Revisiting Kal Ho Na Ho – Summarizing Bollywood in one film

I ended up re-watching Kal Ho Na Ho after a long time lately, just to relive the so titled classic of Bollywood. To be honest, I have been a fan of that era of Bollywood movies when Shah Rukh Khan was at the peak of his career and romantic Bollywood movies were everything a teenage heart craved for. The era of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Main Hoon Na, Kaho Na Pyar Hai and such romantic movies is pretty much my definition of Bollywood, because my generation grew up with it.

Now that I am no more a fan of Bollywood, I liked to believe that the industry has been on a downward spiral since the ‘romantic classics’ era ended. Although, re-watching Kal Ho Na Ho after so long was a realization that there was no reason to assume Bollywood is on a downward spiral now – it was always on the same level.

Kal Ho Na Ho is a classic alright. It is a heart warming story told through beautiful setups and irrefutable acting skills. But the levels on which the movie has bought itself to the cringe factor is surprising to me even today. After literally hundreds of good movies that I have watched for study, coming back to a Bollywood classic is like coming back to square one. A super-hit romantic movie like Kal Ho Na Ho is so full of cringe and desperate attempts to invoke emotions; it makes us wonder what the flop Bollywood movies of today could be made of. I don’t even want to know.

Let’s break it down. Kal Ho Na Ho is actually the summation of everything that Bollywood stands for. What it wins with is storytelling through grand setups such as a New York backdrop, great looking actors and extreme romanticism. Even the most emotionally distraught moments are romanticised to such extents that viewers would pay to be in such situations. Yash Chopra and KJo movies aced the skill of extreme romanticism – which was what sold Bollywood movies like hot cakes. That’s something that Bollywood movies did right, every single time.

Now let’s talk about everything they did wrong. Realism is the last thing on Bollywood’s to-do list. Naturally so because romanticism and realism never go hand-in-hand. Secondly, they so comfortably buy into cringe that it has been normalized with lame dialogues, sudden abrupt songs, inappropriate comedy scenes, and completely obsolete ways of romance. Thirdly, these movies stick to glorification so much that even misogyny and sexism is glorified – and justified. I’ll write a whole other post providing examples for this.

In all, what I’m trying to say is that Bollywood has always been on the same dimension of movie-making and the audiences have bought it with unmatched enthusiasm. Perhaps there are one or two exceptions, but none worth competing with other industries like Mollywood that produce serious films. I always thought that the Kal Ho Na Ho era where romantic movies were released one after another was a good era. Perhaps from a romanticizing perspective it is; but I’d never say that again.

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