We'd be shot if we gave DDLJ anything less than an AKUCH KUCH HOTA HAI

1998 / produced by Yash Johar / directed by Karan Johar / starring Shahrukh Khan, Kajol & Rani Mukherji / music by Jatin Lalit / lyrics by Sameer

   Ask any convert to Bollywood how he or she got hooked. Some are lured gradually, over coffee and croissants on Saturday mornings while Namaste America flickers in the background. Others are dragged to the theater by friends. But in one aspect each newcomer's story is the same. We can all cite a single movie which delighted us in a way Hollywood never did. It wasn't necessarily the first Hindi film we saw, but the rush it gave us instantly addicted us to the possibilities of Bollywood.

  For many, that film is Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

  Rahul (Shahrukh Khan) has just watched his wife, Tina (Rani Mukherjee) die from complications of childbirth. She leaves behind eight letters to be parceled out to their infant daughter, Anjali, on each of Anjali's coming birthdays. Skip forward eight years: Rahul is a successful businessman and single father, Anjali a precocious chatterbox who secretly aches for a mom. On her birthday, she eagerly opens the last of her late mother's letters, which tells of how Tina and Rahul met...

   Flashback to Rahul's university years. He and his best friend, the basketball jock Anjali (Kajol), rule the brat pack at St. Xavier's, a school transplanted from the sets of 90210 by way of Disneyland. Rahul is a lothario who amuses himself with various girls while waiting for his true love to appear. Anjali's not even on his romantic radar. She's just another one of the guys, and that's A-OK with her.

   Until, that is, Rahul falls hard for the principal's gorgeous daughter, Tina. A transfer student from Oxford, Tina scorns Rahul's Casanova ways. So he launches a "sensitive guy" offensive and asserts in a class discussion that "love is friendship." The sentiment not only softens up Tina, it pierces Anjali's tomboy armor. Suddenly she realizes that her feelings for her best friend are far from platonic.

  Anjali decides to fight for her love. But she knows nothing of the feminine wiles which Tina so effortlessly deploys, and her attempts to mimic her rival lead to humiliating results. Finally she comes to terms with the inevitable: Rahul is the love of her life, but she's not the love of his. Heartbroken, she leaves in the middle of the term. Her departure shatters Rahul, who cannot conceive of life without her.

  Eight years later, in the letter to Anjali's namesake, Tina reveals her fear that she may have inadvertantly come between two people who were meant to be together. She begs her daughter to reunite Rahul and Anjali, because until they find one another again, Rahul will never be happy. Young Anjali eagerly takes up the mission -- but thanks to a few developments in elder Anjali's life, it may be too late.

   Much is made of the Shahrukh-Kajol pairing, but never is their rapport more apparent than in KKHH. In their previous films, the couple played young, bickering lovers, and the easy camraderie that made those performances so enjoyable is in full evidence in KKHH's first half. Despite a few scenes of almost unbearable cheeze (thanks mostly to a child actress poorly chosen to play Shahrukh's daughter), the film bulldozes us into submitting to irresistably hammy fun. (Why didn't my college counselor tell me about St. Xavier's?)

   But eight years inflict changes more profound and less readily apparent than a different hairstyle and dress sense (though thanks to them, Kajol has never looked better). Shahrukh and Kajol carry off the post-intermission action by pushing their pairing --and romance in 1990s Bollywood -- to a place it has never explored: adulthood. Anjali's abrupt departure eight years earlier has left its scars on these two. Every interaction between them is colored by anxiety, wistfulness, and ruefulness. And yes, their charisma translates from comedy to drama: often words are not even required to communicate the complicated path of the characters' emotional healing.

  However. Just in case you don't get it, director Karan Johar has distributed a boatload of glycerin to his cast. And don't think you'll be immune.

 Happily, it's not all tears. The fabulous soundtrack saves three thumping numbers for the post-intermission action. The choreography is fantastic, the art direction visually delights, and Johar even manages to integrate the songs into the action. No cutting away to Swiss mountaintops here. Er, wait...actually, there is a Scottish castle involved at one point. Well, one out of six ain't bad.

  This film made debut director Karan Johar the hottest property in the Hindi belt. With his newfound clout, he went on to assemble a star cast the likes of which had never been seen for his follow-up picture. A lot of newcomers cite that film as their reason for loving Bollywood, to which I can only respond that they must not have seen KKHH first. It leaves its bloated, melodramatic offspring in the glittering golden dust. This blockbuster has a soul...and it's a lovely one.

- reviewed by Meredith

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