Article Hindi

25 years of Rani Mukerji’s shocking debut, Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat

In her very first film in Hindi cinema, the actress portrayed a cringeworthy character who falls in love with her rapist.

Rani Mukerji in Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat

Keyur Seta

Rani Mukerji is one of the top actresses in mainstream Hindi cinema today. She started out in the 1990s and achieved stardom quite early. Her big break, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), made her a household name, thanks to the stupendous box-office success of Karan Johar’s directorial debut.

Over the years, Mukerji became a specialist in the romantic genre with films like Ghulam (1998), Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega (2000), Chori Chori Chupke Chupke (2001), Mujhse Dosti Karoge! (2002), Saathiya (2002) and Hum Tum (2004). At the same time, she was seen in unconventional roles in films like Hey Ram (2000), Calcutta Mail (2003), Yuva (2004), Mangal Pandey: The Rising (2005), Paheli (2005), Black (2005) and Saawariya (2007).

When woman-centric films began to be made in increasing numbers in the past decade, Mukerji was there with movies like Aiyyaa (2012), Mardaani (2014), Hichki (2018) and Mardaani 2 (2019).

Shadaab Khan and Rani Mukerji in Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat

In the Mardaani series, the actress bashed up and eliminated rapists and other sexual offenders. However, in her first Hindi film Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat (1996), Mukerji played a character that does exactly the opposite. Not only did she forgive her rapist, but she also made valiant efforts to win his love! Yes, you read it right. Mukerji’s entry in Hindi cinema exactly 25 years ago was through a film that can only be described as shocking.

Before Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat, the actress had done only one Bengali film, Biyer Phool (1996), directed by her father, the late Ram Mukherjee. So maybe it was the desperation to get a break in Hindi cinema that pushed Mukerji to take up such a regressive part, something that would have brought the trolls upon her in a trice today.

The mystery is not why Mukerji accepted such a role. It is how writer Santosh Saroj came up with this in the first place, producer Salim Akhtar agreed to back it and director Ashok Gaekwad signed up to direct it. Try making sense of the film.

Mala (Mukerji, credited only as ‘Ranee’) is a bubbly young woman living in a hill station who is eager to find her Prince Charming. In fact, she even shouts “Mera raja aayega” from a cliff. She is a schoolmistress living with her foster father, played by Gulshan Grover at his OTT worst.

Though melodramatic, Mala also comes across as a fiery feminist ready to show anyone their place for their misogynistic thoughts or deeds. This includes an autorickshaw driver who taunts her friend, a complete stranger to him, for getting pregnant before marriage when she feels pukish. And guess what? He is right! But how did he know she was unmarried and why is he poking his nose in the private affairs of people he doesn't even know? Don’t ask!

The film’s male lead Raj, played by Amjad Khan’s son Shadaab Khan, is humiliated once by Mala for his sick, misogynistic behaviour. So Raj rapes her in front of her students. If you thought the rape scene crude, the very next scene will blow your mind. After the rape, Mala marches home naked with her students trying to cover her up with umbrellas.

While all this is happening, we are introduced to Raj’s father, the wealthy Rai Bahadur, played by Saeed Jaffrey. Throughout the film, the late film and stage veteran plumbs new depths in hamming.

When the matter goes to court, Mala verbally demolishes the cunning opposition lawyer. It is difficult to make out if these are court proceedings or a verbal spat in a fish market. But Mala, who was earlier a strong woman, suddenly becomes weak and laments that nobody will marry her now that her ‘izzat’ (honour) has been lost.

So what does the judge (Yunus Pervez) do? You guessed it! He orders Raj to marry Mala as ‘punishment’! We are not shown the reactions of Mala or her father, but we later find out that they are absolutely fine with the verdict. So much so that Mala even touches the judge’s feet and dreams of a grand wedding with her rapist. On top of that, Mala forgives and forgets the attempt by Rai Bahadur's men to kill her.

10 Rani Mukerji roles that will leave you spellbound — birthday special

The extent to which the film treats women as objects is witnessed in another scene. Rai Bahadur offers Rs2 lakh to Mala’s father and asks him to persuade her to withdraw her rape complaint. In turn, Mala’s father offers Rai Bahadur Rs4 lakh and asks him to send his daughter-in-law to sleep with him.

If you thought all this was ludicrous, you ain't seen nothing yet. Despite Raj's guilt, he, his father and sister-in-law insult Mala in the filthiest manner after their marriage. Their main aim is to throw her out of the house. Raj also openly gets close to his sister-in-law’s sister (Divya Dutta). Yet Mala not only develops a sense of respect for her rapist, but she also literally worships the dust off his feet.

Mala’s aim is to anyhow win the love of her rapist. Why? Don’t ask. Eventually Raj tries to kill her by getting a snake to bite her — curiously, a mode of murder used by a man in Kerala just last year, for which he has now been sentenced to a double life term — but the snake bites him instead. So what does the intended victim do? She sucks the poison out of the villain's leg and saves his life. And Raj starts loving Mala!

Mission accomplished? Not quite. She still needs to earn the respect of the rapist’s evil and arrogant father, Rai Bahadur, who insists Mala has maligned their family’s name, as if there was anything to be maligned.

During the pre-climax, Rai Bahadur gets so frustrated with Raj’s love for Mala that he smashes a huge flower vase on her head. Mala is almost on her death-bed but is saved. And by now you must have guessed that she forgives Rai Bahadur as well.

Even granting that the movie was made a quarter century ago, it is ridiculous and horribly regressive. Yet Mukerji showed glimpses of her talent even in such an atrocious venture. More importantly, filmmaker Aditya Chopra recommended her to Karan Johar for Kuch Kuch Hota Hai after watching her performance in this cringe-worthy film. And the actress has gone on to play strong characters who overcome their handicaps to achieve their goals. She and Chopra are now married as well.

In an interview with Wild Films India during her initial years in the industry, Mukerji recalled her first Hindi break saying, “My father [Ram Mukherjee] is [was] a producer-director. But I never had this desire to become an actress. But when I was in my 12th standard, I realized I didn’t want to study further. So I was wondering what should I do in the future. At that time, I was offered Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat and I did it.”