The concept of a sci-fi Indian film may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. In Kidar Sharma’s 1942 sci-fi fantasy Armaan, the protagonist discovers a light ray that can photographically record both pain and pleasure. Later movies Mr. X in Bombay (1964), Johar Mehmood in Goa (1965) and Shekhar Kapoor’s mega-hit Mr. India (1987) followed, with heroes who could make themselves invisible at will. Bravely carrying that flame forward, and yet firmly entrenched on terra firma in more ways than one, Rakesh Roshan’s Koi Mil Gaya is a delightful successor in a genre whose popularity may just zoom skyward.
The momentous occasion of initial contact between humans and things decidedly non-human (wizards, ghosts, dinosaurs, or dragons) is often witnessed through the eyes of a child—or, as the script by veterans Sachin Bhowmick and Robin Bhatt unfolds here—through the eyes of a man with the mind of a child. The man-child Rohit Mehra (Hrithik Roshan) shows a keen interest in a search for extra-terrestrials started many years earlier by his father (played by his real-life father Rakesh Roshan). Yes, Rohit does make South Asia’s first contact with a space alien and yes, we meet, and immediately become attached to the impishly benevolent newcomer Rohit names Jadoo.
Despite Rohit’s best efforts to keep his new friend from crossing paths with his mother (Rekha) who blames an earlier alien visitation for a family tragedy, Jadoo’s presence gets detected by some dastardly men in black who come looking for Jadoo by fronting as scientists. Rohit must juggle his time between protecting Jadoo and meeting up with friend-of-a-friend Nisha (Zinta) with whom Rohit also develops a special bond. Ah, the complications in the life of an 11-year-old!
Using state-of-the-art stagecraft (courtesy of special effects infusion from Hollywood and Australia) that will elicit many oohs and aahs, Koi Mil Gaya breaks new sci-fi ground without abandoning the core values that guarantee mass appeal in Hindi cinema. There is still an abundance of catchy music, an unusual coming-of-age story mixed with romance, and how 11-year-olds deal with playground bullies, all underscored by generous doses of well-executed humor.
Ironically, it isn’t the special effects that make Koi Mil Gaya a winning entry. What the film best succeeds at is outlining a touching story of a young man whose unusual destiny makes him a vital link in mankind’s thirst to learn about extraterrestrials, which in turn may, just may, allow a peek at our innermost cosmic selves. Rohit’s bond with Nisha transcends the sexual coyness that grounds most romances. Instead, both sides of Rohit’s story—the struggle to emancipate the man inside his 11-year-old mentality, and his special bond with Nisha—point to a search for a deeper quest.
Hrithik Roshan’s acting takes a remarkable departure from his matinee idol stereotype. In Rohit’s incarnation, Roshan, who is still Hindi cinema’s best lead dancer, abandons the dance numbers, and disappears into a mentally challenged geek easy to empathize with, while Rekha, Zinta, and the older Roshan provide rock solid support.
Musically, Rajesh Roshan pulls together a fun song-pack that stands out, even though Adnan Sami’s version of the magical Jadoo number, the best track, appears only on the CD and not on screen. EMI’s reported gamble at having paid a king’s ransom to retain musical rights will likely pay off.
Some audiences will undoubtedly dismiss Koi Mil Gaya as a desi update of E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or even Spiderman. At its heart, however, the film retains an innate Indianness that can’t be easily explained. The comparison between Koi Mil Gaya and any Spielberg blockbuster is unfair since Hollywood productions work with seemingly limitless resources whilst resurgent big-budget Hindi movies are only now experimenting with storylines that Hollywood dabbled in 25 years ago. As Koi Mil Gaya shows, however, the technological gap is closing. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if it continues to narrow without sacrificing the core values that have made Hindi films the primary source of entertainment for a couple of billion earthlings.