'Kabhi Kabhie' is a film about secrets and lies. Not the 'harmless' kind; but the powerful kind that can shatter happy homes and destroy blissful marriages. Secret romances, secret children, secret adoptions… those kinds of secrets. Every family has some of those… and as long as they're kept well hidden, life is grand… but the funny thing about secrets is that they have a way of (often many years later), rearing their ugly heads in a way that affects the lives of not only the keepers of the secrets, but also the people they love. The overpowering message of the film is that it takes love – deep love, to overcome the past, to forgive, to accept the loved one 'warts and all', and to destroy the bitterness, anger and confusion that can arise when those family secrets are revealed. (Hence the film's tagline: 'love is life').
I found some elements of the film's plot instantly relatable. Neetu Singh plays Pinky, a carefree, pampered youth who suddenly discovers that the people she calls her parents actually adopted her from a mother who couldn't keep her. Instantly, she no longer feels comfortable with her adoptive parents – irrationally (but then, I guess plenty of genuine emotion is irrational), she feels like a stranger in her own home - even though her parents love her to bits and say mushy OTT things like this to her:
Pinky goes in search of her 'real' mother (and answers to the questions of who she is and why she was unwanted as a child). Waheeda Rehman (in what I found to be a very effective performance) plays Anju, Pinky's conflicted birth mother. Anju is torn between acknowledging Pinky on the one hand, and preserving the fragile new life she has built for herself with an oblivious husband (and their adored, rather stroppy second daughter) on the other. I could instantly relate to the conflicts and confusion felt by these two characters (Pinky and her mother) because their situation echoes recent events in my family...
And then there's the other part of the plot – one which I couldn't relate to and which I thought could've been portrayed better… given a bit more thought, perhaps. At the beginning of the film, Amitabh Bachchan and Rakhee play young lovers (he's a renowned poet named Amit Malhotra, she's a pretty student named Pooja), whose lovely winter romance is rudely and abruptly terminated when Pooja's parents marry her off to Vijay Khanna, played by Shashi Kapoor.
Luckily for Pooja, her husband, a jovial, fun-loving kinda guy, is loving and kind to her; and she apparently comes to love him too (as a duteous fate-accepting wife should(?)). (I suppose a weak-ish case could be made for her being very fond of him, but not wholly loving him until the end of the film when all the secrets are revealed - honestly I dunno). For all her broken-heartedness at the end of her romance with Amit, not much pining is done by Pooja; after their poetry-filled wedding night all is hunky-dory, it seems, and on the honeymoon she is just as ecstatic and affectionate as any madly-in-love bride. Her demeanour does not read resignation and acceptance, but joy and excitement. Was she just overjoyed and overwhelmed at how wonderful her new husband was, how much he cared about her? Did she fall in love with him almost immediately? Not really sure what to make of it – part of me just wonders, was the sex that good? (No judgment of her attitude though, I just wondered about the reason for it).
Our poet Amit, on the other hand, ceases to write poetry, now that his Pooja belongs to another. He goes off to work for his dad and then settles down and has a family of his own, but he seems to have a tougher time moving on with his life than Pooja. His marriage (in the scriptwriter's mind) doesn't seem particularly happy (although, to be fair, we don't see as much of it as we do of Pooja/Vijay's) – his wife (Anju of the adoption storyline) seems a little scared of him, and he seems more passionate about his daughter than he is about his wife. Perhaps it's his naturally sombre and reflective disposition, perhaps it's the fact that his sensitive poet's dil has been broken, or that he's a bit lost without his art and inspiration, or simply that he just hasn't been pragmatic enough to embrace his fate the way Pooja has; or perhaps it's just the fact that he's a man and therefore more 'constant' in his affections (if so, yeeuck!). Whatever it is, he just does not appear as happy in his 'new life' as Pooja is in hers.
The years keep rolling by… and neither Pooja nor Amit reveal their romance to their spouses. Then Pinky falls for Vicky, Vijay and Pooja's sprightly show-off son (played by Rishi Kapoor – I have to wonder how many 'Vickys' he's played) It's at this point that the secrets all start to unravel.
'Kabhi Kabhie' has a lot going for it. I love the music – especially the title song. The picturisations are memorable – the wedding-night one is lush and romantic, the song in the rain is fun, fresh and charming, as is the one with Rishi, Neetu and Naseem Banu – done with the requisite youthful abandon and (in the latter) a little bit of angst. Speaking of Rishi/Neetu, they really were very sweet together in 'Kabhi Kabhie'. I loved their chemistry and the passionate love/hate thing they had going – they were actually very convincing as young, immature lovers.
The acting is good, although not excellent – I really like Amit Ji playing restrained, quiet roles ('Zanjeer', 'Sholay', 'Kasme Vaade'), so I enjoyed watching him here even though I didn't warm to his character much. I thought Rakhee was alright, and although Shashi (whom I'm a recent convert of, thanks to 'Deewaar') guffaws way too much and too loudly for any normal/sane human being for most of this film (I kept wondering what kind of mood-enhancers his character was on); I liked the fact that beneath all the excessive cheer, he really brought out the sensitivity and depth of his character. This saved me from wondering if I should go back to my not-really-liking-Shashi days – that and his relaxed and very enjoyable scenes with his real-life nephew, Rishi.
'Kabhi Kabhie' is a flawed film. The last Yash Chopra film I saw before 'Kabhi Kabhie' was the brilliant 'Deewaar', a tough act to follow in every way, so perhaps I was a little harsh on 'Kabhi Kabhie' as a result. I don't think so, though. To my mind, 'Kabhi Kabhie' suffers from defects in the pacing of the scenes and the development of the characters and their relationships. There are too many rough edges, and some 'disjointedness' in the script. And this is a minor quibble, but the shower scenes (one with Rakhee and one with Neetu) felt gratuitous and a little silly. And putting a little chalk (or at least something that looked a lot like chalk!) on the temples of Amitabh, Rakhee and Shashi actually did not make them look older at all – they looked pretty much the same as they did at the start of the film. Not a very good job by the make-up people. The editing could have been much better and I think the whole winter theme was overdone – it was pretty and made for compelling visuals in some parts of the film, but it felt pointless and boring in others.
For all its faults, though, 'Kabhi Kabhie' does have a whole lot of charm and some very interesting themes, and is probably a film I will come to enjoy more and more with time. And I like it when that happens…