Shahrukh Birthday Countdown, Kal Ho Na Ho! The First REAL Review!

I was looking for a review to repost and discovered I had done two mini-reviews, one about this film as showing a matriarchy, the other about it as showing an interesting idea of different kinds of love. But no actual regular review! So, time to write that. (previous posts on Matriarchy and on love triangles)

This is a very well-made film. You know the saying “too many cooks spoil the broth”? This is the opposite of that, too many cooks in a miserable irritated argumentative way created a really great super flavorful broth. It’s the only time Karan wrote a script and let someone else direct it, which he HATED, but boy does it work well! Karan was miserable seeing someone take his work and not do it the way he would have done it, but the tension between script and visual style adds so much to the film. This is the Karan movie that feels like a Karan movie, but also just a little bit extra, and is all the better for it. Kal ho naa ho: Preity Zinta, Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan,  Jaya Bhaduri, Sushma Seth, Reema Lagoo, Lillete Dubey, Delnaaz Irani, Rani  Mukerji, Sonali Bendre, Michael Pinkhas, Sanjay Kapoor, Nikkhil

The visual rhythm of this film is post-modern, meta, clever, superficial. And then the storyline is completely emotional, traditional, melodramatic. It could be a mess, but instead it ends up feeling like the most delightful swirl of flavors. Just as you get tired of the too-clever-by-half talking heads and breaking the 4th wall and stuff, you get a sincere sobbing scene. And just as all the crying feels like too much, you get another clever little commentary on the NRI community and a 4th wall breaking. moment.

The performances have to tread that line as well. The two male leads, Shahrukh and Saif, dance back and forth effortlessly. They go straight up comedy, and then straight up drama, and make it all feel of a piece. Preity, our heroine, struggles a bit. When she reaches for emotion, it lands on “grumpy” instead of “depressed” more often than not. She’s got a lovely touch with the comic scenes, and her general “Preity” feeling of being fearless and strong and rule breaking is perfect for the role. But despite being the protagonist of the film, it’s the heroes who do the heavy lifting to make the plot work.

And then there are the songs, which tie it all together. It’s a very good soundtrack, each song a hit. And the visuals are colorful, rhythmic, with great easy to follow hook steps in the dances. But it’s the lyrics that make it all work. Akhtar wrote the lyrics, and they do what poetry is supposed to do, express the things that you feel but can’t say. This is one of those films where the songs don’t move the plot forward, but they deepen our understanding in such a way that the film would be empty without them. That’s a Karan touch, understanding the importance of songs, and coming through the foreign structure, the songs are maybe better than in any of this other films.

Really, this film is just amazing. A little slice of a moment in time when the NRI setting and characters were blossoming, when Karan was creatively strong but still flexible, when Saif and Shahrukh had the casual skills needed without the mature depth of later, and when Javed Akhtar was still doing lyrics for shallow little silly love songs and party songs, when Shahrukh Khan was king of the world and could legitimately when the world looked like it was moving in one direction before it changed and started moving in another.


The plot of this film is STRONG. It starts with a heroine who really needs to get married, Preity, trapped in a difficult family situation with no options in front of her. And then it turns into a love triangle, her two options, the exciting magical charming new man Shahrukh, or the boring familiar best friend Saif. She falls for Shahrukh, he rejects her, she finds comfort in a sensible relationship with Saif who has fallen in love with her. And then she learns that Shahrukh is dying, he loves her but rejected her because he has no future. With much agony, she decides to marry Saif after all, and he decides to marry her knowing that he is second best. Shahrukh dies, having said goodbye to everyone.

