As Kal Ho Na Ho turns 20, a look back at the KJo-Bebo cold war

Dil Chahta Hai showed the way. KHNH took the hint. The irreverence for hallowed Hindi cinema and its protected formulae is much in evidence

KHNH featured excellent performances by the entire cast (photo: @NetflixIndia/X)
KHNH featured excellent performances by the entire cast (photo: @NetflixIndia/X)

Subhash K Jha

When Karan Johar and his team were shooting Kal Ho Na Ho (KHNH) in New York and Toronto, Shah Rukh Khan had just undergone complicated back surgery, and the thought of him dying on screen didn’t appeal to anyone associated with the film.

To set all doubts at rest right at the beginning, KHNH is most definitely inspired by Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anand. The weeping, wailing and the tissue-based tearjerkers (which put off detractors of Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham) are kept to a minimum. And the credit for that can safely be given to debutant director Nikhil Advani and Johar, whose uneasy partnership yielded a vastly commendable end product.

After Yes Boss and Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, this was the rare occasion on which Shah Rukh played not Shah Rukh Khan but Aman Mathur, the name of his character. For once, you truly forget that SRK is here to play himself. Preity Zinta as Naina Catherine Kapur, her mother Jennifer (Jaya Bachchan) and her 'friend' Rohit (Saif Ali) are perfect foils for SRK's histrionics, which don't go overboard.

The tenor and tone of the film rest on the dialogues and screenplay, the former by Niranjan Iyengar and the latter by Johar. Quite often reminiscent of Farhan Akhtar's Dil Chahta Hai in terms of its candid, urbane humour, KHNH's fresh, cheeky attitude comes from its lead characters. Funny for the most part, the film makes a transition to tragedy in the end with ease. Even better, rather than finding the weepy scenes funny and unbelievable, one finds oneself empathising with the characters.

What definitely comes through is the fact that Dil Chahta Hai set the tone for future Bollywood romances/comedies. No longer did the melodrama overshadow intelligent, believable humour and trendy wholesome truthful love relationships.

Dil Chahta Hai showed the way. KHNH took the hint. The irreverence for hallowed Hindi cinema and its protected formulae is much in evidence. So is the homophobia. The ‘Kanta behn’ jokes, wherein the house help sees Shah Rukh and Saif lying together (honestly!) in the same bed are indicative of the way Hindi cinema dealt with homosexuality.

Kareena Kapoor Khan’s best friend in the entertainment industry and her go-to person for all the gossip she wants and all the heartaches she gets, is indisputably Johar. They are inseparable. But there came a phase in their kinship when they stopped talking to each other completely. This was when Johar was planning KHNH with his favourite Shah Rukh and second-favourite Bollywood diva Kareena (after Kajol).

But Kareena shocked Karan and his father Yash Johar by quoting a price that sent father-son staggering out of the Kapoor residence. Johar gently asked his 'Bebo darling' to reconsider the price. But she wouldn’t budge. This hurt Johar, rightly so, and he stopped all communication with Kareena. 

For almost a year, they looked through each other at every social gathering that they attended. And since they had plenty of common friends, they kept bumping into and ignoring each other, much to the shock of mutual friends.

It was Kareena's older sister Karisma who put an end to the KJo-Bebo cold war. She made them both sit down and open up the wound which was festering in their relationship. Karisma reminded her sister that Karan was the brother they never had, and she reminded Karan that Bebo and Lolo were the sisters he never had.

That was it. In no time, Karan and Kareena were sobbing and hugging one another. Kareena went on to act in many Dharma Productions films, insisting she wouldn’t charge a fee after what happened with KHNH. But Karan insisted on paying her.

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