presented Veer Zara I wasn’t exactly swinging on a jhoola with joy. By all accounts it wasn’t strictly speaking a Muslim Social but in the same ballpark, and, worse, it had as its USP (how I loathe that term) the touchy-feely India ❤ Pakistan angle which is the cinematic equivalent of drinking Waterbury’s Compound while pinching your nose – you know it’s good for you so you have it but you block out the parts that would make it unpalatable. Or you try, at least. Bottom-line, I could never bring myself to actually watch it. Filmfare gave it a bunch of awards and it rang the box-office’s bell like a madman and there were much cross-border sweet nothings before Kasab and co brought that love train to a screeching halt, but I never saw Veer and his Zara.
But now that the two peoples are ready to start feeling each other up again after Foreign Minister Hermes and his companion Hina’s successful trip across the border, I thought it was about time that I gave Veer Zara a chance. So I got the DVD and bunged it in. And what happened next, you ask? Well, here follows a blow-by-blow account.
01: 15 – We start off with some generic verses about hills, valleys, fragrance, flowers in bloom and winds singing. I wait in vain for two birds spray-painted in the colours of the two countries’ flags to knock beaks.
02: 25 – Shahrukh Khan appears in his trademark ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music’ pose, his hair having turned prematurely orange, against a mountainous backdrop that is totally not the Swiss Alps.
04: 47 – Young, dashing SRK morphs into old, hideous SRK rotting in a surprisingly well-kept Pakistani prison. From the view outiside his cell window, I’m forced to deduce that SRK’s prison is located somewhere in Shahalmi Bazaar.
05: 50 – Rani Mukherjee appears as lawyer Saamiya Siddiqui because she’s too wussy be named Asma Jahangir who’s the inspiration behind the part; AJ eats namby-pambies like her smothered on a cracker. Besides, she pronounces ‘khwaab’ with a hard ‘kh’, as in ‘khusra’, not ‘khusrau’.
07: 46 – Rani enters SRK’s mood-lit cell; he is prisoner no. 786, which has some Bismilah-related symbolic significance that is lost on me. Amitabh’s 786 armlet in Deewar made more sense: it made him look badass. Random thought: don’t you miss those times when Indians and Pakistanis used to coyly refer to each other as ‘sarhad paar’ and ‘parosi mulk’ in the movies? Now they call each other by name so brazenly it makes one blush.
11: 14 – Rani implores the near-somnumbulant SRK to talk to her. In my head I hear her scream, “I’m your favourite co-star’s cousin-sister, in the name of DDLJ, talk to me!!”
12: 16 – After 22 years of silence, SRK speaks! And the first matter he wants to address is how the sound of fighter jets flying overhead gets him off; then he gets a bit confused and moves on to helicopters instead. For some reason Rani finds this riveting.
15: 25 – Preity Zinta appears and lip-synchs to Lata’s voice warbling about how marriage will never change her. After spouting these famous last words, she bathes in what appears to be curdled ass’s milk. Call me a class-ist prude, but I usually like to attend to my toilet without the domestic help pawing at my privates, but Preity is a real woman of the people and lets her over-familiar maidservant giver her a scrubbing and then expertly cover up her naughty bits when she steps out of the tub. Random thought: I’ve always wondered, when they show songs as part of a flashback, is the character narrating the story actually singing all the songs to whomever the story is being told to? In which case – awesome! Or rubbish, depending on the narrator’s vocal skills. I mean, if Himesh Reshammiya were to insist on narrating his life story to me this way I’d asked to be allowed to choke on a ham sandwich first.
17: 43 – Why does everyone in this film have orange hair? Is it a semi-subliminal pro-Hindutva statement?
18: 09 – Preity dances spasmodically in the rain while Zohra Sehgal as her childhood nanny looks on. I know what you’re thinking; if I had a ward as psychotically enervated as that I’d want to punch her in the face too.
19: 46 – They finally allow Tom Alter to play a desi!
22: 37 – Zohra Sehgal has had enough of taking Preity’s mindless droning for 20 plus years and quickly croaks before the young lass can chew her ears some more.
