"Kal Ho Naa Ho"

"Kal Ho Naa Ho" ... a smartly-made film.  

MANY YOUNG filmmakers from Bollywood have adopted the milieu and yuppie culture Farhan Akhtar brought to the screen with his "Dil Chahta Hai". But not always with the same degree of realism and casualness. This has naturally given many others the chance to experiment with the preoccupations of youngsters. But when it started coming thick and fast, even those who had earlier made films with such refreshing candour found it hard to repeat the appeal. The result — films trying to recreate the magic — in most cases love set amidst characters coming from different communities and religions — elders who are treated with utmost respect and love — and where being loudly Indian is cool. And romance here means roses, wine and rain. In other words, pure mush.

Which is what "Kal Ho Naa Ho" is all about. Beautifully shot amidst the racy city of New York, (but why in NY is never really justified) with split screens and freezes, some very lilting music and one of the best actors (Saif not Shah Rukh) we have, the film has its moments of delight. For director Nikhil Advani this is a debut of sorts and his Karan Johar hangover shows.

Here is a crabby but extremely beautiful girl, Naina (Preity Zienta) who has forgotten warmth, love and smiles. Her life is filled with bitterness living as she does in a dysfunctional family comprising a Catholic mom, Jennifer (Jaya Bachchan) struggling to run a restaurant, Punjabi grandmother (Sushma Seth), a physically challenged brother who loves football and an adopted little sister, Gia, yearning for acceptance from grandma. Everyday the kitchen is a battlefield with the mom and grandma fighting over everything — including blaming the adopted child for the death of the head of the family — Naina's father. And no he did not die of a heart attack. He killed himself. Which makes things even more difficult to handle. Naina has a hysterical neighbour friend, Sweeto, (one of the few she has) who lives with a coquettish elder sister (Lilette Dubey). The only other person who tolerates her is classmate Rohit (Saif Ali Khan) at the evening MBA class — a boy who belongs to one of the richest Gujju families in New York. He usually spends his free time trying to impress and date pretty girls.

When the tears and insults get too much, this family kneels down and prays to god to send one of his angels (Shah Rukh) — to bring cheer, laughter and love into this bitter — sweet household. The predictable happens. Naina falls in love with angel, angel at first sight decides that this is the girl for him for births hereafter, Rohit is casual but is actually in love with Naina. Not confusing really. Isn't this what happens all the time?

And then comes the nasty spoke in the wheel. The film is colourful and smartly made. The frames are filled with vivid images of New York — especially the sea's edge and waterfronts. The narrative is full of incidents guaranteed to moisten your eyes — simply because they drive the point home in such a saccharine way. Whether it is patriotism or love, its all very impulsive and even maudlin. All cry at the drop of a hat and nobody is ashamed to do that. Why should they? Aren't they people who think from their hearts? Yet there are some funny moments. For instance when Shah Rukh guarantees that Rohit can make Naina fall in love with him in six days. Humorous, without being slapstick. Or when Rohit proposes to Naina. But soon you have a lot of crying and sobbing that gets to you and that is the film's undoing. Just as when you are told of the true identity of Gia. Does it take bloodlines for acceptance? That only if they are biologically born you can resolve the issue? Shah Rukh obviously does what his director tells him to — but that does not deter him for indulging in his usual grimaces and the `oh so cute' expressions and mannerisms. He tries too hard to impress, while Saif Ali has proved yet again what a wonderfully natural actor he is. Jaya Bachchan is no longer the brilliant actress she was. Lots of times she seems to struggle to get the right expression. Preity Zinta looks gorgeous (even with her glasses) and does a good job. If you can forget her screechy self in the first half. As for the rest of those who make up the assorted characters the less said the better. And Lilette Dubey is wasted in such an idiotic role. Shankar-Loy-Ehsan's music does indeed pep up the proceedings — never mind if they are a hangover from Dil Chahta Hai. Two numbers, Kal Ho Na Ho and Mahi Ve, are nice in their picturisation as well as their melodies.


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