Monday, July 14, 2008

Koi...Mil Gaya, or, Jadoo Ke Side Effects

The very last thing I expected when embarking on viewing Koi...Mil Gaya was to be left with thoughts provoked. I mean, c'mon. It's got a blue alien named Magic in it. It's got Hrithik acting developmentally disabled. It's got goofy songs. I sort of thought I'd just put the movie in, sit back, and wish I didn't have a brain to deal with the inevitable fallout. And that's what happened, just not the way I expected. But more about that later. Koi...Mil Gaya (I Found...Someone) is a 2003 film, directed by Rakesh Roshan and starring Hrithik Roshan, Preity Zinta, and Rekha.

A scientist guy from India (Rakesh Roshan in a cameo role) sits at his computer and plays out Om tones into outer space, kind of like Close Encounters of the Third Kind did. His pregnant wife, played by Rekha, sits in the house and basically pretends like her husband's a rational human being with potential for success. After all, he's educated! Just apparently also insane, and tragically underfunded, if one's to judge by the wiring coming out of his old Commodore (guess it's hard to get a grant written for this sort of thing). One night things go tragically wrong. The scientist guy dies in a fiery car crash and his pregnant wife gets thrown free (you should've worn seatbelts!), resulting in brain damage to her unborn child.

As is typical of movies on both sides of the Pacific, the brain damage is kind of squishy in its definition, but what it boils down to is that when Mrs. Mehra's son, Rohit (Hrithik), grows up, he thinks and acts like a ten-year-old who's got special needs. He's got a bunch of friends who are all about fifteen years younger than he, and they go everywhere together on scooters, I guess.

If I were to get my impressions on how people with special needs, not to mention children, are treated in India from this movie, I would say that they are able to roam freely about the countryside without supervision. I would also say that apparently young men with no real employment but lots of free time and gas for their motorcycles consider children and developmentally delayed adults to be fair game for all sorts of cruelty. (Don't worry, though. I do actually know better than to garner impressions on an entire nation's cultural perspective on such issues from a popular movie.) Sadly, that's not a phenomenon limited to India, but over here we'd be pressing all kinds of charges.

In the land of Bolly, however, things are different. Rekha finds out about the stupid young punks who've been picking on her baby and goes downtown to tell them a thing or two. With the men is Nisha (Preity), a young lady who just came into town a few days ago. Through a series of misunderstandings, she's come to think that Rohit was deliberately making a fool of her during some earlier encounters rather than acting like the child he mentally is.

When Mrs. Mehra tells the guys off, though, Nisha realizes the mistake she's made and goes to make amends with Rohit and his mom. Eventually, she becomes Rohit's constant companion, because nobody in their village needs to actually work for a living except for (Oh my dear Lord) Johnny Lever's character. It's kind of like Flowers for Algernon, except that unlike Miss Kinnion she's not getting paid.

Then one day Nisha and Rohit dust off Dad Mehra's ancient computer and play the Om song for fun. Aliens respond! And one gets left behind, one who will change all their lives, kind of like E.T., the Extraterrestrial. He has special powers granted by the sun, kind of like Superman.

I think Hrithik deserves mad props for his performance in this movie. Not because it always hits the right notes (it doesn't, believe me), but because at least he's trying. In an industry where I've read interviews with actors stating proudly, "I do whatever my director tells me to do... I don't need to research," (I'm paraphrasing here) he deserves major kudos for the effort. And sometimes he does get it right. Rekha is by turns fierce and maternal, sometimes both, and I just love her on principal because, dude, she's Rekha. But really, she gives the best adult performance in this movie as far as I'm concerned, although granted there isn't as much required of her as there is of Hrithik.

Notice I said "best adult" performance? That's because the kids who play Rohit's group of friends are super cute and, as far as I could tell, give great performances. I know there are subtleties that I probably missed since I don't speak Hindi and can't judge their vocal inflections, but I thought they were awesome. In fact, this movie's unabashed sense of wonder and playfulness leans it towards "kids' movie" for me, although there is some violence that I wouldn't want my kids to see in a few parts.

Notice I've left out Preity? That's because we've come to the part that actually got me thinking. Darn it! I hate when that happens while I'm watching a Hindi movie! (By the way, big freaking huge spoilers ahead, so if you were in any doubt of how this movie was going to end you might want to stop now.)

What am I supposed to think about Nisha? She hangs out with Rohit of her own free will, and ends up falling in love with him... But when? Before, or after his mental faculties are healed by the alien? I was never able to pinpoint the exact moment where I looked at them and realized, "yeah, she's in love with him now," and near the end she assures him, "I fell in love with you, not your powers," or something to that effect.

