The year is 2007. Unbeknownst to the world, cinema will be changed forever.
The year is 2007. Himesh Reshammiya is a superstar. He's everywhere - from music channels to reality shows (back when they were distinct), he's embedded in the public consciousness, a fountain of songs and memes (back before we called them memes). He possesses the most famous cap in India, in addition to the most famous nose.
And all that is before he gifts the world with a decade-long career as a movie star.
I've always wondered - why did he suddenly decide to become a movie star? What drove him to acting? Did he need more fame? Did he require more adulation? Was he simply full of money and willing to spend it on vanity projects?
The answer to that can be found in the very first entry in the Suroor Cinematic Universe - Aap Ka Suroor - set in the picturesque location of Somewhere In Germany.
Himesh hunched over his typewriter, thinking, brainstorming. He had done everything he could to make this movie a reality, and he wanted, nay, needed, this movie to become a statement of intent. “I, Himesh Reshammiya,” he typed, “am the most humble person in the world - and also the most talented. But every hero in this world needs a heroine…” he trailed off. What would a heroine even like about him?
He turned from the table to compose his thoughts, happened to look at the nearby mirror, and gasped.
His reflection looked back at him. He, Himesh Reshammiya recognized, was truly the most majestic, beautiful, intoxicating creature to ever have been beheld.
Feeling naughty, Himesh looked at himself as he took his cap off.
Kapitel 1: Indian Idol
Aap Ka Suroor is about a massively popular singer played by Himesh Reshammiya, named (by complete coincidence) Himesh Reshammiya.
Himesh Reshammiya is massively beloved by the masses, but free of ego. Half the lines of dialogue in the movie, be it from his friends, loved ones, or enemies, express admiration for how kind, simple and phenomenally talented he is.
Himesh Reshammiya is a hit with the ladies, but so sanskaari that he objectifies women by fantasizing about putting them in a salwar kameez - which makes him the first Indian feminist man.
The world thinks he's a narcissistic self-obsessed superstar, but as evidenced by this expensive-looking thriller (set in Germany, as the characters say multiple times) where he plays an irresistibly attractive and successful superstar, Himesh Reshammiya is incredibly humble.
In the first song, Assalaam Vaalekum, Himesh crosses religious lines to merge multiple Abrahmic faiths, positioning himself as the saviour. Unlike the others on stage surrounding him and dancing, he only does one of three things - singing, holding his ear to the crowd, and raising his arms for their worship.
I choose to think this was intentional - it couldn't possibly be because Himesh is a bad dancer.
Of course, he is apprehended after this huge concert by police, with the accusation of murder. We see the body of the murdered woman, in a cinematic parallel to Twin Peaks.
Of course, the movie doesn't rip off Twin Peaks, really, since we never really learn anything about this dead woman as a person. Which is understandable, since we already have four named women characters in this movie, none of which are mother figures - which, by most 2000s Bollywood standards, counts as male genocide.
But, of course, only one of them matters.
Kapitel 2: Devdazzz (Coming To Your Nearest Theatre)
Riya, the lead supporting role in the movie, is played by Hansika Motwani. In a show of great generosity, the role of the 34 year old Himesh's love interest was given to 16 year old Hansika Motwani, who Himesh respectfully ogles in one of her first scenes by fantasizing about her in a Salwar Kameez.
The first time they meet is tense - Himesh catches a thief in his German mansion just after Riya has done the same - and been held at knifepoint for it. They're caught in a standoff, with the thief being threatened by Himesh's bodyguards. To defuse the tension, Himesh asks his bodyguards to lower their guns, and when they refuse, out of nowhere, he angrily scolds him by giving what is possibly THE most iconic line of the movie -
"Put the gun down. You're drunk."
While this does come across as a seemingly random piece of dialogue that won't lead anywhere, it does. Unlike the thief, who is forgotten immediately.
Coming back to Riya - she's an interesting love interest, mentioning twice in her initial scenes that she's apparently Himesh's event manager (this is never demonstrated or brought up again). Because he's too humble to sing his own praises, his underage love interest has to take on the burden of endlessly praising him throughout the movie - one she takes on admirably, delivering four times as many expressions as him in any of their scenes.
Of course, that artistic choice is deliberate. Himesh Reshammiya has trouble smiling - as he tells her in one of the most devastating scenes of the movie, he has only apparently experienced a family death once, when his brother died of a brain haemorrhage. Full of grief, he vowed to stop smiling that day.
