As this writer saunters in a preview theatre to watch a select screening of KAL HO NAA HO, a few questions cross my mind...
And as the magic unfolds on the big screen, the doubts, if any, are set to rest.
For Naina Catherine Kapur [Preity Zinta], life is cold, grey and dull ... as it has been ever since her father passed away.
Between the constant bickering in her half Punjabi, half Catholic household, her grand-mother's [Sushma Seth] temper, looking after her little sister and brother and helping her mother Jennifer [Jaya Bachchan] deal with the family's financial troubles... Naina has no time for parties, fun or herself.
She is 23, going on 50. She is serious, she is boring.
Enter Aman Mathur [Shah Rukh Khan]. Like a whiff of fresh air, he moves into their tiny Indian neighbourhood to take it over. Helping others solve their problems and face life's little challenges... Aman has all the answers.
Much to Naina's irritation, he insists on interfering in her life too...
Aman pushes Naina into doing things that she would never dream of doing. He nags her till she learns to smile. He conspires with her friend Rohit [Saif Ali Khan], an eligible Manhattan bachelor, to help her find happiness.
KAL HO NAA HO is the story of Aman, Rohit and Naina's journey together. How they discover themselves, find the courage to love and come together to celebrate life is what the film is all about.
Like Karan's previous flicks, KAL HO NAA HO is a contemporary film. It does tell the story of an Indian family residing in may be Chelsea or Queens in NY, but the roots are very Indian. The milieu may be western, but writer Karan Johar and director Nikhil Advani have packaged the film with Gujaratis, Punjabis, Sardars, Christians, a video pirate from Mumbai uttering Mumbaiya lingo... Not once do you feel that KAL HO NAA HO is an English flick in the guise of a Hindi film. It's very much a desi film in a videshi setting.
Even the emotional quotient is very Indian. In fact, the structuring of the script is akin to Sooraj R. Barjatya's all-time hit HUM AAPKE HAIN KOUN. The script focuses on light moments from start till pre-climax, but the last half-an-hour takes a U-turn as seriousness sets in.
The first half of the enterprise abounds in light moments. Moments that bring about a smile recurrently. But the writer and director have cleverly injected drama in the goings-on in a subtle fashion [the Sushma Seth & Jaya Bachchan track], which adds spice to the proceedings.
It is the second half that has its share of serious moments. The love triangle and the complexities of relationships, treated differently, keep the viewer glued to the screen. The culmination to the story? which begins as the engagement song comes to an end ... takes the film to dizzier heights altogether.
The climax is highly emotional and completely justified, in keeping with the story of the film. The end is pleasant, very family-oriented and will be identified by Indians everywhere, whether in India or on foreign soil.
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's music is melodious and sounds fresh to the ears. Of the songs, 'Pretty Woman', 'Mahi Ve' and the title track sound pleasant. The choreography [Farah Khan] is topnotch.
Cinematography [Anil Mehta] can be compared to the best of international cinema. To state that the film is a visual treat wouldn't be doing justice to the output on screen. The indoor sets [Sharmishtha Roy] meet the demands of the script to the T. Costumes [Manish Malhotra] and make-up [Mickey Contractor] deserves special mention.
Nikhil Advani makes a confident debut. Although he shows a flair for light scenes, his handling of the emotional part in the climax indicates that he knows his job well. Karan Johar's overall scripting and the detailing that has gone into some sequences proves that Hindi cinema has writers of calibre. Niranjan Iyengar's dialogues are excellent.
One can't imagine KAL HO NAA HO without SRK. The actor delivers yet another bravura performance that he can be proud of, when he looks back in life. The role gives him immense scope to exhibit a gamut of emotions and the actor carries not just his role, but the entire film on his firm shoulders.
Preity Zinta has never looked so pretty, nor has she ever acted with such conviction. This film should consolidate her status as an actress of substance. Saif Ali Khan is a revelation. The actor manages to stand on his own despite towering performances by SRK and Preity. Not only does the actor look suave, he even carries off his role with ?n.
Jaya Bachchan delivers yet another flawless performance. Sonali Bendre [sp app.] acts her part well. Kajol, Rani Mukerji and Uday Chopra make fleeting appearances, adding to the star-value of the film. Sanjay Kapoor [sp. app.] does well.
Rajpal Yadav excels in a cameo. Sulbha Arya's [Kantaben] comedy track, when she suspects SRK and Saif of having an affair, will bring the house down. It's simply hilarious.
Sushma Seth is first-rate. Ditto for Reema Lagoo. Lilette Dubey, Delnaz Paul, Satish Shah and Ketaki Dave liven the proceedings. Simone Singh looks gorgeous. Shoma Anand and Dara Singh are adequate.
On the whole, KAL HO NAA HO has all it takes to emerge victorious. At the box-office, the face-value and the track record of its makers have resulted in tremendous hype and hooplah. Keeping in mind its merits and the opening that the film has generated, KAL HO NAA HO should emerge a winner, setting new records in days to come!