Shahrukh Birthday Countdown, Kabhi Haa Kabhi Naa! The Movie He Himself Thinks is One of His Best!

Such a good movie! And such a light happy movie too, I just love it, maybes you smile all day just thinking about it.

Jaane Bhi Do Yaara is one of the greatest films ever made in India. Aziz Mirza and Kundan Shah made a wild dark rebellious comedy calling out the cynicism and corruption of Indian society. And then 11 years later, Kundan Shah made a sweet little romance with no big message and no anger and no darkness. So, why does Shahrukh (and many critics and his wife Gauri) consider it one of his greatest films and greatest performances?

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It’s not about the movie itself, it’s about what the film means in comparison with other films. Sometimes making a happy story where everything works out and no one is bad is in itself a radical story. Saying “the world is good, people are good, it works out in the end” is radical. And most of all, taking as a hero someone who is just average but trying, that is radical.

Shahrukh won a FilmFare Critics Award for this role. The same year, he won a regular FilmFare award (his first) for Baazigar. He won another Critics Award in 2000 for Mohabbatein. The Critics Award is a bit of an oddity. Sometimes it is a loophole to give something to a big name or a big movie without sacrificing the bigger name and bigger movie that gets the main award (in 2000, it was Hrithik Roshan for Kaho Na Pyaar Hai). But sometimes, it is a legitimate attempt to honor a strange kind of art that only a critic could love. In 1994, Nana Patekar won Best Actor for Krantiveer, 3rd highest grossing film of the year. But then there was Shahrukh, scrappy newcomer, and his scrappy little movie that only made of third of what Krantiveer took in, and the performance and the film were just not the kind of thing you could justify giving a FilmFare to, not in regular competition. No one is turning in to watch those song performances. But at the same time, it is a film and a performance that critics, people who spend their whole lives watching movies, will love far more than yet another popular action film.

This movie takes a story that is familiar from all other movies and twists it slightly. It’s so perfectly beautifully done as to be almost invisible. And the more you dig into the story, try to find a depth to it, the less you can see. The same with Shahrukh’s performance, it looks simple and easy and if you look closer and closer, it just floats away. The whole movie is like one of those 3D pictures, you have to step back and kind of relax and let your eyes unfocus, and then you can see the hidden beauty of it. The key isn’t to look close, it’s to relax and look far.

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This is a simple plot. There is a boy, Shahrukh. And a girl, Suchitra Krishnamurthy. And a third boy, Deepak Tijori. Suchitra and Deepak are already a little in love and fall more and more in love. The setting for their romance is the band they are both in, Suchitra and Deepak fall in love over the music. They are bright and perfect and pretty, she is kind and virtious, he has a bright future and a good family, they are the perfect couple. So, what is Shahrukh doing in this movie?

That’s what makes it brilliant. The movie we usually see is the lovers falling in love and then the jealous evil rival making their lives dramatically miserable. This movie follows the story of the rival. But he isn’t dramatic and powerful, he is just an average kid trying to figure things out and making mistakes. And the lovers are not charismatic and magical, they are just good kids in love. It’s the same love triangle we always have, but downgraded. And the villain is “redeemed”, or rather, the whole illusion of villainy is taken away and he is shown to be the basically good kid most of these “villains” are.

With Darr and Anjaam and Baazigar, Shahrukh is often accused of using his charm to make a bad man into a hero. That’s not the case (as discussed in this post), but it is true with this film. Only it’s not so simple as making his character the hero. What Shahrukh has to manage in his performance is to make us care for his character, without admiring him. Understand him without forgiving him. That wasn’t the case in his other “villain” parts. In those he was charismatic and fascinating, but the sympathy that he created was merely so we could better understand his villainy, the motivations behind his actions. It was to teach us that even a villain has a logic to him, a reason, and yet that is no excuse for his actions. And so in those films, Shahrukh was punished in the end. But in this film, Shahrukh’s character truly is not a villain. He does bad things, but that does not make him a bad person. That just makes him human.

The whole world of this film is filled with humanity. The kindly priest, the teasing little sister, the grumpy father, the funny bad friend, and even the big scary Don, they are all just human. They all make mistakes, and they all forgive mistakes, because that’s what it means to be human.

Let me suggest something different. If this same movie, this small film with a carefully crafted world, had a message of darkness, of the world spinning into evil, would we question why the critics loved it? Probably not. A story of a small town filled with evil, of a love story with a bittersweet ending, of a good boy who turns slowly bad, that is obviously a high quality film that should be respected. But it takes the same amount of skill to craft a little story of good people as it does to craft a little story of bad people. We just don’t notice the skill, because we are so happy.

