Monday, August 14, 2006

Facile notes on KA(LA)NK

When you watch Shah Rukh Khan as filtered through Karan Johar’s gaze, it’s hard not to be quietly respectful, even if the film is inherently crappy. Here is one of the purest of all love stories, and we are privileged to be alive to see it unfolding before our eyes, in air-conditioned multiplexes. Johar’s adoration of Shah Rukh, the way he lovingly places him at the centre of every frame and gives him God-like status, is truly marvelous to behold. There’s something at work here that far transcends the usual ways we are expected to respond to a movie.

I don’t know if there’s any truth to the rumours about Johar and SRK – I tend to take celebrity gossip (especially the type where people smugly claim to know something “for a fact”) with a large tub of salt. But I’m now convinced that KJ is in love with SRK. I don’t know what kind of love this is – platonic, sexual, unrequited, whatever – but there’s no mistaking it. Among the great director-actor synergies, it’s more potent than Raj Kapoor and Nargis, Hitchcock and Ingrid Bergman, Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich. The only other relationship I can think of that matches it is the one between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski. (Herzog once said of Kinski, “From the moment I first saw him, I knew it was my destiny to make films and his to act in them.” I don’t know if young KJ had the sophistication to think such thoughts, but I’m guessing he at least went “Woo hoo Bollywood, here I come!”)

Karan Johar’s last three films have been gorgeous love letters penned to SRK, even though at least two of them have been mediocre films. As studies of adulation, of the immortalizing of one person by another, they will live forever, longer perhaps than all those sonnets Shakespeare addressed to his Muse. We may now reasonably refer to them as great art.

You know what else is Great Art? The endless close-ups of Rani Mukherji’s face with a single teardrop coaxing its way out of just one limpid eye (it’s always the right eye) and rolling tragically down a cheek. Her makeup is never besmirched and this combination of pain and gloss is achingly beautiful. I’m no connoisseur, but on the great art scale I’d place it somewhere between Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and Picasso’s “Guernica”.

Rani’s one-eyed crying is almost symbolic of the many half-measures in a very uneven, very unconvincing film. I thought Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna was quite bad, though thankfully it was bad enough to be entertaining in parts. Not reviewing it, but here’s one observation at risk of sounding moralistic: some bits in the first half are downright distasteful. I’m not easily scandalized, but the scenes where Shah Rukh and Rani counsel each other on how to save their marriages – using this as a pretext to, for instance, feel each other up on a bed in a furniture shop – are sleazy beyond anything David Dhawan or many other much-maligned directors have yet managed. Worst of all, this scene – and the ones where each of them tries to act on the other’s advice – are played as slapstick comedy, and bad slapstick comedy at that. (Watch the sequence where Shah Rukh offers his wife a massage, or when Rani enters her husband’s flat dressed up as a dominatrix, complete with whip, and bear in mind that this is a film that has set itself up as a “mature” study of adult relationships – of people making honest attempts to save their marriages and failing.)

In this fine piece, Baradwaj Rangan notes one of the more interesting things about KANK (though in my view it’s interesting only on paper, not in Johar’s treatment of it) – that the “hero” and “heroine”, played by Bollywood’s biggest male and female star respectively, are wimpy, whiny, uncharismatic losers; their spouses, played by Preity and Abhishek, are much more proactive and likable. That’s certainly a first of kinds, though it also caused a problem of acceptance for me: the two leads are so downbeat and disaffected and masochistic, I had a hard time believing they would ever find happiness, even with each other. So it’s difficult to think of the ending as a happy one.

P.S. Each time I contemplate some of the other homosapiens sitting in the movie hall around me, I remember that we really do get the cinema we deserve. One man spent half the film with his cellphone aimed at the screen, taking photos or videos; he recorded the entire “Where’s the Party Tonight?” song and then, irritatingly, played it back later, drowning out the sound from a subsequent scene.

Young boys in my row burst into orgasmic yelps each time there was anything resembling an innuendo in the dialogue, or if a woman appeared in a low-cut blouse. At one point Rani tells Shah Rukh, “Sorry, galti se dab gaya.” (She made an unintended cellphone call.) “Galti se dab gaya!!!!” screamed the lads ecstatically, and the collective outburst reminded me of Arthur Clarke’s short story “Love that Universe”, wherein billions of people are asked to synchronize their love-making so that the combined orgasms send out a crucial energy signal to a distant civilisation. Which is fitting enough, because when you're sitting in a PVR hall, you're very far from any sort of civilisation.


  1. Your P.S. part was the best! Ha ha!

  2. Wonder what wud be on Karan Johar's mind if he reads your post!

  3. See that's why I always patronized Regal. A wad of cash gets you the balcony, or better still the box seats, away from all the plebian riff-raff.

    Rani as dominatrix :)? Now I have to see this.

  4. I think it's a misconception that Bollywood is making fills for a more 'mature' audience. Apart from a very select few, the majority of filmmakers only pretend to have matured. The treatment is still very childish and wannabe-Hollywood. Emphasis is on the details - looks, locations, songs etc. Everyone's looking cool flipping sunglasses and wearing beenies etc, but the jokes are still slapstick and handling is extremely 'mass'-based.
    PS: Looks like Boy 1-Girl 1 were actually made for each other.

  5. Does anyone think that KANK is a copy of Falling in Love (De Niro/Streep). Seems similar...

  6. i heard so many gujju and panju aunties say shee shee when srk and rani were getting down and dirty i nearly started giggling ... Kjo has totally disappointed them!!

    I actually liked the movie in parts.. was too draggy but atleast the ppl looked real!! i know losers like that!!

