Monday, August 14, 2006

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna***

Going by my recent trends of source-credited plagiarism, I will like the readers to go through the review attached below, which very much conveys my main thoughts on the movie.

The two points which Baradwaj has mentioned and definitely struck me too are the unacceptability of the lead protagonists (SRK-Rani), and the point he makes about the questions the respective spouses ask when the infidels confess their sins (the male-female dichotomy of sexual vs romantic behaviour). Awesome human insights, from the writer who happens to be Karan Johar himself!

Karan Johar is a strange character. To my mind, as witnessed in his chat-show "Koffee with Karan" on Star World, he is a top-notch interviewer of showbiz celebrities, making them comfortable and open up like noone else. It is possibly similar to what Karan Thapar does with politicians (the opening up bit) and Harsha Bhogle in the cricket commentary box (the comfort bit). The main reason is in a very cynical showbiz world (if anyone follows what the music composers and playback singers have usually to say about each other, one will get a more-than-fair idea), he comes across as one genuine person. I hated Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas, yet I thought it was definitely a good idea to premiere it at Cannes. Yet, apart from Johar, all those Indians who witnessed the movie at Cannes, tore it apart (I specifically remember a rather nasty article in Outlook), and wrote it off when the reaction was not necessarily so.

As a director, Johar's record is rather ordinary. He started off being an Assistant Diretor in a movie which I consider a classic, DDLJ. Unfortunately, while a media-shy Aditya Chopra has sort of receded into the background (after making a terrible remake of Dead Poet's Society), his good friend Johar has taken over the mantle of being the unofficial representative of the 'Yashraj School of Films'.

DDLJ was released in the Silver Jubilee year of Yashraj Films, and as admitted by Mr. Yash Chopra himself, it was the first time they realised the business potential of the NRI audience settled in the First World, especially the Anglo-Saxon world of USA and UK. The movie spawned off an entire new trend - designer romances with necessarily happy endings, catering to the most dreamy Erich Segal sort of fantasies and aspirations (though his Love Story is a brilliant example of minimalist, impactful literature), and in a nutshell, just rehasing of relatively similar plots in new, plastic settings. Yash Chopra himself made terrible movies (Dil To Paagal Hai and Veer Zaara), there were some like Aneez Bazmee who hit the jackpot on the box-office in spite of making similarly bad movies/spinoffs (Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha, a remake of French Kiss), and then there were critic-turned-directors like Kunal Kohli who realised the folly of attempting such 'candyfloss' without the star-power of SRK (Mujhe Dosti Karoge). In the meantime, there were also some intelligent romances, like Saathiya, but they were more of exceptions.

What DDLJ did was to make Sharukh Khan the romance superstar, similar to Amitabh's well-packaged 'angry young man' persona. It seems hilarious now to remember the early proclamations of SRK, as to how he wanted to avoid the trappings of a fixed image, something which apparently Aamir had got stuck in. However, to give the man credit, he was the first person I remember who started talking off Aamir Khan as India's best leading actor, and this was before Rangeela and Baazi came in, triggering off the method-acting bug in Aamir.

Shahrukh Khan is the 'King of Romance', ensuring even crappy movies like Chalte Chalte hit the bulls-eye at the box-office. This has endeared him to a section of 'longing for their roots' NRI audience like noone else. In fact, he is possibly the third in a generation of desi-bred pardes-conquering Indian stars - Raj Kapoor became a legend in the communist world with his Awaara and Shri 420 characters, Amitabh's action movies were huge hits in the Arab-Muslim world, and now Shahrukh with his tear-jerkers made the NRIs weep. All his attempts to break out of the mould (Dil Se, Asoka, Paheli, and possibly the most commedable one Swades) have failed. In fact, apart from Devdas, he hardly has had any hits outside the Yash Chopra-Johar camp. Let's see if he manages to break the mould with DonII.

Karan Johar is an unabashed SRK admirer, long before Brokeback Mountain made such behaviour trendy. His first movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai had an uncanny resemblance to Erich Segal's release in the same year, Only Love. For me, KKHH worked primarily because of Kajol, the sheer energy which she enfused her character with was awesome. SRK played such a lousy character that I felt sad for Kajol, mainly as he only fell in love with pretty women (first Rani, then a more feminised Kajol). However, KKHH, in spite of being a fairly average flick, established Karan Johar at the very forefront of the box-office.

Apparently, Johar was under tremendous pressure when he made his next movie Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham. And the strain showed, so bad was K3G. In fact, I call it the rich duffer's Suryavansham, an oft-telecast flick on Sony, made by a South Indian director during Amitabh's pre-KBC lean days. Both the movies have relatively similar father-son discord themes, but Suryvansham scored manifold over K3G in terms of sheer simplicity and old-fashioned story-telling.

