enh: Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna

DISCLAIMER: I am a 32-year-old, never-married, WASPy, midwestern American who has only recently begun to learn, in an organized way, anything about India, and a lot of what I have started investigating is because of movies. So I don't really think I'm at all qualified to talk about this film's portrayal/exploration of adultery and marital unhappiness - I have no personal connection to them, but more importantly I have absolutely no informed idea how these issues and their treatment by this movie resonate in India (or Indian-American culture, for that matter) or why. So I'm just not going to talk about that, other than to say that, in general, it is a sad thing to be unhappy and to feel trapped by that unhappiness, and ideally you don't get yourself into such a situation in the first place, but if you find yourself there, it is, in general, a good idea, or at least not a bad one, to try to get yourself out, as long as you take into consideration the other people affected and try to be respectful of them.

HEY, I KNOW THAT GIRL: Totally Basmatic, whom I totally saw running basmatically up and down the stairs of the train station.

QUESTION: Would this movie be getting even half of the attention it's been getting if it had been made by someone else and starred different people? I feel like I was tricked into thinking this movie was - or was supposed to be - important when it struck me as no more - or no less - full of statement or meaning or lessons than any other Bollywood movie picked at random. But now I've seen it, I can say my piece, take place in any further discussions anyone wants to have, and move on.

QUESTION: Has SRK ever played a less empathetic character, even in his villain days? Gad. By the time we see him publicly berating his son on the soccer field, I was ready to slap him myself (and was really pleased when Rhea did so at the end, though I cannot condone violence, etc.) and lost any interest in caring about him. What a colossal ass. I am uncomfortable with the concept of "deserve" when applied to people, but I think in this case I can say that he was getting what he deserved, at least in that he put incivilitiy and pettiness out into the universe and was certainly not getting any sunshine back. I don't think having your career hopes dashed means you get to be such a horrible parent, either. And that stunt he pulled at his mother's dinner was just mean-spirited.

QUESTION: Did anyone else get confused by what Karan Johar was trying to say about working women? Preity's character voiced at least one point I agree with - "no one asks why men are too busy to spend time with their children" - but if there was clear support for either case-by-case basis distribution of parental/household duties or condemnation of women having time-consuming careers, I sure didn't get it. It's always interesting when a writer has an unlikable character represent an intriguing or moving side of an argument (a good example is from Ally McBeal, when icy Nell argues in court that workplace promotions should go to the people who do the work, regardless of why other people hadn't been able to do the work, even if that means women who choose a leave of absence to have children are held back) but I just wasn't sure what KJo was up to here. If anything. He might have just been tryign to raise the question, and that's okay. But I think it's important to note that Rhea was self-centered because she was self-centered, not because she was dedicated to her job ("It's hard to meet me"). Her career aspirations had little to do with her general nature.

PARENTING: I think KJo (sorry, that's really fun to say) might have been trying to say something about parenting, because it keeps coming up, at least in passing, even though the movie didn't spend huge amounts of time looking at parent-child relationships or dynamics. There's a point made that Maya's parents are long dead; Dev's father is gone and he himself is a lousy father most of the time; Rishi's mother is gone and Maya continually tells him he's being childish and needing some kind of mothering (don't know if there was supposed to be a connection there, nor if we're supposed to agree with Maya on that [I didn't see it, actually; I just thought he was emotionally enthusiastic, and I have no problems with that]). And the family background of Rhea, the character whose parenting is most criticized, is never mentioned, making her own parents a cipher and maybe therefore she cannot be expected to know how to be a mother?