  7. Remember Rani's Nach Baliye song with Abhishek in Bunty aur Babli? She was dressed in artificial leather or rexine hotpants and looked like she was into some family-friendly s&m.

  8. I hope I have been clever enough to read through the sarcasm in your review - but you have well and truly put me OFF the film :)

    Enjoyed your description of the solitary tear meandering down Rani's 'right' cheek... Beautifully funny :)

  9. Karan Johar
    Costume Designer - filmography
    1. Veer-Zaara (2004) (for Shah Rukh Khan)
    2. Main Hoon Na (2004) (for Shahrukh Khan)
    3. Mohabbatein (2000)
    ... aka Love Stories (Europe: English title)
    4. Duplicate (1998) (for Shah Rukh Khan)
    5. Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) (Shahrukh Khan's costumes)
    ... aka The Heart Is Crazy

    Actor - filmography
    4. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) .... Rocky, Raj's friend

    the heart is so crazy no?

  10. Rani Mukherji’s face with a single teardrop coaxing its way out of just one limpid eye (it’s always the right eye) and rolling tragically down a cheek.

    you kidding? did you sleep through the last scene when both srk and rani have teardrops dripping from their respective chins?! gorgeous stuff.

    my favourite line in the film was, "any message for your mom?" and abhishek sobs his way out of the room.

  11. You know, after such a brilliant review, I'm going to be forced to watch this tripe just so I can agree vociferously ;) Although at three and a half hours of my life, I question my stupidity.

  12. if you will excuse me, I am going to laugh out loud now. HAHAHAHAHAHA! ;-)

  13. I love that Karan Johar claims to make a mature film but has one of the opening credits read "I love you mom". What is this? His kindergarten Christmas concert?

  14. thats a wonderful review. Well done!

  15. I watched it. I think my expectations were so low that I found parts of it funny. But I was laughing at them rather than with them.

    I felt the two leads did the worst job I've seen in a long time. The supporting cast had moments of excellence. I thought big B was excellent and the little B, PZ and KK were pretty decent.

    This is a mature movie?? For God's sake, the two lead characters are self-pitying whiny losers. They cry constantly, blame others constantly and have a constant woe is me approach to life. Thank god their spouses throw their sorry, pathetic asses out.

    They are also completely one-dimensional. SRK's character much more so. His only emotion is bitterness when really, he's to blame for his silly accident or at worst, his paramour, not his wife. Anyway, I guess expecting characters with complex emotions is too much to ask. Having wasted 3.5 hours already, I don't want to waste any more mind share to this movie!

    But after the excellent warning here, I only have myself to blame! :-)

  16. what? is there no amitabh bachchan in this movie? ( just that he seems to be in every hindi movie and I haven't seen this one.. will probably not, now.)

  17. This is a mature movie?? For God's sake, the two lead characters are self-pitying whiny losers.

    Shri: that's beside the point. Plenty of very mature movies have been made about self-pitying, whiny losers. The problem here is the treatment.

    The girlfriend and I were discussing the SRK character's lack of credibility - it's quite likely that the source of his bitterness was explored more deeply but then left on the cutting table (in the original script there's something about him missing out a multi-million dollar contract because of the injury - which could have led to growing resentment about Preity's super-successful career). But poor editing is one of this film's biggest problems anyhow...

  18. Jai: Agree completely about the greatness of K. Jo's love for SRK (even though I know of it only through rumour - I wouldn't actually watch one of these things - I may be suicidal sometimes, but I'm never that masochistic). I think the point is that with all the other examples you cite, we either know or can imagine that the object of the artist's love is worthy of veneration. Bergman is beautiful, Kinski can act, and we might as well believe that the dark beauty was, in fact a looker, even if her eyes were nothing like the sun. What makes K Jo's love so incredible is that we all know that its object is a blithering ham. It's this blindness that exalts his admiration for SRK to truly epic proportions - it's like Don Quixote's love for Dulcinea.

  19. The movie could have been a work worth raving if the star factor was never there. Probably the huge star cast worked against them.And the Karan SRK combination may have people sayin they've had enough.

    But looking away from the stars and the cast or filmakers, if we actually dissect the movie, a deeper insight into each character, SRK's failure (as Jai said) as a wannabe football star, the reason for him becoming the cynical, Preity and her career, the failure of the two couples marriages....The script didnt do justice to the interestingly unexplored topic of failed marriages.

    But I do admire the attempt to break free from the usual formula. Unfortunately,the movie fell into the usual song and dance sequence. I guess, without that, the script would have allowed space for more.

  20. Nice review Jai. I was in Delhi for a month and left a day after it was released. You've satisfied some of my curiosity about it. Seriously, when will we learn to have a grown-up language to talk about sybjects like marriage, sexuality, relationships etc. Melodrama can be a viable medium, but it's so hard to get it right. And what a fine insight--the love that dominates (!)is KJ's for SRK. The rest was hilarious--I haven't had a multiplex experience yet, but I suspect I'll want to brain the idiots.

  21. I saw KJ and the Khan on Vir Sanghvi's "Face The Music" yesterday and sure enough, there is a chemistry between them that is highly palpable. It's lovely to see it actually.

    BTW, I am thorougly enjoying your blog!

  22. O my God, I just found this absolutely hilarious review of KANK. Have you seen it Jai?

  23. the review was hilariously entertaining and so very true!!
    i didnt like the movie one bit, though i'm a gr8 shahrukh and KJo fan. i think it was desperately trying to be 'cool'and liberated, very wannabe but lost on credibility. the scenes and some dialogues were quite unreal .