Cast: Arjun Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Swaroop Sampat
Director: R. Balki
Director R. Balki is a man with ingenious ideas. In Cheeni Kum, he whipped up an unlikely romance between a woman and a man older than her father. In Paa, he told us the story of a 12-year-old boy with a rare genetic disorder that makes him age unnaturally. In Shamitabh, he asked us to consider what constitutes the magic of a movie star. And now in Ki & Ka, he flips gender roles. He gives us a heroine Kia who is unapologetically ambitious and a hero Kabir whose most cherished ambition is to be like his mother – that is a housewife.
We’ve seen stay-at-home dads before in films like Mr. Mom but the novelty of Ki & Ka is that Kabir isn’t forced to be a house-husband. He aspires to be one. He takes great pride in cooking, cleaning and making a home. In fact, at one point he gives an impassioned speech on why a homemaker must be considered an artist.
Kabir is a decidedly radical Bollywood hero – when we first meet him, he’s crying but he’s cool with weeping in public. Here is a man who is utterly sure of himself and his place in the world. Kia isn’t as inherently interesting but a positively luminous Kareena gives her some heft. Sadly however, one of the enduring problems with Balki’s films is that his crackling concepts run out of steam. It’s almost as if he spends so much of his creative energy coming up with a high-wire idea that he is unable to actually flesh out a narrative around it.
I was eager to see how Kabir and Kia make marriage work but once they sign the papers, the fun evaporates. He’s cooking and going to kitty parties. She’s in meetings and presentations. The film reinforces stereotypes – down to the mangalsutra – except here, Kabir wears one. Kabir and Kia live with her mother who is also a working woman. Everyone seems pretty easy with the arrangement. Even when Kabir, who is obsessed with trains, redecorates their apartment to look like some sort of weirdly claustrophobic train museum, the ladies don’t object. They are happy to come home to a clean house and rajma-chawal. There is no organic conflict. So Balki contorts the story to conjure up one.
The second half brightens up when the Bachchans – Amitabh and Jaya – make an entry playing themselves. It’s a lovely sequence and for a moment, we actually feel we are in their living room. With a wise humour, Jaya makes pertinent points about women, careers and choices. But this and other important ideas get lost in execution. Somewhere between the endless product placements, the synthetic textures and the half-baked screenplay, Ki & Ka derails. At one point, there is a random action sequence which has Kabir beating up men who make lewd comments about Kia. It feels like it was stitched on to remind us that despite the kitchen duty, Arjun Kapoor is a real man.
I applaud him for having the courage to play Mr. Kitty Party but Ki & Ka is an opportunity lost.