EW, EVEN THOUGH I CAN'T QUITE JUSTIFY IT: Ah, Sexy Sam. That one went just a smidge too far. Elder statesman of Hindi film as ridiculous comic relif? Sure. Cf Buny aur Babli. Humor that's magnified because Sam and Rishi are actually father and son? Sure. Letting clunky, lechy comments sail by in comparison to their accompanying giggles by completely wooden or otherwise glaringly untalented non-Indian extras (and I share TB's general dis-ease with white extras)? Sigh. He's the Big B, you gotta set him up to succeed at most any cost, even if it means you deliver some cheap laughs ("cheap is nice," after all). Mega-star in fur handcuffs? Okay, if you must (although I beg you to think about that really hard before you decide that you must, just like having homophobic lines delivered by Satish Shah). However, he got more and more likable as the movie went on, and I genuinely liked Sam's reaction to Maya's affair and his parting words of advice.

IF I HAD TO INVITE ANY OF THESE PEOPLE TO DINNER: I would choose Rishi. I didn't like any of the other people, not even the little boy. Dev and Rhea were both awful, incompatibly so, obviously; I didn't dislike Maya particularly but I couldn't quite warm to her either, because she knew full well she shouldn't marry Rishi but she went ahead and did it anyway, and at some point cowardice about decisions that so involve other people takes on selfish overtones. I think Rishi was the only one who was upset about what happened because he truly cared about the other person - which is maybe supported by his breakdown when Maya confesses and by the gesture he makes to keep her involved in his life years later, which we don't even see the co-parents do, even though they have such a compelling reason to figure out how to co-exist in any way - whereas I think everyone else was just sad that they had failed the institution of marriage (or it had failed them). And much to my surpise, I really did not care at the end whether Maya and Dev got together again or not. Overall, I don't understand why anyone would choose to make a movie with such unempathetic, uncompelling people in it. Message or no, controversial or no, please give me something to hang on to, or else you'll just lose me. I just didn't care most of the time.

A TEENY GEM: The dialogue Rishi has when questioning Maya about her affair and asks her "Did you have fun?" I thought that was a smart bit of writing, as Maya never seemed to have any fun and she certainly seemed far from happy with Dev in that hotel - she barely had any life in that scene at all, I'd have to say - and somewhere in his heart I think Rishi did want Maya to be happy, and if she had been happy with Dev, that would have helped Rishi understand a little bit. Maybe Rishi, son of id-meister Sam, put too much emphasis on fun in this particular situation, but I think that was a fair question, and it also showed his willingness to be vulnerable to the whole weight of her transgression, because if Maya did have fun, he would have had to accept the fact that she was capable of it, just not with him.

OH, FARAH: I think the fantstic Ms. Khan kinda phoned it in here. You get to have SRK do the three-quarter turn arm-fling thing a time or two in any movie, especially a Karan Johar movie, but enough is enough. How 'bout getting him to actually dance, since we all like to see him do that? Even surly Dev could have had a dream sequence in which he was happy enough to strut his stuff. This movie wasted two of Bollywood's most reliable entertainers.

WHY DID ALL OF ABHISHEK'S COSTUMES HAVE CONTRASTING-COLORED COLLARS? Seriously, why? I know the midwest lags behind fashion trends a bit, but what was going on with that? I mean, it didn't detract from his apperance one teeny tiny bit - Akshaye had better look out, AB's hot on his heels - but I just thought I would ask in case someone knew. Also, please go read what Filmiholic had to say about Abhishek in this movie becuase she sums it up perfectly and I formally, publicly second her emotion about his potential greatness, and though I'm not yet well-versed in Amitabh's movies, I think Baby B might soon surpass both his parents. (I know a bunch of people are going to get all upset at me saying that, but please re-read my original disclaimer and remember that I'm getting to know both Bachchan men at the same time and did not grow up under the legend of the senior, the role of violent, funny, and occasionally loving angry young man being filled in my world by Al Pacino - who, by the way, is equally squeamishness-inducing in his performance as an aging lech).