It’s like a beautiful machine, everything is worked out just right. Start with the love triangle, magical fun love versus stable friend love. Then say “but, why does she have to choose? If we are doing a modern American setting, why can’t she just stay single?”. Okay, you build in her complicated bad family setting so she HAS to get married to be happy. And then you say, “the point of the magical fun love is that you would always pick it over stability if you could, why does she pick stability this time?” Okay, you give the magical fun love a flaw that isn’t really a flaw. He can’t be cruel or unfaithful or any of that, because then you will miss the message of picking the sensible man over the perfect one. Death! That’s a good flaw. So now we have a tragic love triangle where everyone is doing everything right and no one is wrong, and it is just sad. Seem simple, but every little possible dead alley and mistake was worked out in advance.

Look at this, Shahrukh didn’t set out to fall in love, he set out to sing a fun song and cheer up the neighborhood harmlessly, and then he was struck by love of Preity, by accident. See, perfect! He isn’t intending to fall in love, we see the moment it happens without his intention, just in case we were wondering about that.

At the same time, nothing is actually “new” about this movie. It’s not trite, it’s timeless. Family defines you, you can stay in the same family your whole life, or you can break out and start new. Preity is stuck in a terrible family, she needs to break out and be new. And her mother, Jaya, wants that for her, wants her to be able to start fresh. That’s always the same, good parents want you to break free and try your wings and be happy, and marriage is a part of that. So now we have Preity considering her options for a marriage partnership.

There’s two options, does she want someone who she barely knows who is exciting and means change and difference? Or does she want someone who she really knows and really knows her and means stability and safety? She wants someone exciting and different. But, in the end, not that much.

The first time I watched this movie, I was furious that Preity and Shahrukh didn’t end up together. Sure, he’s dying, but love is love! Get married, let him die, and then marry Saif later if you want. On later watchings, I was happy she ended up with Saif, he was stable and really knew her and in the long run, they had a lot more in common and a deeper more stable kind of love. And finally, now, I am thinking that there is a reason Preity and Shahrukh didn’t end up together. It wasn’t just the movie that made them not get married, it was the people in the film. Preity didn’t stop her wedding, Shahrukh didn’t propose, even Saif didn’t back out. Love isn’t enough. There’s more to life than that. That’s what the film is saying. Look to tomorrow, make your decisions with care, just as the world of this film was built with care.

12 thoughts on “Shahrukh Birthday Countdown, Kal Ho Na Ho! The First REAL Review!

  1. Oh God, I watched this movie in theaters when it came out and little four year old me just burst out sobbing during all the sad scenes (I also thought Aman was looking right at me as he was dying and i gave up any pretense of normality). The whole story is SO SAD. Jaya’s restaurant is failing, there’s an abusive grandmother, Preity is putting herself into debt for an MBA, Saif is constantly left broken-hearted, and of course, Shahrukh is dying and nobody, not even his own mother, quite know how to deal with that.

    And yet. The movie is somewhat wonderful. Not like ‘Anand’ ( i think that’s the name of the Rajesh Khanna movie?), but more like. These are growing pains. Saif is growing out of being a teenager chasing any piece of skirt, Jaya is growing up from an old love from her husband and being reliant on him, and Preity is not a child anymore who thinks she has to stay within this family for reasons, and goes out and creates her own family. And across all of them, they’re growing up and finding what it means to be Indian and not-Indian. All things we all need to figure out and it resonates, no matter what the setting or if an angel is sent to our life or not.


    • First of all, you are so young! I was in college when this movie came out. Okay, moving on.

      And for being so young, and growing up with this film, you have a really marvelous concept of this film! I love that idea of transition. Even Shahrukh is a little immature, afraid to tell the truth to Preity and Saif and let them make their own decisions, wanting to have a little escape from reality for a bit. And it would tie in to Jaya’s speech about how Saif is a strong brave man because he was able to face the situation and accept it, versus her dead husband who wasn’t strong enough. Everyone of them is struggling and escaping instead of facing up and fighting. And then that’s the happy ending for them all, just accepting and getting through.

