Monday, August 14, 2006

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna

Let me start with a confession – I love the Karan Johar brand of film making and derive great pleasure from his penchant for excesses and emotional manipulation. Enormous scale, an all-star cast, larger than life characters, excessive melodrama, saccharine sentimentality, sumptuous designer clothes, visually arresting foreign locales, lavish song and dance routines – everything about his films is as divorced from reality (at least the reality I see around me) as, say, a Satyajit Ray film is from the world of make-believe. Yet I love it, because it is done tastefully; and that differentiates his films from the routine masala Hindi movies you get to see every Friday.

So obviously, I was very keen to watch his latest flick – Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. The tremendous pre-release media hype ensured that I saw it on the very first day of its release. I have never been more confused about any other film. It had all the ingredients I expect (and enjoy) in a Karan Johar film. Also, the theme was touted to be 'bold', especially in the context of Indian cinema. As far as the execution of the film is concerned, I have no complaint – it is entertaining, true to Karan Johar's style. But the script has some basic flaws. I have thought a lot about it; and even though I still can't put my finger on what exactly was wrong with the script, I don't find it convincing enough.

It's all about loving someone else’s spouse (remember the tagline of K3G!). Why? Because in the first place you got married for the wrong reason, and found your soul mate only after your marriage was on the rocks. Well, infidelity and extra-marital affairs are common and people indulging in them have their own reasons – right or wrong. I don't have a problem with that. But somehow the single-line theme Karan Johar had in his mind – what do you do when you meet the love of your life and you're married to someone else - gets completely lost in the overly contrived screenplay that loses focus every now and then. After pondering over the movie for a while now, I still can't comprehend how Dev and Maya found a soul mate in each other. True, their similar circumstances drew them together and they could probably identify with each other, but the realization of 'love' and a 'soulmate' connection just doesn't come across convincingly on screen. What void do they fill in each other’s life that their spouses cannot? I am sure there was something, but it eludes me completely. The script writers needed to cut down the excessive flab from the film and focus on that aspect.

Dev is supposedly a very complex character. He is a failure in life, his wife is more successful, and his son refuses to help him fulfill his dreams vicariously. So far so good, but why does he have to turn into such an obnoxious character? Shahrukh Khan with his characteristic hamming goes way too over the top to strip Dev of any sympathy you might have for him, which makes you wonder how anyone - and I mean anyone - can fall in love with him! Least of all Maya who is so dreamy eyed about love that even her loving and expressive husband fails to stir her. Is it because Love is Blind, Mr. Johar?

Talking of Maya, she is the most confused character in the film. What does she want? She has pre-nuptial jitters, which is understandable because she feels her marriage is like a compromise, an obligation. But it is just not clear why she is unhappy even after four years of marriage. What is it that she wants to 'discuss' every time? Karan Johar keeps her husband, as well as the audience, in the dark all through. Maybe, her character was meant to be confused and ambiguous!! On her part, Rani tries her best to do justice to her character the way it's written.

Again, I am not trying to pass a value judgment on the rights and wrongs of extra-marital affairs. It is very much possible that people can find 'love' outside marriage, even though they might be married to 'nice' people. My only point is that Karan's script needed to focus more on the Dev-Maya relationship and their motivations than anything else.

To be honest I was a little apprehensive about the script when I saw the credits – Shibani Bhatija as the screenplay co-writer. Karan might have tried hard to restrain her predilection for clichés and corny sequences, which we found her using so blatantly in Fanaa, but a few sequences still made one wince. Especially the 'Dev mujhe lauta do' bit. Also, the ending had a strong sense of déjà vu, and it was also completely unnecessary. The film could've ended when Dev and Maya separate from their respective spouses. This is one place Karan might have done well to restrain his liking for high-voltage melodrama. To be fair to KJ and Shibani, it was a good thing that they didn't paint Preity's or Abhishek's characters in a negative shade to 'justify' their spouses' infidelity. Preity's character had all the trappings of turning into a vampish ambitious-woman-bad-wife cliché, but the writers tried their best to avoid that. And Abhishek's character is the most credible.

Now let me tell you why I still found the film entertaining despite its flaws. First of all, the Bachchans. The father-son duo is simply adorable in the film. Abhishek's is easily the best-written role among all the actors, and he demonstrates remarkable honesty and conviction in his portrayal. Amitabh's over-the-top flamboyance is likeable too. I can't think of any other actor who could carry off this role without making it appear vulgar and cheap. And his final expression in the dinner sequence shows yet again what a great actor he is!

Karan, the director, should also get credit for handling a few sequences with panache. His handling of the tiffs between the couples is uncharacteristically mature and deserves applause. Also, the scene where Dev and Maya check into a hotel to make love captures the true spirit of the scene – a curious mix of guilt and intensity. My favorite, however, is the scene where Dev is taking flowers for Maya, and his wife comes there. This scene is done in true KJ style – exaggerated and overplayed.

The music is just the right blend of melody and rhythm. The opening piano piece of the title song is extremely evocative, so is the Mitwa song. My only problem with the music of the film is that it suffers from a strong Kal Ho Na Ho hangover. Still, Shankar Ehsaan and Loy come up with an above average score.

So after reading all this, what do you think? Is this a good film? I'm still thinking...