Do you know the feeling that you are watching one film while the audience around you (St.Lukes, Auckland, Friday first day first evening show) laughs ten more than you, cheers and thoroughly enjoys the proceedings while most of the time you can’t empathize with what the fuss is about? For two-thirds of this three hour Karan Johar flick, this happened to yours truly who realized before the interval that I may or may not dig this feisty candy-floss fiesta but pikchar hit hai bhai aur behenji ! The brilliant Cannes-ad award winning idea this time dreamt up by the Dharma Films brigade is the Fight For Feminism – this glorious duniya of ours is full of chauvinistic pigs and social reformer sitting 100 floors above - K-Jo –  shatters shibboleths by taking a chortling entertaining ultimately humbling kick at ‘em.

A tried-‘n’-tested quadrangle is given as follows - Rs.100 crore glamorous sets, Romance, Flamboyant dance-‘n’-song, Family. These 4 high-class masala ingredients are enough for Karan Johar – the Mumbai matinee mathematician - to mix and match in permutations and combinations to generate an endless array of glossy cozy films his wide target audience can swoon, smile, laugh and cry while loving him all the way to box office magic. It’s all about loving your K-Jo who’s long ago figured out how to love back your $20 popcorn and coke. It’s a marriage made in studio heaven.

The hysteria and hoopla aside, RRKPK (RGV meanwhile has been busy making XXXLKB) is powered by arresting star dazzle. Alia Bhatt is endearingly superb as the gusty gal Rani Chatterjee who has to negotiate a minefield of aggressive romance and malevolent to-be in-laws. Ripplingly muscled Ranveer Randhawa is goofily yet powerfully charming as Rocky Randhawa – the strapping bloke who has enough sincerity and chutzpah to not be buried alive by his domineering grandmother and father made bolder by their business millions. In an era where formidable streaming services are increasingly threatening the traditional movie world, the Indian industry is fortunate to have young stars like Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh who, for a decade now, have displayed the charisma to carry it forward on their winsome shoulders. 

When you’ve exhausted the Romance & Family Band Baajaa, what other violin string can you pull out from the Dharma derriere? Seemingly simple : high-achieving Rani is unsure the ‘Schwarzenegger-meets-Jim Carrey’ Rocky is a good psychological fit for her, so a family swap is proposed. Both will spend at least a few months with each other’s family – progressive Rani with his regressive folks, and simple fun-loving Rocky with her cultured, art-loving family. If they can survive, even flourish and marinate their chops in disparate sauces, then perhaps there’s hope for a blended future.

An excellent supporting cast deftly sells the script’s constant machinations. Jaya Bachchan is convincingly curmudgeonly as the matriarch whose palatial wealth cannot yet sweeten a perpetually soured soul.  87 year young Hindi film icon Dharmendra is unwittingly saddled with the role of a wheelchair-‘n’-palsy stricken unfortunate yet there’s a shine on his face and a glint in his eyes – without a doubt (unless he knows something about his health that we don’t), his role should have been changed to a more active, vocal one which he would have relished whilst ladling more sparkle on this already mithai-laden extravaganza (witness his excellent veteran turn in 2007’s Johnny Gaddar). Shabana Azmi is not bad either, easily matched by the less well known Churni Ganguly and Tota Roy Chowdhury who play Rani’s parents.

Pic is also remarkable for the amount of French-kissing onscreen between woman and man who are married to other film stars in real life. This may not mean much in the West but India has a storied tradition of male stars asking the leading ladies they have newly married, to retire from films because they cannot bear the thought of other men fondling their spouses, or things progressing deeper. K-Jo’s MCP-busting shenanigans continue here with Ranveer French-kissing Alia with such gusto as if Deepika has kept him starved, and Alia, Ranbir notwithstanding, having not much choice really, gamely plays along, while Johar presses the ‘Go for it’ button again and again.

It indubitably needs directorial finesse to carry through a relentlessly entertaining product like this and Johar again shows he has what it takes. RRKPK’s call to be more considerate and respectful of women will forever ring true especially in the subcontinent (what a coincidence for the timing with ‘Barbie’). Johar also remains firmly within his comfort zone – an elaborately set-designed multi-crore Indian household where you may be asked to make coffee yourself but the depicted house size and spec is probably five times grander than an upper middle income house.

Rani’s family is clearly shown to be less rich compared to Rocky’s (whose business house has rented the ornate Leela Palace Delhi for the production), still her family lives in a lavishly designed mansion than in a house you’d usually see a well-off family in. Rani’s mother is an English professor, her father is a Kathak dancer, and Rani is a high-profile TV presenter – still the house appears far in excess of their expected finances – Dharma Productions simply cannot do without casting unseen multi-millionaire ancestors. The movie guru belief here is that anything less grand, at least from the K-Jo stable, is something which won’t be sold on the audience. It limits Johar’s versatility, as if suggesting that he can only soar from rich-milieu platforms. Other movie niceties like a distinct cinematographic scheme, or special music, or a script outside of romance and family seem to matter very little to him. Anyway, the audience gnawed it to the Bukhara bone and I too enjoyed the ride in this latest candy-‘n’-heart K-Jo Karousel.  




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