First impressions are everything, aren't they? This is our first glimpse of Shiven, played by Akshaye Khanna, in Nikhil Advani's 2007 film "Salaam-e-Ishq". He's on a massage table, drinking champagne through a straw.
And he is late. Shiven is perpetually late. He is also selfish, self-centred, self-indulgent, and averse to committment. Shiven is, also, paradoxically, engaged to be married to the lovely Gia Bakshi (Ayesha Takia).
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Shiven also has cold feet:
Now, if you're like me, you dislike Shiven intensely at this point. But it's okay, because you didn't put this film in the player for Shiven, you did it for this guy:
The delightfully romantic taxiwalla Raju (Govinda, in probably his best role ever). Raju has no committment problems. Raju is fully prepared to commit. Raju's only problem is that the girl of his dreams has, thus far, failed to turn up.
But I digress, because this post it not about Raju, it is about Shiven.
As I said: when I first saw this film, Shiven annoyed the bejeebers out of me. And it took a while for me to realize that he is *supposed* to do that. Well, duh. But when I finally did twig, I realized that it took no small acting skill on the part of Akshaye Khanna to take Shiven from someone I was happy to see Gia dump, to the man who finally understands what he is about to lose, and to finally take responsibility and be on time for once in his life.
Now, to be fair, Khanna has some help in this, in the way director Advani structures the film.
First, there is Shiven's friend and sidekick, Juggy. I'll admit, when I really sat down to think about the Shiven/Gia storyline, that it was Juggy who annoyed me even more than Shiven. And he annoys Shiven, too:
Juggy's sole purpose is to act as the external catalyst for Shiven's internal conflict, one minute teasing him about how his life will change after marriage, the next minute cajoling him to pick up the phone and talk to Gia. And I also realized that my sympathy for Shiven increases as Juggy is slowly phased out of the film.
Next: for all his flaws, Shiven does have some good points. He does seem to care about Gia, and he's genuinely conflicted about whether he wants to get married or not. He is not, for example, like the guy in this picture:
That would be Rohit, the wonderful (insert eye roll here) guy who dumps the lovely Stephanie (or the "blond bimbo" as he later calls her) in order to have his marriage to an Indian girl arranged for him by his parents. Rohit has no redeeming qualities. He breaks Stephanie's heart. He is just Not Nice. Shiven, for all his flaws, is nice.
Shiven spends the first half of the film trying to get out of the marriage to Gia, and then, when she finally breaks it off (and has her marriage arranged to the lovely Rohit), spends the rest of the film wondering how to get her back. Not to marry her, mind -- Shiven just wants them to go back to the good times, not having to worry about all the bad stuff in life. Gia tries to tell him there's more to being together than just the good times, but Shiven just doesn't get it, not until he finally has an epiphany, courtesy one of the other love stories, that of Ashutosh and Tehzeeb, happy almost-newlyweds, until the day that Tehzeeb loses her memory in an accident, and cannot remember Ashutosh at all.
Shiven finds Tehzeeb wandering the streets, calls Ashutosh (who has distributed flyers to try to find her), and takes them to his home, where he witnesses how they will manage to salvage their love story:
I've only grabbed two screencaps here, but the scene is fascinating to watch -- Akshaye Khanna is skilled enough as an actor that we see the internal thought process Shiven is going through here, through a series of very subtle changes in his expression. Shiven gets it, finally. And we, the audience, get to experience it and truly believe that he gets it, because of the actor's skill.
In fact, one of Akshaye Khanna's supreme strengths as an actor, I think, is his ability to change his expression with lightning speed, always taking us along with the character and his twists and turns. Khanna gives the playboy Shiven a depth we are surprised to discover, so much so that we are actually happy when, for once in his life, he arrives just in time to do exactly the right thing.
And thank the gods for that, because otherwise Gia would have been stuck with Rohit, who is, truly, as Stephanie discovers:
Word up, girlfriend.