In the meantime, 'Dharma Productions' (the production house of the Johars) diversified into making movies with other directors too. Nikhil Advani made a very Karanesque movie Kal Ho Na Ho, and did a fairly decent job with it. I especially like the narration style of the movie, was very similar to my favourite serial of school/college days The Wonder Years (if I ever become a Director, which I never will, I will only aspire to tell a story the way it was told in Wonder Years). Dharma also attempted to diversify into Factory territory by making Kaal, but the movie turned out to be more of a comedy than a thriller.

And this brings me back to the topic of my post, KANK. To his credit, Karan Johar has been talking about the need to get outside his comfort zone. Of the current crop, he and Bhansali are the only ones who have fine-tuned the art of narrating their films in the traditional Bollywood (read melodramatic) style of Raj Kapoor and Yash Chopra. However, while Bhansali has experimented with varied themes, with mixed results, Karan Johar has stuck to more conventional, rather regressive, formats.

Apparently, the thought of KANK struck Johar when he eaves-dropped a married couple breaking up in coffee shop in London (this after his father had died). When the movie starts off, you get a sinking feeling of deja vu, what the hell is new here. SRK dramatically shooting a thriller of a goal and then winning a 5-million dollar contract for himself (why football in America?), then SRK is sitting with Rani on her wedding day and apparently falling in love with her (which thankfully we learn later), crapping on grandiose Yashraj topics like mohabbat, etc. They also part ways in very filmy style, looking behind at each other walking away.

However, although the movie-telling style is very Joharesque (long and laboured), what hits you is the treatment given to the characters. SRK's best performance was when he played a very normal and selfishly human Sunil in Kabhie Haan Kabhi Naa, or when he played a psychopath in Darr. Here, he hams away to glory and is so bloody irritating with his mannerisms that you feel like getting Ashutosh Gowariker back on the sets. But then, voila, it strikes you. He is actually playing the most despisable character in the movie, somewhere between Kabhi Haan.. and Darr, and you seriously end up despising him, irritating acting not withstanding.

Rani Mukherji plays a character who is a Manhattan counterpart of Gayatri Joshi in Swades, and I definitely will have an issue having a school-teacher for a partner. She also looks much better without make-up, and her relationship as shown with Abhishek is possibly what most urban marriages are these days. She genuinely cares for him, but as a friend, nothing else. And this is what I loved the most, in spite of her correctness, she falls for a totally wrong SRK. I remember debating about the same thing in Madhavan's debut Hindi flick, Rehnaa Hai Tere Dil Mein, where Dia Mirza chooses Madhavan (a rogue) over Saif (ideal groom material). I for one do believe in the strangeness of the ways of the heart.

I find Preity Zinta very irritating, and although she plays a very positive character in the movie, I still hate it for it being Zinta. She is horribly made-up throughout (in fact, even Rani and SRK at times have too much pancake on, that's why Abhishek who has an unshaven look throughout is such a pleasant change). For Zinta's character, the biggest contrast again I can think of is with Akele Hum Akele Tum, where Manisha Koirala was totally right, yet was projected in a slightly negative light. It is totally to Johar's credit that he shows Zinta correctly, and when she slaps SRK right in the end, you feel not for but with her.

Abhishek Bachchan continues to score with his performances. He plays a rather simple but layered character, and portrays it beautifully. Even better is his final meeting with Rani (after separation), where he is fine just being friends with her. More importantly, he appears to be the biggest victim in the movie - childlike but totally mature (I must admit, the persona is possibly very similar to mine, hehe). Even when Vijay Anand made the path-breaking Guide, he had to justify Rosy's character by showing her husband philandering (RK Narayan disowned the movie, but I thought both the book and the film were classics in their own rights). As a sign of changing times, Johar makes no such attempt to justify Rani's treachery by painting Abhishek's character.

The real jaan of the movie is Amitabh Bachchan. He plays a sexy, voracious womaniser, and his relationship with Abhishek is an update of SRK-Anupam in DDLJ. In DDLJ, SRK had tried to portray himself as a casanova (he had thought of initially stealing condoms rather than beer, but Aditya shot it down). A decade later, the roles have reversed, the widower father is the womaniser, and Karan Johar shows it on screen. Most importantly, Amitabh is the only guy in the movie who symbolises the contemporary cultural code of openness and acceptance. In fact, I did wonder whether either Preity and Abhishek should have accepted the mistakes of their partners, but then there would have been no Johar-type climax.

I do not have much of an ear for music, and the first half is sort of devoid of songs. I liked Mitwa, Where's the Party Tonight, and Kabhi Alvida. In fact, the title track appears very wishy-washy, but I really liked it, more than Kal Ho Na Ho (which incidentally in a recent Outlook poll was the only contemporary song chosen in an all-time favourites song list, even by stalwarts like Shyam Benegal).

