Made Overseas: Koi… Mil Gaya (2003)

For decades, man had looked up to the stars and wondered, “How can we take the basic premise of ET, one of most profitable movies of all time, and make it as awkward as possible?” For some, it means creating a hairless MacDonald’s-loving monkey-monster whose greatest legacy is a baffling clip shown by Paul Rudd on Conan where a wheelchair-bound boy flies off a cliff. For others, it’s a hairy anteater creature who shares airspace with a delightful sound engineer who wears a shirt that declares, loud and proud, “I’m a virgin.”

And there’s some awkwardness in India’s Koi… Mil Gaya as well. The movie was directed by Roshan and starring Roshan and the other Roshan. Hrithik Roshan, a man who typically looks like an action figure come to life, puts on some baggy clothes and acts as a mentally challenged man. It goes about as well as you can imagine.

Sanjay Mehra (played by Rakesh Roshan, who is also the director) has spent his scientific career shunned by peers in his quixotic quest to find evidence of extraterrestrial life. There’s a subtext of racism; his fellow scientists are mostly White. One night, his computer pings a response.  He chases down why could possibly be a spaceship (or what could possibly be an early 1990’s particle effect that would look at home on PBS’ Ghostwriter) with his pregnant wife, Sonia (played by Rekha). Unfortunately, he loses control of the car and dies in the crash. Sonia survives, but the accident has caused brain damage to her unborn child.

Flash forward to some time later.  The mentally challenged Rohit (played as an adult by Hrithik Roshan, the director’s real life son) is having trouble at school. Sadly, the Mehra family currently lives in what looks to be a scenic mountain resort community, where educational opportunities are limited.  The north India location shots, incidentally, are really quite lovely, with lakes, mountains, and tons of greenery. It resembles the Pacific Northwest. Mamma Sonia begs to the sympathetic dean. She asks that the adult Rohit to advance grades so he can remain with his friends. This leads to some awkward scenes where a tall man spends his days scooting about on a Razor and playing with little children. I know it’s supposed to read that Rohit is an innocent… but if I were the parent of one of Rohit’s fellow schoolchildren, I’d be very worried.

Is Hrithik Roshan’s performance cringey or excellent? Maybe it can be two things. Roshan tilts his head sideways, his mouth often agape, and his shirt untucked. When he waves, it’s with his palm awkwardly swinging too close to his face. Koi… Mil Gaya won India’s National Film Award for Best Film on Other Social Issues, so the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting seem to find it fine. It’s not like the US is that much different.  Less than a decade before Koi… Mil Gaya was released, Tom Hanks won an Oscar for playing someone with learning disabilities.

I first watched this movie after visiting my autistic 6-year-old nephew. He’s unable to verbalize, and he’s learning to communicate using buttons on an iPad. It’s a complicated sensation, seeing the pain the child goes through as he to communicate and his parents fighting to give their child as normal a life a possible. Much of what I saw in the movie rang true, particularly Sonia’s frustrations with both her son and the uncaring world around him. I feel director Rakesh Roshan was coming from an honest place.

That doesn’t make the movie any easier to watch. The decision to have Rohit remain in elementary school is but the first of baffling storytelling decisions. Why not catch up with him among fellow adults and doing manual labor? It would be a less creepy and more sympathetic portrayal. (I don’t think this is a cultural hang-up either. The school dean even comments on how unusual Rohit’s arrangement is.)

Rohit gets merciless bullied by older former classmates, and he unintentionally gets on the bad side of pretty newcomer, Nisha (Preity Zinta). Fortunately, once Nisha realizes that Rohit is on the spectrum, she makes it her project to bring Rohit out of his shell. One such sequence involves getting Rohit drunk at a dance club, which affects him in the most Bollywood way possible.  Alcohol gives Hrithik Roshan to bust out his otherworldly dance moves. Seriously, watching the man’s footwork must’ve been how our grandparents felt watching Gene Kelly. The dance moves are combined with wire-work, which has a fantastic effect of seeming lighter than air.  (Of course, he’s also doing it wildly flailing his arms because… you know…)

Oddly, not the most blatant product placement in the movie.

Rohit even works with Nisha on restoring his dad’s old computer. They discover a special keyboard with big red buttons that generate different sounds. He goofs off on it and suddenly… Rohit summons a flying saucer.

At this point, the movie just suddenly turns into straight up ET. Rohit is the ersatz Eliot; a blue alien named “Jadoo” is our extraterrestrial. If you remember, ET is a little ugly, but gradually becomes adorable the longer you know him. (It’s interesting how many ET look-a-likes also have an off-putting alien… but somehow never make the transition to being cute.) Jadoo is adorable from the beginning, with big anime eyes and tiny nostrils. He resembles a blue Tonberry from the Final Fantasy games.

Jadoo’s race very much come in peace. While it’s never explained, we assume they’re here to explore. However, they encounter something in the wild that their SoCal cousins never had to deal with: elephants. They run back to their ship and inadvertently leave Jadoo behind.  Learn to do a headcount, visiting aliens!

Rohit mistakes Jadoo for one of his little friends. (It’s a parallel to ET‘s Halloween scene, which… come on, director Roshan, did it not occur to you how uncomfortable it is to watch a grown man get excited about trick-or-treating with little kids?) That’s when he discovers that Jadoo has powers. He can levitate objects, including more ethereal things like as clouds and shadows. He can heal wounds with a touch. Magic, Rohit’s friends call it.

And also he loves the cool, refreshing taste of an ice cold Coca-Cola.

It was at this moment that Jadoo realized he’d sold his soul to the corporation.

