A side effect of the whole Hrithik-Kangana madness is that it made me think about Kaho Na Pyar Hai. Because that is tied with Koi Mil Gaya, in my mind, for Peak-Hrithik. Agneepath is probably his best acting job, or maybe Jodha-Akbar, but this film most perfectly encapsulates his overall appeal.
Oh Kaho Na Pyar Hai! There is something about it that suddenly makes you feel young. Even if you weren’t actually young when you first saw it. I was the perfect age, 19, but I think even if I weren’t 19, it would make me feel 19. I described Bahubali as a film that makes you feel like a small child again, this is a film that makes you feel like a silly teenage girl.
That’s why Hrithik is so perfect in it. Because he is the perfect teenage crush. He is handsome, and kind, and a little funny. But not intimidating. He has no darkness to him. Even in this film, when he really should have some darkness, it just feels like light happy sunshine in human form when he is onscreen.
And the whole film is that same strange combination of lightness over what should be dark. In it’s bare essentials, it is a dark mafia revenge thriller. It’s a loose remake of an older Kannada film, based on a Kannada novel, and I would be interested to know if either of those versions were a little less contradictory in tone and content.
But they might not have been. Hindi film at least has a long tradition of mixing light and dark in unusual ways. Teesri Manzil, Khel Khel Main, Khiladi, the list goes on and on, light romances against a thriller backdrop. Heck, even CID and Howrah Bridge back in the old days had a bit of an oddly light feeling for film noirs.
(Surprisingly light song for a murder thriller)
Maybe it’s because romances in Hindi film are usually so dark. If the plot has to be driven by the romance alone, then the romance will probably become something dark and complex, involving family feuds and a fight for the freedom to love and so on and so on. But if the romance is only one small part of a larger mystery, then it can breath, be light and happy and silly instead of carrying all that weight. And, Hindi film being what it is, the romance will always be a large part of it. Meaning a large part of the film will be light and silly, while the dark bits are isolated off by themselves in the less interesting bits.
For this film in particular, it was made to launch Hrithik. And Hrithik’s strong suits were already apparent, light comedy, dance, and romance. Being the charming pretty man who makes you feel 19 years old again. And so they went heavy on the charming light happy parts of the film, and every once in awhile threaded back in the thriller plot, just for some kind of structure.
All of that is the practical consideration. But there really is something magical about this film. The songs, the dancing, the directing, the acting, it’s all familiar, and yet somehow better. Even watching it today, when the plot looks cheesy and out of date, and the film quality is terrible, and we are all a little tired of the Hrithik magic, there is still something there! Something innocent and charming and happy. Something a little addictive. And definitely something new!
This is one of those few times when you can point to something and say “there. Right there is where it started.” DDLJ, Maine Pyar Kiya, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Bobby, Awara, and Kaho Na Pyar Hai. Literally overnight life changing, for the stars, for the filmmakers who helped build them, and for all the fans who suddenly discovered a new addiction.
But, what was it in the film exactly that made it so new? If I take a close look at things, will I be able to figure it out? Maybe! We’ll see.
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We start with a rich girl and a poor boy. But a slightly silly surreal version of both. Amisha is so very rich girl. Protected, peppy, confident, doting father and mansion and new car for her birthday. And Hrithik is so very poor boy, living with a sweet little brother he takes care of and kindly landlords, dreaming of playing his guitar and working all day at an autoshop/showroom.
And then they magically meet! At a traffic light. The one place where all of society pauses together in equality. Her in the back of her chauffeured car, him on his old bike. And meet again when he comes to deliver her car, and they enjoy a secret misunderstanding between the two of them that perhaps he is her birthday present, not the car.
What makes this plot a little different is that Hrithik is the prize, not Amisha. He doesn’t pursue her, not initially, she pursues him. It makes him more desirable, to the audience that is. Or at least, desirable in a different kind of way. We were so used to the Khans, the 90s romantic heroes who ran away from home, crossed oceans, did everything for the woman they loved. This guy, who just sort of stood there bemused by romance, that felt different. Less threatening, more relaxing, he could be anything we wanted him to be.
Of course, it backfired a little on poor Amisha. Her character veered more towards “crazed manic foolish” than “peppy princess”. Which, again, caused a different reaction in the audience. As we saw her chase Hrithik, hire him to perform, try to come up with elaborate stratagems to be alone with him, etc. etc., we found ourselves thinking “well heck, I could do better than that!” She wasn’t exactly the audience stand-in so much as the audience competition, and an easy competition for us.
