Hrithik Week/Shahrukh Summer: Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham!

Happy Hrithik Week! 5 reposted reviews, 2 new ones, I’m excited! And we are starting with the one link between Hrithik Week and Shahrukh Summer, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.

This is the most watered down weak-sauce fake-o-la version of Hindi film possible without actually no longer being Hindi film.  If you were to do a line graph with Awara at one end and Bride and Prejudice at the other, this film would be snuggled right up to B and P.  And yet not quite crossing that invisible Bride and Prejudice line that separates “Hindi film” from “Hindi film homage”.  That’s what makes it so valuable, it is the best test case for “what is the bare minimum required to make a film still sincere and not an imitation”.

Image result for kabhi khushi kabhi gham poster

Common wisdom has it that Hindi film breaks down to two things, Stars and Songs.  That’s what K3G is all about, it has 6 major stars and 6 major songs.  Stars from every generation and songs from every genre.  Of course, the stars are playing rather shallow character types and conflicts.  And the songs are heavy on the spectacle and light on the poetry.  But they are still stars and songs.

That’s why I make K3G my intro movie for people at my movie night.  It is to Hindi cinema as pizza is to Italian food.  Everyone likes it, no one complains, and it is recognizably Italian on some basic level even if it is missing most of the depth and deliciousness of more authentic Italian food.

Okay, that’s all my mean things I have to say.  Here’s the nice things.  If all this movie has is Stars and Songs, at least it uses them really really well.  And mixes them together really really well.  Every single song is a perfect example of a particular aspect of it’s star’s power.  Whether it is Shahrukh-Kajol chemistry, Jaya-Amitabh sweetness, Hrithik youthful sexiness, Kareena glamour, or of course the most complicated, when all 6 combine together.

In other “nice” news, it also has the purest most obvious example of the way Indian film picks up on older Indian cultural traditions, through the constant way Hrithik and Shahrukh are set to mimic Lakshman and Ram.  Little things like marrying sisters to being less than full brothers, and big things like Shahrukh obediently going into exile as a sign of love for his father.  If I ever need to prove to people that Indian film is directly related to the ancient oral traditions of South Asian culture, BAM!  Here it is!

And then there’s the spectacle.  Costumes, hair, sets, everything is big big BIG.  It’s not just a love song, it’s a love song by the pyramids!  It’s not just a big house outside Delhi, it’s a house so big you can only reach it by helicopter.  He’s not just the cute boy in school, he is the boy so cute he inspires his own cheerleading team to follow him around.

And the performances aren’t bad either!  The roles and plot are tailermade for these stars, fit like a glove, and the stars live up to it.  Shahrukh is the charming-est and sexiest he has ever been, Hrithik is the most confident and handsome, Kareena is the most arrogant and secretly sweet, Amitabh has the greatest gravitas, Jaya the greatest quiet suffering, Farida Jalal the greatest cheerfulness, and Kajol the greatest Kajolitude (which either means you hate her or you love her here, there is no middle-ground).

Most of all, it just feels warm and fun and happy.  It’s not an homage, not exactly, but there is a bit of nostalgia, a bit of tribute, a bit of relaxing into familiarity as into a warm bath.  Karan designed this film to be a combination of Hum Aapke Hain Koun and Kabhi Kabhi, and that’s what it feels like, somehow familiar and old-fashioned while at the sometime feeling updated and fresh for a new era.  Shahrukh and Kajol, they were playing the same roles together they had played in 5 films before.  Kareena, she looked just like her sister and her mother before her.  Hrithik, he was the same hero he had been in his last 4 hit films.  And Jaya and Amitabh, it was like watching your parents onscreen, we had seen them fall in and out of love in real and reel life for the past 30 years.  That is what makes it just barely on the correct side of the Bride and Prejudice line.  This isn’t a movie made by or for people who see Hindi film as kitsch, or an “experience”, this is for people who grew up within the warm soft embrace of all these films could be and have been.  And that’s the other reason I show it to people as their first movie, if you watch this film you don’t go into Hindi films ready to love at them or minimize them, but ready to love them.

