Friday, August 18, 2006

K[H]ANK K[H]ANK: All the way to the Bank

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


aya said...

yeah...this film can attract NRI and many wanna-be-NRI type of middle class Indians.

I think his fiml could be enjoyable in many sense (like laughing at SRK wearing "cool" neckless in KKHH..haha) but they are not "good" films which can somehow get place in my mind for long. For me, Johar's film is fake. The film can never drag me emotionally.

KKHH...where is such a school in India? (Maybe..American school in Chanakyapuri) KKKG...driving fancy car to school and everyone welcomes you?

Most of Johar's film is about something to laugh at its pathetic features. may be enjoyable (it's song was good) but it is due to actors and actress...we should not call it as good film. never!

Abhigyan said...

Satya-san, am flattered..

As always, you expect people to be all-rounders...I agree with your point on the continued regression or lack of adventure of Karan Johar, and in this movie it comes across again as a perceived happy ending. And if you want to be ultra-real, it would have been doubtful whether SRK's character in this movie could ever have a happy ending..I have always felt the same about 'Rangeela' too (and we both liked it), but if I can suspend my belief there, I am ready to do the same for KJ too...He has no pretences to being realist too.

KJ is not capable of making small films, period. Not comparing them, but Spielberg also isn't. Even his most critically acclaimed movie, Schindler's List, is not small by any imagination. It is possibly more rooted in reality than his ET/futuristic fantasies.

Ramu once upon a time was relatively versatile, though his only good movie outside the action/thriller/hard-hitting genre was Rangeela possibly. Daud would have been there, but suffered from too many loopholes. Farhan Akhtar still might turn out to be, but he also does not look like making a small movie. Govind Nihalani has made a semi crossover (loved Takshak, liked Dev), Prakash Jha even in a more mixed manner.

What I am fine with in Johar's case is his relative honesty, in terms of beliefs and convictions. He would have never seen the seamier side of lives possibly, so he is happy exploring rich people's emotions. The problem was when a capitalist like Manmohan Desai made Amitabh mouth socialist dialogues in 'Coolie', disgusting! At least we are living in a more honest era today.

Abhigyan said...

Afterthought, to have active links, just copy the url from the browser window (use IE for blogspot), paste it, and voila it becomes active.

satya said...

But Abhigyan, isnt that the whole point. Give us something credible to watch or fool us well with the caricatures and in my view Johar has consistently failed to fool us. And David Dhawan does so much of a better job at that. This is in reference to the Rangeela bit.

I think this whole big thing is well big talk. Anything in the past 30 years in Mumbai which has been big has actually been trash. Roop Ki Raani Choron ka Raja, Trimurti, Mangal Pandey...and some names I cannot recall.

The point remains that money can be out to much better use than getting huge stars, shooting in NY, and the designer sets and clothes. Money is very important and so are stars, but what does stop the ones who can wield both to make better use of it.

The flaw I keep pointing out is that these guys are playing within the genre of hindi films in terms of characterization. Characters are heroic, untarnished, they look for love, they are not lonley, they are not horny.....its a very simple twick that our writers need to inject simple as that and so many of the unexplained of our movies can become so much more palatable.

And I agree that my review goes on an extreme there where I demand reality or a film study of the country's problems but in simple terms what I mean is films are meaningful cause they capture some portion of our lives in them or atleast that is how character empathy begins and my problem with KANK remains that even yuppie types in NY city will not have such whimsical reasons to opt out of a marriage.

In the end films are stories, all i seek is a good story teller who maybe incredulous if he can carry it off but hello tell me a good story even if it is the story of Mittal's son's love life.

I if you remember clearly loved Dil Chahta hai, saw it like five times in the theatres alone. Where was aam junta in that film, nowhere, it was as elitist if not more than Johar's films but the point was not elitism but a good story teller. I think DCH carries the point more clearly.

xanjukta said...

Satya...why, rather KKKYon you check for a good story teller in KKaran Johar????

well to be fair, i haven't seen the film, which must be amply clear, but i've spoken with a few people who've seen the film...

what i think is the progression in hindi cinema, the estranged partners actually find other people and not each other... when seen in terms of out reach, which i hear is global cos Baby Bachhan finds firang chori, where there were four poeple, now there are six... tee hee hee!!!! Gang B@#g???

satya said...

in that gang bang, you will have to contend with naked...abhishek bachchan, arjun rampal, shah rukh khan....

isnt it turning off enough...

make it more unplesant...add a naked preity zinta, rani mukherjee......

xanjukta said...

ooodles and ooodles of puupy fat... a few dimples... dark armpits (rani if you didn't guess), muscles with a wooden inexpressive face and a nervous broken back... hahahah!!! will they be allowed to smoke later or will the lighting up of a cigarette tantamount to censorship issues????