Shahrukh Summer: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai Post, What is Up With Those Costumes?

This is so strange, I swear that when I was in college every single girl I knew was obsessed with KKHH, like the way we are with JHMS now. What has happened in the years since that it doesn’t inspire discussion? Anyway, I am still obsessed with it and can’t stop writing. Which is part of the reason I avoided writing about it because I knew I would get really detailed past the point of interest for anyone else.

I had a realization when talking in the comments of the other posts that Kajol’s “make-over” look in this isn’t actually something she would have been wearing in college. And that started me thinking about the costumes in the film in a whole new way.

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You all look stupid.

The thing with the costumes in this movie is that they are not supposed to be “real”. No costumes in films are “real” if you think about it, they are visual cues to tell us about the characters. If they were what people actually wore, they would be meaningless. All the characters would be wearing interchangable jeans and t-shirts and we would learn nothing about them.

In a stage play it is even more obvious, each character only has one or two costumes. Think about Hamlet, for example. Gertrude is probably in red or purple, Ophelia in white or yellow, Hamlet in black. So we see that Gertrude has strong emotions and power in the world, Ophelia is young and fragile, and Hamlet is depressed. The clothes are artificial, telling a story. You can be as historically accurate as you want in the details of them, but things like color choice are about telling us who the character is.

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai has ridiculous costumes, but if you accept that they are “costumes”, designed as a character shorthand and not what people would actually wear, they make total sense. Contrast it with, for instance, Mohabbatein where we are told that Shamita Shetty is a “good girl” and yet she dresses identically to the “bad girls”. The costumes conflict with the character. But then there’s Main Hoon Na, where Amrita Rao looks gorgeous and sexy in everything she wears, but we can see that what she is wearing is distinctly different from what the “pretty” or “sexy” girls on campus wear. In isolation describing Amrita’s look in that film as “boyish” or “tomboy” is ridiculous, but in context with the costumes of the other characters, it has a logic. And the costumes in KKHH have a similar logic.

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Tomboy, Bad Boy, Good Boy. In costuming language, if not in reality.

The story KKHH is trying to tell through costumes is one of growing up. In college, Kajol’s look identifies her as “child” while Shahrukh and Rani both dress more like “teenager moving towards adulthood”. In the present, both Shahrukh and Kajol dress like adults, equal adults. College Shahrukh would be too young for Present Day Kajol, and College Kajol was too young for College Shahrukh while College Rani was just right and transitioned (briefly, before her growing was cut short) into Adult Rani at the same time as Shahrukh transitioned into Adult Shahrukh.

And this is why the first “make-over” Kajol attempts in college is such a disaster. Kajol tries to dress like Rani, but she isn’t Rani on the inside. Putting her in a short skirt and heels just doesn’t look right because her movements are still too athletic and free, straining against the restrictions of the clothes. In the same way, heavy make-up looks wrong because her expressions are already so big, her face so expressive. Rani wears those clothes because she is hiding who she is behind bright colors and make-up, letting the clothing speak for her. Kajol with the bright colors and make-up becomes too much.

The clothes themselves tell us about the love triangle. Kajol and Shahrukh are the same in that they like to play basketball and ride bikes and jump around and do things that you can only do in sportswear. But Shahrukh also cares about how he looks, is aware of the opinions of other people. His hair is low-maintenance and short, but also styled a bit. His clothes have patterns and colors while Kajol just wears the most practical option. And then there is Rani. They way she dresses tells us that she is very aware of how she appears to the world. Not vain, but aware. She is ultimately a somewhat shy and reserved person, but she uses her careful make-up and clothing to speak for her, to help her quiet personality get noticed. Shahrukh does the same thing a bit, no one at college knows that he goes to temple every week, because he hides that part of himself behind the crazy clothes and “cool guy” attitude.

Now, the thought I just had recently, is that Kajol doesn’t turn herself in to College Rani when she gains a more feminine look. She turns herself into Kajol, grown up. While Rani wears western style heavy make-up and blow dry hair and bright colors and short skirts, Kajol wears practical saris, natural hair pinned back, and Indian style light make-up. She can still move, she can still play basketball, she can teach dance, and she isn’t someone who will inspire the wolf whistles and stares that Rani got. Even at her engagement party, she is dressed modestly and no fancier than any of her other guests. The message is “oh my gosh, Salman is soooooooo handsome, Kajol is so lucky” not “oh wow, Kajol is beautiful”.

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What makes the difference in their relationship in the present is not that Shahrukh suddenly sees her as “pretty”, but that he suddenly sees her as an adult woman. The version of themselves as they were in college truly couldn’t have had a relationship. Not that Shahrukh was blind to Kajol’s charms because of her style, but that her style reflected who she was on the inside and that was a person Shahrukh could not love romantically. Kajol was dressing like a child, because on the inside she was still a child. That’s part of why her character is so extremely sympathetic, her emotions are naked and open right there on her face. We, the audience, love her and want good things for her for the same reasons we love small children. She is bright and open in her emotions, so painfully real in her hurt, with none of the protections and fakeness that signal adulthood.