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It’s a surprisingly simple plot once you strip away all the songs and spectacle and so on.  Shahrukh and Hrithik are brothers, Jaya and Amitabh are their parents.  Shahrukh falls in love with poor girl Kajol while Amitabh is arranging his engagement to fellow rich person Rani.  Amitabh is furious and throws Shahrukh and Kajol out, they move to London and create a life together.  Ten years later, Hrithik has grown up and decides to track down his brother and sister-in-law and bring them home.  He goes to London and meets Kajol’s little sister who has grown up to be Kareena and they fall in love.  He works his way into Shahrukh’s family under an assumed name and then reveals himself and begs Shahrukh to come home.  Shahrukh refuses until his grandmother dies and his mother asks him to come back home at the funeral.  He and Kajol return to the family home and Amitabh finally makes peace with them.  Then Hrithik and Kareena get married.

We were complaining a lot in the Jab Tak Hain Jaan review about how there was no real REASON for the 10 years of separation.  And it’s kind of the same problem here.  Amitabh said to go, so they went.  10 years later they came back and Amitabh says “When did I tell you to go?  You should have stayed!”  But this time around, it doesn’t actually ruin the script.

For one thing, the whole “when did I say that?  Anyway, you should have known I didn’t mean it and not paid attention and done what I told you not to do even though I told you not to do it” conversation is just plain CLASSIC parental guilt trip.  Very realistic.

But mostly it is because the conflict comes not from the Amitabh’s mind games, but from the situations they cause.  Amitabh welcoming Shahrukh home isn’t the resolution, or rather it isn’t the only resolution.  There’s the resolution of the Shahrukh-Kajol romance, when they get married half way through the film.  There’s the resolution of the Hrithik-Kareena romance when he stops teasing her and confesses his love in “You Are My Soniya”.  There’s the resolution of the almost unspoken sibling rivalry in Shahrukh and Hrithik’s love scene together.  And there’s even the resolution of the marriage problems between Jaya and Amitabh in his admission that he needs her, and in her confrontation and declaration of her own authority.  Amitabh is the central problem, but he spins off multiple other problems in all kinds of directions each of which have their own resolution.

That’s another reason this is kind of an ur-text (is that how that is spelled?) of Hindi film.  It is about the patriarchy, represented by the ultimate Patriarch, and all the many many ways it screws people up.  Each little subsection of story is a different way.

First there’s Hrithik and Shahrukh.  The hidden central story.  Shahrukh is the older brother, the second-in-command of the family.  Hrithik grows up feeling overlooked and left behind, the “spare” rather than the “heir”.  He whines his way through childhood, leaning on his nanny and food as substitutes for real love.  And Shahrukh enjoys dominating him, waves his status in front of his face.  Until it gets real, when the Patriarchy that has been slowly driving a wedge between them their whole lives accelerates the process, and sends Shahrukh away suddenly elevating Hrithik to the position of first son.  Shahrukh’s last move on the way out of town is to stop and visit Hrithik, to try to pass on some strength to the one who has to struggle to replace him.

Hrithik’s great rebellion is to reject his new position.  Like Bharat refusing to take the throne and instead leaving Ram’s shoes to hold the place, Hrithik will not fully accept his role as the only son.  Instead he decides his father was wrong, he is wrong, the right thing to do is to track down Shahrukh and give him back his honor.  And Shahrukh’s great rebellion is his reaction, when Hrithik finally admits his identity.  He says he does not need to meet his father, or his mother.  He just needs to see Hrithik one more time, that is enough.  They spent their early years being set against each other, but now they have realized that they are stronger together than alone, that each needs the other as much or more than they need the useless old Patriarch.  Youth united rather than age alone.

And then there’s Rani.  She is barely in the film, but she has her own little rebellion.  Her father and Shahrukh’s father have decided she should marry Shahrukh.  She is in love with Shahrukh.  It would be easy to just go with what the powers that be want from her.  But instead, she rebels.  She talks to Shahrukh directly and confirms what it is that HE wants, and makes her decision based on that information.  She decides without hesitation to go against the decision made by her elders and form her own life.