I love that the one thing every single ET-clone takes away from the original movie is the unabashed product placement. Thanks, Reese’s Pieces!  Your 65% jump in profits inspires us all.  It’s really obvious here, too: during a musical number, the kids just plop a can of Coke in Jadoo’s hand, and a smile spreads across his face. No plot-specific or subtle use such as, oh, using it as a lure to draw out the alien or anything.  Just Jadoo, standing around, drinking a Coke. When it comes to quenching thirst, you can’t beat the real thing.

Fortunately, that’s not the only callback. The music often sounds similar to the famous John Williams scores… not just for ET but also for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And if you were upset that Spielberg erased all those guns and replaced them with walkie-talkies, Koi… Mil Gaya gives you several semi-automatic rifles that are mercilessly fired at fleeing suspects! Let me tell ya, I always felt that the one thing missing from ET was a scene where authority figures shoot a rocket launcher at some kids.

Jadoo! You can do stupid things!

The director has gone on record saying this is “not an Indian ET.”  This is when things get complicated. I’m going to address a cinematic international controversy that may expose America’s sweetheart as a lazy fraud!  For his part, director Roshan claims his movie was based on an unproduced 1960’s Indian movie called The Alien… a movie that —- dun dun dun —— some claim Steven Spielberg ripped off in the first place! Roshan’s main point: The Alien, like his movie, centers around a mentally challenged person. Spielberg denies the claims of plagiarism, claiming he was in high school when The Alien was getting shopped around in Hollywood. (And frankly, after reading the proposed plot on Wikipedia where the alien seems more like a visiting deity than a friend to all children, I rather agree with Steven Spielberg.)

It is possible that Roshan was driven primarily by the desire to bring the unproduced Indian film to life. But, man, when Rohit is flying through the air, riding a bike, while carrying a alien bundled up in a blanket, you can’t help but go “Hmmmm. This looks familiar.” The democratic response: if they’re ripping off Spielberg, it’s a fair cop because Spielberg ripped them off first.

Anyway, Jadoo helps out Rohit by using his fantastic alien powers. Rohit’s SAT points jump by the hundreds! He can now succeed at school, stand up to bullies, and win dance competitions. Hrithik Roshan is actually a good dancer? Madness! In the parlance of Disney’s Hercules, he has gone from zero to hero. If you’ve been thinking all movie, “I know Hrithik Roshan is in this, when is he gonna flex DEM GUNS”, then you have to wait until about the two hour mark when his biceps get so huge, his shirt sleeves can’t contain them.

Also, in a very Teen Wolf move, he and his pint-sized little pals can also cheat at basketball.

There’s nothing in the rulebook that says little kids can’t use magic. I’ll allow it!

Koi… Mol Gaya goes through that narrative that if an autistic man is given a normal intelligence he becomes something of a jerk. Though, in this movie’s case, it isn’t acknowledged that he’s being a bit of a jackass. Becoming the bully by beating up and humiliating his tormentors? It’s divine retribution. Suddenly being creepily aggressive with your girl? That’s just new found confidence!

Anyway, the government finds out about Jadoo.  They want him dead or alive! And not because he’s turned a sweet, innocent mentally-challenged man into a smoking hottie who gets all the ladies at the night club. The Indian government types intend to capture Jadoo and ship him off to researchers in America.  I have no idea if this is meant to imply that the US has better scientific facilities, or if it’s a veiled threat because of course Americans are going to dissect the first alien they get their hands on. It’s an interesting companion scene to the light racism from the movie’s opening scene.

Initially watching this movie, I was going to comment on how much better the special effects had gotten. Only seven years separate this movie from Robot. The opening is a clunky relic of old CGI to the point that I had to double-check IMDB to make sure that the movie was, in fact, released in 2003. As a frame of reference, this was the era of the Star Wars prequels, Lord of the Rings, and Spider-Man.

Yet, by the end, I was charmed and ended up mourning close-ups of the alien ship looked to be miniatures. Primitive ones that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Cannon movie, but impressive nevertheless. (The special effects were supervised by Mark Kolbe, whose work includes Stranger Things, Where The Wild Things Are, and Avocado bad movie favorite Deep Blue Sea.) The Jadoo puppet/animatronic was effective, even if it was limited to basically widening its eyes or making fishy mouth movements.

The story can be enjoyable at points. Personally, I had a hard time watching Koi… Mil Gaya without some aspect of the movie making me uncomfortable. Between moments of hitting the pause button and sighing, it took me three viewings to watch all the way through. And yet it’s a stellar example of Bollywood’s “one size fits all” mentality. You have something for your sci-fi and action fans, with the former being especially significant as this movie was touted as India’s first sci-fi film. With Rohit and Nisha’s story, you have something for your romantic aficionados. Jadoo and Rohit’s friends are perfectly kid appeal. (And also the number one reason I think they had Rohit in elementary school rather than be a disadvantaged laborer.) And if you want to argue that this is an important movie that sheds light on the plight of the mentally challenged, this movie is for you too. It’s a movie that’s been calculated to be all things to everyone.

Koi… Mil Gaya went on to become a huge hit in India. The movie cemented Hrithik Roshan as a bonafide star. Jadoo, too: he appeared in his own Nickelodeon series in 2004.

Strangest of all: Koi… Mil Gaya also launched India’s highest-grossing cinematic superhero franchise. Hrithik Roshan trades the nerd glasses for sexy superhero masks and now plays Krishna, the son of Rohit.  The latest entry, Krrish 4, is set to debut in 2020.

I didn’t know what I was expecting.

Koi… Mil Gaya is currently streaming on Netflix.

NEXT: Jet Li fights some supersoldiers in the very 90’s Black Mask.