I may not know much about India, but I know that quite a lot of it is hot. Yes, even hotter than the summer that is descending upon me. Sure, maybe not in the snowy mountains, but elsewhere. And air conditioner is not available to many. So what is one place that does have air conditioning? No, not the library; the movie theater…at least you would hope that it has air conditioning. And, in such hot weather, why settle for staying there for 90 minutes when you could stay there for 135 minutes…or even for 185 minutes? Yes folks, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is three hours and five minutes long. And it is no Braveheart or JFK; it is a feel good fluff film. Throwing all sorts of stuff in there. Singing. Dancing. Comedy. Drama. Romance. Awkward basketball. Some annoying kid. And it starts off with a burning corpse.
Rahul was married to Tina, but she died shortly after giving birth to their daughter. Before her death, though, she wrote eight messages to her daughter, to be given one at a time on each of her first eight birthdays. She also told Rahul to name the girl Anjali. So with the help of his mother, Rahul takes care of baby Anjali.
Fast forward eight years and Rahul lives in a big apartment with his mother and daughter Anjali. Despite his mother’s wishes, he has never remarried, believing that people love only once and marry only once. Anjali is an annoying little girl who pesters her grandmother and pretends that she hosts a television program. She also gets a bit emotional when thinking about her mother, whom she knows mainly through the letters that she had received on her birthdays. Speaking of which, today is her birthday and gets her final letter. Her mother’s letter is primarily a story about her and Rahul when they met, plus another character, who is also named Anjali.
Flashback nine or ten years or whatever and Rahul rules the college with is best friend Anjali. And Anjali is waiting for Rahul so that they can play their basketball game. They play. Weirdly. Anjali accuses Rahul of cheating. They argue. Everyone thinks this is a big deal. But then they reconcile. This is not a big deal in the movie, but the way that they play basketball is quite funny in its awkwardness and will kind of sort of pay off later. Sort of. Okay, not really. Anyways.
Rahul is a bit of a player, giving out “friendship” bracelets to girls all over the college campus. Ahem. Tomboy Anjali likes to sabotage his flirting sessions for fun, but also because she does not approve of his toying with them. Because he is a jerk. When a new girl arrives from London, Rahul is all over her. This new girl, of course, is Tina. Not realizing that she is the college principal’s (college principal?) daughter, Rahul insults her father. Anjali is sort of buddies with the dean, so she knew all about Tina, and is quite amused at Rahul striking out. Rahul tries to pass it off as Tina not being his type, but Anjali sees through that immediately.
Rahul and Tina eventually hit it off, but it is around that time that Anjali realizes that she actually has feelings for Rahul. Yeah, her best friend, whom she knows is a huge hound. Tina picks up on Anjali’s feelings for Rahul pretty quickly, and asks her outright. Anjali denies it. Rahul soon asks out Tina for real. She accepts, but feels a little guilty, as if she is standing in the way of Rahul and Anjali getting together. Rahul is completely oblivious to this, sometimes accidentally doing something to upset Anjali before she can admit her feelings for him. She tries to change her style to mimic Tina, but it fails embarrassingly. Just as Tina’s guilt is about to become unbearable, Rahul declares his love for her. As Anjali’s feelings for Rahul become unbearable, she learns that her father has fallen ill and Anjali has to leave the college to see to him. And she has no intention of returning to the college. Tina feels horrible, but stays with Rahul and eventually marries him. They never see Anjali again.
Kind of a sad way to end a movie…or it would be, if that were the end. Nope, the flashback ends and we are back with Anjali the Younger. Her mother’s letter ends with a plea that she reunite Rahul with the other Anjali, so that they can be together as they were meant to be, and that child Anjali can finally have a person in her life whom she can call mother. And intermission time. And we have 95 minutes left in the movie.
Though Lahore was also a Hindi-language Indian movie, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai kind of is what outsiders think a Bollywood movie is, minus maybe action scenes. The movie is 185 minutes long. 43 minutes of that are song and dance numbers, and a few of those seem interminable. The main actors do not even do their own singing, and the singers are not all that impressive to my ears. Sure, the actress who plays Anjali sometimes sounds like she could have been the inspiration for Hannah Montana, but she would still sing better than her singer counterpart. The characters can be one dimensional and the acting can be quite broad. The plot is all over the place, including subplots that either go nowhere or simply set up other subplots that go nowhere. There are entire scenes that exist only to introduce character traits or to set up cheap gags that are so not worth it except to make me laugh at how not worth it they are. The main story is full of holes, coincidences, ridiculous leaps in logic, and plot-induced stupidity. There are details that could trip up any nitpicky viewer, such as the fact that there is ADR on all of the voices, the windows to Rahul’s place are just paintings, and all lights are on all of the time. And you know the concept of economy of characters? Yeah, this film has an excess of characters, sometimes devoting a lot of time to side characters with negligible impact on the main story, simply because the movie did not have a more subtle way to shoehorn so many cameos.
One could obsess over these things like they are flaws. One could call this a bad movie because of them. One could mock the movie because of them, and maybe call it so bad that it is good. One could try to overlook the “flaws” in order to enjoy the movie. Or…one could embrace these elements as intrinsic to the world of the film. This is not supposed to be a realistic story. It is supposed to be an experience, with pointless tangents, fun musical asides, amusing characters, and funny gags. An experience does not have to be realistic; sometimes it is more enjoyable if it is blatantly and unapologetically unrealistic. It allows for some of the humor and the charm. It allows for a quicker path to the heart. Sure, one could smugly fire spitballs at the movie or take a drink at every mockable moment as if one is superior to the whole thing, but the fun factor may wear off after two hours. If you can try to laugh with it instead of just at it, however, you may find yourself more invested in it, and find it much more rewarding. Of course, you can still laugh at it. Once they start playing air guitar in that first song, you have to at least chuckle or you might risk pulling your hair out.
One last thing to note is the main cast. Anjali the Elder and Tina are played by Kajol and Rani Mukerji, who are cousins and were sort of professional rivals for a time, though Rani was only a couple years into her career at this time. Shah Rukh Khan plays Rahul and there is an extended cameo from his then-friend, eventual bitter rival, and maybe friend again Salman Khan. By the way, Bollywood Bad Boy Salman would pull a Matthew Broderick about four years after the release of this movie, though I would not learn about that until months after first watching it. That has kept me from seeking out other movies with him in it, and I will understand if that may prevent you from wanting to watch this one, but he is not in a principle role, just a highly glorified cameo. Oh, and Sana Saeed, who played the younger Anjali, has had a bit of a career for the past twenty years as well.
If you have a three hour block of time to waste…or two 90-minute blocks of time to waste, and are looking for a pleasant movie to watch, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai may be up your alley. If three hours of questionable quality sounds uninteresting to you, I would still recommend it. Who knows? Something could happen. If you are one to nitpick stuff, you might enjoy making fun of the movie. If you can embrace the unreality, however, then you can get a whole lot more out of it. Let the charm win you over.
And, yes, the movie has several references to other movies, particularly to Dil To Pagal Hai from the previous year, which starred the same actor who played Rahul playing a character named Rahul. I much prefer Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, personally.
WTF ASIA 10: Seven Samurai (Japan: 1954, approx. 207 minutes)
WTF ASIA 11: A Company Man (South Korea: 2012, approx. 96 minutes)