It is tough enough to make both a good film as well as a successful one, particularly if it is your debut film. It is even tougher to back it up with a film that is at least as good if not better. Perhaps this factor plays heavily on a director's mind as he becomes extremely conscious of having to live up to the expectations his earlier film had generated and also of the type of film he is now expected to make. This leads him to making films that are made much more more from the head as a product that must make money, rather than from the heart and consequently the new film fails to be anywhere near the earlier film in terms of quality. One saw this earlier with Aditya Chopra's Mohabbatein (2000), an extremely disappointing follow up to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge (1995) and now one feels exactly the same with Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (K3G), Karan Johar's follow up to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998).
While no doubt money has been spent on the film like water - the huge ensemble star cast, lush production value in terms of locations, sets, properties, costumes etc. the basic problem with K3G is that the sum of all the parts do not add up to a whole. The film suffers from an insipid screenplay and is pretty much devoid of good moments particularly in the development of the romances of Shah Rukh - Kajol and Hrithik - Kareena. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai for all its bubble gum and candy floss had some brilliant romantic and emotional moments but sadly this film falls badly in this department. (This happened earlier again with DDLJ and Mohabbatein - the developing romance and the romantic interplay which was such a highlight in DDLJ was totally absent in the various love stories in Mohabbatein)
None of the characters are really sketched out well. Our filmmakers seem to forget establishing the background of characters. While one knows the Raichand family is a rich business family, what is it they really do? And when Shah Rukh moves out of the house and we see him in London what has he done to do so well? If he's walked out of the family business without anything then how has he become so affluent? This is conveniently glossed over as the concentration is on other aspects of the film rather than good, basic storytelling.
While one can forgive a person genuine mistakes and even a film that doesn't work if it is made sincerely, what is unforgivable in K3G is tom tomming one's own achievements. Throughout the film, Karan keeps repeating the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai title tune in the background, even the Shah Rukh - Kajol characters are called Rahul and Anjali. It is like forcing the point down the audience's throat - Remember I'm the man who made Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Maybe this could be because heart of hearts Karan knew the problems with the end result of K3G and thus keep reminding the audience - remember I have also done good work. But if Kuch Kuch Hota Hai had just the odd cringing scene where the girl does namaaz and Kajol's wedding is postponed, K3G throws up several more. If that is not bad enough, one wonders the direction our films are taking with the so called propagation of 'Indian Values.'
Films such as these are aimed at the NRIs and are supposed to make them remember their 'Indianness.' Hence the Hum Aapke Hai Kaun...! syndrome - the bhajans, the wedding songs, the Diwali celebrations, etc. etc. But do they really examine the values these films actually propagate? OK love the family, be tolerant, respect your elders is one thing but there is a very fine line between traditional Indian values and regression particularly in the treatment of our women characters who have no mind of their own and live for their husbands and children only. One has always (one can't even say in most cases) seen the films to fall into regressive territory. In one of the truly gobsmacking moments of the film, when Shah Rukh and Kajol leave the house even though she knows it is because of her and that Yashvardhan has no place for her, she keeps tearfully telling Shah Rukh they haven't taken his blessings. And this is passed off as positive attributes of a good traditional Indian woman! OK the filmmaker could argue that the doormat wife finally tells Yash the concept of 'pati parmeshwar' not being correct. However, it is but a token stand taken at the end of the film and life resumes with him once again being her lord and master! On top of that, all of this is sugar coated with doses of 'I Love my India' but this pop patriotism lends itself to cringing scenes of the criminal use of the National Anthem sung at a British school by an Indian child leading British children (our version of white bashing?) or even worse the blatant misuse of 'Vande Mataram' in the background as a proud Kajol runs to the stage to hug her son to the applause of everyone particularly the whites.
It's all about loving your parents goes the tag line of the film but the entire film rests on the father's pride in not accepting his son's love story and being unable to tell his son openly that he loves him. So one is a bit uncertain trying to fathom out the loving the parents bit in the film! And there are other things that one struggles to understand in the film. Why does Hrithik have to hide his identity when there was no problem in the relationship he shares with Shah Rukh? This is clearly brought on in the scene where the two brothers meet when Shah Rukh informs him that he's leaving the house. And when the fault is not Shah Rukh's but Amitabh's which led to Shah Rukh walking out, why does Hrithik who by now knows the truth try to get Shah Rukh home and not work on Amitabh instead and get him to relent?
The performances - Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh seem to be replaying their roles in Mohabbatein. And Bachchan is unable to rise above his role giving you a strict feeling of deja vu. However Shah Rukh gives a fine mature, performance as the man caught between his wife and son at one end and his parents at the other. He is particularly good in the emotional sequences and does them with much feeling without going overboard. Kajol has played her chatterbox 'punjabi kudi' way way over the top and it is only in her more serious moments that she proves what a magical performer she is often conveying more with just a look or a glance than most actresses can with reams of dialogue to support them. Kareena too is reduced to a caricature in her lighter scenes but then her attitude and confidence carry her through and she is adequate in her more serious avtaar. Hrithik and Rani Mukherji are ably efficient. Special mention must be made of the young girl playing the young Pooja.
One major letdown in the film is its music. Though hummable enough, barring maybe the title track (badly overused), Tu Hai my Soniya, Suraj Hua Madhyam and Leja Leja the rest is nothing to write home about. Technically too, considering the formidable technical crew involved, the film is just efficiently made. One is treated to just the odd technical flourish like the dissolve from the swirling blades of the helicopter to the top angle shot of Rani and other dancers swirling on the dance floor but that's about it. The film needed a lot more...In fact on the editing side the cutting like in the scene of Shah Rukh placing his hand on Kajol's head and this being intercut with their wedding looks forced and deliberate to show off technical virtuosity rather then anything else. And why do our filmmakers constantly keep the camera moving at all times, often without purpose at all?
So what are the redeeming points of the film then? It's interesting to see a film where the family is partial in fact to the adopted son rather than the real son. And the son clearly is told of his adoption rather then it coming somewhere as a twist in the tale. Then the scenes between Hrithik and Shah Rukh when the latter isn't aware of Hrithik's real identity and him trying to get Shah Rukh to remember his family. Their banter together is cute and heartwarming bringing a smile to one's lips. A couple of madcap comic moments as Farida Jalal and Kajol mimic the English women or when Kajol thinks that Saraswati has descended into their house or her interaction with their English neighbour, Jaya's scene where she finally speaks out to Amitabh. But that's really about it as the so called other emotional scenes are plodding, heavy and predictable (this even though thankfully they have been treated in a more restrained manner rather then people raving and ranting). In fact, the problem with the film is that for it to be a good mainstream film, the balance between the natural flow of the story and the commercial elements should have been far more harmonious but here every so called highlight is thought of as an item that people would like and thus it would be a hit rather then the demands of the story thus taking away from the story flow altogether.
If K3G is the biggest film of the year, the most hyped and awaited film of the year, it is also the most disappointing film of the year.