There is a scene in October when, while the female protagonist lay in a state of coma, her uncle bluntly and rather crudely says there is no point in recovery of the girl since she will live like a “vegetable” all her life. The girl in question, Shiuli, played by Banita Sandhu, had moments before fallen down from a hotel she was working in. While her mother and siblings remain quiet, Dan, played by Varun Dhawan, her co-worker, evades his glance and says, “She might not remember who you are, but at least you all remember who she is.” He had barely exchanged a smile with her in the past but was now a constant by her side.
Such unconditional and, if one might add, defiant affection is a rarity in Bollywood, considering these words are spoken by a man about a woman he might, perhaps, be in love with and who has received no validation of the same from her. In many ways, October changes the narrative of love stories in Bollywood. The sparse dialogues, the conspicuous absence of any songs and the detachment of romance from a love story are not tropes one generally associates with them. And neither does one anticipate one of them to wait for the other, with such persistence and resolve.
Dan, a cranky intern at the five-star hotel, asks too many questions and fails to exercise restraint when needed. He lacks tact and is difficult to like. He wears a scowl while doing laundry, cleaning hotel rooms and even when sitting by himself eating an apple. Yet when he hears from his colleagues that Shiuli had casually and perhaps incidentally asked about him before the fatal fall, he visits her regularly and doggedly. He needs to tell her why he was not there. He also needs to see her recover. Dan as a lover is unlike most lovers one would generally encounter in the landscape of Bollywood love stories. Dan as a lover is in a perpetual state of waiting. He waits for her to respond. He waits for her to move her eyes and acknowledge that she knows him. He waits for her to smell the flowers he so religiously gathers and scatters near her pillow. He waits for her to forgive him when he leaves without a word. He also waits perhaps for the wait(ing) to end, or maybe not. Dan as a lover exchanges words of love in silence and waits for its reciprocation in similar quietude.
Other than exploring grief, empathy and mortality, Shoojit Sircar’s film also presents an exquisite portrayal of a lover who is in no hurry. The idea of waiting is an integral part of love but seldom explored. What else do you do when you are not smiling at your lover or walking with them by your side, basking in their presence? You wait for them. You wait for them to remember you. You wait for them to know that you are waiting and you wait for them to come back to you. And this is precisely where Dan as a lover is posited, perpetually and continuously. He waits without any vocal encouragement or noise. All he does is wait.
French theorist Roland Barthes in his book A Lover’s Discourse, dedicates a chapter on waiting. “Waiting is an enchantment,” he writes and then goes on to describe a lover as one whose “fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits”. A lover is perhaps doomed to wait. And by bringing this intrinsic aspect of love to the fore, Varun Dhawan portrays the lover Bollywood generally does not endorse.