'Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna' revisited after 15 years

The film was a success. But not as big as 'Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham'. It was a marital drama. More than romance it talked about loveless marriage and divorce, a topic seldom dealt with by Bollywood

Photo Courtesy: Social media
Photo Courtesy: Social media

Subhash K Jha

I attended the Mahurat of Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, known by the suspicious sounding acronym of KANK, at Film City. It was like watching Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham live. In one corner sat Jaya Bachchan, Gauri Khan, Kirron Kher chatting politely (I saw no real camaraderie there) while in another corner Abhishek and Amitabh Bachchan were shooting a sequence with Rani Mukerjee.

Host Karan Johar was blowing kisses to all the visitors, me included. Kajol, who had rejected the film (this I got to know later) dropped in. Karan hugged her for a good 60-90 seconds. I wondered who would suffocate first. Karan was nervous because this was a departure from his usual style.

The film was a success. But not on the same scale as Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. It was a mix ‘n’ match marital drama where Rani was married to Abhishek but she loved Shah Rukh, Shah Rukh was married to Preity Zinta. But he loved Rani.

Was KANK an anti-marriage drama? Was Karan endorsing divorces?

Karan spoke to me in an interview, “I must tell you, a mother came up to me after seeing the film. She was very angry. ‘My daughter recently got divorced. I took her out to make her happy with a Karan Johar film. But look at what you made her suffer! We wanted to go into another world. We didn’t want to see our lives’. She was upset. But I think I had hit home. I don’t claim to be an expert on marriage or anything else. I’m not endorsing anything. KANK is my take on what happens when people marry for the wrong reason. The true foundation of an enduring marriage is tremendous love. If that love isn’t there, things can go wrong any time in a marriage. That’s what happens in Alvidaa. My characters behave in a particular way because they are my characters. You don’t have to agree with what the characters do or say.”

Karan then went on to condemn loveless marriages. “I can show you dozens of marriages all over the world where the perfect spouse leaves the other marital partner cold. There’re million of women who go on being miserable in passion-less marriages. I’m not telling those women to go out there and have an affair. But you don’t need to be in a love-less marriage. That’s what Alvidaa says. I don’t think marriage gives any man or woman an identity. I’ve tremendous respect for women who haven’t married because they haven’t found the right partner rather that than being stuck in an unhappy marriage. There’s nothing worse than flogging a dead horse.

Javed Akhtar had wondered how Karan Johar knew so much about broken marriages. Karan explained to me, “It’s simple. Stand at a distance from any matter and you can see it better. I’m not married. But I’m surrounded by married couples and their problems. Earlier my people lived in the white zone painted by circumstances. In mainstream cinema we tend to look at characters as saints or devils. In KANK the characters live in the grey area. My hero in KANK is flawed. He does wrong. But owns up to it. He’s a real character.”

Karan felt KANK was the one film that he made without any compromises, without playing to the galleries. “I didn’t allow the mind to operate over the heart. KANK is all heart. The film might open up debates. But this is what I wanted to make. I’ve been accused of clever commercial calculations in the past, and I don’t dispute that. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham definitely had a lot of playing to the galleries. But when I did K3G there was a lot of performance anxiety. That’s died down with age and maturity. With KANK I’ve grown up. I’m not saying it’s a good or bad film. I’m just saying I’ve evolved as a filmmaker. It’s a sign of a new phase.”

There were reports of a cold war between the two leading ladies Rani and Preity when they shot in New York. To this, Karan had reacted with characteristic causticity. “All we fought was the cold weather. No one fought with each other. For heaven’s sake, there’re so many important wars being fought. Why focus on non-existent wars? The Rani-Preity war was totally over-blown. Once I was eating Chinese food with them when a journalist called to ask about their cold war. I’m not saying they are the Pointer Sisters. They don’t live in each other’s courtyard. But they share a healthy rapport”

The iconic Metro cinema reopened with KANK. Karan had said emotionally to me, “For me it’s an emotional happening. Metro has always been my favourite cinema hall. That’s where I became passionate about cinema watching the cinema of Raj Kapoor, Yash Chopra and Sooraj Barjatya. I attended the premiere of Yash Uncle’s Darr, Lamhe and Chandni at Metro and also of Raj Kapoor’s last work Henna. For Metro to open with my film is a proud and nostalgic moment.”

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