Now, let us look at our hero. Shahrukh starts dreaming of his true love, Suchitra. And then is interrupted by his teasing little sister. That’s not usual, for the hero’s perfect fantasy to be interrupted by an embarrassing reality. He rushes to meet her train, and is delayed and confused and it doesn’t work out perfectly. He wants to confess his love, and yet Suchitra is friendly to him, but not emotional. The love story seems strangely stalled. And then during a band performance, suddenly Suchitra and Deepak look at each other differently, and their love story starts while Shahrukh watches helplessly. He lies, just a little, to make it look like Deepak stood Suchitra up at the carnival and has a wonderful time with her. But he is too eager, to happy. It’s not heroic, it’s weak.

And then Suchitra finds out he lied to her, and turns away from him. Not in dramatic anger, but simply in disappointment. The rest of his friends turn away from him too. Until he wins them over again, not through a big dramatic moment of heroism, but through sincere apology and regret, and putting in the time to prove his remorse. Not heroic. And finally, having accepted that he can’t have Suchitra, he looks at the rest of his life and discovers it is also a mess. He is failing in school. And instead of taking the heroic way out, he gets help to fake up a report card. But then, finally does his moment of grand bravery and tells his parents the truth. And is rewarded by forgiveness and understanding. And the film ends with his moment of grand sacrifice, going to Suchitra and Deepak’s wedding and not making a scene. And then his grand reward, meeting another young woman (Juhi) and moving on with life.

This isn’t the story of a hero, this is the story of an average kid just trying to grow up and do the right thing. He has his first crush and his simple dreams, he misreads situations, he does bad things to his friends out of selfishness, and then he tries to make up for his mistakes. And in the end, he grows up a little bit and moves on to start fresh and make new little mistakes.

What makes him really average is that he has a little talent. Deepak has talent in the real world, does well in school and moving towards a good job. Shahrukh doesn’t have anything as practical as that. But he is the best one in the band. This is the rare band film that treats the band as just one small part of life. In this one small area, Shahrukh writes the music and comes up with the ideas and is excited and talented. But they are working for tiny little payments in occasional jobs, they are a little realistic local band, none of them are planning for this to be their future. Shahrukh isn’t dumb, he isn’t worthless, he is just flawed in some areas, hasn’t grown up all the way yet.

Now, think about this character played by any other actor. It has to tread the line of being someone we care about and can forgive his bad actions, but also not turn him into a real “hero”. And definitely not a tragic hero. This is not someone who lost his true love to a weaker man, this is someone who had a crush on a girl who didn’t like him and then got over it. Shahrukh plays it perfectly, the immature eagerness of the romance, the excited complete unselfconsciousness when making music, the childish lying and fear in front of his father, all of it with a kind of naked reveal of his emotions that draws us in and makes us hope for good things for him, while also wanting him to do better.

That’s what the whole world of this film is about, seeing all the flaws and details of the world, but also understanding why it works the way it works, and hoping it can be better. And then seeing that yes, it can be better. The big Don can be touched by a sweet song and care about some local kids. The grumpy Dad can understand and forgive when his son makes a mistake. The happy lovers can be generous in their love and forgive their friend. It all works out, in the end. Happy Endings.

6 thoughts on “Shahrukh Birthday Countdown, Kabhi Haa Kabhi Naa! The Movie He Himself Thinks is One of His Best!

  1. OK now what would this movie look like if we recast it with Ranbir as SRK, and let’s say Aditya Roy Kapoor as Deepak and Alia as Suchitra? Just, your description made me think, this character is kind of Ranbir in Tamasha, or Ranbir in ADHM, but with all the Ranbirness of those characters removed.

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    • Oh, I love this thought experiment!

      I think maybe what makes this movie work is that everything is treated (correctly) as very low stakes and not serious. Yes, Shahrukh is mopey and in unrequited love. But that’s just part of growing up, he will get past it, and it doesn’t excuse his occasional bad behavior. And Shahrukh is kind of talented and smart with his band, but that’s just one of many parts of his life, he also has to get good marks in school, and get along with his parents, and try to figure out a life plan somehow beyond just “playing music”. If it was an Ranbir film, the unrequited love would be Worst Thing EVER, and his music would be Most Important Thing in the World, and his friends and family and all the rest would take a backseat. And we, the audience, would be expected to not just sympathize but cheer on all his bad behavior.

      On Thu, Sep 17, 2020 at 9:52 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Whereas in this movie, the world is perfect (sunny, full of caring people trying to do the right thing, no hatred or ugliness or anything around), it’s Shahrukh who has to grow up.

          On Fri, Sep 18, 2020 at 10:26 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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