Thursday, April 20, 2017

Shah Rukh, KHKN, time dilation and innocent lies

The year was 1994. I was in my second year of engineering, experiencing a late onset of puberty, combined with a stubborn craving for an idealistic life. Mere chance led me to the Ashish theatre in Chembur, Mumbai, to watch Kundan Shah's new movie, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naan (KHKN). An unknown actor named Shah Rukh Khan - who had already given a couple of hits and was destined to give many more in quick succession - was the hero of this movie set in serene, picturesque Goa.
It was perhaps the seventh time that I had stepped into a movie theatre in my 19 years of existence. Therefore, the fact that I watched the movie again the next day in the same theatre must account for something. I gave up many vada pavs and bus tickets for this unprecedented indulgence. Why did I do that?
The elements that drew me to KHKN are the same elements that prompt me to write this review 23 years later. I fell in love, not with the heroine as one would expect, but with the character played by future superstar Shah Rukh Khan. To me, he still remains Sunil. A goofy lovable loser.

Sunil has been in love with Anna since he was a tadpole. The film begins when Anna returns to Goa. As her train chugs into this paradise, the verdant landscape echoes with Sunil's melodious welcoming tune. Yes, Sunil loves music almost as much as he loves Anna. In fact, he, Anna, future-director Ashutosh Gowarikar, rich-bloke Chris (played by Dipak Tijori) and a few sundries are a part of a music band. They coexist or perish together.
The plot complication arises from the fact that Chris also loves Anna. And unlike Sunil, Chris is Raymond's Complete Man. He is responsible, rich and religiously-compatible. He can offer her a life that Sunil simply can't. Sunil is a happy-go-lucky idiot who doesn't have sufficient brains to graduate, let alone find a job.
All Sunil can do is lie and deceive his way out of reality. In an attempt to sideline Chris, Sunil portrays Anna as a torturer of men, a diva without a heart. Needless to say, his lies soon catch up with him. Indeed, when you put Sunil's lies in perspective, you are reminded of a kindergarten kid who, in spite of having thick smears of chocolate on his face, swears on his mother grave that he hasn't touched chocolate in his entire life!
Sunil's lies are as ineffectual and innocent as he is. He lies without vision. He just wants another dance with the woman of his dreams. He wants her to throw one more smile his way. He cares for nothing more, nothing else. His love is at once manipulative and pure.

We know how this story ends. Anna was meant to be with Chris and that's where she will end up. But in the interim, Sunil will come of age. He will be aided in this journey by four men:
  1. His father (played by Anjan Srivastava), a mechanic with grease on his hands and pragmatism in his mind
  2. His biggest fan, incidentally also Goa's biggest don (played by Goga Kapur), who is willing to exterminate Chris if Sunil just gives the nod. Sunil, of course, cannot do that. He is after all the kindergarten kid, not a hormonal lover
  3. A secular padre (played by Naseeruddin Shah) who shows the community that Sunil might be deceitful, but he is not evil
  4. Anna's father (played by Satish Shah), a creator of cakes and, like Sunil, a happy-go-lucky Goan without the pressures of adhering to standards set by the larger world

These men are Goan and Bollywoodian, make no mistake about that. Elsewhere, the father would have been too despondent, the don would have been too cruel, the padre would have been too religious and Anna's father would have been too threatened by Sunil. But in Goa, these men are understanding and placid. Time dilates here. And in dilated time, negative emotions become muffled. Therefore, all these four men find it in their hearts to embrace the kindergarten kid that is Sunil.

In the final reckoning, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa is a love story that wasn't meant to be. It stands out in Bollywood history for many reasons:
  • Kundan Shah was directing a movie after a long gap. His previous movie was the iconic Jaane bhi do yaaron. In between, he had directed Nukkad, Circus and other TV series'
  • The brand of Shah Rukh Khan does not allow him to be such a big loser again - at least till date
  • Renu Saluja's editing. Just have a look at the transitions she creates in the song Deewaana, dil deewana to understand her genius. This incredible woman, who met an untimely death, first married Vidhu Vinod Chopra. She then married Bollywood director Sudhir Mishra and left him a widower. Her involvement in the film feels like a question mark to Kundan Shah: why, for the love of God and the universe, do women have no significant role to play in a movie that seems to revolve around a heroine?
  • Jatin-Lalit were at their peak as music directors
  • Pankaj Advani's screenplay and dialogues, that capture the spirit of Sunil's character by making each scene ridiculously obvious. This wasn't a suspense movie. It was a kindergarten rhyme set to the rhythm of a movie

Clearly, this is a movie unlike any SRK has done since then. In 2007, in the sets of Kaun Banega Crorepati, I again came across SRK.My significant other was in the hot seat. She told SRK that KHKN happens to be my favourite movie of all times. Without blinking an eyelid, he replied:
"He loves you. He loves KHKN. It seems like he has great taste."
That's half truth, half showmanship.

I still love Sunil.

No comments:

Post a Comment