Or, I suppose it's time I put my cards on the table and came clean about Betaab.
When I wrote:
" Betaab is a satisfying watch on so many levels, and is a "stress-free experience" for the viewer."
What I should have written was:
"I love this film so much and I see so much potential in it that I love it beyond all reason, and that's good enough for me."
So let me tell you a few things I probably should have the first time around.
1. The Shrew, comma, Taming of. It's as bad as I think it is, right?
I spent a lot of time mulling this one over, and I'm going to have to concede, if the film falls down anywhere, it's here. (And remind me to talk about this again when I get to Barsaat, will you?)
That said: I still don't think it's the most egregious use of the trope I've ever seen, and I do stand by what I said, that the "tamed" Roma still contains much of the spunk and spark of the "untamed" one.
And I also think that throughout that bit of the story, I was thinking two things. First: why they heck is Sunny remotely interested in her, because she's such a snot, surely he can't be hanging on to that "oh, childhood romance" thing, can he? And second: you know, he's a bit too cocky for his own good, and sometimes he's just as bad as she is, so why does he get off so lightly?
There's another undercurrent to all of this that I've purposely chosen to ignore: one of the things I find admirable, at least, about Sunny, is that whatever he does to "tame" Roma, it doesn't involve violence, and the film is quite blunt about this. At one point during their emotional and verbal sparring, Roma lashes out and tries to hit Sunny -- he grabs her wrist before she can do so, and tells her that if she were a man, he'd have broken her arm. The implication being he's not going to take anything out on her physically.
And this is, sadly, in contrast to her father, who gives her a right smack when he thinks she's gone too far and has dishonoured him by taking up with Sunny. He tries it a second time, too, only in Sunny's presence, and Sunny stops him, and is clear that if her father tries this again, he won't be responsible for what happens.
So what I don't see in the use of this trope is Sunny trying to harm Roma, or trying to break her spirit -- because she's just as spirited after the....um....snake bite moment -- only difference is, she's a heck of a lot nicer. And, I think, he is, too, so something in Roma's transformation brings out something better in him, too.
I take some comfort in the fact that once the relationship dynamic shifts, and they move into "sweet, youthful romance mode", each of them becomes sweeter, nicer, to each other, to those around them. But yes, the shift for Sunny is miniscule compared to what it is for Roma, and his flaws, though there, are miniscule too. He's seen as too chatty, not knowing when to say nothing, and a little too full of himself -- both Roma and his mother chide him for it, yet, they're also kind of tenderly indulgent of it, kind of "well, boys will be boys."
And it almost pains me to admit this, but, I have to be honest. I don't think either of the film's young stars has the acting chops to carry the first part of the film off effectively (they're not alone. I often feel this way watching first films, and it's why I'm terribly, tenderly indulgent). They clearly lack the experience needed to bring a little more depth to that first part of the film, and as a result, they often come off as either terribly screamy and shouty (Amrita) or firmly and manfully reciting lines (Sunny).
But it's not for nothing that I have a blog category entitled "The Small Details Are My Cup of Chai" -- and if you look in some of the smaller corners of the film, you'll see lovely moments when both leads get things absolutely right, from Sunny's trademark winks, to the little kiss he blows at Roma when he thinks his mother isn't looking, to the wink Roma saucily tosses back at him, to their antics as they go about rebuilding the farm.
2. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Except when it isn't. Are you blind, woman?
I alluded to the film's sexual inuendo when I wrote about the snake-bite scene. What I didn't say, and what I chose to avoid is, in fact, a whole heck of a lot of stuff that I've been writing in emails to Ness, wondering how in the world I was going to deal with it.
And I'm still not going to deal with it.
One of the things I wrote to Ness was that I couldn't decide if I was seeing all this innuendo because it was there, or because, well, I have some kind of weird or pervy mindset.
I think I've finally decided that yes, it is most clearly there.
I still find that very, very fascinating, because in some ways, it flies in the face of a lot of traditional thinking and misconceptions about sex and sexuality in Indian films. And yet, in some ways, it clearly is trying to dance on a fence: trying to set up its young lead as a new and hot sex symbol, without crossing a line into vulgarity or voyeurism, and if I'm generous and say it succeeds in staying on one side of the line, it's only by the smallist of margins.
And I'm not sure it actually succeeds. You know what made me finally decide about this? Screencapping. I have some screencaps here on my computer, that, taken out of the context of the film, are pretty racy stuff. Heck, IN the context of the film, they're kind of racy. And I've decided it was intentional. And I don't know what to think about that. Except. I did essentially say Sunny would have been my 80s pin-up boy, so maybe that's all there is to that. Well, apart from the fact that I have to deal with how reverse-sexist that ends up sounding.
3. Okay, Shammi is just doing his usual Shammi, right?
Yes, and he's playing a dad like I've seen Shammi play before. And Nirupa Roy is still playing "Every Ma". And Prem Chopra is, well, the bad guy. And Annu Kapoor is the comic relief. And yes, in fact, I have seen that before.
That said, too, I still found twists that I didn't expect, and some truly funny moments (watch Shammi's face the first time Roma pulls one of her fits, he's hysterical). And Annu Kappoor is so sweet and gently funny. And Nirupa Roy and Sunny have some lovely moments together. All of this is true, too.
4. When are you going to admit that you're wrong about this film?
Sigh. I am wrong about this film.
And yet. I'm still right about this film.
And it's leaving me feeling so very, very, very conflicted. How can a film that troubles me so much still, in the end, be a film that I just adore when I watch it? How can I overlook all its flaws (and some of them are not small ones), and still feel all warm and fuzzy inside?
5. You lied, right? It's not two Betaab posts you're going to write, it's three, right?
Yes, I suppose that's true. Because somehow, I have to reconcile these seemingly opposing and disparate views of this film that I have.
What can I say? Sunny is messing with my mind....