Of course, while he doesn't smile, he does seem to laugh towards the beginning of the movie - in a supremely intelligent piece of metacommentary, Himesh's best friend (who has two defining characteristics - lechery and alcoholism) makes a joke on how much he uses his nose while singing. This proves to us, the audience, that Himesh can take a joke about himself.
Or can he?
At the risk of being a conspiracy theorist, I would like to point you towards these two reactions right after his friend tells his joke.
THIS IS A STUNT LAUGHER.
It couldn't possibly be that Himesh can't act out how to laugh on camera - no, what does it mean for the story? Is Himesh too proud to have someone make fun of him? Is the nasal tone important to him, too? Perhaps, as his brother was dying, he made Himesh promise to never use his brain for writing his songs, but to use his nose instead?
I don't know - but don't all the best movies have mysteries left unanswered?
We do have the central mystery of the movie, which is left unresolved so far. In a brilliant stroke of non-linear storytelling that parallels Citizen Kane, we move between the events leading to, and after, the murder of Nadia Merchant. The tension builds, as these characters, unaware of what will happen, move towards their doom.
And after Himesh gets Riya's father's blessings to marry her, he decides, for the very first time in his life, to open a bottle of champagne and get drunk.
And then he goes home.
The spectre of alcoholism chases him throughout the movie, here on out - Nadia's body was found in the river, which is a form of liquid. Riya's only role after this is to cry into the camera non-stop - and tears are liquid. At one point of time, after solving the mystery, Himesh is also forced to throw the murder weapon into the river - and as liquid ruins his life and washes his successes away, the movie seems to punish him for that one fatal mistake. None of this would have happened if he had said no to alcohol, remained resolute, and left the champagne bottle alone.
Aap Ka Suroor started out as a mystery thriller before turning into a romance, but here is where the movie turns into a tragedy. We are all creatures of temptation, and temptation takes us to places we always feared. All it takes is
The stage is set. Himesh has to prove himself to the world - and, indeed, himself - that he’s still the humble, sanskaari, down-to-earth superstar he was at the beginning of the movie. He needs to prove to us, the audience, that he’s still held on to who he was.
But, Himesh, we always knew you were.
We need to talk about
Kapitel 3: The Cap
We come to the one piece of cinematic brilliance that puts Aap Ka Suroor above the rest of Bollywood - nay, the rest of World Cinema. We often see objects in movies that represent some sort of theme in the life of the character - the most famous being the sled from Citizen Kane, representing the loss of childhood innocence and naivete.
Here, we experience the opposite.
Before the tragedy that changed his life, Himesh was a perfect sanskaari man - asking the father of the underage love of his life (that he met three weeks ago) to ask for her hand properly. After the tragedy that changed his life, he went back to her father to convince him of his innocence and ask him to believe in him.
Before the tragedy, he tried his best to protect Riya from the thief in his mansion. After the tragedy, he sacrificed evidence to protect her from evil Indian Jimmy Neutron.
And when he’s tossed around and beaten up throughout the latter half of the movie, there’s always one thing that stays with him. No matter how hard he falls, no matter how much he goes through - he even suffers through a car crash at one point -
- there’s always one thing that stays with him - symbolizing how true he stays to his roots, never wavering from who he truly is.
No matter the hardships, Himesh’s cap will never come off - not unless he chooses to take it off himself, out of respect, at the very end of the movie. No matter what he does, he stays, unwaveringly resolute, true to himself. No matter his popularity, he’s always going to be the kind of man that stays in and plays the Gayatri Mantra - the most beautiful Himesh Reshammiya composition of all time - on his guitar.
And as long as he stays rooted, so does his cap.
And so, the movie ends with him taking off his cap, then walking away with his underage fiance (with the cap magically reappearing on his head in the distance) to places unknown.
Himesh woke up.
He looked around for his script, but it wasn’t there. As his head pounded, he frantically looked around for those pages, the script that would make him a superstar, until he stopped.
Slowly, he looked up at the mirror. His reflection was holding the pages.
“What is this?” Himesh asked, confused but wary.
“This is the key to my salvation, my love.” His reflection walked towards him, and as he passed through the mirror, the surface folded, forming wrinkles not unlike a crumpled up paper napkin.
“But…” Himesh said, as he lost consciousness fast, “...this is what will make me a superstar…”
“No, mein Schatz,” his reflection said, “this is what will make you a God.”
The Dawn of Suroor was upon the world.
Special thanks to Priya Thakur for valuable insights into the timeline of the movie.