Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham: The Most Glamorous Sobfest

K3G is a special film for all millennials, a 3-hour emotional roller coaster ride that had everything for a weekend entertainer
'Bole Chudiyan' from K3G
'Bole Chudiyan' from K3G

It was the winter of 2001. I was yet to turn a teenager and was visiting home during winter vacations after my first year at a boarding school. We were scheduled to go for our routine Saturday night family movie, and this week's release was Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (K3G). Out of habit, I browsed through the reviews of the movie in the Saturday papers. K3G received mostly positive reviews, but the only words I recollect are "some scenes can leave you in tears". I had never cried in a movie before, so I didn't pay much heed to it. But as the movie started, and the scenes of Jaya Bachchan raising her son rolled on screen, I could feel a lump in my throat. I promised myself I would keep it together and made it to the last scene of the sequence, where she puts a tikka on her son's forehead. I thought I had won. And in the very next frame the movie title flashed on screen with roaring music that shook the theatre, and I bawled like never before. I couldn't even make it past the opening credits. The next 3 hours was an emotional roller coaster ride like never before.

K3G by no means is perfection in movie making – an incoherent storyline, some over the top performances, and a predictable script. It has been criticised by many sections of society over the years, and rightly so. And yet you can unfailingly find it on television every weekend. No other movie provides repeat viewing value as good as this one, probably because it moves you emotionally like few other. The separation scene between Rahul and Nandini, and the reunion at the mall. The departing message from Rahul to young Rohan on school bench in India, and a reunion 10 years later on a school bench in London. Rahul's ruthless ousting from his home by his father, and a conceding reconciliation 10 years later. All these scenes were powerful enough to make us cry. Even Daijaan's reunion with Rohan was emotionally moving.

The movie provokes so many other emotions too. Rahul's helicopter entry scene, accompanied with some high tempo music and extremely aesthetic running, culminating in a mother's intuition coming to fruition as she greets her son at doorstep for Diwali was probably the first time I experienced tears of joy. Young Krish surprising his parents by singing the Indian national anthem at his school function in London was another scene that was unexpectedly emotional.

It's tough to pick a favourite from all these scenes, but if I were to pick one it would be Rahul and Rohan's face-off in London when Rohan disguises himself to become a houseguest. No dialogues, very little movement; just two brilliant actors acting with their eyes, accompanied by Sonu Nigam's brilliant sad rendition of the title track.  

Unsurprisingly, Shah Rukh Khan is at the center of most of these scenes. Perhaps this was really what made him a megastar at the time – his natural ability to stir the most basic emotions in you. It didn't matter if he played shades of a similar character in every other movie. Every time he talked to his mom, you were instantly reminded of yours. When he is troubling his younger brother, you want to pull similar pranks on yours. When he is having uncomfortable conversations with his father, you instinctively start anticipating when you will have to go through the same drill. It's tough to pick one romantic-drama movie as his best, but for me it will always be K3G. This was the one where he is at the peak of his emotional prowess. In Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge he didn't have a mother, in Kal Ho Naa Ho  he didn't have a father. In most of his movies, he doesn't have a sibling. But here he has the whole package to play with – doting parents, adorable sibling, forbidden love, childhood crush and a devoted house help – and boy does he play well.

In hindsight, it's not surprising that this movie was a sobfest for first-time viewers. Karan Johar has to work with a star-studded cast across two different time periods. After some initial setup, he moves from highlight to highlight to bring the most out of them in three hours. This does cause some issues in storyline detailing, but full credit to him for capturing the emotion just right. Johar draws riveting performances out of the star cast, particularly from SRK and Jaya Bachchan. Every time they are together on screen, there is a deep emotional connect with the audience. Jaya Bachchan was truly a revelation for me. Admittedly, I had not seen much of her work before this, and she appeared sporadically on screen at this stage of her career. Each time she appeared on screen, it redefined the loving mother image. A role that was often portrayed by the incomparable Nirupa Roy in the 70s, and given a makeover by actresses like Aruna Irani, Farida Jalal and Reema Lagoo in the 90s, was given a fresh outlook by Jaya Bachchan in K3G. Her chemistry with Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan was just perfect. Kajol does a brilliant job as well, bringing delightful comic relief to the script while maintaining the emotional tone as needed. Her scintillating chemistry with SRK was simply a formality by now.

I wondered for many years if it was just me who was moved so much by the opening credits. Thankfully, this mystery was solved in last year when YouTube suggested the opening credits sequence to me. Every time I revisit the scene, I read some of the comments and find fellow fans commenting how it makes them cry even today. K3G is a special film for all millennials, a 3-hour emotional roller coaster ride that had everything for a weekend entertainer – great star cast with terrific performances, first grade music and dance sequences, great locations, cricket and of course, the one and only Poo!

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