Koi? Mil Gaya: What's new?
Ever since the slickly packaged television promos of Rakesh Roshan's Koi… Mil Gaya went on air, its makers have lost no opportunity to claim that the film is unlike anything Hindi cinema has ever produced before.
And it is not merely the unprecedented special effects that they have been waxing eloquent about, but it is also the supposed uniqueness of film's theme that they have been talking about. But, really, is Rakesh Roshan's new film as different as the men behind it would have us believe?
Admittedly, Koi… Mil Gaya does narrate a pretty meaty, melodramatic story garnished with generous dashes of fantasy and humour. If the "musical sci-fi drama" (that certainly is a novel genre) is assessed in the context of the general run of commercial Hindi films, it is a whole wide world removed from the routine boy-meets-girl tales that Mumbai filmmakers are so pathologically obsessed with.
The Koi…Mil Gaya script gives Hindi cinema's take on love something resembling a makeover: boy does indeed meet girl here, but the boy is really only a boy and the girl is actually a woman.
By playing off the protagonist's spontaneous relationship with a scared, hapless, stranded alien against the human and societal disconnect engendered by his stunted intellectual growth, director Roshan cranks up the film's emotional pitch in true Bollywood style even as he opts to play down the philosophical underpinnings of the tale. Koi… Mil Gaya resets on an age-old premise: psychological subtleties are anathema for a film meant for the masses.
While the all-pervading superficiality might indeed help the film pull in the crowds, the truth is that Koi… Mil Gaya is as brazenly derivative, perhaps even as predictable, as any film ever to emerge from Mumbai's hyperactive industry.
Only, its scriptwriters have refrained from cannibalizing past Hindi films: they have simply lifted ideas lock, stock and barrel exclusively from a slew of well-loved American movies. But isn't that what most Hindi filmmakers do? Right, but then they do not lay claims to originality in the manner that the makers of Koi… Mil Gaya have done.
The central premise of Koi… Mil Gaya - an alien creature left behind on earth by an UFO - is obviously filched from Steven Spielberg's bewitching 1982 film E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial, while the character played by Hrithik Roshan, Rohit (heard that name before?), an 11-year-old boy trapped in an adult's body, is clearly modelled on Forrest Gump, that incredible man who leads a charmed life despite his sub-normal IQ in the 1994 Oscar-winning Robert Zemeckis film.
The hero's father, a space scientist played by director Rakesh Roshan, bears a distinct resemblance to the Richard Dreyfuss character in yet another of Spielberg's many remarkable blockbusters, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He is a man possessed, a man who dares to pursue his unreal dreams despite being subjected to ridicule by his peers. That "child-like" figure had an entire film to himself in Close Encounters, where he sees his dreams attain fruition. In Koi… Mil Gaya, he dies in a car crash caused by the sighting of an UFO.
That is where Koi… Mil Gaya begins. The mantle of carrying the scientist's work forward falls on his mentally challenged son. In E.T., too, the child is haunted by the absence of his father who has left the family to live with another woman.
The fortuitous arrival of the extra-terrestrial and the deep, instinctive bonding he develops with the strange but lovable creature helps him grow out of the emotional vacuum that surrounds his life.
Spielberg's fantasy unfolds entirely from the point of view of the child - the adults are almost always shot from the height of a child's eye line. It explores zones of consciousness that adults have lost touch with to their own detriment.
Philosophy, as we have already seen, is beyond Roshan's film: it never rises above the level of a simplistic, high-pitched fairy tale. Koi… Mil Gaya works fine as a fantasy because it falls back on a tried-and-tested Hindi film plot device: an underdog stumbles upon bionic powers and strikes back at his tormentors, the local basketball bullies.
In essence, Koi… Mil Gaya is a vendetta saga cast in the Karan Arjun and Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai mould. In both films, the wrongdoing of the villains is avenged through an implausible act of Providence - in the first, two dead brothers are reborn to settle scores; in the second, a look-alike of the slain singer-hero steps in to restore moral order.
Koi… Mil Gaya's Rohit experiences an implausible life-altering stroke of wish-fulfilment… If that constitutes an uncharted narrative course, Harry Baweja's Qayamat is an avant-garde film.
Clear religious connotations underline the reversal of fortunes that occurs in Koi… Mil Gaya - the magical, blue-hued extra-terrestrial appears almost as an answer to the harried hero's fervent prayers to an idol of Lord Krishna that stands on his bedside table. The inspiration? Who else but Spielberg again.
Koi… Mil Gaya will probably go down pretty well with the masses, but do not expect it to revolutionise popular Hindi cinema. If anything, it will only strengthen Bollywood's resolve to borrow and steal and vandalise the medium's most sacred memories.