In Pursuit of Perfection...
After watching the 50th episode of Bahu Humari Rajni_Kant, I began to contemplate a significant scene from the episode, as is my habit. One thought gave way to another...and another...And as I reflected on a series of important scenes in my mind's eye, I ended up reliving the progression of the relationship between Shaan and Rajni Kant. I'd like to share some of my musings here.
As someone who has a penchant for noting nuances in performances and then dwelling on those details, I am very impressed with the way the makers of this sci-fi dramedy have chosen to portray the unique relationship between a man and his machine. When I started watching BHR, I almost felt as though I was being thrown into the story of the Kants' life in medias res, or in the middle of things. This concept most particularly applies to the bond between Shaan and Rajni, who together comprise the nucleus of this story. I suppose I could even extend that scientific metaphor and say that Shaan is the proton and Rajni is the neutron, in a sense. They are the unit around which everything else revolves. I cannot imagine one without the other, so intertwined are their lives...
When we first meet Shantanu Kant, we see a messy-haired, bespectacled scientist in his lab, with a Rube Goldberg machine and an assortment of robotic things surrounding him. "I'm so proud of me!" he proclaims happily, before realizing that he's late for what is perhaps the most important meeting of his life. He rushes around a table, upon which rests a massive bundle that I initially called a "Mystery-in-a-Blanket" - and then rushes out of his lab...His actual house is in a state of pandemonium when he gets there - all because their domestic help has taken off for the day and no one else in the family is remotely capable of getting anything done as far as a household routine goes. The delicate balance required to maintain a healthy, happy, household environment is off-center, but Shaan has a solution.
R.A.J.N.I. Shaan's life's work. His passion project. Rajni...a petite, pretty, and powerful humanoid robot who is multifaceted, efficient, and extremely intelligent...And she is also a work in progress. She is obedient but also seems to have a mind of her own, which causes Shaan no small amount of grief at times, even though he very obviously is extremely fond of her.
"Mere dreams, meri umeed, meri ambitions, sab pe paani pher diya tumne! Jahan jaana hai, jaao! Jo karna hai, karo! Mujhe apni shakal mat dikhaana! Just get lost!"
I will always, always remember this scene as the one that absolutely sealed my fate as a viewer invested in the Shaan-Rajni relationship. Up until this scene, I had been amused and charmed by the easy, free-flowing chemistry between Karan and Ridhima as they brought Shaan and Rajni to life beautifully. An example of perfect casting in every sense, the way they delivered their lines and played off of each other, right from their very first scene together, made me feel like Shaan and Rajni had been interacting and bantering with each other for months, if not years. Even the physical contrast in height between the two actors served to enhance the contrasts in their characters' personalities.
So yes, I was incredibly charmed by this creator-creation duo. But Shaan's impulsive outburst in which he angrily drags Rajni to the trash heap outside and essentially banishes her...That left me stunned. I had not seen that coming. The gravity of Shaan's words hit me like a ton of bricks. It is quite possibly the first time the audience really gets to see just how much Rajni means to Shaan - she is a machine, the result of years of hard work and resources and brainpower...She literally embodies his ambitions and dreams...and in one moment, it all seems to have gone up in flames.
Shaan lashes out at Rajni. And she hears all of that. Suddenly, current floods through her system...Her eyes flicker open...Through a haze, she sees Shaan, her creator, walking away from her, little more than a blurry figure in the darkness. He has abandoned her.
No matter how many times I watch that scene, my reaction is still one of awe. Shaan's sarcasm and wit and spectacular one-liners are all things that define him, certainly - but at his core, he is a serious workaholic with huge ambitions and aspirations. Karan conveys all of these aspects of Shaan seamlessly, adding a natural warmth to the character. He makes Shaan goofy yet serious, sardonic yet genuine, egotistical yet endearing. All of those paradoxes exist within Shaan, like they exist within all of us. To portray all of this is no small feat, but Karan does it effortlessly. He lives the character of Shaan Kant. Similarly, Ridhima instills Rajni with innocence, sweetness, and sensuality while toeing the line between looking mechanical and imitating human expressiveness. An extremely daunting task, to say the least...But Ridhima rises to the challenge and passes with flying colors. Her interpretation of Rajni gives the robot a combination of naivete and wisdom, like a child-woman...And somehow, even with a blank face, she manages to add nuances to this character and express emotions in a way that resonates deeply.
When Rajni returns to Shaan's room later that night, no one is more overjoyed to see her than Shaan himself. He had been tracking her desperately after she had disappeared; when he finds her again, he immediately reaches out to touch her and check whether she's all right. He then envelops her in a series of hugs, apologizing profusely. This becomes something of a pattern as we see more of their interactions after this episode - whenever Rajni leaves Shaan's side or puts herself at risk, as soon as she returns or is reactivated, Shaan's happiness knows no bounds and he expresses it freely. He repeatedly tells her that she is the one he cares about most...But all of that comes after a particularly poignant moment...
