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Johar, who has had a hand in either writing or directing at least half-a-dozen box-office hits (including Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham, Kal Ho Na Ho), rides the coattails of pretty much the same stars to tell pretty much the same story, albeit in an American setting. When the fog of Johar’s idea of post-modern romance clears up and the last crackle of the multi-channel soundtrack recedes, what’s left is stunned silence. How could this eminent Hindi film power broker (and Shahrukh Khan’s best friend) with potentially unlimited resources come up so short? In trying to emulate his notion of all things American, Johar forgot to mention that his parting gift for the audience would be that famed American avian delicacy—a turkey.
Set in a Manhattan that is mostly used as backdrop in scenes shot in Brooklyn, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna attempts to bridge Johar’s thinking of how desi-American lives are lived. So prepare for mostly Beautiful People who have perfect hair, perfect teeth, wear lavish saris even in rush-hour train traffic, and are so tightly wrapped in their conceit that they are clueless to all goings on beyond their arms reach, literally. Take Dev Saran (Khan), an aggressive soccer dad with anger management issues. His marriage to the fashion editor-cum-trophy wife Rhea (Zinta) is on the rocks the minute each forgets an Important Event in the other’s life. Then take PR guy Rishi Talwar (Abhishek Bachchan) whose schoolteacher-cum-trophy wife Maya (Mukherjee) is never quite able to articulate why she married him in the first place and now cries about it—a lot. Maya’s and Dev’s chance encounter at Maya’s wedding triggers a three-hour-long story about second glances and missed opportunities between the two.
Khan’s character is not likable. His own school-age son fears his father, and you wonder where’s the humor in a father constantly referring to his young son as an “idiot.” Johar’s attempt to use Dev’s physical flaws as a euphemism for his character flaws falls flat. Not making Khan the center of adulation is heresy in a Johar movie considering the unusually close relationship between the two.
And how many times in this decade do we have to suffer a pensive-looking Khan stretching out at the Brooklyn Bridge?
Musically also, Johar misses the mark. How could Shanker Ehsaan Loy take a dive from the unplugged Bunty Aur Babli into this quicksand?
Among the few bright spots are the use of winter settings in New York and Philadelphia. Also, the Bachchans are in rare form. Bachchan Jr. is commendable while Bachchan Sr. does a cheeky, older womanizer (“Dad, what did you have for breakfast this morning?” Reply: “I don’t remember her name!”) who is not unlike Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner down to the raised collars, goatee, retro eyeglasses, and an ever-present babe in his arms. The carefree Amitabh Bachchan in this role is even unafraid to bare his sexual peccadilloes. By giving the Bachchans their own movie here, Johar just might have saved Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna from drowning.
Speaking of drowning, what is up with Mukherjee’s Maya? She cries when she should be talking. She doesn’t talk much, and that’s not good. One pities the chap who had to follow Mukherjee around on the sets with a jug of glycerine—the poor woman cries herself silly. Did anyone alert the Port Authority that the rising tides around Manhattan was a false alarm set off by Mukherjee’s non-stop bawling and not the melting polar caps? Forget the paddle, Johar only provides a canoe for a ride up this creek.
Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.