Shahrukh Summer: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai Post, Why Does it Mean So Much to Some People?

This is going to be a lot of personal stuff, get ready for that! But also it might help you understand why, for the particular moment in time and the particular generation I am and all the rest, Kuch Kuch is still so important.

When I was in college, I saw DDLJ and felt like finally there was a movie for me, for a teenage girl who loved her family and was scared to be out in the world and needed someone there to nag her until she felt free and strong and independent. And then I started asking my friends, all 19 year old desi girls in college, for recommendations of other movies. They told me to watch Main Hoon Na, because it was fun and funny and just came out. And to watch K3G because everyone was listening to the songs back in high school. And Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, because they loved it.

The girls I was talking to (not women, not really) were 12 or 13 when Kuch Kuch Hota Hai came out. What they remembered was how fun Little Anjali was, the bright colors, the summer camp jokes. And how fun it was to watch Kajol beat Shahrukh at basketball and be “like a boy”. So I watched it, for the first time at age 19, and I came away with something a little different.

Kajol was fun in the first half, but I didn’t want to be her, I felt for her. She was a college student trying to figure out how to grow up and be happy, with her hopes and dreams right on her face. She was me! Not grown up yet but figuring things out. And the second half, that was what I wanted. To be sure of myself and who I was in the world, and to find all those dreams from when I was young somehow coming true.

And then I saw the Gazebo scene and it was everything I wanted just in that moment for sex and romance and love. Shahrukh is so gentle with Kajol, so caring. It is sexy in a way that is safe without feeling fake. At 19, on the edge of being a grown woman, this let me see how a man and woman could be together without feeling like I was somehow crossing a terrifying line into adulthood.

Go 2 minutes and 30 seconds in, Superwoman gets it. This film defined romantic expectations for a whole generation of women.

I look at the later movies now from Karan, and Shahrukh, and even Kajol and Salman, and I can see that this film is just not as good. In every way. The characters have flaws, the plot has flaws, even the lighting and editing and camera work could be so much better. But when I was 19, I didn’t want “good”. I didn’t want deep real characters and complex realistic filming, I didn’t want Ae Dil Hai Mushkil or Jab Harry Met Sejal or even Fanaa, I wanted something bright and happy and safe.

When I was 19, every girl I knew (yes, they were all Desi) was obsessed with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Something about going from identifying with Little Anjali and all the fun and freedom she had to identifying with Big Anjali and the challenge and pain of growing up. With the potential happy ending of Present Day Anjali, sure of herself and beautiful and still good at basketball and with the perfect man in love with her. When I graduated college, I started working minimum wage jobs with a bunch of other young women trying to figure out their lives, and we would have movie nights and watch Kuch Kuch Hota Hai over and over again. And cry when Kajol cried and cheer when she was happy and sigh during the Gazebo scene, and complain about Little Anjali.

That’s the thing about this movie, it is made for little girls. There’s a reason we open with Little Anjali and her fun and exciting life, there’s a reason we spend so much time with Kajol in college being wacky and confident and having fun. It’s not giving little girls lessons or anything, but it is somehow grasping exactly what they like. To be free, to be loved, to be brave and do things and change things. To go to a silly summer camp but still have your grandmother there to take care of you, to have a Dad who is wise and loving but also kind of silly and makes you giggle, and then to grow up a little bit and go to college and have friends and play drums and be something special. And then the second half happens and, once it stops focusing on Little Anjali, the little girl audience kind of tunes things out. Shahrukh and Kajol get together, blah blah, let’s have more of Little Anjali goofing around with Salman!

What makes this movie really special is when you grow up watching it as a little girl, you love the fun and adventure and jokes, and then one day you sit down to watch it again and suddenly that second half just clicks in to place, it’s not boring any more, you care about whether adult “boring” Kajol is going to pick Salman or Shahrukh just as much as you cared about her when she was in college. You understand why she isn’t good at basketball any more and why that is okay and she is still a cool person. And you understand why the gazebo scene is magical, and not just a boring part between two funny scenes with kids.