"Tum useless ho? Kisi kaam ke nahi? Tum bhi useless, main bhi useless. Yahan par saari useless cheezein phenki jaati hai. Theek hai na, Shaan?"
Rajni's logic is valid. She presents these points in a matter-of-fact way, with the innocence of a child, and then she looks up at Shaan for further validation. What is so beautiful about this moment is the way Shaan reacts to Rajni's words. Realization steals across his face as he looks down at her. She had taken his words literally and had left because he'd told her to. And then she'd gone a step further, reasoning out the connection between "garbage" and "uselessness." Whether that is guilt or shame casting a shadow on Shaan's face, he knows that he is the reason why Rajni feels that she is of no value to him anymore. He kneels in front of her and begins to speak, exposing a bit of his heart to her even though he might not have intended to, telling her just how much she means to him.
"Tum mere liye sabse zyaada important ho. I'm sorry maine tumhe useless bola. Lekin woh maine gusse mein bola tha. Aur hum humans aisa karte hai, hum gusse mein bahut kuch badbada dete hai. Zyaadatar hum mean nahi karte woh sab. Main niraash ho gaya tha, main sad ho gaya tha. Lekin tum meri strength ho. Tum mujhe positive rakhte ho."
One of the many things I love about Shaan-Rajni's relationship is how there is a sort of equilibrium between them. There is a sense of reciprocity and a connection that continues to build upon itself and strengthen with every moment they share alone. Rajni's antics may create additional problems for Shaan at times, but no matter how frustrated he is, he really does care for her. He even goes so far as to marry her...for his sake...and for hers.
When they get into what can essentially be called their first serious husband-wife tiff, Shaan exclaims, "Tum filhaal ek kaam karo! Yahan se jaao, aur mujhe apna chehra mat dikhaana! OK?" Rajni leaves after confirming that Shaan is indeed serious...And when she returns to their room later that night, she doesn't look at him. She doesn't turn to face him - because that was his command. He tries to tell her that these small arguments happen, no big deal! But roothi Rajni is determined to follow her pareshaan Shaan's command...and only a second command will persuade her to look at him again. Shaan, surprisingly, is in a more playful mood. "Command nahi doonga main! Kuch aur try karta hoon." He tries to maneuver around Rajni, but he can't catch her off guard - she grabs a pillow and shields her face with it. And thus begins a mini game of peek-a-boo with a pillow. Rajni moves, Shaan follows. She walks to a corner of their room...and then Shaan pops up behind Rajni in front of their mirror! Rajni's eyes widen and she blinks at him as he grins at her reflection in the mirror. Undeterred, she turns and tries to move around him, but he grabs her shoulders and stops her in her tracks. "Ah! Game over! Dekh liya chehra!"
Given what had been shown of Shaan's temperament up until this point, I was very pleasantly surprised to see him loosening up a bit more. He could have easily told Rajni to look at him, but he didn't. He chose to let go a little...and it was adorable! I absolutely LOVE how naturally Karan and Ridhima are able to bring out Shaan-Rajni's banter in various shades, whether it is light and sweet or serious and poignant. In many cases, a scene of theirs will shift from being lighthearted to somber in a matter of seconds - and every time, their verbal and nonverbal transitions are seamless, beautifully enacted by both of them! Such scenes are my favorites because they are written well and directed with just the right combination of levity and gravity. There is an undertone of depth and sensitivity that I really appreciate.
Another commendable feature of Shaan-Rajni's developing relationship is the fact that they talk. Communication is essential for any healthy relationship to progress and sustain. Somewhat ironically perhaps, since Rajni is not human, this becomes even more critical...She is always observing, always trying to apply logic to the data in her system to reach decisions about what to do and how to interact with those around her. But when she doesn't know what a word or concept means, she asks. Shaan is almost always there to clarify things for her. When Rajni attempts to connect a more abstract concept to a concrete situation, Shaan tries to explain those complexities as best as he can. Together, they help each other. They balance each other out.
"Oh. Toh issiliye aap mujhse hamesha khafa rehte hai. Kyunki main koi kaam theek se nahi kar sakti."
Beautiful, beautiful nuances in this scene from both Karan and Ridhima. Technically, Rajni cannot feel emotions in the same way that humans do...but she conveys and also evokes emotions through her body language, tone, and expressions. As Shaan explains what "khafa" means, Rajni takes in the new information...and then she hangs her head, as if ashamed or expressing remorse for her shortcomings. Her tone is relatively level, but her posture conveys a sense of regret or guilt. It implies that she is very much aware of her flaws and feels like SHE is the one to blame. I think Shaan feels a pang as he follows her logic, because his face falls slightly as he gazes at her.
