Vibrant Vinay bounded in one morning, zimmer skidding to a halt on the shagpile, filled with glee at his new DVD. Anjali, his chirpy daughter, had bought it, set on making his day a good one. And by day, I mean entire day. This is three and a half hours long. Every half hour, Vinay and I sat back in our chairs, legs in the air, rotating our feet to fend off the DVTs. But it was worth it. For Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (a.k.a K3G) is a long, stylised, oddly superficial, but thoroughly affecting story of family traditions, wounded, wounding and foolish patriarchy, lust, awful haircuts, smirking, wealth, snobbery, and deep deep parental love. At its heart, it tells the story of the elders in a family, deserving and occasionally demanding respect…and that can be a terribly bad thing.
Well, pffft, thought old Jack. A bad thing if the kids wildly over-react. But let it go.
So, the Big B (Amitabh Bachchan as Yasha) is patriarch and fantastically wealthy businessman. Filled with traditions instilled in him by his own father, he centres the film with an authority that goes too far. Bachchan is rather wonderfully balanced by his real life wife, Jaya Bhaduri, as Nandini, Yasha’s wife and the emotional heart of the film. She also has some mother’s-love mind powers as she can tell when their sons are in the building. Or getting out of a helicopter nearby…
Now, the sons. The story is told in flashback after a stylish, beautiful boy at boarding school returns home to get secrets blabbed at him by his grandmothers. This is Rohan, played by the oddly transparent Hrithik Roshan (it’s the eyes, darlings). Rahul, his brother, left the house long ago. And had been adopted in the first place. So, mystery plus a whiff of not-of-our-blood ahoy. Cue flashback to the departure…
Rahul is played by the irritatingly smirking, twitching, bouncy-haired Shah Rukh Khan. Amidst acres of dance numbers, general poncing about and enough winking to deserve a properly unexpected slap, Rohan flirts with a number of improbably pretty women. Life gifts him a choice (which his Dad makes a fatal decision over…): marry familiar, not-quite-flirt Naina played by the crazily beautiful Rani Mukerji; or fall for the poor girl from a poor family Anjali, played by quite-possibly-the-most-beautiful-woman-on-planet-Earth, Kajol. Yash picks Naina (family, tradition, wealth); Rahul pitches up to sob on Anjali for the angst of all this, but walks into her Dad’s funeral..and does the wonderful thing. He also gets to kiss her in the neck by the Pyramids, so, you know…
Now, as a senior gent, watching this through my twirling feet, old Jack here sympathised with Bachchan’s rage. He was being defied. The values of his family, even silent oaths through the generations, are being snubbed by a boy picking the pretty girl. Who wouldn’t get growly?
But…well… Kajol is a mix of flashing comedy, bubbling emotions, unexpectedly contained decency, sorrow…and, gosh, she’s pretty. So…okay…I was torn. And a bit relieved when the story cuts to London, Rahul and Anjali are stressed by English life and the deep loss at the heart of their family… Years have passed, they had run off, and now live with Anjali’s bitch-club-sexy sister. Of course, there is a huge photo of Rahul’s parents on the wall… I smiled. Parental love is always good to see and things are not forgotten.
Now, many a dance number, much posing from all parties (including the jaw-droppingly late-teen, immodestly sexy sister Pooja – Kareena Kapoor earning male admirers through…um…directness), and the determination of younger brother Rohan brings the story to a series of emotional set-pieces. For husband must face wife, brother must face brother, and…as with the day I caught Young Steve watching late-night Channel 4 in 1981…son must give it an hour, have a cold shower, and face father.
And in this instance, wind-machines at full blast, cameras set high, low, and in the heart of understanding hugs, the family drama plays out with over-blown majesty. It left Vinay and me in tears. What softies.
Okay, so the thing is bloated, the performances not even close to subtle, and the posing more than a bit camp (the costumes don’t help, particularly of the brothers who give off showy-twat-in-leather when we should be liking them), but K3G is sumptuous fun. Yeah – sumptuous. And very easy to watch. The shifts in tone, from clunky comedy through melodrama and mother-love, make a rich dessert for the older viewer. I loved its balance of tradition and apology, dignity and total respect for parents.
Things that linger: Bachchan’s stillness, Kajol’s chirpsome openness and beauty, the slappability of the boys and – best of all – the natural, camera-loved moments of Jaya Bhaduri’s Nandini…the mum that owns the screen with just a look.
Find K3G. Vibrant Vinay’s Anjali got the choice just right. Although VV stayed a bit too still in the last ninety minutes and has to wear compression socks now.