Revisiting K3G (2001): Shallow and Confusing Grandeur

Revisiting K3G (2001): Shallow and Confusing Grandeur

If you are an Indian, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) needs no introduction. Foreigners are excused since they (probably) have escaped a three hours thirty minutes long tedious watch. 

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham is an ‘eventful’, high on energy and sentiments, Bollywood musical romance that was released on 14th December, 2001 and has completed twenty years this month. Since it is such a big sensation in this country, the ‘twenty years of K3G’ shindigs came as no surprise. However, I could not help but notice how the netizens went bananas for the celebration.  Memes, reels with cheesy captions, dance videos, throwback pictures were a gogo on social media for a few days.

(The only time I was thanking my algorithm for sparing me from all these shenanigans.)

For those of you who chose not to watch the full 180 minutes of this dewy-eyed melodrama and the ones who have wiped your memory clean of this mawkish abomination (blessed art thou!), a quick recapitulation of the plot. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham is a typical family drama through and through.  Rahul (Shahrukh Khan), the adopted elder son of a very rich family (the Raichands), went against the will of his father Yashwardhan (Amitabh Bachchan) and married a middle-class girl, Anjali (Kajol). This inevitably results in his fall from grace, which, for an upper-class Indian gentleman like Rahul, means being banished from his father’s empire and stripped of the lavish opportunities that a privileged life offers. Years later, Rahul’s younger brother Rohan (Hrithik Roshan) sets out to bring his brother back home. He tries to reunite his divided (what he calls incomplete) family.

The film also stars Jaya Bachchan (Nandani Raichand) and Kareena Kapoor Khan (Pooja aka Poo) in pivotal roles. Apart from them, Rani Mukherjee, Johnny Lever, Farida Jalal, and Alok Nath grace the screen. 

Watch Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham on Amazon Prime

Fun Fact: Aryan Khan appeared on screen for the first time in this film when he played a younger Rahul in the opening montage. (Screams of the anti-nepotism brigade in 3…2…1. To enrage them further, Jessy Lever also appeared in this film, have fun with that information)

All jokes aside, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, with an eventful plotline and a stellar cast, failed to impress the critic in me. We will come to that eventually. If you have sat through this strenuous three-and-a-half-hour-long film, you can patiently read this article. 

Before delving deep into that, let’s first talk about the title. The title’s literal translation would be ‘sometimes happy sometimes sad’ which is the mood of the film. Although in retrospect, it seems, ‘kabhi pareshaan’ would have been a nice addition.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham since the very beginning indulges in over-the-top slushiness and cloying romanticism. While the conflict (divide in the family)is introduced within the first fifteen minutes, it couldn’t have been done in a more melo-dramatic way. 

The failed attempts of Rohan to sound cool by calling his grandmothers his girlfriends seem ridiculous to say the least. There was also a frail and futile attempt at weaving a  romance (grossly icky) between Rohan and Pooja. Expectedly, the film revels in moving to and from between sexism and reverse-sexism- while Rahul eve teases Anjali, Pooja bullies Rohan- a balancing act some might opine! 

But, that’s just one of its many problematic aspects. Sadly enough,  the writer-director Karan Johar chose to gloss over them with casual negligence. . It is evident that Yashwardhan’s lofty disdain for Anjali and her folks stemmed from a superiority complex and classism. Yash Raichand’s supercilious conventions and blinkered convictions made him prejudiced against lower-class people- nothing too uncustomary as far as the snobbery of the Indian Upper class is concerned. . However, Karan Johar shies away from addressing that. Whether it was because of the imposing stature of the actor who was portraying the Raichand patriarch or the over-imposing influence that the class he represented exerts in Indian society, is anyone’s guess. 

Time and again, the script does its best to show Yash Raichand as arrogant and too self-absorbed about the legacy of his empire and that of his name. Instances like not attending the house help’s daughter’s wedding, being called haughty by Anjali, being insistent that no family values have changed (nor they should), always wanting to have the last word in a conversation, were all strategically layered to lead the obstinate patriarch to dismiss Rahul and Anjali’s relationship. (All of which can be easily forgotten by common viewers)

Had only Karan Johar written the entire script with such depth, understanding of emotions, and subtlety of behaviour, the film would have been less of a headache.

The post flashback is filled with bizarre incidents. Rohan finds Rahul’s house in London. This is followed by Rohan and Poo’s naïve tactics. Rohan’s decision to change his identity and live in Rahul’s house as a guest while having a continuous banter with Poo are lighter moments but barely humorous. 

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The overdramatic elements and tropes continue to ensue as Rohan tries various strategies to help Rahul feel the void of familial love. From calling himself Yash (their father’s name) to his mother’s idea of putting a tilak on the forehead before leaving the house, to participating in morning prayers, to discussing Karvachauth; Rohan tries all horseplay possible. 