23: 08 – There’s obviously a poltergeist in SRK’s cell who kicks a glass from Zohra Sehgal’s room 22 years ago at Rani’s feet in the present, but she doesn’t feel it warrants paranormal investigation since SRK’s tale thus far is so scintillating.
23: 34 – Now wait one cotton-pickin’ minute! How did Preity get from the very-flat Wahgah-Atari area to a cliff that her bus could conveniently tumble off of? And did she bribe the border authorities with the dance of the seven veils so that the Samjhota Express wouldn’t have to sit out the mandatory 24-hours at the border?
24: 40 – SRK comes to Preity’s rescue and she rewards him by shrieking like a dolphin in a blender. He apparently finds this charming and decides not to cut the harness that’s keeping her from plunging to her death.
26: 40 – SRK comes to his senses and tells Preity off for acting like such a retard and making him feel like it’s not worth it being a professional rescuer. The audience high-fives each other when she scurries off crying.
30: 40 – Preity the spoilt bitch enquires at the bus stand if there’s a hotel in this God-forsaken dump where she can park her lily-white ass for the night. The bus guy rightly tells her to sod off.
31: 09 – My ears perk up as ‘Jagya jagya’, a song I used to hear on Jalandhar TV as a child, plays in the background. I’m entertained for the first time in 31 minutes and 9 seconds.
31: 15 – My reverie comes to an abrupt end as Preity spews some crap to SRK about how she’s here to dump her nanny’s ashes in the holy river. SRK somehow resists the urge to shove his knee into her windpipe and falls in love with her instead.
37: 54 – Under Preity’s shitty influence, SRK acts like a bully and hijacks a song from an old man who’s unable to defend himself. ‘Aisa des hai mera, aisa des hai mera’, he sings about a million fucking times while I drown my annoyance in whipped cream.
37: 59 – Oh hell, it’s Gurdaas Maan wearing part of the American flag! SRK can’t stop himself from joining Mr Maan in a little shimmy and the sequence ends with the two locked in a heated embrace, Gurdaas’s eager hands at one with SRK’s buttocks. Spoilsport Preity brings SRK back onto his original team and finally shuts him up going on and on about how fab his motherland is by pointing out that it’s pretty much the same across the border and Pakistan is not North Korea. (For those confused at this point, this was 7 years ago).
45: 00 – SRK and Preity are too busy fondling each other’s hands to notice that nanny’s ashes instead of flowing into the water, are getting dumped on the river bank.
50: 00 – SRK must be his village’s most beloved crack dealer, his arrival sending the populace into spirals of excitement so frenzied it must be causing a collective hernia.
52: 36 – Amitabh Bachchan as SRK’s foster father leers at Preity while Hema Malini as his wife steps in to fend off the anal probe that is doubtless on his mind.
56: 56 – Preity lectures Big B about women’s rights and after calling his village girls ‘ganwaar’ tells him that girls have reached the moon. Actually, the last time I checked all our moon visitors were men, but what’s a penis or two between friends?
59: 53 – Big B tries to seduce Preity by giving her a brick to lay. Ok, that just came out wrong.
1: 04 – A horde of pre-schoolers throw up on the screen after ingesting the contents of their paintboxes. No, sorry, it’s a just a ‘colourful’ village festival scene with everyone singing a traditional song which consists largely of the women stating how much they love their men despite the fact that they’re such utter assholes.
1: 16 – Preity speaks with such Andie-MacDowell-in-Four-Weddings-and-a-Funeral warmth and sincerity about her trip that it presumably freezes SRK’s sperm dead in its tracks. His impassioned reply about now believing in destiny moves her so profoundly that she shoves her ankle through a wooden plank underfoot.
1: 18 – Manoj Bajpai as Preity’s fiance appears in a black achkan and chooridar pajama and smarmily says adaab while cupping his hand in front of his face.
He’s supposed to be a Lahori.
It’s at this point that my mind, heart, soul, and psyche scream out in protest at this bout of ruthless molestation.
I’ll get around to the rest of it eventually.
Maybe in another 7 years.