There’s a saying that people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. It’s the same for certain movies, you may very well forget the dialogues, the actual timeline of events or even the names of the characters (especially if they are different combinations of the same four favourite go-to actors) but you’ll never forget the distinct way that the film moved you. Kal Ho Naa Ho is undoubtedly one of them.
Penned by Karan Johar and directed by Nikkhil Advani with dialogues by Niranjan Iyengar, there’s hardly an emotion that’s missing in this movie. There’s unbridled joy, heartbreaking sadness, conflict and its resolution, love of the purest, most selfless kind, a generous, mostly tasteful sprinkling of humour and just a hint of patriotism-and there you have it. The perfect comfort movie that will make you sob, but one you’ll find going back to time and time again.
Shahrukh Khan is brilliant as Aman Mathur – the golden boy, annoyingly perfect at times, whose fatal flaw (quite literally) is his heart that can give away at any moment. He’s funny, he’s charming- he can win over anyone, even an uptight Naina – who starts off being immune to the spell that Aman seems to have cast on everyone but soon falls hopelessly in love with him. He’s got the solution to every problem, whether it be your failing business or your family drama. He’s all for living in the moment, because kya pata kal ho naa ho– a message made more potent when preached by a man who’s drawing closer to his demise with each passing heartbeat. It’s heart-breaking how Aman plays cupid to Naina and Rohit, only to ensure that she’s loved even after he has passed on.
And Naina? Naina Catherine Kapur is the embodiment all of us, so burdened by the troubles of life that she forgets to see how life is a gift. It’s through her that we are taught to look at life as something to be enjoyed, no matter what the circumstances . As Aman slowly breaks her walls down and opens her eyes to a whole new world, she changes- and blooms. Preity Zinta plays both the sides of the character beautifully, whether it be the closed up, shuttered version of Naina or the person changed by the power of love.
Rohit Patel is the Gujarati third piece of this triangle and he completes it to perfection. Say what you may about Saif Ali Khan but you can’t fault his impeccable comic timing. He plays the loveable man child, grown up but not quite. He’s Aman’s protégé, and Aman prepares him to take his place in Naina’s heart. Rohit learns to accept his place in Naina’s life (again with a little help from Aman), he wasn’t the first but he is the one who is lucky enough to spend the rest of his life with her and in this process, he grows into an adult.
Every storyline is brought to life by the brilliant performances of the supporting cast. Jaya Bachchan and Sushma Seth make the saas-bahu feuds believable and their reunion having put aside their differences is heart-warming to watch. The mother- son dynamic is played to perfection by Reema Lagoo. Seeing her play a mother struggling to accept the truth about her son’s impending demise, and yet keeping up a brave front for him when he needs it, will break your heart. Lillete Dubey and Delnaaz Irani are a breath of fresh air, successfully counteracting the tension with their guy troubles.
Humour is an important part of the movie, and the comedic duo of Shahrukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan ensure that there’s a never dull moment with them around. Sometimes they are ‘dudebros’, sometimes a dating guru and his blind follower and sometimes even mistaken for gay lovers that Rohit’s housekeeper Kantaben (insert soundtrack) tries (hilariously) to keep apart- and in every role, they shine. The supporting cast and subplots add to the chaos, especially the comedy of errors that takes place in the first half . There are some jokes that in retrospect are downright cringe-worthy, like the fat-shaming, the blatant racism against their business rivals and the caricature-ish depiction of a rich Gujarati family (but then again, Bollywood has always treated characters from outside Delhi and Maharashtra and their cultures mainly as comic devices), only overlooked by the refrain that we just didn’t know better.
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy successfully capture every emotion through their music. The iconic and uplifting Kal Ho Naa Ho, the dance number It’s The Time to Disco, the fun and flirty Kuch Toh Hua Hai about the wonders of new love and the catchy Maahi Ve to learn all the steps to, there’s something to appeal to every mood. They still remain favourites, even to this day and not without reason. The most heart-breaking is the sad version of Kal Ho Naa Ho- with lines like “dil ko hai gam kyun, aankhein hai naam kyun, hona hi thaa jo hua hai”, it’s hard to hold back the tears. A word of praise for the instrumental track called Heartbeat- it’s the perfect accompaniment to the scenes it’s used in.
Shahrukh Khan is undoubtedly the star of the movie. He is at the centre of it all, a farishta as he is called, pulling the strings and making everyone’s life better. Shahrukh enacts every emotion with such sincerity, that it’s difficult to separate him from the character. The yearning in his eyes as he imagines himself in Rohit’s place, the crack in his voice when he declares his love for Naina but pretends to read the words out from a blank page in Rohit’s diary, his denial that he’s ever loved Naina or anyone for that matter (“Mein kisi se pyaar nahi karta”) when the truth has been found out, or even walking the love of his life to get married to another man – there are so many reasons you’d want to bawl your eyes out and regret your decision to watch it. But you will go back to it every time not just because your only hope of finding an Aman is during the runtime of the movie, but the wholesome moments that stay with you, especially the message to haso, jiyo, muskurao (and love) just like Aman did.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.