Wednesday 6 June 2007

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (2006)

The best scene in the 3-hour soap opera, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (Never Say Goodbye), is the classic train station finale. You've all seen it. It was in Reds. It was in Dor. It was even already an hour earlier in this same movie. With sweeping choral voices to accompany the slow-motion chase, Maya (Rani Mukherjee) races through the station, saree flowing behind, searching frantically for her love, Dev (Shah Rukh Khan). Quick! The train leaves in one minute, and if you don't catch him now, YOU'LL NEVER BE ABLE TO TELL HIM YOU LOVE HIM! (Mobile phones and Hallmark cards don't have quite the same effect.) Thanks to some tragic misunderstandings, Dev has actually seen Maya and is quickly limping away, trying to avoid her. The camera swoops, we see Maya running while Dev hustles through the crowds. The camera zooms, we see Dev stop in his tracks while Maya asks someone for help. The music climbs to a climax: Dev dodges into the train, sits, and then -


Admittedly, you have to wait three hours and five minutes for this piece of conventional cinema gold. Since we watched this movie in half-hour snatches throughout an otherwise busy but boring day, we would say it was digestible. It was like having the Friends season finale, going on and on and on... Bored with work? Turn on KANK for a few minutes. Tired of KANK? Back to work.

Meh, why not?

Maybe that's being a little cruel. But we had prepared ourselves for the worst: one of those multi-starrer post-2000 Bollywood extravaganzas that hide a vacuum behind a thin shell of tears, bad jokes, and unsatisfying songs. We were a little surprised then: the story is presented with sensitivity and a light, deft touch (rather than overbearing melodrama... well, it's not that overbearing), and Shah Rukh Khan's powers beat us again, for we cried. (For you at home keeping score, that makes Shah Rukh Khan - 5, PPCC - 0. Curse those dimples!)

Oh, those dimples!

The story is this: Rishi (Abhishek Bachchan) is a happy-go-lucky guy who loves life and loves his wife, Maya (Rani Mukherjee). Maya, however, is Frosty, Queen of Ice, and interminably dour. And also infertile. And shrewish. Meanwhile, Rhea (Preity Zinta) is a go-get-'em fashion magazine queen; she's a sunny, successful businesswoman, a model for us all. She is, like Rishi, in a bit of a lopsided relationship, as she's married to the man-shrew, Dev (Shah Rukh Khan), who, after a spectacular car accident early in the film which ends his dreams of becoming David Beckham, hobbles around like Gregory House, hating the world and himself.

From David Beckham... Gregory House.

Interestingly, rather than the sunny Rishi and Rhea falling for each other, the movie shows us the blossoming love between the depressed Maya and Dev. With the pretense of being 'friends' who want to 'help each other save their respective marriages', they are, of course, clearly on the road to a little some'n some'n. Tears ensue. Fights. Dramatic scenes where lovers lie to each other, their spouses... and themselves!

Love is in the air for the senior citizens as well. Samarjit (Amitabh Bachchan), known to some as Sexy Sam, is Rishi's dad and a man perpetually handcuffed to anonymous call girls. Yet despite his boozing, libertine exterior, in his chest beats the heart of a sensitive soul; it's all mourning for his late wife, you see? (We don't see...) But Dev's mom sees, and how! Who can resist Amitabh's powers, anyway? Especially when he does that dance of his.

And furs! He'll even match your outfits!

The director was big on split screens, which made everything feel a little 1960s human drama-esque.

The movie is a long series of light-hearted and genuinely funny moments à la Sleepless in Seattle punctuated by the requisite tearful arguments, reconciliations, and dizzying dance sequences. The viewer certainly feels for all the couples, even if they are all just stylized archetypes: Dev the Byronic Hero versus Rishi the Too Perfect Man. The acting was fine, in that it was about as good as if we had used puppets with funny voices.

We could not help, being native English speakers, noting with amusement the liberal use of English when needing to punctuate an emotion. Behold Dev's Han Solo-esque demands, "I love you and you love me too." Dammit.

Step back everyone: Shah Rukh is Acting Now.

The portrayal of Americans was also quite funny. It seems we'll never shake that alternatively obese or steroids-pumped look nowadays, complete with shrill voices and ultra-casual garb. There is a children's soccer match scene which teases these stereotypes particularly well. The New York Times notes that this may be payback for Hollywood's portrayal of non-Americans. Err... Apu, anyone?

Oh dear.

Oh my.

But the influence of America is not just in the presence of a lot of non-Indian faces. This is a movie deeply enmeshed into the multicultural, globalized view of an NRI; marvel at how the Bachchans call each other dude (one of the best lines of dialogue, in English, goes:

Amitabh: Dude, what's up?!
Abhishek: Dude, I'm nervous!

