The persistent media hype surrounding the purportedly path-breaking theme of Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna is probably part of a well-planned strategy. If it indeed is, one must admit that it’s been a promotional masterstroke from a production banner that knows a thing or two about packaging and publicity.
Dangle the bait of Shah Rukh Khan as a more than willing studio discussion participant. Simple! Which news channel worth its salt would pass up that gilt-edged opportunity?
So here we are: calling a spindly spade a mechanised earthmover. A film that was in grave danger of petering out of the box office charts without leaving an impact on minds and souls is now back in the reckoning, and the director and his principal star have magically emerged as marriage counsellors to an entire nation.
|A still from Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna|
Given the amount of television footage and newspaper space that has been devoted to animated discussions and self-important write-ups woven around the subject of marital infidelity, the storyline of
has become a urban talking point although most people this critic has had the opportunity to ask have dismissed the film as stodgy and without much psychological substance.
But what’s the big deal? KANK is overlong, shallow, and even stolid for the most part notwithstanding all the crowd-pleasing ingredients that Johar has crammed into its three-and-a-half-hour running time. Yet there are moments in the film that come tantalisingly close to working; after all, the subject has undeniable potential. The fact that only a fraction of that potential is realised is attributable to Karan Johar’s indulgent style of filmmaking.
While Johar has taken on a wide canvas that is emotionally complex and riddled with psychological contradictions – married human beings often do what they do because they kind help it, it’s physiologically and circumstantially ordained.
KANK addressed things like the nature of love, marital relationships, emotional vacuums, infidelity and incompatibility, but Johar refuses to grow out of his Kuch Kuch Hota Hai fixation. His storytelling style remains confined to broad sweeps and facile flourishes; the depths of the anguish of separation and loss remain largely out of his focus.
When they do edge towards the centre of the goings-on, the impact isn’t quite what it would have been had a more even-handed, more mature approach been adopted. The result: you do not really feel any sympathy for the predicament that Dev Saran (Shah Rukh Khan) and Maya Talwar (Rani Mukherjee), unhappily married but not to each other, find themselves in as a result of their desperate extra-marital fling. Superficiality reigns supreme all the way, as a consequence of which the actions of the characters – both the stupid ones and the not-so-stupid ones – come across as rather unconvincing and contrived, if not completely meaningless.
Theme-wise, Karan Johar may have broken free from his sophomoric Riverdale past. In terms of style, he hasn’t traversed an inch. Mercifully for him, the media, both electronic and print, have gone the whole hog to pull KANK back from the brink. So, folks, India now has two celebrity relationship pundits in frenetic circulation. Turn to them for pearls of wisdom when your marriage takes the shape of a one-wheeled carriage in need of a heave-ho of the KANK kind.
Karan Johar and KANK are what they are because of the era that they fortuitously exist in. Far better Hindi films have been made in the past on the subject of marital indiscretions, but they came well before television news acquired the power of turning make-believe silver screen relationships into drawing room and party circuit topics.
Remember Gumrah, in which Mala Sinha, married to her dead sister’s husband, cannot keep herself away from her lover? Or the classy Arth, which had an anguished Shabana Azmi emerging stronger from a disintegrating marriage? Or Ijaazat or the unreleased Libaas, both written and directed by Gulzar, films that had characters that went well beyond unthinking recriminations when their relationships turned sour?
When faced with the theme of marital discord, Bollywood has invariably delivered one of two things – the wildly comic or the stridently melodramatic. Arth and Ijaazat were neither and, in their time, deserved much more than KANK does in its time to become the starting point of a debate on the institution of marriage.
But alas, there were no satellite news channels and tabloid-like broadsheets back then to pump up the volume for these two films of real merit. Good for KANK. It would have paled in comparison had Ijaazat and Arth been allowed to imprint themselves on our collective consciousness quite in the manner and to the extent that KANK is being helped to do.
Interestingly but perhaps unintentionally, one of the key characters of KANK shares her name with the elfin, free-spirited Maya of Gulzar’s hauntingly poetic Ijaazat. Expecting a Karan Johar film to share any more than that with Ijaazat would be like asking for a Dustin Hoffman-like performance from Shah Rukh Khan. And there rests my case.