WHAT ELSE I LIKED ABOUT KANK: The songs were better in context than they were when I first heard the soundtrack. The flowers, as first pointed out by Filmiholic (see above). That we're told that when we feel like holding someone's hand, we should do it. That Sam calls Kamaljit "Chandigarh," a joke which I had to phone India to figure out, and now that I know what it means, I find it pretty funny. And I don't remember anything else. It's been 24 hours since I saw the movie and I really don't remember when or why I laughed when I did - except for during "Rock 'n' Roll Soniye," becuase I loves me some Bachchan family dancing in its grinning clunkiness. I also liked that that scene, stated as a 60s theme party, included Marilyn Monroe from 1955's The Seven Year Itch and 40s-looking gangsters in zoot-ish suits and fedoras, but whatever. (But it's okay to be careless with other people's culture, right?)

COMING ATTRACTIONS: We got no trailer for Dhoom 2 or Kabul Express but on the way into the theater we were handed flyers for a surprise showing next week of Lage Raho Munna Bhai! Hurrah! And when I handed my ticket to the young Indian man at the counter, he looked at me and smiled and said, "Are you Beth?" Hee. I love Bollywood.


Maja said…
Wow, you're famous! :)

Teehee, I love saying/writing "KJo" too.

This is an awesome post, Beth, I wish I could think of something substantial and intelligent to write right now but I'm too tired. I actually liked Dev a lot of the time (when he wasn't busy being horrible to his son), he had some funny lines.
Ooh, can you explain the Chandigarh joke? My friend and I were wondering about that and I had no idea what it was supposed to mean, other than it's a place in India. I even went to read about it on Wikipedia, but I still couldn't figure it out!

Hooray for all the good bits about Baby B, but just remember he's already spoken for, mkay? *cough* ;) And I have to admit I enjoyed the contrasting collars, fashionable or not, and all the colourful, stripey shirts as well!
Thanks Maja! I liked Rishi's clothes too. I found them confusing at times - the crushed red velvet jacket will always scream Austin Powers to me - but I liked them. Channeling my inner What Not to Wear host, I have to say, that man can wear clothes really, really well, especially suits.

I'm really intrigued that you liked Dev. He was funny occasionally, I'll admit, but I found his sniping, screaming, and pouting offputting most of the time.

So, the Chandigarh joke: my informant tells me that Punjabi women are known for having some junk in the trunk. If I recall correctly, Sam says this appreciatively. I know you can't generalize about a country with 1.1 billion people, but it did make me wonder if that tends to be an appreciated asset (ahem) in India.
Anonymous said…
Ok, Ab2's contrast collars were bothering you too?! I was willing to overlook it once but geez...

As for Sexy Sam, sadly, he was my favorite character. His theme song was irristable! It showed how much less likable the other characters were...
T-hype - yeah, what's with the collars? Totally weird. Not bad, just weird. I think at one point he has a black shirt on that has red cuffs, too, and that made me think that the costume person had raided a long-forgotten Chess King warehouse, although not in as bad a way as it sounds like I'm implying.

TB - Now that you mention it, I agree that the non-standard characters enabled a certain amount of detachment in the storytelling, and I too did not wish for one outcome over the other. But for me there's a connection between caring about the characters and engaging in the...is "message" the right word? the point, anyway. I think the balances within that connection can shift around, movie to movie, but I think a lot more carefully about a story when I feel involved with the people in it. (And I definitely don't have to like the characters to be engaged - I just have to find them interesting or empathetic or compelling or relevant. Even "interesting" on its own goes a loooong way in my world.) Here I just thought, "I wish you the best, and try not to muck up anyone else's life, even if it's scary to make the break that prevents the mucking." Which, to the credit of the story, the characters eventually did - they eventually got over their intertia or fear or whatever and did what was for the best. And I did like the voice-over at the end that regrets Maya and Dev's road was littered with broken hearts. While I'm not convinced Rhea's heart was broken (though her life was messed with, frustrated, made less happy, definitely), it's good for any of us to realize the impact of something we do, of choices we make. And if that was the point of the story, then I'm totally on board, and point well made. (Like when Kamaljit says to Rhea that even though no one consulted her about splitting up, she's still involved. That was a fair point to make.)

