Bashing Bollywood is rather easy – Karan Johar films, even more so. Because logic…not of much importance here. Sab kuchh idea mein hai. [It is all in the idea]. That itself is not such a bad idea, I suppose. In many ways this genre is indicative of what is good and bad about super-duper hits. It is masturbatory, nearly apolitical, only barely satirical, and without larger purpose. What it is not is clever, talented, witty, critical, and wide-ranging in its targets and techniques.
Or so I thought. Much like Dubya (George W.), it is easy to dismiss the apparently illogical. It turns out that there’s logic alright, and it is not obscure, eclectic or dumb (yes, there is such a thing as dumb logic). Insiduous, yes… motivated with an agenda – oooooh.
Take KJ’s breakthrough film KKHH (Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai – trans. Something, Something is happening). On the face of it, a rather soul-crushingly sickening (saccharine-wise), but fairly elaborately composed melodrama on everlasting friendships (I didn’t say that, KJ did – he seems to love to summarize his films before we settle down in our seats with a grandiose “It’s all about…” – feel free to fill in with parents, love, friendship, traditions – yup, those will all work. Come rain, come hail, my love (friendly-like) for you will never fail. It may express itself through jealousy, lust, possessiveness; but itwon’t fail. No, but that apart, my point is that I don’t have any bones to pick here. If KJ wants to create some bizarre, obsessive, static love between his protagonists, fine by me. Seriously. Hey, I even thought the title song was well composed; very well composed – visually and spatially exploring the inherent ambiguity in symmetry brought on by three[some!!!], compared to two . Like I said, very interesting, compositionally… but I digress…
Anyway, back to where the bone is, then. I am gob-smacked over how manipulative True Love [TL] has to be – I mean whether in the guise of a [insanely] prosperous, pouty widower, an eight year old cherub, or a dead mum who even in her last moments is making jokes about her [pouty] husband’s looks – TL basically deploys out and out guerilla tactics in its warfare. Ingenious, but quite disturbing. But TL is no Che. As the protagonist, TL is a kewpie doll. [S]He's cute and cuddly, and quick to back down. [S]He laces actions with some self-deprecation, so you know [s]he's a "regular joe-shmoe," and above all, [s]he makes no enemies. [S]He doesn't take shots, lobs weak spitballs and then cowers under diffidence. It's easy to like TL because [s]he's toothless. Hmmmm, vaguely familiar….
That wouldn't be such a problem, perhaps, if the rest of the recurring characters weren't so damned happy with themselves for being smart and what was the operative word…aaahh-yes, “coo-ool”. It's always the same shtick: find some really stupid person, place, or thing out there in the world – like the caricatures of, first, nostalgia, that Johnny Lever’s character was made into, of progressive piety that was the grandmum or a frustrated spinster that was the teacher -- and pose situational questions implying, "When did you first know that you were insane?" while never breaking the ‘comedic’ delivery. Though the targets don't respond to the irony that's all too obvious, we get to laugh the laugh of the insider.
It's a tough challenge, to make a living of polite. So, I understand when films like KKHH make the choice to keep their work as light as a soufflé. It's just that at some point, as you chuckle your way through the yummy appetizers, you have to start wondering what you might have tasted, and if you ever got served the main course.