(Good religious Rani who loves her father and Shahrukh’s parents, still ready to go against them when she knows it is right)

Moving on down the line, there’s also Shahrukh and Kajol.  They are in love, one of the greatest possible rebellions.  But neither of them really questions their position in the world.  They are in fact the least rebellious characters which makes their punishment for their “transgressions” so obviously false, so unfair, as to incite rebellion in others.  Kajol resists falling in love with Shahrukh because he is rich, because he is a man, because her father didn’t pick him out, because she doesn’t want to leave her father.  She falls in love with him, but will not act on it, because she sees her father and little sister together and remembers she has a responsibility to them that goes beyond her own desires.

Shahrukh falls in love with Kajol, and at first does not see that as against his duty to the patriarchy.  Men are supposed to fall in love, to conquer, to bring women home with them.  It is only when Amitabh learns and disapproves of the relationship that Shahrukh decides he must give it up, better to break his own heart (and Rani’s by the way since she has already said she doesn’t want this marriage) than bring tears to his father’s eyes.

And so like good dutiful young people, they prepare to sacrifice their whole lives at the alter of the patriarchy.  Until fate intervenes.  My favorite moment of the film, Shahrukh comes to tell her good-bye, and sees that her father has died and she and her little sister are all alone crying over his body.  And that changes everything.  Before, they had flirted and loved but all under the protection of being essentially powerless.  If their relationship did not end in marriage, she would not lose respect or safety in the neighborhood because she would still have her father with her.  And if he walked away, he could say it was because his father ordered it and she would understand.  But now Shahrukh walks into a situation where the patriarch has been removed, and two young women are left falling down (literally) without that strength to support them.  It is the moment that, in an odd way, he was born and trained for, a life time of being taught how to be the head of the household with the expectation of taking over for his father at his father’s death, and now he finds himself automatically instead taking the place of the head of someone else’s household, becoming the man that Kajol and little Kareena at this moment in time need to lean on.  He does nothing wrong, in fact he does everything right, he takes responsibility just as he was taught.  And she gives up responsibility, obeys her new patriarch just as she was taught.  And yet, they are punished, for this situation completely beyond their control.  And the little people, the ones living under the tyranny of Amitabh, they are stunned at this wrong and it begins the rebellion that grows and grows until it takes him down.

Jaya and Farida, they are next.  Amitabh does not like their closeness, he refuses Jaya permission to go to Farida’s daughter’s wedding.  But Jaya talks to her in secret, asks her to go with Shahrukh and care for him.  Jaya isn’t openly rebelling, but she is resisting a bit, using connections that Amitabh dismisses and disapproves of in order to bend his rules a bit.  Even before that, she takes a moment to give her bracelets to Kajol, a traditional mother-in-law to daughter-in-law gift, before saying good-bye.  She obeys the letter of the law, not communicating with Shahrukh and Kajol once they leave, but she is already avoiding the spirit of it.

And her small rebellions continue even while we aren’t watching.  We come back ten years later to find the couple estranged, the house cold and empty.  Jaya has been following her “wifely duties” by obeying Amitabh’s direct orders, but she hasn’t been giving him love, and has perfected the passive aggressive jab and side glance.  She only comes back to him when he begs, broken down by her lack of love, and then turns on him again mere weeks later, declaring that she has lost all respect for him and will no longer obey his orders.  This is what happens to the authoritarian, they drive all sincere love and affection away from them until only resentment and anger is left.  Jaya’s story is of a woman who loves her husband because he has made her life full of love and happiness.  And then slowly comes to hate him and lose all respect as he takes away the things that make her happy one by one.