KANK is dark and gloomy, definitely very long. But the only reason you accept it is possibly no mainstream Hindi movie has put such grey characters as the central protagonists (hate such stereotypical classifications, but their is no other way of making the point). The movie is targeted to a multiplex audience, and if the audience does not empathise with the characters, then they will only be fooling themselves. The ending was expected for me, but again from a mainstream blockbuster perspective, it appeared 'radical' to most.

Post the movie, I might still avoid Johar the director, but am willing to hedge my bets on Johar the writer. Till then, I guess I will look forward to another season of "Koffee with Karan".


satya said...

Great review, I loved the references to the past movies and characters and justifications of infidelity.

But despite the justifications and the progressive characterisation of Johar the writer that you go to lengths to justify,it does not do anything for the story or the watching experience.

Edit it down to 700 words, keep the referencing of old movies integral and send it to rediff, check out their web site. Your knowledge of hindi films and the character comparisons makes this review excellent.

Abhigyan said...

First correcting a factual error....Main Hoon Na was a SRK hit outside his typical formula, though not without designer clothes and happy ending.

As suggested and advised by Satyabrat, I have also decided to participate in the rediff contest. May the force be with me.

I agree with your take on the watching experience (in case you have already watched it),but the point is Karan Johar's movie never have been unwatchable, they just have been innane because of sheer lack of content (especially K3G which was a two-line plot stretched into good-looking people in good locales). And since its not Kyunki..which our moms watch daily, it is acceptable for a one-time watch-and-forget.

KANK is attempt at seriousness, and in spite of the laboured direction, you feel fine because the central protagnists are so bllody fallible. Maybe it became an unusual experience for that. For instance, I again specifically remember, Madhur Bhadarkar's Satta meanders horribly in the end, but I throughly enjoyed it because Raveen and Atul Kulkarni played just believably grey characters. I guess in spite of my macro-perspective, I watch movies more from the individual's perspective.

svety said...

Hey Abhi not fair....i never knew u hated Devdas, i thought u disliked it. And, Dil To Paagal Hai was a cool flick with lovely songs. Haven't seen KANK but can't wait to see it now that u've made Aby Baby's personality urs. And, ya the strangeness of the ways of the heart.....mmm...completely acceptable

svety said...

Hey Abhi, not fair, u did not hate Devdas , u disliked it. And DTPH was a cool flick with damn good songs. And, now I can't wait to c KANK coz u've made Aby Baby's personality urs and in my absence, slaughtered Shahrukh. And, yes, the strangeness of the ways of the heart... loved that one.

Abhigyan said...

I hated movie where the pomp and grandeur sort of totally overshadowed the content...encouraged by Satya, the closest comparison will be with Minority Report..where superb technique enhanced the feel of the plot (I think I watched the two movies almost simultaneously).

but still found Devdas better than DTPH, which was a really stupid and innane flick...

satya said...


do you remember what precocious emotional and spatial contexts we saw it in?

fuck, that seems like an age ago.

svety said...

this seems interesting. tell tell... maybe it wasn't the movie after all

Abhigyan said...

well as far as i remember the context was one of the better holidays i have been to..all because we decided to skip kasauli for a more urbane shimla..and managed to beat the then record-opening in delhi by catching the movie in the hills...

satya also couldn't catch any porno flick after that....and as for ur turmoil, didn't it happen almost a year later...Keep watching Sportcenter till then!!!

satya said...

Four months later. But dude, whatever said and done, imagine all the TGIF daru I get to drink which she treats me too.

Passion I wasted to earn daru, what a kal yuga...ghoor apmaan mere ishq ki!

Abhigyan said...

But you still haven't elaborated on the spatial and emotional contexts...

Space - cosy threesome..

Emotion - ur guys alarm clock didn't work so we missed our still upset.

Abhigyan said...

Rajeev Masand had given a glowing review to the movie, check out his defence and rebuttal below:

satya said...

Do you remember the seats at the theatre? The guys talking loudly and drinking beer.

And remember love for me was still four months away, imagine how virginal and fresh I was and even then I hated that flick, but I so love the songs.

If you still upset, lets plan some trip again and you ditch us.

I had Dewa with me, the most unenthusiastic bastard one can ever have for non-middle class diversions. Remember Dewa came from the heart of the hindi heartland, thats how core he was then.

Abhigyan said...

Where is Dewa these days?? And the high point of that trip was anything but the movie....

Well if you didn't like the movie then (though don't know whether u were the types), then u must have been already grown....

satya said...

Dewa is a post-doc fellow in Munster, in Germany, married and I sincerely hope happy.

I hope to stay with him when I am there.