This film is the perfect all ages movie, but specifically all ages of girls. Each scene of adult angst and romance is bookended by fun childhood silliness. Each scene of fun childhood silliness has a small element of adult yearning within it. If you grow up with this movie, you truly grow up WITH it. You can watch your enjoyment of it shift as time goes on, from one place in the film to another. Heck, my grandmother liked this movie because she identified with the grandmother!!!! The strong loving stubborn older woman who got to go to summer camp with her granddaughter.

Karan made this movie when he was very young. And when he was a little afraid to grow up, relying on his father and his friends to guide him, hiding away from the world a bit. Maybe that is why he crafted a story that feels like it is written by and for children, at least a little bit, living in some fantasy fairy tale world where everything is safe and everything is planned and everything always works out for the best.

Kajol was young too, only 23. And she had just fallen in love, there’s the famous cute story of how she hit her head during filming and the only person she could remember was Ajay. And she always acted from her heart. Somehow in this film she creates a character who is a few years younger than her, still uncertain of her own heart, and a woman a few years older, sure of herself and her feelings and trying to decide what to do about them.

For Rani, it was her second big movie. The uncertainty, the “new girl in school” effect, that was all real. She was the new girl in school, trying to figure out how to be an actress, how to be on film set, all of that.

And then there was Shahrukh. He made this film as he was preparing to become a father, and maybe that feeling of looking back and looking forward, informed his character. He was far far too old for his character in the first half, and just right for the second half. As a young woman, watching this movie for the first time, there was an odd kind of distance built into his performance and character that I liked. In DDLJ, he had been like a boy I could have known from college, and that made it more scary and also a little more exciting. But in this movie, he wasn’t quite real. His confidence in college, even the visible aging of his face, dropped him into an uncanny valley where he felt almost real but not quite. In the second half, he was the perfect father, loving and kind and funny. He made me feel safe, reminded me of my own father and other “grown-up” men who I had been around. That’s what a “grown-up” is like, warm and kind and funny. And then the Gazebo scene and the basketball scene happened, and I got to feel feelings for him. But, safe feelings. Shahrukh was handsome and sexy and funny, but he was also a “grown-up”. Someday, not now but someday, I would be grown-up like Kajol and I would have a wonderful perfect grown-up man to love me. Maybe two, there was Salman there also!

Watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai now, that whole history is part of it for me. I can see if I were coming at it for the first time now, as a grown adult close to the age Kajol and Shahrukh are supposed to be in the second half, it might bother me. Their romance wouldn’t feel like a perfect thing to dream about and hope for, but like something I could see in reality, and therefore I would be more critical of it. I already missed out on watching it at an age when I would find Little Anjali actually enjoyable, maybe if I came to it at age 29 instead of 19 I would have missed the age when I would find College Kajol so painfully sympathetic. Maybe if I came at it at 39, I would no longer love Adult Kajol and Adult Shahrukh either.

Or, maybe not. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai set records when it released, massive records. It was like Titanic, or Gone With the Wind, all of India was in love with the film. Heck, the whole world was in love with it! As part of my thesis I interviewed someone, a non-desi, who saw it in that first release in a little auditorium in Toronto with no subtitles. A friend from high school dragged him there and said he HAD to see it. There was something there, some kind of magic coming from the screen, that set the world on fire. And for some of us, that fire is still burning.

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25 thoughts on “Shahrukh Summer: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai Post, Why Does it Mean So Much to Some People?

  1. Lovely post. Some movies, books, and songs are so special because of the time we first saw them/read them/heard them. Two examples for me are Dead Poet’s Society, which came out when I was a first-year college student, and Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting,” which I heard on the radio literally the day my first love, an exchange student from Finland, flew back home. It really was like he was writing and singing just for me!

