It is going to be a very difficult review to do. Since I first saw the mention of Kuch Kuch Hota hai in some issue of India Today years back, I have abused, riled and disparaged Karan Johar in extremely unpolite terms.
I never did watch Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham except in bits and pieces. Kal Ho Na Ho was something I enjoyed as the watching experience but beyond that what obviously disgusted me were the lack of any originality in terms of a plot and characterization. What continues to rile me is the sheer lack of courage in Johar and his likes (extremely successful, big production houses backing them and the who’s who of the industry at his beck and call) taking the hindi film industry by the collar and shaking it to its core. But what we find is that it’s the new players, the ones wanting to break in who are shaking the industry from its established norms.
KANK is a diversion from Johar’s happy family antics and regressive conflicts that were prominent in his earlier films, or so say film critics. However, simultaneously, this tale of extra marital soul mate tango is a throw back to his philosophy that, ‘somewhere out there lies the perfect partner’ for each of us (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai). There is obviously a rich literature available on this critical area of human concern and Richard Bach is a major prolific writer who encourages such fanciful notions. Even in this regard, Johar’s contributions are too pedestrian, notwithstanding the grandeur of his frames, their settings, designer wear and expensive habits.
Thus, the tale, which is probably known to all, is of two not so happy couples in New York. Alas, only two characters get good footage and the meat of the roles. Shah Rukh and Rani are thrown together by a sequence of accidental meetings (a Yash Raj trade mark and soon everything Yash Raj will be usurped by Johar). The reasons behind the couples’ unhappiness are something one is expected to assume and is not convincing in either Rani’s doubts or Shah Rukh’s complaining self. But then Johar, god of Indian expat cinema, NRI sucker, decides that they are unhappy and should find their soul mates. So they meet, hang out and live in denial while discussing ways to improve their respective married lives but do not try hard enough to actually make any improvement. This bit reminded me of Hong Kong director, Wang Kar Wai’s paean to unrequited love, In the Mood for Love. Set in colonial Hong Kong, two couples move in next door to each other. It is soon made clear in oblique ways that there is a cross couple affair-taking place. In perhaps the most elegant cinematography and eclectic musical score, the feeling that develops between them resonates on the frame amidst meals at restaurants and the writing of martial arts serials in hotel rooms.
Unfortunately, Johar is not and I doubt ever will be interested in such exploratory themes for his stories and so the cheated spouses Abhishek Bachchan and Preity Zinta, while sharing some camaraderie and screen space, get ignored beyond discussing how their rotten spouses are upsetting their lives. Packed into three and half hours are some great dance numbers, a few not so funny jokes, a death, two heart breaks and a three year separation between the soul mates. In the end, and in classic Hindi movie fashion, they meet and live happily ever after or so we are expected to believe.
Were we to replace the stars with some small time actors, the movie falls flat on its face. This tale of love after marriage is set in New York, why, only Johar knows or his funding agency. The story could have been set in Shanghai, Hong Kong or Singapore. Taking this further, if we set the story in Patna or Jabalpur, we would have had really progressive cinema, but now, Johar has realized the potential of the NRI ghetto. It’s the goose that lays golden eggs each time with no dangers of being killed, despite the greed. What will indeed be killed is the experimentation that might have been possible in the Hindi film industry, an industry, still in search for an all India theme in the post-liberalization/globalization India. Mainstream films, while never at the forefront of raising societal issues on screen beyond the 1960’s, nevertheless managed to do so even in their parodies till the late 1980’s. But the NRI goose promises to kill even this potential, for the NRI concerns are diametrically opposed to any issue of concern to the resident Indian.
So where does that leave KANK in my view? The media has expressed its disgusted at the regressive nature of the K serials from the Balaji House but it exults each time Johar gives us another K film. K serials are attacked and pulverized despite their commercial success. Isn’t the characterization of K films as regressive (tradition/modernity, soul mates, overwhelming lovers) and the narration as soppy and trapped within the un-intellectual traditions of Johar’s and Yash Raj’s past successful films? So why do we have such double standards? And what is galling is that these are the standards by which Indian culture is increasingly being defined as, at home in the metros, abroad in NRI ghettos and the vast new converts of Europeans who enjoy Hindi cinema for precisely this inanity.
For a review of the movie with great character referencing please look up