      On Thu, Oct 8, 2020 at 1:40 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. Confession: I just don’t like this movie. Priety and Saif had SO MUCH MORE CHEMISTRY than she had with SRK. I got that his character was supposed to be this dreamy clown changing everyone’s life for the better, but honestly it felt to me like he wasn’t needed. Maybe I judged it harshly because of that horrible USA parade song early in the film. Or it could be the setting. I dislike two of three of Karan’s USA movies.


    • It’s true, Preity and Saif do have more chemistry! Funny thing now that I think about it, I think of Saif and Preity as regular co-stars, but really it’s just Kya Kehna, and this, and Salaam Nameste. On the other hand, Preity and Shahrukh have this and Dil Se. Also, “dreamy clown” is the PERFECT description!

      On Thu, Oct 8, 2020 at 11:36 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



    • Ooo! Anand, obviously, but Dear Zindagi hadn’t occurred to me. Except I think Dear Zindagi actually does it a little better, the combination of “life coach” and “lover” in this can be a bit strained sometimes. But in Dear Zindagi Shahrukh is just the wise advisor to the young woman.


  3. This was only the second or third Indian movie I ever saw and I mostly remember being confused by the plot – based on his entrance, I figured SRK really was an angel, or anyway not entirely real, whose sole purpose was to wake Preity up and get her together with Saif. So then the broken heart reveal totally threw me for a loop. Why would you need to kill this character off if he isn’t real to begin with? I thought I was watching a fairy tale and it turned full soap opera. And then I was also crying, which was even more confusing. How was this over the top soapy plot with this fast talking angel dude making me cry real tears? Later after revisiting with more context I was able to appreciate the SRK-Saif comedy duo, and I always liked the family drama grounded by Jaya. I go back to it when I need a shot of pure emotion (that scene where he runs to Saif’s apartment from the hospital to tell him to stay with Preity -oof!). But it does also have notes of ridiculous and over the top throughout, along with a few moments that make me physically cringe. What was the theory of feeling many emotions all at once? Rasa? This film for me is that at full volume.


    • Yes! It is a fairy tale crossed with a soap opera! Because Shahrukh does have weird magical powers in several moments, but also is mortal?

      On Tue, Oct 20, 2020 at 11:38 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



      • It feels like part of the tension between creative visions maybe. Is Shah Rukh a real guy who does an angel act, complete with fourth wall breaking moments, because he’s sick and needs a sense of purpose during his final weeks? Or is he an SRK angelic trickster, too big for real life, trailing bits of filmi magic through the story?


        • That’s an interesting thought! That the film exists in an uncertain place because the makes themselves weren’t sure what they wanted.

          On Thu, Oct 22, 2020 at 11:33 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  4. I avoided watching this movie for the longest time because anyone I talked to about it told me it was depressing and I would cry my eyes out. Of course I caved, and probably fell into the trap everyone did–completely obsessed with and taken by the sunny beginning (I LOVE the 4th wall moments, not too many of them and they were so well shot) and then when SRK’s illness gets worse I was a mess. A little too much overdramatic crying, but the emotion was still there and I was a shell of a person when it was over. And I’m glad you pointed Saif out in particular. He was fabulous in this movie, and I feel like he gets overlooked a lot in comparison to Shahrukh and Preity.


    • Yes! I am so far removed from my first viewing, I forgot what it felt like, thank you for reminding me. the opening is so fun and light and funny, you completely forget it is going to be sad even though you’ve been told it will be sad. And then it is SO SAD.

      On subsequent viewings, the opening isn’t quite as happy, because SRK plays his character in a way that you can sort of see the sadness underlying the performance through out the film. It’s not obvious, but once you see how he plays some scenes in second half, you can kind of see the echo of it int he first half. And of course on every viewing, Granny gets MORE HATEFUL!!!! Do you agree with me that she is an irredeemably bad person who should be thrown out into the snow and forgotten? She hits a CHILD!!! Just because she doesn’t like her!!!

      On Thu, Nov 26, 2020 at 12:54 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



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