I forget where I was going to go with that paragraph. Anyway, another thing I'm unsure of is why I didn't engage with most of the characters. Is that disconnect a failure of the storyteller? Or a sign that I'm really, really not the intended audience for this particular story (not by demographic necessarily but by nature - since demographically I'm not the intended audience for most Bollywood but by nature I feel I fit in really well)? Azuregodess, what say you, since you do this kind of thing for a living: is it necessary that people engage with your characters, or does that depend on the message/type/style of story/film? I really know nothing about filmmaking, as this post is making clear.

Also maybe part of my "enh" about this movie is that it's so much being discussed as being about infidelity when for me it's about other things, so I'm feeling it's been misrepresented. Dunno. I listened to the BBC Film Cafe interview with KJo but I don't remember any of what he said about the movie. I shoudl probably go check that out again now that I could properly follow along.

Anyway (again). I didn't hate KANK, and I definitely enjoyed it more on many levels than K3G, and it was overall very pretty to look at (even if unrealistically so), and there were some moments that I really did laugh out loud, even if I can't remember what they were. And when Rhea slapped Dev, the theater audience gasped with a mixture of shock and approval. That was fun.

Oh reat. Now I feel like watching KKHH and holding hands, so I'm going to go do that. AB?

Sorry, sorry, I know he's already somebody's FPMBF (several somebodies', I bet). Mine's off Aap Ki Khatiring with Priyanka.
TB - you can procrastinate over here as long as you want, you laugh- and thought-provoking, stair-running fiend! (And the picture is inspired by Azuregoddess's, and my happy red shoes made me remember it yesterday, and I figured it was time to swap out the picture, even if the Southpark character version is a better representation of what I look like, since this one just shows that I have feet - although, to note, feet adorned with orange glitter nail polish purchased in Mumbai and in shoes that went to India with me.) (Oh my god, what am I talking about? And why?)

I am so with you that negative characters aren't necessarily less real, and of course you're right that generally audiences don't want to identify with negative characters, but I didn't find these particular ones believable, at least not enough of the time. Maybe my sense of disbelief wasn't calibrated for KJo yesterday. Dunno. There certainly isn't much about the movie that looks realistic - as though we're supposed to envision this whole thing in a flower-shop dream-land - but I can't use that as an argument, since a lot of Bollywood looks unrealistic and that generally doesn't bother me.

I can't even explain to myself why I didn't find them believable a majority of the time, but I couldn't. Each of the major characters certainly had moments of being very realistic to me - I can imagine going to uncomfortable lengths to try to connect with my partner (although if you're the one with the whip, you should also be the one who can see, right?), I can imagine standing on the edge fo the party feeling like I don't belong there - but not enough of the time to make me care.

Believability and realistic-ness (huh? what is the actual word I mean right here?) aren't something I worry about too much of the time with Bollywood, but if the characters are neither believable nor empathetic nor interesting, then there's a big disconnect between me and the filmmaker, and...kaput, I guess, although like I said, I did enjoy the movie in some ways, so it was by no means a complete wash.

Now I'm racking my brains trying to think of a negative character I identified with. Well, okay, here: I feel really sad for Kareena's character in Mujhse Dosti Karoje! - and even though she's played by Kareena and stands in the way of always-loveable Rani. But she's not on the same scale of negative as KANK's Dev. Hmmm. I hope people weigh in on this. Am v intrigued.

Good luck with that paper! Sometimes - and now is one of those times - I'm really glad I'm done with school, although some days I would kill to be back in a grad seminar with a big cup of coffee and interesting people all around me talking about interesting things. Fortunately, that's what's going on right here, and nobody with power over my permanent record is grading what I write.

Are they?
Anonymous said…
Nice post Beth.
But one thing that I don't understand is the need for such a detailed post about about such a crappy movie. IMDB users have voted it around 4.5/10 ..which by itself means that the movie was not even worth watching. All the hype about this movie (before its release) was becuase of its big star-cast, and Karan Johar. I've still to read a positive review on this movie.