Notice that College Kajol and Little Anjali have remarkably similar styles. That lets us see the connection Little Anjali feels with Kajol, but also points to the fact that College Kajol was dressing literally like a little girl. Her overalls, her short hair and headbands, even the way she teased Shahrukh (echoed later in Little Anjali’s teasing of him) was the behavior of a child, not an adult. It’s not about whether Shahrukh sees her as a pretty woman or not in the past, it is about whether he he sees her as an adult or not.

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College Kajol could have worn these exact same cartoon pajamas to bed and we wouldn’t have been surprised.

In the present, we have some hints of how Adult Shahrukh would react now to College Rani, or any of their college selves. In his journey to the summer camp, he travels with a group of young hippy kids. He doesn’t hate them, but he isn’t interested in them. He’s a grown man now, with a daughter, wearing a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase. For him to fall in love, now, he needs someone as adult as he is.

And thus, the message of the costumes in the second half, both their costumes. Kajol is now in mature saris. She can move in them, in a way they are working clothes (since she is a dance teacher), and she still wears minimal make-up and almost no jewelry. She has learned to be aware of her outer self and outer mask, but without changing who she is on the inside. And then there’s Shahrukh. His costumes in the second half are the most “costume-y” looking ones, a full suit and tie even at a summer camp. It’s a visual reminder that he is a different man now too, or rather, he is now a Man instead of just a boy-man. He doesn’t care that the suit looks odd at the summer camp, just like he is uninterested in impressing the hippies. And he isn’t afraid to talk about his emotions in front of Little Anjali’s class if it makes her feel better. He knows who he is now and his “costume” is part of himself, not something he can just take on and off like his college “COOL” necklace.

In the Basketball game scene there are moments when Kajol’s sari trips her up, and her hair gets in her face. But on the other hand, Shahrukh has to loosen his tie and undo his buttons. And after that, they don’t play basketball any more. They walk and talk, he watches her dance, they play with the kids together, and then dance in the rain. They aren’t meant for basketball any more, their clothes are too old for it, they are too old for that.

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10 thoughts on “Shahrukh Summer: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai Post, What is Up With Those Costumes?

  1. I just had a version of this in an interview with a reporter from VOA who was seeking my views about the idea that women dressing in a certain way are “asking for it”. I pointed out that the conventional costuming of a woman transitioning from “innocent” to “available” is practically universal. And the subtext of “available” is often “sexually available”. The reporter clearly wanted me to blame men for the male gaze (and worse), but when everything in the surrounding culture is offering this particular script, it’s a more complicated process. Anyway…

    Even the sweet, happy ending stories that contain these caterpillar to butterfly tropes are part of the problem. Another reason I love Jab Harry Met Sejal, because it is a slow, mutual evolution of the relationship as the people grow and change.

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    • Borrowing your terminology of “innocent” to “available”, in this movie I don’t think Kajol ever goes to “available”. More like “mature woman but not someone you can flirt with or date casually”. While Rani’s outfits say “having fun, young, pretty”. I don’t know if I am describing Kajol’s saris and long hair period correctly, but I know “available” doesn’t feel quite right. Something else to better define her clothing shift.

      On Thu, Aug 1, 2019 at 12:33 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I think your description of Kajol’s look in saris and long hair is accurate. Mature, still fun loving, dignified but connects to kids so beautifully. Sets her up for her transition to mother at end of film.

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        • Yes, she is kind of matronly almost? Still with long loose hair, so telling the world she isn’t married, but in every other way she looks like someone who you can trust to babysit your kids, maybe go to for advice, would enter a house and immediately find the kitchen and start helping, that kind of a woman. Not the kind of a woman you would expect to see at a drinking party or a night club.

          This all reminds me of a discussion we had about English/Vinglish. Sridevi in so many ways is dressed to tell the world “married, matron, off limits”. But the language of clothing that is saying that is Indian specific, the poor Hot French Dude has no idea that sari, pulled back hair, mangalsutra, and so on, have that specific message. Except for the mangalsutra and pulled back hair, Kajol in KKHH is dressed the same as Sridevi in English/Vinglish, she isn’t a woman to flirt with or take lightly.

          On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 3:44 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          Liked by 1 person

  2. Also, I think it’s important to understand he DOES love Rani and not just for her sexiness. But he loves Kajol too, he just never got the chance to understand that.

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    • Oh yes. But it’s different kinds of love. Rani is new, he is just getting to know her, and he falls in love with what he sees. Kajol he already knows and there is no shock of first love and excitement and so on.

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