Kareena is an interesting character, because she shows what can happen when the Patriarch inspires no fear whatsoever, but still love.  Shahrukh is the head of her family, she loves him and worries about him and respects him.  But he has no ability to limit what clothes she wears, who she dates, any of that.  It is a family joke, the way he will play act being the authority while in reality they all laugh at him.  But on the other hand, when he makes a decision, they all follow it out of choice and trust.  At the very end, Hrithik and Kareena both wish to go back to Amitabh and Jaya’s house.  But they will not go without Shahrukh.  He does not forbid them, or give them permission, he does not give any opinion at all on their decision.  But they, for themselves, decide to honor him as the head of the household and refuse to make a move without his approval.  In the same way Kajol and he have a much more relaxed marriage than Amitabh and Jaya, less focused on rules.  But when it comes down to the major decisions, Kajol naturally turns to him to take the lead because he has earned her trust and respect.

And so we finally reach the end of the film.  Amitabh, the center of this massive family group, chose to shatter what they had built.  And so the network re-formed without him, mother to son, husband to wife, brother to brother, sister-in-law to brother-in-law, even female friend to friend, a new net with no clear center.  As Hrithik and Kareena and Kajol and Shahrukh arrive at the house, they are met by Jaya, love and memories bond them all together, and Amitabh is left outside of things.  And so we reach the end to discover it is not Amitabh bringing Shahrukh back into the family, but rather the rest of the family agreeing to allow Amitabh to join their new group.  Amitabh breaks down, tries to touch Shahrukh’s feet, reveals his weakness.  Shahrukh has won, Amitabh has lost.  Ram went into exile, but all of Ayodha followed him and the king lost his kingdom.

(Just like Mohabbatein, Shahrukh’s love defeats Amitabh’s Angry Old Man.  Only, less boring and with a better heroine and younger cast)

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25 thoughts on “Hrithik Week/Shahrukh Summer: Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham!

  1. I feel like the adoption piece of things is so important for this movie, but you gave a great analysis without it! Anything you’d add about the SRK being the “real” or “not-real” son?

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    • This was exactly the movie that started me wondering. I remember saying to my co-worker, I know there’s some context I’m missing there with the adopted son, but man, that last scene totally got me, made me cry. (Only the first time, though, for whatever reason.)

      Also I liked Kajol even though she was over the top. I really didn’t like Kareena, took me a long time to get past that aversion. I found Hrithik super annoying in the college scenes but once he stopped wearing see-through shirts and started dripping tears off his long long eyelashes, he pretty much won me over.

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      • I liked Kajol too! She was over the top, but it felt like exactly the kind of over the topness that this family needed. All their repression and dignity needed some wild Kajol in it to spice things up. I completely believed that Shahrukh would fall in love with her immediately, because she is exactly the breath of fresh air he wanted.

        On Tue, Jul 9, 2019 at 10:43 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I do think the not-real son status is the only way the long separation works. Amitabh saying “you’re not my son” only wounds Shah Rukh enough to stay away for years if it’s true. Shah Rukh sells the deep pain of the orphan abandoned again by the people he had loved as his parents.

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      • Yes! It’s hard to think of a comparable thing he could say to a biological child. I also love the resolution at the end when Amitabh says something like “I carried you into this house with these two hands”, bringing back the sense of the adopted child as an unbreakable bond.

        On Wed, Jul 10, 2019 at 12:45 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • He really was freakishly handsome. That spark has kind of gone away now, but in his early films, it was legitimately distracting.

      On Tue, Jul 9, 2019 at 9:04 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • He looks exhausted and worn out these days. It’s a bit too early to have that look since he’s still just in his 40s but he’s had a really rough few years.

        Pinkvilla claims they have an “exclusive” that Hrithik and Deepika will be doing Farah’s movie Satte pe Satta. I have not seen the older one or the HW original so what do you think? If it’s a comedy, Hrithik is a baaaaad idea. I just keep picturing Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon. Has he done any other comedies? Maybe some of his early career movies but I haven’t seen them.

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        • The plot is a bunch of brothers living rough out in the country, the oldest brother goes into town and brings back a wife who “civilizes” them. And then a bunch of stuff happens and all the other brothers find wives too. That first bit is the same in the Indian and American version, but the second half is extremely different.

          So I guess Hrithik playing a rude mountain man and oldest brother of a bunch of wild men? The age is right, and he looks good in a beard. It could work if he just kind of plays himself, the humor comes from this macho cocky guy running up against a tough woman who changes how his household is run. If Hrithik plays strong and confident and cocky, he can do it perfectly. I’m more worried about Dips pulling off the tough woman who forces them all to take baths.