This is the "Dude! DUDE!" scene.

Shah Rukh gets the chance to tease this Americanissimo behavior by mimicking Abhishek in one scene: "Yeah, 's cool, totally cool, man."). Marvel at the explicit mentions of homosexuality (never seen that before in a Bollywood movie!), the cell-phone-flipping, Armani-wearing, Hinglish-speaking, completely integrated and yet uniquely and forever Desi NRIs. The plot itself - failing marriages, adultery, even a sex scene (with no kissing, of course) - was also clearly part of the integrated, modern outlook of a global India. And the music! Don't get us started, we generally didn't care for it, yet it was interesting to note the fusion of bad American pop with more standard Bollywood fare. Par example:

The Bachchans kick butt while a House-ian Shah Rukh can't join in. Damn.

A note on the Bachchans: When we began this journey deep into Indian cinema, we decided to be anti-Bachchan on instinct. That was before we saw Don, Kasme Vaade, and Parvarish, and now we have come to accept and love Amitabh as if he was our own Big B. (And he is, of course, for he is everyone's Big B.) We still maintained our bias against Abhishek, because while Shah Rukh hauled himself up from middle-class unconnected beginnings in an industry more nepotistic than British royalty, Abhishek was just born into the lap of fame. This is our first Abhishek film and we must say, OK, he's not terrible. He was actually quite cute and cries much more convincingly than Shah Rukh's purely movie, albeit effective, Tears of Manly Restraint. This was reason enough to put Abhishek on our good list and, after booty-shaking with as much panache as his dad, we decided he is there to stay.

One of the most oddly touching scenes. Dev and Maya check into the hotel. Finally.

Oh, you may as well watch it for yourself. Dev and Maya get tragically jiggy with it while their respective spouses dance to bad techno. No kissing allowed, sorreeee.


Beth Loves Bollywood said...

See? You said so yourself: "unsatisfying songs." Not the same as "bad," I know, but still.

I am delighted Abhishek is on your Good List. I love Abhishek a lot.

I'd say more, but I think that KANK, like Jessica Simpson, is not going to go away until we stop talking about it.

~^~*~ k!r@n ~*~^~ said...

im not sure how i stumbled on this american blog abt indian films (im desi myself) but yea, this film was appreciated much more abroad than in india b/c the topic is quite sensitive for them still. since ur american, im guessing u saw it with subs, which, u should know, can kill LOTS of the humor. the songs, um yeah, ur right there. the ones with the english catch lines ("rock n roll soniye" and "where's the party tonight?") werent as good evn for us desis, compared to the movies theme song sung by sonu nigam and of course the beautiful song "mitwa," which, by the way, has become a staple at our weddings. personally, i loved shahrukh and rani's performances, they should hav received much more attention for it, and for the bravery of signing on 2 a film of such subject matter when they knew the majority of their audience probably wasnt going 2 b sensitive 2 their case. they really had to win them over in this movie, as opposed to the aud already being on their side (as is the normal case).

Ami said...

One thing that I don't understand about SRK movie logic with the audience is..even when he's doing a controversial-themed movie like KANK, everyone still expects it to be a blockbuster. Not that I'm complaining, but the money-discussion does take a bit away from the awesome-ness of a known family-hero like SRK doing a flawed-family-man character in a movie like this. How awesome is it? KJo & SRK had to face "THE PEOPLE" and answer some very disturbingly surreal questions along with a panel of 'relationship' experts. Creepy.

JD said...

This film is one of my faves for a simple reason - the writing. Yes, the actors all do a bangup job with their parts. Love stories, particularly ones with people cheating on spouses (one of whom is so perfect he reads like an advert on a dating site), don't often have the balls to keep the cheaters human and not make them Realize Their Faults and learn something in time for the Significant Reunion and What I Learned montage at the end? Not many. Not only did the writer make the cheaters wounded, he made it what drew them to each other. How real is that? Particularly in Indian films, the object d'affection is almost always the beautiful, spunky, smile as she cries heroine. In this case, she doesn't smile, she ain't warm and she certainly ain't easy to live with or love. But then again, neither is the poor, screwed up, depressed chew toy that falls for her either. It's the fact that they are both damaged and that there's no need to be all sparkly and fake happy in order to be loved that makes me love the story. Don't get me wrong. I adore Shahrukh and Abhishek both and adore Shahrukh with Rani in virtually anything (even the interminable "Chalte Chalte"). But really, for this film, it's the story that I love.