Throwback Thursday: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham – Parivaar, Pyaar, Parampara

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (K3G) is one of the most quintessential Karan Johar (KJo) Bollywood classics of the early 2000s. Released alongside family movies like Hum Saath Saath Hain and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (KKHH), the basic plot line of K3G revolves around the Raichand family headed by Yashwardhan Raichand (Amitabh Bachchan), his wife Nandini Raichand (Jaya Bachchan) and their two children, Rahul and Rohan Raichand (Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan, respectively). As always, everything is happy-go-lucky in the beginning until Rahul falls in love with Anjali Sharma (played by Kajol who incidentally has the same exact first and last name as she did in KKHH), a bubbly Punjabi girl who is of a lower socioeconomic class than the rich Raichands. The rest of the plot centers on trying to keep the family together despite the conflicts and ego clashes they all face.

As I mentioned earlier, K3G belongs to an era of films that, unfortunately, ceases to exist in today’s fast-paced 21st century Bollywood industry. Besides the occasional Sooraj Barjatya film (like Vivah), most of Bollywood cinema today involves a storyline about the current “hook-up” culture, eventually (or maybe not) leading up to true love/marriage or as Madhuri says in Dil To Pagal Hai “shaadi wala pyaar”. Perhaps that’s why K3G will forever remain a classic KJo drama because at the end of the day, it’s a film about loving your parents.
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There are a few different parivaars (families) in this film initially. There is, of course, the main narrative of the Raichand family. However, to brew the romance and chemistry between Rahul and Anjali, KJo also expands a bit on Anjali’s family, and this is essential for the identity transformation Anjali experiences when she falls in love with Rahul. At the end of the Suraj Hua Maddham song, Anjali and Rahul start off running in the desert together, holding hands. Within a few seconds, Anjali lets go of Rahul’s hand and is running freely on her own. This “haath chodna” (leaving of the hand) is symbolic of Anjali’s transition from being under her father’s care to her own independence in experiencing romantic love. Another layer of interpretation could be that the haath chodna is a reflection of Anjali’s rational mind stepping in to remind her that she and Rahul can never be together because of their different social statures. This latter idea is reflected in the following lyrics at the very end of the song:
Jalta rahe suraj, chand rahe maddham.
The sun remains shining; the moon is at bay.
Yeh khwab hai mushkil, naa mil sakenge hum.
This dream is impossible; we will never be able to unite.
These lyrics and the haath chodna in the song subtly represent the inherent conflict in the film between pyaar (love), parivaar (family) and parampara (tradition).
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Aside from the heavy dose of parivaaric scenes in the film, there is quite a bit of pyaar to keep things interesting (after all, it is a three-and-a-half-hour film and the seemingly never-ending opening titles at the beginning foreshadow how long this film actually is). The chemistry between SRK and Kajol is, as usual, fantastic and both of them essay their roles fabulously. Whether it’s the cute nok-jhok (teasing) in the Chandni Chowk galis or their flirtatious charm in London, there are obviously elements of KKHH in the acting and the dialogues. Referring back to the “Suraj Hua Maddham” song, Rahul and Anjali’s imagined scenes of married life together in their respective households are reminiscent of similar shots in the Dil To Pagal Hai song “Are Re” (i.e. there are two SRKs or Kajols as seen in the image of K3G below).
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The youthful romance between Rohan and Anjali’s sister, Pooja (Kareena Kapoor), adds an extra shot of masala to this otherwise gharelu (homely) film. Needless to say, Hrithik nicely flaunts his dance skills and is the center of attention in all the songs of the second half of the film. Since there are multiple music directors for this film (including Jatin-Lalit, Sandesh Shandilya, and Adesh Shrivastava), each song has its own identity and character and is much more Indian than current Bollywood music. Although using multiple music directors could have worked against KJo, it certainly did not because the songs in the album are cohesive and fit together into the film rather nicely. In particular, “Vande Mataram” (sung by Usha Uthup) is a song whose picturization is quite interesting. Ironically, this patriotic Indian song was shot in London so there are many underlying threads of colonialism and patriotism attached to it. In terms of choreography, one tip I would like to add, not only for KJo but also for other Bollywood directors and choreographers, is the following: if you’re going to include tidbits of Indian Classical Dance anywhere in the choreo, make sure the actor or actress can actually pull it off. Although I commend them for including ancient aspects of Indian culture to spread awareness of the art form, as an Indian Classical Dancer myself, I believe that if they are going to even try in the first place, they might as well do a decent job of it. (P.S. thai hat thai hi is probably the worst step to use in Bharatanatyam choreo for Bollywood because even experienced Indian Classical dancers sometimes do this deceptively easy adavu wrong).
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Throughout the film, Yashwardhan Raichand exudes style, elegance, and parampara (tradition). His authoritative nature and high class status are evident through small actions, like him not personally coming to Dhai Jaan’s (Farida Jalal’s) daughter’s wedding in Chandni Chowk and his infamous dialogue, “Keh diya na, bas, keh diya” (I’ve said it and it’s final – i.e. this discussion is over). His selfishness and attachment to social status and ego in the name of tradition eventually results in him getting a taste of his own medicine. Towards the end of the film, Nandini repeats his typical dialogue, “Keh diya na, bas, keh diya”, back to him. Even though Yashwardhan is rather stern and strict, we could argue that labeling him as a ruthless and selfish father is in-and-of-itself potentially judgmental as well. Perhaps by saying that he is selfish, we are not understanding his point-of-view or reasons for doing what he did. At the same time, this is a KJo Bollywood flick and logic ought not to be exercised. But still, the legitimacy of our opinions and judgments of characters (in films and otherwise) is something worth pondering.
Final Verdict: K3G is a great movie to watch with the whole family! There’s lots of nachna, gaana, and rona-dhona but definitely don’t miss this one if you feel like reminiscing about the good ol’ days of Bollywood cinema. Fair warning: this film is 3 hours and 30 minutes so prepare yourself accordingly.

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