Many of us would have watched Prem Ratan Dhan Payo by now. And most of us would have regretted the decision, had it not been strictly for work, and hence the lack of choice. So what is the film about? A prince and a pauper. A stuck-up, joyless Yuvraj, and a Princess, who is looking for love beyond the blinding baubles and incredible palaces. Sonam Kapoor makes for the perfect Sooraj Barjatya heroine. She is pretty, coy, hesitates to make eye contact when overwhelmed with emotions (which, in the Barjatya world order, happens pretty often) and happily plays arm candy to her man, whenever he wants her to “play the part” (as it happened in the football match in PRDP). In other words, she swoons, croons, sighs, sacrifices her self, worth and identity, breathes heavily and pretty much offers herself to her man who adores her, but has little role to play to taking the narrative forward. She is sweet – sometimes irritatingly so. But she is not the first Barjatya woman to embody these virtues.
Barjatya makes films rooted in his vision of a world that exists in a certain interpretation of the scriptures. He draws inspiration from the Ramayana, from Krishna Leela, but rarely from the Mahabharata, where the full blooded warrior princesses seduced their men and lived life on their own terms.
No sir. His women, right from Maine Pyaar Kiya to date, keep talking about how they are born a blank colouring book, nudging their men to fill in the colours of their fancy. Hence Bhagyashree wears a short gold dress picked by Salman who wants to see her in a sexy avatar. She gets orgasmic under his piercing and approving gaze (the audience at the time was slapped with a picture of a model wearing a similar outfit because the virtuous heroine could not possible show as much flesh).
In Hum Aapke Hain Kaun…! despite the robust and electrifying presence of Madhuri Dixit, it was actually about replacing one woman with another in a man’s life, making sweeping statements about how motherhood and familial bonds and bigger than love between a young man and woman.
In Vivah, the premise of the film rested on the fragile shoulders of Amrita Rao, who learns to fall in love with her guy and finds fulfilment after he decides to marry to her despite being disfigured in a fire accident. In other words, it always takes a noble man’s noble deeds to complete a woman.
In PRDP, Sonam, ‘the independent” and ‘confident’ girl (as she keeps reminding him over and over again in between tailing him around his kingdom), who runs a NGO in Delhi and airdrops herself in a flood relief camp for some photo ops, turns into a giddy-headed teen at the drop of a night gown or shaving off the royal moustache. The sole purpose of her life seems to please the Prince, wear the little black dress he so likes, prepare a barbeque (to grill bhindi and potatoes you silly), and talk love.
No matter where they come from, how they dress and how much weight they lose, the Barjatya women belong to his world that is caught in a time warp. The filmmaker keeps saying that he makes films for a certain kind of people – perhaps those who live in a different time and space. It is evident that he draws inspiration from a very special place in his head and heart. They look extremely pure of intent – celebrating virtuous love, cultural values. But he speaks in a language that is increasingly sounding like gibberish.
Staying relevant is key for any filmmaker. And for Barjatya’s women, they inhabit a world that is frozen in time. So they use a chopper to reach relief camps, but travel by train to reach the kingdom of the man she is destined to marry. Need we say more?