Let’s just run through this ridiculous plot. Amisha and Hrithik magically meet. Later that day, Hrithik’s friend convinces him to crash Amisha’s birthday party and try to get noticed for his music. Amisha and he have a magical moment together, but then she can’t find him again and tries to hunt him down. Until her friends surprise her that her birthday cruise trip has hired Hrithik to perform on the boat! Which is another random fairy tale kind of feeling moment. Going on this boat trip together and finding each other again on the high seas.
So then Amisha gets her one song, singing to Hrithik, who is wearing a magician’s tuxedo by accident. The combination of her sexy song and his prop comedy and confusion, is perfect. Takes something that could feel threatening and adult and so on, and somehow makes it innocent and kind of sweet.
And the rest of it goes from innocent, to childish. Amisha runs off and gets drunk, Hrithik finds her, and is accidentally knocked out, they end up adrift in a lifeboat, and then on a desert island. Amisha’s reaction is happiness at being alone, Hrithik’s is frustration. But childish frustration, he tears off her skirt, and it doesn’t feel like an attack, it feels like teasing, harmless. We don’t even really need his explanation that he wanted it to make a flag to put out to ask for help.
And then they fall in love, or rather Hrithik admits his love, when Amisha jokingly pretends to be drowning, and he jumps in to save her despite not being able to swim himself. Again, very childish. And then there is the title song. With it’s catchy hook step. A hook step that involves no actual touching, just shimming shoulders at each other from a good foot away.
This is a romance that I would have no issues sharing with anyone 3 to 83 and knowing they would all enjoy it and more than that, understand it. It picks up on that bit of whiny childish teasing we all have buried inside of ourselves. Makes us feel like that moment when we wanted adult things, but went about getting them in childish ways. It’s the least sexual “trapped alone together on a desert island” sequence I have ever seen!
And it’s followed by the least dramatic “her father objects!” sequence, in which Anupam Kher gives in pretty easily, so long as Hrithik can prove an ability to support her. Which leads to the plan for a grand concert that will promote the cassette tapes Amisha and her friends are helping him make, and launch him as a singing sensation. It’s a kind of “gang of 12 year olds” feeling plan, it doesn’t feel like adults with a sense of how the world actually works put this whole thing together, but it doesn’t matter either. Because again, it makes sense to our old childish instincts, so we can let it go.
And then there is the least violent violence. Hrithik stumbles across a conspiracy, is caught, is chased, is shot and beaten and drives his motorcycle off a bridge. It’s not a great action sequence in terms of being impressive or imaginative or even that clearly filmed. But it is perfect for this particular film. Because we don’t want it to be impressive or imaginative or any of that. We want it to do the job it’s supposed to do and keep the story going. In a nice soothing way that doesn’t make our hero too impressive, too remote from us.
The structure of this film in some ways is similar to Aradhana, another overnight star making film. It should really be the heroine’s film. Amisha falls in love, Amisha chases him down, Amisha is devastated by grief and travels far away, Amisha meets a new person who looks just like her dead love, Amisha goes on a quest for vengeance. But instead, it turns into Hrithik’s film. Amisha serves as the eyes through which we, the audience, see the hero. Which becomes the most literal in the most famous sequence, the “Ek Pak Ke Jeena” song. Hrithik is there, on display, for Amisha and for the camera and for the audience.
He continues to be on display, in one way or another, for the rest of the film. His love song in which he fantasizes Amisha, is also a love song in which he himself becomes an object of fantasy, riding in the cool car, wearing the cool clothes. The action scenes that follow his return to India, the running and hiding, serve to let us see him in slightly different outfits, with slightly different mannerisms. To run through his interactions with all his co-stars from the first half, but with new hair and accent, just to make him stand out a little.
And then, finally, the concert. The very meta concert. Hrithik introduces himself as “are you with me? Can you feel it? Then let’s go for it!” And, well, we were with him! We could feel it! And we did go for it. This is the culmination of an entire film, giving us a chance to see Hrithik from every angle, in every situation, to make our decision on him. There was no forcing, no hurry, it was like we were in the auto showroom his character worked in, with a salesman letting us view the car from every angle, take it out for a test drive, consider everything, and then finally ask us if we wanted the keys. And we did.