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    • What is special to me about Kuch Kuch is that, because it was such a massive hit and I was just the right age, it was special to me and also special to a whole group of us, you know? So I got to have that unique personal bond, but also know all these other people who had that same unique personal bond with it. I suppose most people have that with most things, but I am such a weirdo in popular culture that this is one of the few times I actually lined up with my generation. Like, I loved Twilight too, but I was 25 and could hardly go around talking to 15 year olds about it. And I also was obsessed with Frankie Avalon for a bit, but I was about 40 years younger than the rest of his teenage fans.

      On Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 1:18 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. So agree with you! I was maybe 13 when the movie came out and I remember being in a trance over it for several days after watching it – it was indeed magical! I also remember the massive media coverage on this movie and particularly around Shahrukh as the movie became a runaway success. Even my mom who didn’t like Shahrukh much acknowledged that he was at his charming best in this movie!

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    • It’s funny, this movie and Gadar (which have almost nothing else in common) were both these massive amazing record breaking successes, and then somehow they were forgotten about and aren’t discussed really. Kuch Kuch was so important to so many people I know, and still is so important, but where are the retrospectives? The critical analysis? The acknowledgement of its impact?

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  3. Probably out of all of the quintessential Karan Johar movies (the happy fun ones so no MNIK and ADHM) this one is my favorite and I prefer it over k3g. Though I admit the Rahul-Anjali relationship doesn’t quite resonate with me now the way it probably does with everyone else there is a lot about this movie that’s really charming. There’s a love triangle but the two female characters aren’t pitted against each other and end up sharing a strong friendship, the most compelling part of the movie for me. Though I find college Rahul annoying I really like grownup Rahul for the most part and his relationship with little Anjali is super sweet. Fareeda Jalal is fab as always and this is probably the only movie where I like Johnny Lever! Also Salman! This is the last film where he had his wonderful 90s charm! I may not be the biggest Dharma fan but this movie will always be special to me because of how much it impacted my childhood. I remember randomly bawling my eyes out at the beginning when Tina dies during one of my many rewatches when I was a bit older. Why? I cannot say

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    • I’m trying to write a post now on Rani’s character, it’s really fascinating, and it is her behavior and reactions that make the love triangle so different from the usual one.

      Agree about that death scene, on the first watch I was just like “get it over with and get back to the fun parts”. But sometimes somehow it really hits me and feels “real”. This movie is such a Rorschach test, there are so many emotions and themes in it, and depending on your mood and age and everything else it may or may not hit you just right.

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    • Fareeda is so great. I was thinking the last time I watched it that she might be my favorite SRK mom ever – saying a lot, there have been so many great actresses and great performances. And yes, having her to play off of makes Johnny Lever much funnier.

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      • Fareeda started as a heroine and it kind of blows my mind every time I see her as a pretty young thing in a 70s movie, doesn’t feel right somehow. I don’t think it is just my prejudices, I think she really is a far better fit as a mother and character actress than she ever was as a heroine. Just too expressive in the face to be the usual “beautiful” kind of look.

        On Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 9:07 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. KKHH was the first ever movie I saw in a theater. I didn’t know what movies were, I didn’t know what a theater was supposed to look like and yet somehow I knew who SRK was. It was and always will remain special for that reason.

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    • That’s lovely. I wish I had a story as memorable as that, I just watched it on a DVD on my laptop in a college dorm room. Although I also knew who SRK was, even if I didn’t know anything else.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. In 1998 when KKHH came out I was 29 years old, married for 3 years and embarking on our big adventure to move from NY to LA. I’m fascinated by your hypothesis that your experience of the film changed with your life experience and made you connect with different characters in different time periods based on where you were. Here is (some of) my story.

    I probably saw the film for the first time in 2002, after K3G which was my re-entry into Hindi film after a long break. I spent my early childhood immersed in Indian culture, especially movies and music, and then basically cut myself off for a few reasons- my mom had distanced herself from it for reasons having to do with her own ambivalence about her brothers’ treatment of my grandma and religiosity differences (really, this is the short version), and then I mostly distanced myself from my mom because of my rejection of her religious beliefs.