Its not worth discussing. IMHO, it'll be much better to invest your free time in watching other movies.
Some suggestions: "Soacha na tha", "15 Park Avenue", "Ahista Ahista"
Anonymous said…
btw, I've made a new "yard-stick" to judge people.

If they liked "KANK", then I won't take their word seriously.
anonymous - I know what you're going for here (at least I think I do), and I understand the temptation (for me it used to be the movie Heathers - if you didn't like that, then what on earth could we possibly agree on?). But there are two people in particular whose opinions I respect very much and they both had some good things to say about this, so I can't take up that yardstick.

I never put too much stock in what the imdb ratings say. I can't think of an example right now, but I know I've wildly disagreed with those before.

As for bothering to write so much - I guess I've fallen prey to the hype. I'm talking about it becuase people are talking about it. I'm talking about it because it's kinda become its own little phenomenon, and generally speaking I'm interested in movie-related Bollywood phenomena (as opposed to gossip- or business-related ones).

And as for the others you recommend, keep on recommendin'! I'll add almost anything to my list. But I'm limited to what I can get in town (no Netflix for me yet! support your local businesses as long as you can!)....
Maja said…
Ooh, really interesting debate going on here; unlike TB, I don't have any paper-related procrastination to do, but there's a ton of things I should be doing. Procrastinators of the world, unite! ...tomorrow.

Beth,I thought about KANK and Dev some more last night before going to bed and I decided that while I liked him in the movie, he was the sort of person I'd probably only like in a movie/book but not if I met him in real life. I don't think I'd want to meet any of the main characters from KANK in real life, except Rishi (but of course). But the flawed, not immediately (or at all) likeable characters were one of the things I liked about KANK, they provided a good balance because otherwise everything in the movie would've been just impossibly perfect.

And thank you for the explanation re. Chandigarh! I actually thought it might be something like that the first time he called her Chandigarh, but when it became a running joke, I wasn't sure any more.

I love your new display picture, yay glitter!

PS. I fail Anon.'s yardstick test thing. I don't mind though. I don't take myself entirely seriously, so I don't see why other people should. :)
Do you not think, though, that no matter what, KANK is still a much better movie than K3G? (No fake thunder during dramatic moments, thank God!)
Also, from the user comments on IMDb, I get the feeling that most people who gave it a low rating weren't rating the actual movie (acting, screenplay, direction, the whole thing), but were just upset about the fact that it's about extra-marital affairs and people leaving their spouses. No?
Anonymous said…
thank you for the review,
I am one of the people that just loved KANK, so I hope you will not take ano's advice and stop taking me seriously! :).
I am a huge SRK fan, and I was really happy that he did Dev's character, I am not so hung up on his larger than life iage, and I actually liked that they didn't make him dance, i felt it fit the character he was playing.I cheered when Rhea slapped Dev, for me it was proof that he made forget him as SRK and see Dev in all his unlikable splendor.
and still underneath all the bitterness, he still made me feel sorry for him, I actually felt sorry for all characters and the circumstances they the selves in because of foolishness, stubborness,childnishness.
as for Imdb, I found most of the comments are either people who were disappointed Kjo didn't make another KKHH, or people who didn't like seeing SRK and Rani cheat on their spouses, or who didn't like to see infidelity on screen....few were the comments who actually discussed the film itself and it's merits.
That's how poarizing Kjo is.
babasko said…
Wow, great post and wow, great discussion going on here.

