By Subhash K Jha, IANS
Sometimes you hold a film close to your heart not because the characters embrace you, but for the opposite reason.
The four protagonists who colonize Karan Johar quadrangular marital romance are so distanced from their spouses and their dormant desires; you wonder why they got married in the second place!
...Or why any two people decide to opt for what many would say is an obsolete institution in the first place!!
KABHI ALVIDA NAA KEHNA (KANK) is indeed a definite sign of Karan Johar’s maturation as an artiste and a filmmaker. This is a film that derives its inspiration energy from Karan's favourite filmmaker Yash Chopra's interesting but abortive SILSILA.
Even more interesting is the casting ...the role of the unfaithful husband played in Chopra's film by Amitabh Bachchan has gone to Shah Rukh Khan. A cranky bitter failed footballer Shah Rukh uses his wounded ego as a battering ram to destroy his marriage to the career-driven and yet domesticated Preity Zinta.
So far so cool! This is a beau monde of captivating possibilities. It's Abhishek Bachchan playing the utterly devoted husband's role done by the dependable Sanjeev Kumar in SILSILA who hits the most honest notes.
KANK showcases the biggest Bollywood stars in roles of fatally flawed spouses that normally would shake up the egoistic equilibrium of our stars.
Hats off to Shah Rukh Khan for moving away from his Peter Pan image to play a husband and father who's churlish and unreasonable believably so. Shah Rukh imbues the tough role with his inherent charm, playing off his character's bitter sarcasm against the two female protagonist's supple femininity.
Rani playing Abhishek's cold cleanliness obsessed wife who comes alive in Shah Rukh's company is the toughest character to play. A lot of eyebrows are going to go up at her unpredictable and often cruel rejection of a caring doting sensitive (etc, etc) husband for an embittered sharp-tongued man who projects his frustrations on his wife and timid 10-year old son.
Walking the tightrope of caprice and unreasonableness Rani plays the most challenging role of the film with a calm conviction that collects the scattered lives in this New York- based drama of the driven, into a clasp of classy emotions.
But why is her relationship with her husband dead when he's equally good in the head and the bed?
Some of the comic moments among the principal actors are evoke in a borrowed giggle… The sequence where Rani barges into her home with an eye mask determined to try some rough-and-tough stuff on her husband, is straight from the serial ‘Sex & The City’.
But the emotions remain largely and gently indigenous. KANK is a triumph of star-driven opulence. If at heart it's a clever take on infidelity, on the surface level it remains to the end a very good-looking film. Every technician from Anil Mehta (cinematography) to Sharmishta Roy (production design) to Niranjan Iyenger (dialogues) and Javed Akhtar (lyrics) has striven passionately to furnish Karan Johar's mellow drama with bedrock of aesthetic believability. The film looks glossy and glamorous and yet believable.
Some episodes (for example, the prelude where the bride Rani Mukherjee sits chatting with a complete stranger Shah Rukh while her groom-to-be waits inside for the wedding) acquires unintentionally surrealistic overtones.
The search for true love (an ongoing obsession in the cinema of Yash Chopra) takes the characters of KANK into self-destructive areas of self-indulgence. Fortunately Karan Johar's journey into forbidden territory is far more smooth and satisfying than his characters' unattainable yearnings.
Karan Johar redeems and sublimates them through deft fingers that knit the pastiche of pain and passion into palatable episodes of varying sensitivity. Finally the film moves the adulterous couple into the 'safe' zone of self-sacrifice and martyrdom where they'd have remained where it not for the couple's respective spouses (Abhishek and Preity) getting together to encourage the 'forbidden' union.
It's hugely interesting to see how Karan Johar bends the rules and reverses conventions. While Abhishek plays the devoted sincere husband and son, his wife Rani and father Amitabh Bachchan are cold and raunchy, respectively. Indeed Bachchan Sr's spirited performance as 'Sexy Sam' brings the house down.
But junior Bachchan in his anguished vulnerable moments with his screen wife Rani steals the show.
A shimmering showcase for exceptional talent, KANK reveals the truth about marital disharmony through vibrant and vital vignettes. Not all the pieces of the trendy jig-saw add up. But who said the age-old problem of marriage had easy solutions?
In his latest creation Karan Johar goes into a taboo territory. But we don't come away after looking at fantasy creatures. Each of the characters , from the chic magazine editor Rhea Saran (played with endearing equanimity by Preity Zinta) to her earthy and practical mom-in-law (Kirron Kher, who shares a wonderful platonic relationship with 'Sexy Sam') …the crisscross of relationships formed among a clutch of anguished Indians in New Yorkers besieged by domestic trouble, refuse to leave your mind.
Love them or hate them. You can't easily forget these capricious and full-blooded characters looking for love in a cold but non-judgmental city of New York.
Love never seemed more desirable …and unobtainable. There's only one death in KANK. Besides of course two dead relationships.