Whiteley’s is one of the oldest shopping malls in London, and is still owned by, (surprise surprise) the Whiteley family. The building is located on Queensway, in the heart of Bayswater, about five minutes from Paddington Station. The cinema is located on the top floor, and is surrounded by a little artificial piazza of restaurants, cafes and tapas bars. It makes a reasonably convivial setting to watch movies, and the added advantage of being walking distance from home makes it more attractive.
Bayswater itself is in an area with a sizeable Arab community, so it really shouldn’t have been surprising to see the theatre with a lot of Arabs there to watch the latest Bollywood blockbuster. And Karan Johar, true to form, didn’t disappoint.
The plot is nothing extraordinary. No reincarnations, no double roles, no snakes in aeroplanes or US presidents saving us from ourselves. No – this one is a classic love story with several long, winding twists. The story is essentially about how two people in unhappy, loveless marriages first seek friendship, and then companionship, from another person in the same situation. Things get complicated, and when circumstances come to a head (i.e. someone dies) the spouses are told that there’s been some philandering going on. Tears, a few slaps, some broken tableware and potted plants later, the two marriages are dissolved; the adulterers are banished from home & hearth and languish in solitude for three years before more forgiving ex-spouses decide to play Cupid. Add a damsel running down a train platform in a chiffon sari (it IS a Karan Johar movie) and hey presto, the unhappy lovers are finally reunited. The End!
So why bother watching this movie?
If you asked me this question,I'd have to say that KANK is a good movie, despite Johar's best efforts to turn it into a sobbing ham fest, but basically because of its willingness to bring sacred cows into the abattoir. Add to this its sexual maturity and, last but by no means least, the all out masala factor.
Before you all jump down my throat, let me expand on these one by one. I think that to make a movie about infidelity is very difficult for an Indian audience, especially given our cultural obsessions with getting married. Marriage in India is raised to a ridiculous pedestal, where it is seen as a mixture of career choice and destined fate for women, and as an essential stepping stone on the road to personal & professional fulfilment for men. Marriage is sacred, above question, essential – and any dissenting opinion is viewed as being pernicious. I don’t need to elaborate on the stigma that we choose to attach to widowhood and divorce in India and Indian societies around the world. And to talk about issues within marriage, about emotional fulfilment & sexual compatibility, in such a framework is often challenging enough to be nearly impossible.
This is KANK’s Brownie Point One. It is not the first Hindi movie to talk about infidelity in marriage, and will invariably draw comparisons with movies like Silsila & Arth. But let’s also be fair and acknowledge that KANK talks about a different reality than either of those films. Other than the purely chronological differences, KANK addresses many more issues than either of those movies; issues that are very relevant for many young Indians today, but may not be openly acknowledged within popular culture. Infidelity is one of these issues, but there are also parallel stories – that of a domineering parent forcing his ambitions onto the child, the rigid gender stereotyping that takes place within families, the difficulties working mothers face in trying to balance work & family commitments. Johar has done a good job in managing to bring these into the equation. Perhaps that’s why I liked this movie (at least more than other reviewers!): because I think that its mainstreaming of issues that we don’t like to talk about in
Brownie Point Two: I also appreciated the sexual maturity KANK displays. Unlike the endless tripe that recent risqué films like Girlfriend, Julie, Hawas, Aksar, and their ilk dole out, KANK deals with sex in a manner that isn’t prurient and quite matter of fact. (Parineeta also should be added to the category of Hindi movies that have a healthy attitude towards sex) That Abhishek Bachchan is frustrated by Rani Mukherji’s refusal to sleep with him is not something that is meant to titillate – it is a mature plot element for an adult relationship. There’s almost a sardonic element in the movie as Abhishek & Preity Zinta are in a club singing “Where’s the Party Tonight” while their respective spouses are checking into a hotel together. When Shah Rukh Khan & Rani Mukherji finally do sleep together, it is also not just about sex, but represents a significant & conscious act of betrayal for both of them; something that both the characters and the audience are kept aware of with a camera shot of their wedding rings as they go to sleep holding hands.
Brownie Point Three: KANK is at its heart a masala movie. In between dealing with some fairly serious issues, Johar takes the time to build in a few jokes and comedies of errors. The chance encounter that Rani & Shah Rukh have is good old fashioned sitcom style coincidences gone wrong, while the flirting between Amitabh Bachchan & Kirron Kher amusing, if sometimes making you feel like you overheard your grandfather talking dirty to your grandmother – not appropriate!
But alas, all is not well in brownie land. KANK is not without its flaws. Most importantly, Johar is in dire need of a brutal editor who will not indulge his sloppy story telling and learn to make his movies crisper. His narration is expansive, both visually & chronologically, which is fine as a style element, but like many other film makers, he is at risk of losing substance to his personal style. Make ‘em tighter, Karan!
Second flaw – Preity Zinta. No matter what others may say, I find her acting to be quite wooden, while she comes across as being incredibly arrogant. (A Himachali friend attributes this to her being from St. Bede's in Simla - since I've never met anyone from there, this might just be purely slanderous, in which case I apologise in advance). Also, perhaps it’s just me, but Preity looked pretty tubby in this movie (especially when she wore skirts – her legs are SO not worth showing off).
Third flaw – The costumes, especially Amitabh Bachchan’s! I think I’m going to go to Selfridges and ask them to ban Manish Malhotra from shopping there anymore. Abhishek seems to have snitched his Bluffmaster wardrobe, while Preity insists on showing off legs that really are meant for Patiala salwars (see second flaw above).
Fourth flaw – overdone glycerine. Rani is a brilliant actress (anyone who saw Black will attest to that fact) and to therefore have her only display of emotion as being stoic with large tears pouring out of her eyes really undervalues her ability and leaves us without the benefit of her full skills.
So overall verdict? Not the greatest movie, but passably good. Sticking with the 3 out of 5 rating. Go watch it if you want to. Don’t expect a tear jerking mammoth melodrama, but if you want to see a reasonably mature story told in a classic Bollywood style, KANK is your best bet!