Monday, April 16, 2012

“Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” Essay

Family and Kinship in “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun”

This paper, by referring to the concrete settings and events portrayed in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, analyzes how family and kinship relationships are made the central theme in this film.

A number of Indian romance films of the 90’s center on and renegotiate the couple’s relationship with the family. Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (Who Am I to You, 1994) softens the blow against patriarchy. The narrative axis shifts, escapes the issue of individualism, and wrestles instead with new arrangements within the family (John and Nair, 35).


In Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, two long-lost friends meet when their children are grown and negotiate a marriage between them. Pooja (Renuka Sahane) and Nisha (Madhuri Dixit) are the daughters of a professor (Anupam Kher) and his wife (Reema Lagoo). Pooja marries their old family friend’s (Alok Nath) adopted son, Rajesh (Monish Behl). During the protracted North Indian wedding celebration which dominates the film, the groom’s younger brother, Prem (Salman Khan), falls in love with the bride’s sister, Nisha. Meanwhile, Pooja’s father-in-law entrusts her with finding a marriage alliance for Prem, prompting Nisha and Prem to confide in her. Pooja dies suddenly before sharing this information with anyone (Sooraj Barjatya, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun).

The family elders suggest that Rajesh, a young widower now with an infant, remarry. They propose the infant’s aunt, Nisha, as the appropriate match. Rajesh agrees that Nisha accepts the proposition. Nisha does—assuming the proposal is from Prem—only to later discover the mix-up. For the baby nephew’s sake, a guilt-ridden Nisha goes along with the betrothal despite her unhappiness. On the wedding day Rajesh miraculously intercepts a letter Nisha writes to Prem and learns of their relationship. Rajesh announces Prem’s marriage to Nisha in place of himself moments before the wedding ceremony (Sooraj Barjatya, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun).

In Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, the romance is not set in the traditional holiday resort, but in large homes in which lovers maneuver to maintain their privacy, keep the relationship a secret, and gain relative autonomy from parental figures (John and Nair, 35). The secret is shared between the couple and their peer group within the audience. Complications arise because the family elders fail to discover the romance. In earlier films secrecy was ensured by the anonymity of the location where the boy and girl met coincidentally. They promise secular possibilities: individuals imaginative by their caste and clan origins fall in love. In the conservative romance films anonymity is displaced by family connections. Within the family a thin line separates privacy from secrecy, which relies on an unspoken assumption much like “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” (Lewis, 137)

Perhaps part of the viewing pleasure lies in seeing how the couple forges a private space for themselves by, for instance, exchanging surreptitious glances. In Hum Aapke the couple express their desires in the midst of revelry—occasioned by an engagement, wedding, or the birth of a child. The protracted wedding celebration maximizes the pleasure in ritualized articulations of filial and sexual tensions through folk songs, dance routines, and romance sessions (John and Nair, 35). These moments of revelry are occasions to celebrate its own musical tradition. Embraced by all classes and communities, this music is truly the emblem of national popular culture.

In Hum Aapke a prolonged song-and-dance sequence in a strictly demarcated women’s space marks the celebration of Pooja’s first child. In the all-women’s gathering a woman in drag (dresses identical to the male lead) pairs with the leading lady, Nisha, playing an oversized pregnant woman. Together they parody “private scenes” between heterosexual couples, regaling everyone (John and Nair, 36). The lead male star and his buddies are voyeurs, gazing at the performance meant for women only—the woman in drag enacting scenes a man could never perform publicly with his lady love. This strategy serves a dual purpose. It recreates women’s space where women traditionally relax together, enact heterosexual encounters, act as sexual teases, and mock men and the codes of intimacy (John and Nair, 35).

The loss of “women’s space” in the midst of rapid urban modernization has meant a collective forgetting of traditional folk songs and customs (Lewis, 136). The extended sequence in Hum Aapke celebrating family and kinship relationships functions as the discovery sign of the new millennium.
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