In 1952, a film critic in UK said of Mehboob Khan’s Aan – Aan goes on and on. Wonder what he would have said of this 3-hours plus laborious film that by the end just makes you want the director to get it over and done with. Perhaps Karan Johar’s weakest script to date, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (KANK) – is salvaged only by Rani Mukherji’s rising above the script act, the odd sporadic ‘Karan Johar’ moment, a pretty sound if not outstanding musical score and Anil Mehta’s polished cinematography.
The film looks at the institution of marriage and on a story level explores and breaks standard myths and conceptions particularly on Indian takes on marriage and in that sense is a pretty interesting choice of subject for someone associated with candy floss romance and tear jerking melodrama. However things begin to falter once the story is fleshed out into a screenplay.
The characters while having some sort of graph are still weakly sketched and their backgrounds are most callously introduced. You know Rani is a teacher only because she says she is. (Only towards the end of a film do we see her actually in a classroom). Otherwise she is freely all over the place in New York be it day or night but somehow never near a classroom. You know that Shah Rukh changes trains and takes the same train as her only because he says so to her. Yes cinema is an Audio-Visual Medium but the Visual Medium is by far the dominating factor which lends itself to more dynamic cinematic representation and surely these scenes could have been established earlier visually rather than banal information giving dialogue. (Again, a bane of Bollywood).
Shah Rukh’s cynical and angry at the world character is actually quite unlikable and while that explains the crack in his and Preity Zinta’s marriage, Rani falling for him since he is often obnoxious with her as well looks unconvincing as is her being frigid and unreceptive to Abhishek Bachchan who clearly loves her and would do anything for her. Preity’s role, again like Corporate, suffers from the usual Bollywood working woman can’t handle a family syndrome and is also the weakest written role in the film redeemed only somewhere by her last scene with Rani.
The wild swings from loud comedy to dark seriousness are what don’t gel at all in the film. The comedy track in particular barring a stray moment or two is puerile and childish (the Black Beast misunderstanding is embarrassing or the ensuing Hospital sequence) and takes much away from the film which otherwise tries to be ‘real’ in its more serious parts. And to be fair to Karan, the film does have its moments in some of these more intense sequences where one sees a certain maturity with the way they have been dealt with (the dinner sequence or the two fights post the anniversary dinners) – but these are few and too far in between. By and large the film relies on contrived and predictable coincidences that would make a Manmohan Desai proud and that old age device of the Hindi films of the 1950s and 60s - ‘kisi ne dekh liya’ to create conflict and get the plot moving.
One wonders why New York was used as the setting of this film. Is it just for Production Value? Because the city is just a backdrop and not an integral part of the film at all. With the film exploring and questioning the institution of an ‘Indian’ marriage, it might have worked better had it been set in modern urban India like Delhi or South Mumbai for instance. But one supposes Johar felt he just had to bring out his fondness for When Harry met Sally (an extremely clumsy recreation of Meg Ryan’s orgasm scene) or Friends…
Coming to the actors, Rani Mukherji is really the life of the film. Every moment be it the corny but genuinely funny scene of trying to present a kinky sexed up version of herself for her husband or grappling with herself while she tries to come to terms with the fact she loves Shah Rukh while married to Abhishek, she is spot on gamely giving life to every scene however clichéd or hackneyed. That by and large she has never looked better helps. Shah Rukh is now showing his age and his repetitive over the top hamming got by earlier with his infectious energy or a well written script but it is now beginning to pall. The actor needs to reinvent himself for surely one feels he is capable of something much more – Swades for instance where he was reined in and outstanding. (Incidentally, is it limping season for our heroes – Saif in Omkara and now Shah Rukh here???) As the spouses kept in the dark about the Shah Rukh – Rani Affair, Preity Zinta, never the greatest of actresses, does still manage her odd moment or two like in her confrontation after their anniversary dinner or when she meets Rani at the wedding party but as mentioned earlier she is largely defeated by perhaps the weakest sketched role in the film while Abhishek gamely rises above proceedings showing some extremely good comic timing yet exuding seriousness, sensitivity and intensity when he has to. Amitabh Bachchan brings life to the film with his colourful role as an older stud while Kirron Kher is adequate.
The Music of the film comes to life in the two party songs (Rock n Roll Soniye and Where’s the Party Tonight) and particularly Mitwa, extremely well sung by Shafqat Amanat Ali (even if has echoes of Junoon). The Title Refrain is a bit of a disappointment though. On the technical side, the film is aided greatly by Anil Mehta’s neat and assured camera work. However the film could do with some drastic editing particularly in the first half. The dialogue is extremely corny at times though the two key fight scenes pre interval do have some bite to them.
All in all, KANK is strictly average fare at best.