After Parineeta, I was ready to watch another Karan Johar film. What can I say? My tastes are plebian. So, I turned to the next movie written by Karan Johar but, unlike KKHH and K3G, directed by someone else, namely Nikhil Advani. Kal Ho Naa Ho, which came out in 2003, stars Shah Rukh Khan, Jaya Bachchan (the same lady who played his mom in K3G), Preity Zinta, and Saif Ali Khan. I was majorly bummed about Kajol not being in the film, but I ended up not minding.
Preity plays Naina Catherine Kapur, an angry young NRI New Yorker whose life has done her wrong on more than one count. Her dad killed himself, her younger brother's got a physical disability, her younger sister is rejected by her paternal grandma, who blames the little girl for her son's suicide, and her mom's restaurant is failing. Not to mention the fact that her mom and grandma fight all. The. Time. It's enough to make anyone sour and Naina looks like she's been sucking on a lemon for about the first 45 minutes of the film. She has two friends, one of whom is Rohit (played by Saif Ali Khan), who shares her evening MBA classes. Rohit's a bumbling good guy, emphasis on guy, who reminds me of his golden retriever as far as temperament goes.
Into this clusterscrew walks Aman, Shah Rukh Khan's character, who shows up accompanied by his mom in New York and moves in with his uncle across the street from Naina. And yeah, he introduces himself in a big song-and-dance number complete with the American flag and anorexic gori girls you see right there. It samples Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman." I have to giggle because every article I've read about this movie mentions in tones of awe and disbelief that Karan Johar actually procured the rights to use the song in his movie. You have to love how everyone in Bollywood gets bent out of shape about piracy of their movies but have no problems bending copyright laws in their own interests. The reason Karan Johar bothered to get the rights was because, when K3G was such a huge hit, for once a Bollywood film showed up on Western radar and Geri Halliwell's label noticed that "It's Raining Men," Poo's theme song during the second half, had been used without their permission. So they sued him and he learned his lesson, apparently.
Anyway. Aman notices Naina's trainwreck of a life and decides to take a hand in making it better. He's annoying, imposing, brash, and irreverent, but somehow he manages to insinuate himself into the Kapurs' life and, in the process, starts bringing healing and restoration to their broken family bonds. Along the way, Rohit falls in love with Naina and Naina falls in love with Aman and... well, I'd better stop there for fear of spoilers.
I really enjoyed this movie, and its messages about what makes a family happy, and what love entitles the lover to demand or refuse. It's colorful, makes good use of its New York City location, and has a compelling storyline that keeps you watching for the entire really long film. Even though Shah Rukh Khan's billing is what made me pick the film up, I ended it even more in love with Saif Ali Khan (no, they're not related, in case you're as new to the Bollywood scene as I was when I watched it). His performance as Rohit is nuanced, subtle when it needs to be, and broad when the humor suits it. Many fans have commented on the homoerotic subtext between Shah Rukh and Saif during the film, but it's played for laughs and clearly isn't meant as a real message. Still, it is really funny, and there are even fanvids on YouTube devoted to the SRK/Saif "jodi."
Preity was fun to watch in this film, and that's about all I can say about this role. She starts it screeching and ends it crying, and there's not many other notes to speak of. This was the first movie I watched which starred her. I learned later that she's capable of better, but apparently it takes a different sort of director and/or script to draw those performances out of her. Still, her dimples are adorable and she did an adequate job.
The other thing I noticed is that Karan Johar has a thing about weight. In his interviews he's stated that he was overweight as a child (now he looks like he's suffering from an eating disorder on the other end of the spectrum, if you ask me). Also, I've been told by those who've spent long periods of time in Asia that there, it's not considered really rude to call someone fat. Still, you have to wonder if a real friend would say, as Naina does to her zaftig friend Sweetu, "If anyone chooses you he'd be blind." Or something along those lines. That compounded with young Rohan in K3G's weight issues, and the constant jokes that attend it, make me wonder when the heck Johar's gonna get over it.
The biggest disappointment to me was the soundtrack. Unlike KKHH and K3G, there were only two standout tracks: the 70's-lite-rock-channeling "Maahi Ve," and the tear-jerking title song of the film, which translated is something like "Tomorrow May Never Come." The terrible English rap in "Pretty Woman," which involves lyrics like, "Coming Out Today/You Got To Feel It Right/ Just Like Day After Night/Dont Let The Sunshine Out Of Your Sight" is cringe-worthy. And the equally awful "It's the Time to Disco" is, well, awful. See that picture on the right? What else can be said?
The rest of this post contains spoilers.
SuperFantastic Bollywood Moments: Oh, they abound.
1. When Aman shows up, it's snowing. The next day, people are walking around in short shorts and playing in sprinklers. Even in New York City, the weather doesn't swing that drastically.
2. This isn't really the filmmakers' fault, but some cursing was bleeped out by the censor board in India. You'd think they could either put it back in for the international copy or dub it with something else, but no. Just "beep beep beep" as if you're listening to a post-game locker room interview with a football player.
3. At the beginning of the movie, Naina is apparently running all. Over. The city. Oh my gosh, she must've run 20 miles, and yet she still has Preity's normal-girl figure! She should be looking like the marathon runner her character obviously is!
4. Aman evidently has the ability to turn himself invisible when needed, since there are several occasions wherein he sits within easy view of whoever he's currently stalking and yet they have no clue that he's there while they discuss him.
5. When Naina's grandma finds out the truth about her adopted granddaughter and her son's suicide, there are several zoom-in close-ups from various directions, accompanied by dramatic musical flourishes.
6. There's some serious stereotyping of Guju vs. Punjabi ability to party, but if you're not Indian chances are you won't catch it. Plus it makes Saif's, um, "dancing" next to SRK possible to watch since, hey! He's Gujurati, he's supposed to suck at it!
Still, overall the production values are pretty high-quality, and the supporting cast does a great job. There are lots of laughs and situational humor as well as some witty exchanges between Aman and Rohit. And the tears, when they come, are justified. I've never made it through the sad version of "Kal Ho Naa Ho" without bawling my eyes out.So. Kal Ho Naa Ho. In my opinion, maybe not worth every penny, but worth most of them. Here's a clip from the movie (no spoilers, I promise):