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Apr 29, 2010 at 12:15pm IST

Masand's verdict: Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Abhishek Bachchan, Preity Zinta and Amitabh Bachchan.

Direction: Karan Johar

THUMBS UP: If cinema is entertainment, then Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna succeeds.

What do you do if you find your soulmate after marriage? That's the key question at the heart of director Karan Johar's Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna which opens at cinemas this week. For Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee, both trapped in marriages that are falling apart, the options aren't too many.

After all, love is all about staying faithful to your partner till death do us apart, isn't it? Well maybe not, Johar suggests in this glossed-up, all song-and-dance tear-jerker set in the heart of Manhattan, New York.

Shah Rukh's a failed football player whose marriage to Preity Zinta has lost its fizz. In fact, he's a bitter and temperamental man who not only makes an insecure husband to his successful wife, but also a tyrannical father to their little son.

In another part of the same city, Rani Mukherjee marries her childhood friend Abhishek Bachchan but feels little passion towards him although he's nuts about her. Shah Rukh and Rani find love in each other's arms and embark upon an affair that is sure to leave too many people shattered.

Right off the bat, you're relieved that this one's not a syrupy saga about perfect relationships. In fact it unabashedly holds a mirror to everything that's wrong in modern marriages. There are no easy answers, and thankfully, Johar doesn't shy away from making that clear.

Unlike the protagonists of his last film Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham who were all good-as-gold and pristine clean and merely conflicted over a misunderstanding, the characters in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna are damaged goods. They're confused, they're complexed, and they're hurting as hell. As a result they do all the wrong things and they say all the wrong things. And really, that's what makes them both relatable and endearing on screen.

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Few writers have such solid control over their screenplay as Karan Johar does. Few understand the intricacies of narrative as well as he does. Johar goes from highs to lows, from plateaus to peaks with the ease of a pro. He knows exactly how to turn a seemingly ordinary scene into something special with just that one line of dialogue, or that hint of background music.

Just watch how he builds the tension in that scene where both Rani and Preity approach Shah Rukh from across the road, both unaware of the other's presence. Or the scene at the opera where Shah Rukh is overcome with jealosy when he watches Abhishek exercise his conjugal rights on Rani.

But if you're looking for vintage Karan Johar, then it's that scene where Shah Rukh convinces Rani that they're made for each other because they both love the colour blue. And subsequently the colour coordinated song that follows.

If there's something that jars, then it's the puerile comedy in the film's first hour involving a child kidnapper and a case of mistaken identities. That episode plays out much longer than needed, and only adds to the film's length.

But for real laughs, there's a priceless scene around Rani and some S&M gear she slips into to spice up her marriage. There's also a childish but hilarious nonetheless scene of Shah Rukh and Rani suspecting their respective spouses of infidelity.

Unarguably the film's central source of comedy is Amitabh Bachchan playing Abhishek's randy father with a voracious sexual appetite. His racy dialogue makes you turn beetroot red with embarrassment, but you're also fighting hard to suppress your giggles.

While it's bold and treads new ground as far as Karan Johar's themes are concerned, the film also relies heavily on trademark Johar dependables like eye-watering cinematography, impeccable production design and extravagantly filmed songs. And therein lies the real risk and ultimately the real success of Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna - Johar tackles an uncomfortable premise but very much within the parameters of your masala Bollywood potboiler and with all the trappings in place.

Sadly, that also means one must revisit that crazy world where coincidences are commonplace and characters in love can sense each other's comings-and-goings through telepathy.

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Of the cast, Preity Zinta fits her role to the tee, reflecting just that slight hint of cold detachment that the part requires from her. Amitabh Bachchan nails it with a performance that carefully treads the fine line between old perv and naughty senior. It is to his credit as an actor that he can switch from playful to prophetic as he offers those words of wisdom that eventually become the direction that the cheating couple take in the story.

Shah Rukh Khan turns in an inspired performance as a resentful family man who's covered with issues from head to toe. He conveys his inner turmoil by losing his cool one time too many, but in the process he creates a character you can instantly empathise with.

The consistently competent Rani Mukherjee takes on the film's toughest role - a part that may be hard to sympathise with - but she injects it with tenderness and believability. It's really she who conveys the film's central message - great friends don't necessarily make great lovers, it's real passion, real love that makes a great marriage.

Rani looks a million bucks and she dives under the skin of her character to make that part one that we will remember for a long time. And it's Abhishek Bachchan, delivering what is easily his best performance to date, who's the film's surprise packet.

He conveys both vulnerability and bratty boyishness with such ease that he wins you over from the word go. The film's ensemble cast plays off each other comfortably, and never once slips out of character in a bid to outdo the other.

In the end, the real star of Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna is the film's director himself who takes big strides as a storyteller. Distancing himself from the kind of melodrama he's subjected us to in the past, Johar goes for more subtle emotions this time. His characters may still wear designer tags but they're all grey and they've messed up their lives.

If cinema is entertainment, then Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna succeeds, and how! At three hours and ten minutes it's a tad long, but Johar's been guilty of that crime in the past too. Then that's both thumbs up for Karan Johar's Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, a wholesome entertainer that proves that when done well, there's nothing quite like the masala Bollywood film.

Rating: 4 / 5 (Very Good)

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