….you know you stayed up way too late watching a Bollywood movie the night before. I stayed up late the other night watching most of the 176 minutes of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, starring the incomparably gorgeous Shah Rukh Khan and beautiful Anushka Sharma. I should have been an Indian, with my love of music and bright colours.
Much as I adore Bollywood movies, especially ones with Shah Rukh Khan in them, I’ve taken a few viewings to warm to this film, probably because I don’t like the gender politics in it, as is the case with most Bollywood movies and I also don’t like the stereotypically negative depiction of introverts, as is often found in both Bollywood and Hollywood movies. One positive thing I can say about this film is that it proves the acting talent of the delightful male lead, because the plot of the film would be totally implausible if not for his ability to convince the audience that his wife in the movie could be fooled by her husband knowing her in close relationships both in his real persona and in a synthesized character who is his extreme opposite in terms of the introversion/extroversion spectrum of personality dimensions. Obviously both characters have the same face, so how could a wife not recognize her own husband’s face, playing a different character? I guess that premise is believable in light of the fact that face recognition ability is found in humans in a spectrum of ability, or a “bell curve” or a natural distribution. Most people are pretty good at it, a few excellent, and I guess the same number of a few really bad at recognizing faces. And there are other things that can confuse visual person recognition such as hairdos, facial hair, posture, habitual fashion styles, gait, voice and above all, personality, which is the spirit or mind that animates our bodies and faces. Shah Ruhk Khan and the make-up and fashion professionals who worked on this movie have expertly altered all of the above features of a persona (besides the basic face structure) in the two characters he plays, with such skill that the actor’s face no longer plays the usually dominant role in person recognition, even for a super-recognizer such as myself.
Upon some reflection, I’ve concluded that the degree of attention to the face of both personas of the male lead character are not reduced to the same degree. I think I paid much more attention to the sexy persona’s face than to the nerdy persona’s face, even though they are the same face. I guess that is just how that kind of attraction works; it demands and keeps attention. No surprises there, but if this is generally true it gives a nice clue to how to hide or disguise identity. I guess it is no accident that the stereotypical disguise consists of props that make a person less attractive, things such as spectacles or fake facial hair. Does a less attractive face draw less attention, and as a result is it less likely to be well-encoded in visual memory, and is it then less likely to be recognized later?
Can I really believe a plotline in which a wife repeatedly fails to recognize her own husband wearing a disguise that reveals his face rather than covers it? I’m not sure it matters that much when I just love watching the actors the dancing and the colours, but for sure Shah Rukh Khan’s ability to turn his industrial-strength charisma on an off like a tap is the only thing that makes this film believable in any shape or form.