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          • Oh if Hrithik plays an arrogant straight man and the comedy bits are done by Deepika and other cast members, it would work.

            What is with Farah’s fascination with a big male cast with one girl taming them?

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          • I’m 100% in favor of Hrithik doing a Howard Keel turn. But I am also dubious that Deepika can pull off Jane Powell. It needs a more down to earth actress like Kriti Sanon.

            Since the original Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was a retelling of a Greek myth, it would be cool if the remake played on Indian mythic tropes as well.

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          • The 1970s remake was INSANE and, I think, way way better than the American version. Modern day setting, Amitabh played a backwoods farmer with 6 younger brothers, went into the city to find a wife and picked Nurse Hema Malini. She came home with him and scrubbed his brothers clean and so on, but then in the second half they find a group of young women vacationing near by with their dear friend, a crippled heiress. What no one knows is that the heiress’ evil guardian has hired Evil Amitabh (in a double role in a wig) to kill her. But the first assassination attempt goes wrong, and instead of dying her paralysis is magically cured and she and Evil Amitabh fall in love. And then it goes from there.

            This is obviously the ideal version of this plot and I will accept no substitutes. I want Hrithik in a bad wig playing an Evil Assassin who is turned by love, and a second heroine to play the saintly cripple and lots of Double Hrithik fight scenes, just like in the original.

            On Tue, Jul 9, 2019 at 1:31 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. When I think of films that are stereotypically “Bollywood” this movie is the fist one that comes to mind! Lots of songs, fancy shiny clothes, photogenic people, melodramatic plot, a 3+ hour runtime, it fits all of the stereotypes! The funny thing is that I feel like every second-generation desi kid I’ve met is fond of this movie or has seen it. For me I only have the energy to watch this movie once a year because it’s so much of an Experience that I get so exhausted by the end of it. It’s like having the most insane sugar rush with a matching crash.

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  3. I think you are right that the young Hrithik being ignored is interesting. But yet he wants to find the older brother…..

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    • That’s what I find remarkable, he was ignored and unhappy, but he would still take that back if it meant regaining his brother. Or, alternatively, he learned to understand and accept that he was the less-loved son and loved his family enough to unite the people who were truly meant to be together. Kind of a weird flip on the usual self-sacrificing leg of a love triangle.

      On Tue, Jul 9, 2019 at 2:11 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Well, he was around ten when his brother mysteriously disappeared, never to be spoken of again, and his mom turned sad and closed off, and his family stopped being happy. Growing up with Shah Rukh’s absence could have marked him even more than growing up in the shadow of his presence.

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      • Or, maybe at first he goes to find his brother in London for the sake of his mother who has grown sadder and sadder as he grows up and THEN when he sees what a lovely parent and brother in law and husband baya is, he wants his brother back as well. Also, he gets Poo!

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        • Or, maybe he thinks he is doing it for his parents, but when he sees Shahrukh he realizes how much he missed his brother himself and was just hiding that emotion within him because it wasn’t “manly”.

          On Thu, Jul 11, 2019 at 3:15 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. K3G was the first movie I watched in the US. IPeople were sitting on the steps because it was completely sold out, of course until the staff came in and shooed people away as they were blocking fire exits. The SRK entrance in the title song – ah my favorite shot ever! And when Bole Chudiyan came on, the entire theater just erupted. A movie I remember more for the viewing experience rather than the movie itself.

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    • That was what it was like when I watched Dilwale! Sold out theater, massive cheers to the point of not being able to hear dialogue. Still gives me a warm feeling for that movie.

      On Tue, Jul 9, 2019 at 5:01 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. I feel like you should mention the crying. Like the whole last hour of the movie everybody is crying. Emotion just pouring out of their eyes and dripping off their chins.

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    • Well, the title is “come happiness come tears”, not “come happiness come noble restraining of emotions”

      On Wed, Jul 10, 2019 at 12:57 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

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