Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Veer-Zaara, or, "I Lived Twenty Years on a Week of Love!"

Here's an Ignorant American confession for you: before watching Monsoon Wedding, I had no idea that Pakistan used to be a part of India. No clue. I had no notion of the horrendous effect Partition had on the lives of millions of people, and little concept of the Pakistani attitude toward India, and vice versa, beyond, "They don't like each other, right?" After watching that movie, I researched it a little, so I had some grid for the political issues that lay behind the love story of Veer and Zaara.

I could, if I chose, be kind of a jerk about Veer-Zaara, the 2004 Yash Chopra film starring Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, and Rani Mukherji. I could point out that Veer Pratap Singh spends twenty years in prison on the strength of feelings formed after about a week's worth of face time with his ladylove Zaara Hayaat Khan. I could point out how astoundingly, amazingly religiously tolerant every character of importance in the film is. I could point out that Zaara totally disses her mom (Kirron Kher, yay!) by telling her, "Hey, I've never done anything important before, and after I get married I'll waste my life being a good wife and mom like you did."

But the fact of the matter is, I don't wanna be a jerk about it. I love this movie.

The film opens with a total Bollywood blast from the past, complete with songs by Madan Mohan, a famous composer who died I think ten years before this film was made. (Unfortunately, Lata Mangeshkar sings Preity's part. I know I am stepping on hallowed ground here, and that Lata-ji often worked with Madan Mohan so this was a sentimental pairing, and I swear if I ever had the good fortune to meet her I would touch her feet. However, she's simply too old to sing the ingenue part. Her voice is quite shrill in places and I winced each time Preity opened her mouth to "sing." In any case, I was able to ignore it eventually.) SRK frolicks through the Alps with a woman whose face remains concealed until the shocking conclusion of the song reveals that it was all a dream.

In fact, Veer Pratap Singh is in a Pakistani prison in Lahore, the same place he's silently occupied for the past two decades. His case is finally about to be heard, but his lawyer, Saamiya Siddiqui (Rani) has to convince him to tell her his story. After she surprises him by calling him by name, and makes a plea on behalf of all the Pakistani women attorneys whose futures depend on her success, he decides to break his silence (speaking with a remarkably clear voice for someone who's kept his mouth shut for twenty years--guess all that dream singing kept his vocal cords in shape).

Twenty-years-ago Veer is a rescue pilot for the Indian Air Force, saving stupid skiiers from their own idiocy on the double-black diamonds and stuff like that. One day he rescues a girl stranded down a cliff in a bus accident. I love the little details he gives--it's obvious that the moment of their meeting has been cherished in his memory over and over again. When she drops her bag and hysterically insists that he re-descend to recover it, however, he decides that she's a spoiled brat and gives her a good reaming when they reach safety.

Little does he know that the lady, Zaara (Preity) was hysterical because her bag contains the ashes of her Bebe (her affectionate name for her governess), who was a Sikh. Sikhs believe that their ashes must be immersed in the river in Kiritpur, apparently, and even though Zaara is a Pakistani Muslim she loves her Bebe enough to undertake the journey without her parents' knowledge.

Once she explains the situation to Veer, he takes her under his wing and escorts her to Kiritpur, and then on to his home village to celebrate Lohri (a Thanksgiving harvest festival which is rendered "Lodi" in the subtitles). Afterwards, on the urging of his parents (Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini, who have the cutest song in the movie and great cameos), he takes Zaara to the train station where, to his shock, he discovers that she's engaged (to Manoj Bajpai's character Raza, boo-hiss). Zaara innocently apologizes for forgetting to mention the whole engagement thing, and he takes his leave after telling her to remember that there's a man in India who would die for her.

Once home, these words stick in Zaara's mind, until eventually every moment of her life is filled with Veer--picturized in the extremely steamy (for Bollywood) "Main Yahaan Hoon."

For a good Muslim virgin...

She certainly has...

An excellent imagination.

The rest of the tale, as my husband pithily puts it, "pisses me off no end." Injustice, blah blah blah, separated lovers, blah blah blah, parental emotional blackmail, blah blah blah.

Good golly, they both look great in this still (from a deleted song on the DVD). In fact, they both look great in the entire film, with the exception of SRK in the prison. Actually, come to think of it, this is the best I've seen Rani look too and she doesn't even have a love interest in the film.