This genuinely makes me question the kind of characterisation Rohan is given. He is the cute chubby kid who is teasingly troubled by his elder sibling and then turns into a green-eyed Greek god-looking athletic man, whose life only revolves around getting his brother back home. This character is literally a flimsy thread that will tie the family back together. The literal portrayal of younger siblings getting shadowed in the family.

Revisiting K3G (2001): Shallow and Confusing Grandeur
Kareena Kapoor and Kajol in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. (Credits: Dharma Productions)

Pooja’s evolution as a character makes no sense. While Anjali is hell-bent on making her son an India-loving kid, Poo is completely under the western influence. Don’t get me wrong, such representation and characterisation are unique and fresh. No wonder the millennial and Genz girls still look up to her (raises eyebrows to show judgemental concern). She did start the acronym culture with her P.H.A.T (pretty hot and tempting) but sadly her role was also restricted to that same acronym.

Another point that people fail to notice is that under the garb of fashion and oomph factor, Pooja, Anjali’s haughty and snooty sister, was mean, arrogant, foolish, and solely concerned with meaningless extravagance. . She was the mean girl before mean girls came into existence. Her fashion sense is impeccable and kudos to Manish Malhotra for the styling. He really went all out when it came to styling Poo. Of course, someone had to object to the way she dresses because this film is about an Indian family. Thank God, the movie chose to be realistic here after showing us a mansion as a house and a helicopter as private property. 

Despite being a fabulous actor, Kajol is barely given any chance to breathe freely on screen, her character being reduced to a mere stereotype of an ideal Indian housewife.  . Eventually, what gets Rahul to return home is yet another exaggerated event – the grandmother dies and her last wish was that her pyre should be lit by all three men of the house. (Now you know where all the Ekta Kapoor serials get their inspiration from!)

The scene preceding the climax is powerful and I should give credit where it is due. When Nandani stands up to her husband and calls him out for his mistakes i.e., banishing Rahul out of the house when all he did was follow love was very impactful. After being quiet and dismissive for a good three hours, all hell breaks loose and she decides to get things straight. The fact that she gave Yashwardhan a taste of his own medicine with the ‘keh diya na bas keh diya’ dialogue was the most fun thing to watch. 

The only saving grace among all the grandiloquence and pomposity was  Jaya Bachchan’s distinguishable performance as Nandini. Her reaction to Rahul’s despondency reveals the long-suppressed emotional turmoil she endured all these years. Moments and performances like this are sobering reminders of what this film could have been, if only the makers were more earnest and unpretentious in character-building. 

The climax might pass off as an emotional apology, but is actually victim-blaming if you pay attention to the lines. (I don’t make the rules)

It is mind-blowing to see how two superstars from two different generations had different approaches to the same scene and film. While Amitabh Bachchan was grounded and refined, Shahrukh Khan was as cheesy as he could be. 

The supporting actors, Farida Jalal, Alok Nath, and Rani Mukherjee, while being memorable and fantastic in their screen space, were just add-ons to an already heavily decked jewellery set. 

Feeble attempts at inserting humor in a bloated narrative resulted in exactly the way one can imagine- just another irksome affair in an already rankling chain of events. In the end, you feel sorry for Johnny Lever, perhaps one of the best comic actors working in Bollywood, for the atrocious lines that he had to deliver masquerading as comic relief- comedy there was very little, and relief none! (well, I guess, the joke is definitely on somebody). 

I won’t be surprised if someone lacks the time or the patience to watch this tediously long and mind-numbing cornball drama. The only reason why people would be willing to go back to it, is to relish parts of it and relive the nostalgia. I know the graceful charm of sweet redolence, but aggrandizing a schmaltzy film with a platitudinous narrative and cliched tropes, tropes which now reveal themselves as mere cries of despairing traditionalists, isn’t exactly the ideal film to swoon over, don’t you think? 

To give credit where it's due, the choreography and an ensemble performance in the dance numbers still find resonance in most Indians’ hearts. . They were stand-outs for a reason, and still have some grip over the generations that grew up listening or performing to them.

This movie is available on Netflix but don’t blame yourself if you find this an exhausting watch.  Since the twenty-year celebration of K3G compelled me to write this, I feel obliged to mention that another film also completed twenty-year this year. If you really have time to spare and crave drama, then watch Lagaan which came out in June,  2001. 

Author’s note: To all the K3G fans “chub toh nahi raha?” 

Author Biographical Note: Vanshika Lakhani is pursuing her degree in Mass Communications and Journalism from Jai Hind College. She is also an alumnus of St. Xavier’s College from where she studied Arts. She reviews films, web-shows, books, and music. Her reviews have also been published on other portals like Film Companion and Café Dissensus Everyday. She is a huge content enthusiast and enjoys talking to people who tell her about new content to consume. Now she is associated with Explore Screen: The Cognitive Dialogue as an intern.

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