    I was cut off from my folks by their choosing pretty much from 1993-2003…but the door started to open a few times…I wore a sari for my wedding in ‘94, channeling my mom’s look from her wedding, even her affect walking down the aisle, and then mom sent me the dvd of K3G when it came out. It served as an olive branch from her. I saw that film as her way of saying for the first time that parents didn’t own their children’s adult choices and that we could forgive them and repair our relationship. So for me, K3G is the life-changing film that cut straight to my own life story…the ability to choose who you love, parental expectations and the reversal of roles that happens as we and our parents age. In the second half of the film, when Rahul is struggling with whether he can ever reconnect, I was him at that very time. Was there space for a repair after such a rupture? Turns out, yes, for K3G Rahul, Anjali and family as well as for me.

    In my half Indian family, while my mom watches Hindi film, I am the only one who actively connects with my culture in multi ways…film, music, dance, language and even home decor. I’ve brought Diwali celebrations to my son’s school and am involved in our school’s large Desi parent network.

    Seeing KKHH after K3G connected for me less in terms of my life stage, but more that I’ve always been a person who yearns for connection and magic. I love the reclaiming of long lost dreams and only a wish that the film had adult Anjali choosing Rahul instead of needing Salman to do it for her.

    All of this makes me think about how much I appreciate the growth that we’ve seen in Shahrukh’s and Kajol’s performances over the years and how they have both matured in the roles they’ve chosen and how they act them out.

    Now about Karan…yes, he was young and so KKHH has this idealized love at its core. I also have to posit that Karan (who officially isn’t out but everyone knows to be gay) has been working out some of his own struggles with the films he has done…I think in some ways KKHH is his story of hidden love that can’t be revealed, even up to the point that it’s obvious…and someone has to free you to let you live your dream. There may be a dissertation in Karan’s career choices too!

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    • Thank you for sharing your personal story. I wish we had a way to get your story of K3G to Karan Johar. In his memoir, he talked about how he was ashamed of that movie, it was so old-fashioned and Dil Chahta Hai had just come out and he felt like he had made something useless and shallow. But the simple unaffected emotions and that “old-fashioned” story have a place that the new age stuff doesn’t.

      I also know people who lost the ability to enjoy Indian films because of the reality of their Indian families. I don’t know the details of your story, but for the people I know, it was a matter of the films becoming too real and no longer escapist. Marrying for love, fighting with your in-laws, talking about the “duty” of a woman to a man, it all triggers things that actually happen to you. It’s funny, the first instinct people have after seeing an Indian movie is that they are fantasies, over the top, melodramatic, fake. But they are dealing with real not-fake issues that still happen every day, dealing with them enough to cause flashbacks and distress in some folks watching them.

      As for Karan working through stuff on film, let me offer you the only journal article I have ever managed to get published. And the title I am most proud of: https://www.unive.it/media/allegato/dep/n25-2014/RICERCHE/06_Redlich.pdf

      On Thu, Aug 1, 2019 at 2:05 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Oh shoot! I hunted through Spam and Pending and I can’t find it so it might be gone-gone.

      On Thu, Aug 1, 2019 at 4:10 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. I relate so much to the feeling of watching this movie at a particular moment in time with the surrounding social aspects, which is why KKHH will always have a special place for me and its probably my strongest movie memory. I wonder if I should share, gonna be too long, hah!

