Live-ins, homosexuality and extra marital relationships are not odd in Hindi films any more. Karan Johar's `Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna' is the biggest gamble of them all

Is Karan Johar doing a Silsila? That's the question on everyone's minds. Karan, synonymous with saccharine sweet family dramas, would love to underplay that aspect until Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (KANK) keeps its date with cinema halls in August. Like Silsila, which starred the then top-of-the-form actors Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Rekha and Sanjeev Kumar, Karan's latest flick has today's top stars Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Rani Mukherji and Preity Zinta in the lead. Amitabh Bachchan is also part of the cast. The story revolves around two couples - Shah Rukh and Preity, Abhishek and Rani - who caught in unhappy marriages. Do SRK and Rani break free from their respective spouses? Adultery is not new to Bollywood,, but this will probably be the biggest film in recent times to explore extramarital relationships.That Karan wanted to break free from sugar-coated love stories was evident in his last production, Kal Ho Naa Ho. Remember Jaya Bachchan's internal conflict and her sustained efforts to support her husband's daughter born out of wedlock? Or even the Kantabenepisodes full of homosexual humour? The claws were out but Karan wasn't yet ready to experiment. After all, he invited people to laugh, cry and fall in love while watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and then marketed Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham with the tag line `It's all about loving your parents.' Will his risk in KANK pay off?"People are eagerly awaiting Karan Johar's movie. Period," says film distributor Riaz of RGV-Pratima Films. "Karan makes one movie in two to three years. He understands the audience well; the film stands a chance irrespective of its risky story," he adds.Of late, you can categorise Hindi films broadly into the following categories - comedies, remakes of yesteryear hits, historicals and those on `relationships.' Mahesh Bhatt's Murder and Vikram Bhatt's Ankahee talked about infidelity, Waisa Bhi Hota Hai and Salaam Namaste put live-in couples under the spotlight, and Rajat Kapoor's Mixed Doubles looked at changing gender equations.Mahesh Bhatt, whose Arth is remembered for its sensitive portrayal of the other woman factor in marriage, says, "Eyebrows were raised even when I produced Murder. Extra-marital relationships exist in our society and there are thousands of housewives confined within the four walls of loveless marriages. So why this hypocrisy when movies talk about relationships?" Trade analyst Komal Nahta says, "On the positive side, this hypocrisy is slowly fading. Forget movies, people watch stories of extra-marital relations in the soaps on TV. Viewers are willing to empathise with the characters when the story is strong. Karan Johar is known for good screenplays; I am sure he has thought of a strong reason that would make his audience support Shah Rukh and Rani." While the concept of Pati Patni Aur Woh has lent itself to many movies, Nahta agrees that mainstream movies don't always portray the woh as a dark character anymore.

Toe the line

Nevertheless, until now, most mainstream movies have toed the line and stamped the idea of faithful, happy marriages. Silsila, Bewafaa, Aitraaz, Murder and Salaam Namaste are cases in point. "It's tough for people to accept movies that aren't perceived to be morally correct," believes film-maker Dharmesh Darshan who made Bewafaa, which showed Kareena caught between her husband Anil Kapoor and her ex-flame Akshay Kumar. The ball is now in Karan Johar's court. Will his film toe the line? Or will he succeed in making Shah Rukh and Rani walk down the aisle?SANGEETHA DEVI. K