"No! No, Rajni! Main tumse khafa nahi hota. Main apne aap pe gussa kar raha hota hoon...Kyunki main chahta hoon ki main tumhe duniya ka best robot banaoon. Aur dekho, Rajni. Tumhare jitne flaws hai, jitni galtiyaan hai, woh MERI zimmedaari hai."
"Lekin insaan apne galtiyon ki zimmedaari le sakta hai, doosron ki nahi."
"Par tum koi doosri thodi ho. Tum toh meri Rajni ho! Right?"
This is a lovely moment of insight into Shaan's character, his motivations, his sense of responsibility, and his devotion to Rajni. As her creator, of course he sees himself as accountable for her actions...But it's fascinating because Rajni doesn't simply follow commands; sometimes she uses her own logic to draw conclusions and do things accordingly. Is that a form of free will developing within her mind? For better or for worse, she is observing, analyzing, and learning. In a world as complicated as ours, there are many aspects of human nature and social norms that are difficult to understand, which we take for granted and don't think twice about, simply because we've been conditioned that way. But Rajni has no such conditioning, so this becomes an issue that Shaan struggles to deal with...
"I don't understand."
"Exactly! You do not understand!"
Shaan reprimands Rajni for the latest mishap in their lives...And while I understand Shaan's perspective and feel his frustration, my heart really goes out to Rajni. Having tracked the graph of their relationship so far, that is so interesting to me, because there have been quite a few situations like this one. Shaan's emotions run high and he berates Rajni out of frustration...She processes his words literally, comes to the conclusion that she is the cause of his anger, and then she voices her final conclusion in a calm tone. And yet somehow, every single time this sort of scenario plays out, I feel like there is so much more to Rajni's demeanor than is expected from a humanoid robot.
"Main defective hoon, Shaan. Aapne mere defects theek karne ke liye mujhse shaadi ki. Mujhme abhi bhi defects hai. Aap mujhe perfect kab banaayenge?"
With those first four words, the scene rises to an entirely new level. Rajni states these facts about her glitches and about the reason for their unconventional marriage in a manner that appears to be detached, but by the end of her question, the gentle smile that normally graces her features has faded. In her own way, through her logic, she understands the problem that is the source of Shaan's frustrations. How to describe the expression on her face as she averts her eyes? Contrite, tinged with concern, perhaps?
An important theme resurfaces here in the form of Rajni's question. Shaan wants to make Rajni into the perfect robot...That is his ultimate goal. But what is perfection? In terms of human nature, what does it mean to be perfect? How does one go about creating a purely perfect being? And is it even possible...?
Shaan sinks down onto the bed with a weary huff. He shakes his head, in a way that could also mean "I don't know, I don't know..." Rajni looks down at him, takes in his posture, and gleans a physical hint of what he has not said to her in words... "Maine aapko bhi upset kar diya. I'm sorry."
The image of Shaan with his head in his hands, and Rajni standing next to their bed, looking down at him...To me, that visual is so powerful even though it only lasts for a brief moment. There's something about the way the usually energetic and confident Shaan is now slumped forward, looking deflated, defeated...And Rajni, whose focus is entirely on her creator...her Pareshaan Shaan...her husband of unusual circumstances...
This is an unfinished conversation that is simultaneously filled with intense emotion as well as logic...To me, it perfectly captures the essence and the conflict that forms the core of Shaan-Rajni's relationship. It was this scene that led me to reflect on Shaan and Rajni's journey so far. I am eager to see how they move forward from here...
"Logic is very simple! It is not like human emotions, it is not confusing!"
And now I'm wondering, once again, probably for the millionth time in two months...Rajni doesn't have hormones and an endocrine system, which contribute to human emotions...But she does have a very, very high IQ, incredible processing power, electrical pathways, and logic. She essentially has a nervous system in place, with exceptional intelligence despite the fact that she's still a work in progress...And mental states and mental processes are integral to the ability to recognize and convey emotions. Could Rajni gradually begin to develop something analogous to emotions, in her own way, using her logic board and reasoning abilities?
I will end my retrospective musings here. But this post would be incomplete if I didn't reach out and thank the team of people behind this story. To the writers, directors, actors, and the rest of the crew - thank you for having the conviction to take a concept like this and translate it onto the small screen. I've never seen an Indian show that is equal parts hilarious and poignant with such consistency, presented in the form of a science fiction family tragicomedy.
Edited by MelodiousDreams - 24 April 2016 at 1:39pm