There's a completely unnecessary cameo by Anupam Kher in the end, playing the bad lawyer, and the trial tends to drag a bit, especially its conclusion. Boman Irani's kind of wasted in the Preity dad role, although in a less skillful actor's hands he would've been a completely unsympathetic tyrant and plus I just like to see him, period, so I guess it's okay. And the film's a little heavy-handed in its "we all need each other, men need women, women need men, Pakistanis need Hindustanis etc. etc." message. But one of the messages that I love about this movie that isn't heavy-handed is that the family who adopts you--or whom you choose to adopt--is just as valid and important as the family you from which you came.

Preity does a great job playing a conservative, mostly traditional, but strong-willed girl. After Kal Ho Naa Ho, I wasn't sure that she and SRK could pull off the romantic aspects of Veer-Zaara since they evidenced no chemistry whatsoever in that film. However, after Dil Se I decided to give it a shot and boy was it worthwhile 'cause they smoke together! SRK actually evidences more than his Five Faces of Shah Rukh, and proves again that yes, he can act, if you want him to, which I do. And Rani is great as the young attorney who wants to do her father's memory proud while taking strides on behalf of women in her country. I think some of the aging effects were a bit overdone but overall they were pretty believable.

And like I said before, I just like this movie so much that I don't want to nit-pick. The star-crossed lovers are unbelievably noble, but that's why I love them--as Saamiya says, "What century are these people from?" Whatever century it is, I'd like to visit, please. Veer-Zaara is worth every penny, in my opinion.


  1. One of the movies I saw on the big screen in Canada, and felt that it was a big waste of my money! The music had a lot to do with it. Madan Mohan did compose a lot of great music in his time but it was great because it went with good songs and great singers. In V-Z, everytime a song came on, I cringed because Lata's screeching was so bad that even the good picturisation couldnt distract me from the voice!

    Have to admit that I am not a big fan of futile love stories either, and this one was worse than Mohabbatein and Silsila (other Yash Chopra movies) for futility. The visuals were gorgeous though, and everybody looked soooo good that I could watch it again with the sound off! :-)

  2. Bollyviewer: I think the futility of the second half is why I can hardly ever get people to re-watch it. Because I have the assurance of a happy ending, though, I'm willing to suffer through. :-) Agree with you on the visuals, though, especially in the "This is my country" (sorry, I forget the real name of the song) number.

  3. Ahh, I loved this movie (maybe because I didn't mind Lata's voice?) - when Rani brings SRK in prison the laddoos, and he oh so politely compliments her that they're very good, and then hesitatingly asks for another one, and she offers him the whole load, my fragile dil just BREAKS. I love it.

    Also, all the songs are just fab! Ooh, and another bit I like: when Yash Chopra makes the parallels between Preity's and SRK's "qabool hai" (I accept) and that great filmi qawwali comes up: aaya tere ghar par deewana! (A crazy lover has come to your door.)

    And OMG I can't believe that was Boman Irani. I watched this in the early days, when I didn't know who he was. How unbelievably serious he was!

    Ahh, such an enjoyable movie. Zohra! Amitabh! Hema! Preity/SRK!

    Per Bollyviewer's comments above: Mohabbatein is one of the few Bollywood movies I've never been able to finish (arrghh), but while Silsila is very frustrating at times, I think it's really enjoyable. At least, it has this song, which was the first properly Shashi scene I ever saw... and now I'm a big Shashi fan. Speaks for itself!

  4. PPCC--I *love* the qawwali, it's so poignant with them embracing in the rain and the words, "O how this story has changed" ringing around them. And the qabool hai moment is great, I totally agree. Plus I just love the whole epic nature of the story--hooray for unlikely levels of heroism!LOL I think I'll have to watch this again tonight. :-)

  5. Ajnabi,

    I agree with you completely on this film! I love it despite the flaws...its such a classic for me and actually the first Bollywood movie I ever fell in love with.

    You hit it right on when you said SRK-Preity were smokin' hot here! (And yes, Zaara does have quite the imagination for a "Muslim virgin":) )

    Great blog-I'm adding you to my blogroll!

  6. Thank you very much, Nida! :-D And yeah, VZ is a classic for me too. I never get tired of it and can watch it from beginning to end over and over again... I guess it doesn't get much better than that!

  7. I really like this movie too!
    Yes, SRK never looked better(and in that leather bomber jacket... ooh) and he was so charismatic.

    Preity...well, not so much.. I prefer Rani's quietly strong performance.

    The movie really promotes strong women that stand up to men in a patriarchal society and for that I'll give it full marks.
    And did you notice in the opening credits that SRK's personal costumes were designed by ...Karan Johar?


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