Something Most Definitely Happened

Any Indian person who is worth their two-cents understands the value of a good time-pass. In theory it is quite literally what the name suggests: a way to pass time. On the other hand, this should be taken with a grain of salt, and the tone of the person speaking is very much of note. Time-pass can be the highest compliment something can receive-- it was so interesting, so engaging, you can’t take your eyes away and barely note the passage of time (ex. Raazi, 3 Idiots, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara). Yet, time-pass can also be the shortest way to say something was so utterly bland it could be the height of mediocrity and only worth watching if one has another form of entertainment to fidget with when the plot gets irreparably dull (ex. Student of the Year, Student of the Year 2). Lockdown 1 (circa March 2020) was a more hopeful time and seemingly the ideal way to pass time and alleviate the urge to doom-scroll on social media was watching nearly the entire Netflix film catalogue. 


Looking back on the media we used to consume as children is oftentimes a bittersweet and nostalgic undertaking. Most of these things manage to stand the test of time, due in part to the years of accumulated sentimental and a time-tested, tried-and-true ability to make us feel things we haven’t felt since we have the guileless, wonder-filled eyes of a child (yeah if you couldn’t tell this statement was exclusively about Avatar the Last Airbender). A few rare exceptions feel like an impending trainwreck and all you do is watch as the locomotive bulldozes its way on a track the director should have never followed in the first place. The latter seems to be a good summation of my viewing experience of ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ as part of my early COVID-19 era of Bollywood bingeing. I’m far from the first person to say they dislike this movie, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. However, to say so in the company of most Gen Z desis might honestly be tantamount to committing high treason. I humbly offer my paltry criticism-- and should the infamous and egregiously nepotistic Karan Johar ever think to make a remake with new star children he hopes to launch into empty, talentless careers-- I bring to you a few ideas to spice things up in order to meet a generation of new viewers that will be far less forgiving of the rampant sexism in the original. 


Our main characters from the makings of a wannabe tragic love triangle. As with most media of the late 90s to early 2000s era we see two highly accomplished, popular, and objectively decent looking young women focus their attention on the popular jock type. The boy is your standard MCP (male chauvinistic pig) with no personality outside of objectifying women and his personal mission to sleep through the entirety of the female student body. Meet Rahul: the hypocrite who said ‘love is friendship’ while failing to realise his best friend was in love with him turned into a marginally less annoying single dad who lumped all child rearing responsibilities on his aging mother.  We’re not going to discuss his anger issues over a game Going chronologically, the next character to be introduced is Anjali Sharma, later dubbed Anjali the Elder. From her look, to her interests, to the first insult that cracks her confident facade (‘don’t call me a girl’), she is the very personification of internalized misogyny. In her aggressive aversion and denial of femininity she brands herself as one of the boys, and in turn prides herself as being ‘different.’ If you’re also getting cringe worthy flashbacks to the days of ‘pick me culture and the advent of ‘not like other girls’ culture then you’ve hit the nail on the head. The narrative foil to Anjali presents herself soon after in the form of Tina Malhotra. Where Anjali is the antithesis of hyperfemininity, Tina is the pinnacle of acceptable femininity. She dresses to impress, but isn’t too garishly exposed. She artfully arranges her hair and makeup, but she isn’t obsessed with something as trivial as looks (don’t get me started on Rani Mukerji pulling a James Charles ghost foundation...just don’t). Tina is intelligent, cultured, and the epitome of the ‘modern women’. In a tale as old as time, as old as my mother’s Archie comics, as tropey as blond versus brunette, two girls more alike in dignity than in temperament chase after a boy who barely has enough intellectual capacity to fill a teaspoon, let alone enough to actually be worth their affections. 


The rest of the zany cast of characters is fleshed out by the extended family and friends of the main trio. The most relevant plot is Anjali Khanna, Anjali the younger and not-so-spoiler alert, the result of Tina caving and marrying Rahul. If puppy dog eyes were a personality trait then the walking pity party of a person that is Anjali Khanna is fundamentally defined by her abilities to manipulate her convoluted step-parent trap. Along with her grandparents Hindutva and Dress Code Despot, these three characters embody what I feel is a fundamental flaw of the plot: entitlement. Despite nearly ten years apart with no contact, the Khanna-Malhotra clan believe they are owed Anjali in recompense for the role that was left empty by Tina’s death. Through scheming, matchmaking, and some rather creepy detective work they track the older Anjali down and disrupt the new life she has built for herself. I genuinely can’t stand Salman Khan, but for the first and likely only time in his film career I felt genuine pity for his character Aman. 


Understandably, with its hosts of -isms and severely underqualified director, this film turns a frankly acceptable bare bones plot into a glut of opulence and escapism fit only for consumption by those who need a hit of nostalgia and are willing to forgive its many many pitfalls. That is not to say this trainwreck isn’t salvageable. For a movie that is over 3 hours long there is very little substance to the story and this is padded out by the addition of multiple long, drawn out song sequences. In place of transitions there are musical numbers with little plot relevance despite being decade defining tracks. The overarching issue is the need to accomplish more storytelling off camera in order to provide more substance to the characters and more sense to the story. 


Now, one more time from the top. With how little St. Xaviers resembles an Indian college this could very well be set in the U.S., mainly because I think it would be hilarious and add the additional layer of diaspora diversity in the cast. Enter stage right our male lead Rahul Khanna: resident gym rat, campus clown, and himbo with a steady supply of respect for woman juice (it's the quenchiest!). His leading lady, Tina Malhotra buries the Women in Refrigerators trope, who’s constant achievements as an anthropology student leave her boyfriend in constant wonderment. Entering stage left is Anjali Sharma: the childhood best friend and confident tomboy studying physiotherapy. We can have healthy, positive female socialization in the form of Tina teaching Anjali to embrace femininity (or maybe Anjali is trans? Nonbinary? So many possibilities). We can avoid the MCP comments and close up shots of mini skirts by making Rahul an actual likeable person (Yes, I know I’m biased).  


So, you may be wondering what drives the search for Anjali the elder if Tina lives and the letters aren’t there to act as the plot device to get the story rolling. Miscommunication. Arguably my favorite trope, miscommunication can be written and rewritten and interpreted in so many different ways. Either way Anjali leaves in the middle of the semester and unable to communicate with Rahul or Tina they assume the worst...until they meet the counsellor of Anjali Jr. 's summer camp. No half-assed romance, Anjali has moved past whatever fleeting feelings she may have had, she has come to terms with her internalized misogyny and found a balance between femininity and her naturally minimalistic style, and most importantly she is happy with someone her loves her without changing her to fit the image of the ideal wife. The end message: friendship and love can coexist because friendship is simply another form of love.