Now, from my modern American perspective, a sharp modern woman falling in love with a mentally disabled man-child in her care seems wrong, almost pervy even. But then I was reminded of something I recently read in a new introduction to one of my favorite books: "The modern reader may wonder if there is a chance for true equality in this marriage, when not only age but intellect seem to be very different, but true equality in marriage was not an issue to most in the thirties."

Am I projecting a cultural paradigm onto Rohit and Nisha's relationship that doesn't hold up in the place where the movie's set? Am I supposed to believe that not only circumstances but even radically disparate mental ability are no barrier to love's progression? Am I overthinking a relatively stupid movie? You don't have to answer that, I already know.

But here's my problem with Preity's performance: I have no clue about what Nisha is thinking. I see nothing happening behind her eyes as she interacts with Rohit beyond what's on her face. There's no mental gear-turning, no private agonizing, nothing. This is also a failure in direction, and perhaps the script, although I have no way of knowing what was left on the cutting-room floor.

Anyway, like I said, it's basically a harmless movie. There are a thousand Superfantastic Bollywood Moments. I don't even care enough about it to hate it, which I guess brings new meaning to the phrase "damned by faint praise." Unless you're a completist and absolutely must watch every single performance, ever, by one of the principals, then I would recommend you spend your time elsewhere.

Whew! It's been negative around here lately! I promise, the next movie I review will be one I loved. In the meantime, here's "Idhar Chala," a really cute song from the movie and a moment I actively enjoyed.


  1. Guess I am the only one who thinks Hrithik did a good job of pretending to be mentally disabled ("played his true age", as one friend of mine put it). It was a cute movie but is more suited to below 10 audience!

    About unequal marriages - have you seen Tim? Its a love story between a mentally disabled young man and a much older woman. The unequal union seemed to work there! But thats movieland (or fiction - its based on Colleen McCullough's novel).

  2. Good movie and i think Hrithik has delivered his best ever performance so far,though he did a good job in the historical movie Jodha Akbar also.

  3. Bollyviewer--you're definitely not the only one; didn't he win the Filmfare award for best actor & critics' choice best actor as well? I think I'm an unusual judge because I've spent a great deal of time around people with mental disabilities. That's funny what your friend said about him. :-) I've never heard of that movie; I'll have to look it up.

    Saheli, I haven't seen Jodhaa-Akbar yet but I'm really looking forward to it *finally* making it to DVD. It's taking forever!

  4. Arghh, this film made me want to scream and pull my hair out. I can't even believe I made it all the way through it.

    I couldn't believe it was such a huge hit. There was nothing original about it, and it was poorly done. Hrithik's "acting" made me cringe.

    I think it may be the worst film I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot of bad ones)...

    :-) sorry to everyone who liked it, but I just hated it.

  5. LOL memsaab,I knew you felt that way about it. Which is why it's so stinking funny that the Indian media quoted you as having LOVED the film! :-D It's not the worst film I've ever seen. I think Eye of the Beholder starring Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd takes that particular piece of cake.

  6. I think I like most films overall, huh? I loooooved Koi Mil Gaya.

  7. I hit enter too quickly, lol.

    Very few Bollywood films I don't enjoy.....

    I just looked at the movie as a fairy tale type of movie, hahaha. Bad comparison, huh?

  8. Nicki, I've done twenty reviews here and out them I've only done 5 negative ones, so I'd say I'm pretty indiscriminate myself. ;-) I thought probably memsaab and myself were the only two people who didn't care for it.

  9. Aagh- I couldnt watch the whole thing- you are so so brave! I beleive I ended up watching it in fast forward mode, and then felt like I was DONE!

    Hritik looks and acts so idiotic in this movie- I know 2 special children, and they are far more mature than his character :D

  10. Shweta, I agree, most of the children with special needs who I know aren't like that. I haven't read any interviews with Hrithik about the movie, though; I wonder if he actually based the way he acted on someone he knew? I guess it's not outside the realm of possibility.

    And Nicki, I forgot to say, viewing it as a fairytale might be the only way to make it work. I don't ever want to ruin someone else's good time because there've been plenty of times I've lurved a movie "everybody else" hated.

  11. i watched this movie when i was 12, but now looking back i realize that hriticks performance was much like dustin hoffman in 'rainman' but i liked that movie also, so i genuinely thought it was cute with his nodding, and wiggling his head to the side! but the love angle i think was somehow developed in the beginning and the songs before he became normal! i liked a bit!

  12. Hey, Rum, I can only wish I knew about Hrithik when I was twelve! (Although, he would've been just fifteen then... Oh, never mind.) I guess he *is* a little bit like Rainman, although I haven't seen that movie since *I* was twelve so I'd forgotten.


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