The sentiment starts early in this Bollywood movie, from the filmmaker’s dedication to his grandparents, to the first scene in the film of the parents speaking to the audience on the difference between a father’s love and a mother’s love for their children.
The youngest son is a good son. He loves his grandmothers (he calls them his two girlfriends), but when he comes home from a college cricket victory in London to be with his family for Diwali, he learns the terrible truth from his “two girlfriends”. His older brother, whom is loves, is (gasp!) adopted, and the fact of this was only mentioned twice for the pain it caused. Once when the oldest son was eight, and one other time. The movie is the story of the second time this fact was mentioned, and what happened after that.
There’s lots of conflict between old Hindi traditions and new, in ways that are a little foreign to Westerners. The tradition of the elders choosing a bride versus the children falling in love themselves is challenged. Rahul, the oldest son (played by Shah Rukh Khan) has no intention of going against tradition or the love he feels for his father, but tragic circumstances force Rahul into the only decision he can make in good conscience, and he pays a high price. Forgiveness is also a theme that begins small for Yash, and comes to its full fruition by the end of the movie. The two Bollywood actors who play Yash and Nandini Raichland (Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan) are married in real life, and bring tremendous humanity and warmth to their roles in this movie. Nandini is so attuned to her two sons that she’s almost psychic. She can sense their presence, even when they’re a thousand miles away. Yash is like a mountain of a man, who takes his responsibility seriously, and tries to do what’s right. He shows the conflict when a father must take a stand, but isn’t sure of the ground he stands on.
Most of the laughter in this Bollywood film actually comes from the heroine. Anjali Sharma (played by the famous beautiful unibrowed Bollywood actress, Kajol) is a real spark plug. She talks fast. She dances fast. Her eyes flash. Her flirtation with Rahul is incredibly fun to watch as it develops over the course of the story, from first love to a more matured married love. And of course, no one flirts like the Bollywood master, Shah Rukh Khan. This movie was one of five different Bollywood movies pairing Shah Rukh Kahn and Kajol, and each one of them was a big hit. Their on-screen chemistry is breathtaking.
Another couple in focus in this film is Rohan and Poojah (who grows up with the unfortunate nickname of Poo – a name that certainly doesn’t translate well into English). They meet as children, and again in college in London. Rohan (played by Hrithik Roshan) is the younger natural son of Yash and Nandini, who only learns as an adult why his beloved older brother never returns to visit the family. He vows to get him back and reunite the family. When he goes to college, he’s no longer the uncomfortable rotund little kid…he’s an absolute knockout. Pooja (played by the diva beauty Kareena Kapoor) also grows to be a great beauty. Hrithik hits all the rights notes with his earnest portrayal of Rohan, but the same unfortunately can’t be said for Kareena. She’s beautiful and a great dancer, but her character initially is grating. Since she’s supposed to be grating, she does a great job, but it does hamper the progression and believability of their developing romance initially, until she mellows a bit.
The tears are there in abundance as well, from the very beginning clear through the end. The separation involved with a family this close is painful to watch. The real pain and drama, though, comes at the end of the movie. The director (Karan Johor) and the excellent cast maneuvered the dramatic scenes with great skill and believability. I wept buckets.
Visually, you just can’t beat Bollywood. The spectacle of Diwali (a big Hindi traditional family holiday) is a feast for the eyes. The dances are so full of life and enthusiastic, that you want to get up and dance with them. There’s always a huge flock of dancers behind all the main players that fill in the space and provide so much movement that there’s always something to look at.
The melodrama is also thick, but that’s to be expected, and is part of the Bollywood fun. For some reason, every time Yash makes a pronouncement that something will happen because he’s the father of the house, there’s a clap of thunder directly afterwards. It happens often enough that it becomes somewhat distracting, but not so much that you lose the emotion of the scene. Most of the character actors are very hammy, and great to watch.
Let’s not forget the songs. My favorites included the song “Sey Shava Shava”, which is classy and juxtaposes the expensive Raichland celebration against the more modest, yet still lively and colorful Sharma family, who works for the Raichlands. While their class backgrounds differ, they share in common a great love of their families.
The love song between Rahul and Anjali, called “Suraj Hua Maddham”, is truly a beautiful song. The chemistry between them is white hot. Literalists may have a problem with a scene in a street fair suddenly turning into a romp on the desert between pyramids, but that is a trademark of Bollywood films. The emotional is made visual in this way. A timeless love between two young people is made visual by setting it against the timeless and ancient background of the Egyptian pyramids. Fantasy sequences are abundant in Bollywood movies, in order to show visually what any one particular character is thinking or feeling.
The wedding dance, where Rahul and Anjali flirt some more, is fantastic. The other song, “Bole Chudiyan”, isn’t exactly a wedding, but some other Indian celebration in Britain. It highlights the growing relationship between Pooja and Rohan. The interplay between the two couples is highly entertaining, and Rohan’s athletic dancing is terrific.
The great candy-colorful visuals, the complex and emotionally charged story, and the fantastic acting make this Bollywood blockbuster a great choice for family viewing. “Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham” is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and always great to watch.