My boss complains that I always go off on “irrelevant tangents”, which is why when I wanted to write about how Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna was, in parts, a copy of Ulu Grosbard’s Falling In Love elsewhere in the paper, he scuppered my plans. So here I am, pushing my luck in this column.
But first, here’s the reason why I wanted to mention this irrelevant tangent. I’ve seen KANK twice over, in the same theatre (Priya in Basantlok) and even parked my car in the same parking space (the first time, I had to fight for my space with the attendant; the second time, he recognised me and was cordial: “Aap do din pehla aaye thhe na?” he asked). And both times I loved the movie: the candyfloss, the grey areas and the overstretched bits.
There’s one scene where Karan Johar has burnt a sequence of the Falling in Love DVD (of which I’m a proud owner): when Jane Kaczmarek slaps husband Robert de Niro after he tells her that he’s had an extra-marital affair with Meryl Streep. On Priya’s wide screen, SRK bore the brunt of Preity Zinta’s smack across his face after the exact build up, and at least half the audience clapped and cheered wildly. I immediately went down memory lane. In the mid-Nineties, I’d watched Darr in a sleazy central Calcutta theatre called Hind. I’d been aghast that all the front- and middle-benchers were, collectively, baying for Sunny Deol’s blood while he was bashing up SRK: “Maaro saale ko!” they thundered when “psycho” SRK (remember “I love you K-K-K-K-K-Kiran”?) got up (the Bengali voices went, “Maar, maar!”), blood dripping from his face, and took on “good guy” Sunny. “At times, it’s disturbing,” remarked the friend I’d gone to watch Darr with, “how mass hysteria builds up: look at them, they're all for the Bad Guy!”
At the much more sophisticated Priya, it wasn’t mass hysteria building up. It was moral complacency getting shaken up. “It’s not Indian in concept,” observed one girl in the row in front of me. “What the hell is Rani’s problem?” whined my best friend who’d accompanied me the second time around. “She has such a nice husband in Abhishek, so why’s she looking elsewhere?” “Shah Rukh is a loser,” someone else added to the acoustics. Voices had become surround sound, and echoed pretty much the same sentiments.
Feeling like a fish out of water, I came back to the parking lot. It was 2.30 am in the morning. The cordial attendant drove my car out of the parking lot and, with a flourish, presented me with the key. “Sab keh rahe bakwaas picture hai,” he said. “Aap ne do baar dekh liya?” People don’t understand a good thing when they see one, I countered sleepily, getting behind the wheel.
Then he said something that I can’t reproduce ad verbatim because my Hindi is terrible and I don’t want to trip on grammar and phraseology. Basically, he said, Indians were okay with chori chori chupke chupke; problems crop up when you make a clean breast of things. So, you’ve seen the movie, I asked him, impressed with his raison d'etre. “Woh hall ka manager mera dost hai,” he explained. “Usne story bata diye.” He’ll probably get a free ticket one of these days.