Friday, May 9, 2008

Cheeeeeeezilicious, or, My First Viewing of KKHH

(If you're a fan of Bride & Prejudice, then you might recognize this picture as the billboard that's being erected during the "Marriage Has Come to Town" song.) Here's the deal with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, which translated means roughly "Something's Changed:" It was made in 1998, which means in Hindi movies that there are lots of bright colors and headbands everywhere, especially in the flashback scenes. It's also got a ton of SuperFantastic Bollywood Moments in it, like people playing electric guitars that aren't plugged in and engaging in basketball games that involve carrying, not bouncing, the ball to the basket, then obviously leaping off of a trampoline in order to slam dunk it.

Also it shamelessly panders to the masses with long extended scenes of Hindu worship, including the Hindu version of a Ladies' Bible Study, which are totally unnecessary to the plot and do nothing more than assure the average religious viewer that s/he can root for these characters because look how much they love god! And there are cartoon sound effects, Lord save us all.

However, none of that matters because KKHH is totally awesome.

Here's the plot: the movie opens with Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) saying goodbye to his wife, Tina (Rani Mukherjee), who has just given birth to a baby girl and is dying from ensuing complications. (Strangely, doctors seem to feel no compunction to even hook the dying woman up to a heart monitor, let alone, you know, try to save her.) Tina makes Rahul swear to name their daughter Anjali and gives her mother eight letters for the baby. There's one letter for each of Anjali's first eight birthdays.

Eight years later, Anjali desperately wants a mother like all the other kids have. On her eight birthday, she opens up the last letter. Tina tells her daughter about how, back when Rahul was at college (St. Xavier's, where girls wear miniskirts like they're going out of style--educated women love to expose their bodies!) he had a best friend whose name was Anjali (Kajol). Anjali was "one of the guys" and proud of it. No miniskirts for her, just colorful overalls and lots of sportswear product placement.

Then, Tina showed up and reduced Rahul, already a campus Romeo, to a slavering idiot. During the course of his attempts to woo Tina, Anjali realized that she was in love with Rahul. When Rahul told Anjali he had fallen in love with Tina, she left school in the middle of the term and never returned--and never told him of her feelings, either.

In her letter, Tina tells Anjali the Younger that she feels that she came between a relationship that was meant to be when she interfered with Rahul and Anjali the Elder's friendship. She charges her daughter with finding Anjali Sr. and reuniting her with Rahul so that what was meant to be will be. Anjali enlists the help of her paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather when the little family visits the latter on the anniversary of Tina's death for some ceremonial thing that Hindus obviously are very familiar with since there's no explanation provided. Do I even have to say that Rahul has no idea any of this is going on? The three conspirators look up Anjali's former dorm mother, who's remained in contact with Anjali, only to discover that--plot twist!--Anjali's getting engaged that very day.

Here's something you might not know if you're not Hindu or more familiar with Indian culture than the average Westerner: Hindus have an astrologer pore over the respective horoscopes of the engaged bride and groom and he chooses their wedding day for some auspicious time. Sometimes it's only a matter of days from the engagement ceremony. Anjali Jr., on hearing the news of her older counterpart, prays and through divine intervention gets Anjali Sr.'s wedding date set months away. See what I mean about religion being used as a sop to the masses? There's absolutely no true conviction behind these plot devices--if they arose from true piety it'd be different-feeling. Still, I'm willing to go with it and so will you be.

So anyway, blah blah blah, hijinks ensue, happily ever after, blah blah blah, everybody cries. But I knew that already or I wouldn't be watching this movie.

What sets KKHH apart from the crowd is its unabashed sentimentality paired with a very realistic awkwardness between Rahul and Anjali once they're reunited at last. These two really, really liked each other as friends before. (Their interactions in the first half are very sweet.) Anjali, however, was too immature to realize what she wanted out of the relationship until it was too late. Now Rahul is slowly coming to value her as a woman, but is convinced that true love only comes once in a lifetime, and that Tina was it for him. Every interaction between these two is stilted, uncomfortable, and embarrassing for the viewer--I kept on wanting to look away out of pity for the two of them.

The first half of the film, all set at St. Xavier's, would be cringe-inducing, except that I think it's meant to be an eight-year-old's idea about what college is supposed to be. After all, Anjali is reading Tina's memories through the filter of a child's mind, and I think, given the overall realism of the second half, it's safe to say it's not supposed to be lifelike. At least, I hope not.

Their journey to wholeness is what makes this movie a total keeper despite the fact that Johnny Lever has a huge role in the second half of the film and that means lots of screaming, eye-rolling, and did I mention overacting? Okay, then. So. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Worth every penny.

By the way, the Shah Rukh-Kajol pairing, or jodi as Hindi film fans call it, is famous, and this movie makes it clear why people long for its return. If you don't mind some spoilers (I never do because I have got to know the ending before I watch a movie) then feel free to watch the seminal moment that fans still gush about from KKHH right here:


  1. "However, none of that matters because KKHH is totally awesome."

    Best summary of KKHH in the history of FOREVER. First Bollywood film I ever watched, and to this day it's one of my all-time favourites. <3 There's cringe-worthy clothes, over-the-top things by some people, but you don't mind at all because... well, because it's freaking KKHH!

  2. Yes! One of my friends has decided that her Indian name is Anjali because she loved her character soooo much. When a character crosses that many cultural divides you know it's a great film!


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