I still have not been able to watch it yet (its still not out if it will ever play here in cinemas and I have no idea when the dvd will come out. But refuse to watch a KJo style-extravaganza on a crappy bootlegged DVD. So I can´t comment based on my own observations, but i´m sooo curious how I will feel about this film. I vary from being hibbelig to feeling scared ;-)
ggop said…
Your post convinced me to wait for the dvd :-)
Thanks for the very detailed review. I think this is going to make me cringe (and not like the Mr. Bean kind of cringe)
Maja said…
I think the DVD is supposed to be released on 16 October, babasko, it's already available for preorder on Play.com :) I hope they include those deleted scenes with Ritesh in the extra features!
babasko said…
oh yes, right, i totally forgot about riteish/ritesh (whatever)

the german distributor of KANK will get so much trouble. and rightly so. since they release KANK only after the 26th of october. not a very wise decision
Firstly, my comment to anonymous
But there are two people in particular whose opinions I respect very much and they both had some good things to say about this....
should read
But there are two people in particular whose opinions I respect very much who both had some good things to say about this....
I respect a lot of people's opinions. I meant here that there were two in particular who said positive things abotu KANK that intrigued me, and it would take a lot more than liking aspects of KANK for me to dismiss them, even jokingly.

Maja - my friend Wendy applies the "would I be friends with them in real life?" test to characters in books and movies. It's a fun exercise.

Annous - I agree, it's good to see someone like Shahrukh do something different. That's one of the reasons I love Swades so very much.

Babasko and ggop - can't wait to read what you both think!

ggop - I love the idea of a Mr. Bean cringe. V evocative!
Aparna said…
Well, I guess I know why you are writing so much about the movie, because it happened with me after I saw the movie - I was disturbed because I couldn't place the intentions of the movie and confused, because everything seemed so vague, that my emotions kept changing throughout...and so, I needed to talk!
I don't know if that applies to you too.
Nabeel said…
I got so much negative feedback on this that I chose not to spend three hours on it...except that I did, one day, while flipping through TV channels....and Abhishek's performance (especially that scene where he absolutely loses it at his frigid wife) was so absolutely wonderful that it redeemed it for me. Everyone I know, including my sister (who is one of the biggest SRK fans you will ever meet, period) hated the SRK-Rani couple, and from there on the movie, but I tried to look beyond that one relationship and ultimately didn't feel like my time had been wasted.
Aparna - Not sure how I missed this comment ages ago but, yes, absolutely, this was a movie that required hashing out in my head :)

Nabeel - First, thanks for all your comments recently! I'm really glad you found something you like in this film; I have not rewatched it since seeing it in the theater but expect my feelings would remain the same, including being impressed by Abhishek. I have a friend who really likes the SRK-Rani story and couple because of how those two characters bring out the best in each other, versus the relationships they're in when we meet them that are clearly not good fits and make them miserable. If I ever do re-watch the film, I'll hope to keep that idea in mind, because generally I very much appreciate stories that let their characters learn and change and grow.
Nabeel said…
Thanks for the reply, Beth - I will look forward to your reviews! Your perspective is always fascinating because you often don't 'get' the movies because you're not a part of the culture, haven't grown up in it, and don't understand all the subtle undertones that make a movie like Deewaar or Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge so enormously popular (and you can't, and shouldn't, be expected to.)

ps. I've noted a certain aversion to movies that feature violence and generally the gritty side of life (few gangster movies, for instance)...not that there's anything wrong with that, but some of the best recent Bollywood movies I've seen were made by Vishal Bharadwaj, the guy behind Omkara. If you can, watch Kaminey. I finally watched Ishqiya yesterday and had lots of fun! Perhaps its the realism and profanity, but only to an extent...for me the appeal in these movies lies in the characters and their relationships.

Good comedy recommendation: Bheja Fry. How I see it: poking fun at elites. What do you think?
I do tend to avoid violence, and unfortunately that means there are some films I'm slow to get to, like Company. I have seen Kaminey and Ishiya (but not written either up yet); I wasn't super impressed with Kaminey (I didn't dislike it but it didn't inspire me to turn inside out with pleasure, either) but loved Ishqiya. But yes, I agree that what really counts for me is story and characters. The people in Ishqiya, and the situations they are in, are just so interesting!

Bheja Fry has been on my list for ages - so many people have said so many good things about it!

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