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      • Okay, here goes – I was 10 when it came out; a few months back I had moved to a new town, a new school and was making new friends. The songs were already popular and we knew that this movie was coming out. We were too young to go to the movies anyway, but in India we had cable service providers who would play brand new movies on the local channel (pirated, of course!) within weeks of its release, usually on afternoons or late nights. That’s how we watched new movies! So school was closed for vacation and my parents and I were visiting my aunt for a couple of weeks to meet my newborn cousin. It was a very exciting vacation and I was obsessed with that cute little munchkin! It was one of the afternoons – I was playing with him, the TV was on in the background when I heard the title track and the movie was starting! I excitedly announced it to everyone and for the next 3 hours I laughed, cried, went through all the emotions (baby forgotten lol!). Mom and aunt were also watching intermittently in between chores, sometimes calling me out to do something, but I was like nah, I’m not moving until it’s over!
        I identified with Little Anjali of course and was seeing the movie through her eyes, feeling her pain of not having her mother but also thinking how great she has such a warm, loving and fun father. The college flashbacks made me go ‘wow so this is how college is, I can’t wait to go!’ (LOL). Then Tina showed up and it was the first time I fell for a movie character. She was quiet, beautiful, confident, sexy, warm, empathetic and equally comfortable in those tiny skirts and salwar kameezes! That was a big deal for 10-year-old me, that you can wear whatever outfit you want without losing your identity. Basically, I wanted to be everything Tina was and not to forget, she brought out the best in Rahul who was just an annoying frat boy till then. Anyway, in the second part I was too young to fully get those sensuous interactions between Rahul-Anjali but I do remember feeling fuzzy watching them like I’m not supposed to watch them or something ;).
        The movie stayed on my mind for the rest of the vacation. Went back to school and it seemed everybody had watched it and were discussing it, quoting dialogues, trying to copy styles within the restrictions of school uniforms. We all started doing the Rahul-Anjali hand gestures to signify friendship with each other. Friendship bands and Friendship Day became a thing! It was so much fun to share these things with newly made friends. So yeah, this is my KKHH memory which is tied to so many other memories in my life :). Also, I think for our generation, this is the film which earned Shahrukh a place in most girls’ hearts and cemented that with later films.

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        • What a lovely story!!!! And I think you are the first one to talk about being young enough to identify with Little Anjali.

          The experience you had of bonding with your school friends is the same experience I had of bonding with college friends. There is something about this movie that just helps make friends. Now that I think about it, the whole movie came out of friendship, the Karan-Shahrukh-Kajol friendship which made Shahrukh and Kajol trust Karan enough to take a chance on his first film.

          Thank you for talking about your reaction to Tina. I had never thought before about that side of her sexy outfits, that they were saying you could dress sexy the same way Kajol’s clothes said you could be a tomboy.

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  7. Not exactly answering the question – but related.
    I have just had the craziest evening – picture sitting in a theatre watching highlights of KKHH with Karan and ShahRukh in the audience. Yes, that actually just happened!!!! Omg, I am still on such a high!
    I unexpectedly had to go to Melbourne for work and managed to get a ticket to the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne Awards Night. Shahrukh was the special guest and some of the others were Karan, Tabu ( who won best actress) Malaika Aurora, Arjun Kapoor, the director of Andhadhun ( who won the award for best director) Simi Garewal, Taran Adarsh ( who made a terrible speech) and Ranjiv Masand. ( who spoke well). Karan talked about making KKHH, which was lovely.

    Shahrukh got the.award for cinema excellence. He’s looking a little older and worn but so charming. The crowd was just nuts for him. it felt so good to be in a hysterical Shahrukh friendly crowd. He finished his speech saying I promise you that I will keep entertaining you for as long as I live. Then there was a beautiful, typical Shahrukh moment – at the end there was a big selfie shot on the stage with all the vips. They were facing the back of the stage so the audience would be in the shot behind them. He was standing at the very back centre. Chaiya Chaiya started to play and while everyone else was getting their photo taken he turned around and started to dance for the audience. No wonder we love him so much! Omg, I want to gobble him up! Such a fun night! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • So awesome!!! Wow!!!!!

      The one time I saw Shahrukh live, it was the same kind of thing. It was the SLAM tour, it was all carefully planned and choreographed and everything, but by golly Shahrukh was onstage entertaining us for 5 hours straight. Everyone else was in and out, but once he was on stage he was 100% on stage, Literally the last person to leave at the end of the night, everyone else took their bows and walked off, he stayed out there throwing balloons into the audience and waving and being “on” until the lights turned out. Like he felt it would be rude to leave before us.

      I am bad at The Instagram, but I hope someone else who is better can track down video of your Chaiyya Chaiyya moment for us

      On Thu, Aug 8, 2019 at 10:03 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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