Bollywood has been indulging a bout of navel-gazing this last year, offering up movies that have been tributes, analyses and spoofs of itself. If Om Shanti Om treated the 70’s as a glorious, inventive period in Indian mainstream cinema, KKC takes a peek into the 50’s, a time when heroines led perhaps more emancipated and free-thinking lives than their contemporaries today, and moviemakers, cast and crew, were literate and cultured.
Nikhat, played by Soha Ali Khan, is an emerging actress of that time. When we meet her, she appears to be capable and confident, dealing with the casting couch in an eminently practical manner. Behind her is an ambitious mother who pushes her pretty daughter to do what it takes to be successful. A young writer, played by Shiney Ahuja, arrives to take the industry and Nikhat by storm, causing her to question her life and the choices she makes.
I have a great respect for Sudhir Mishra, who directed one of my favorite movies of all time, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, but I have to say that this movie was quite disappointing. Perhaps one clue that the movie was going to be a let-down was when I tried in vain to find a theater in Mumbai that was playing this movie just 3 weeks after its release.
It is not easy to identify where the movie goes wrong. The script is decent, if a little cerebral and the supporting cast, which includes Vinay Pathak and Rajat Kapoor, turn in very competent performances. The set and costumes cannot be faulted and the music has a nostalgic, Mohammad Rafi-infused feel to it, thanks to Sonu Nigam’s mellow vocals.
But sets and music do not a movie make. Ultimately the movie fails on two levels. Firstly the script tends to drag and the drama is too understated. At 3.5 hours, the movie is just too long. There are no moments that resonate and it is easy to lose interest as the story slowly unwinds. But the biggest flaw is perhaps in its casting.
While Soha and Shiney are talented in their own way, they are too lightweight for the scope of their roles. I had a flashback to Bhumika, Shyam Benegal’s excellent adaptation of Hansa Wadkar’s autobiography. In the very first scene as Smita Patil waits for a car that does not come to meet at her at the sets, she owns the screen and the audience. Her hypnotic performance was what elevated the movie from being a weepy about an exploited actress and Soha is just too young and inexperienced to fill those shoes. What the movie needed was perhaps an actress who had experienced the struggle to make it in the movies and then brought her pain to work for her.
Shiney is a huge disappointment too. In HKA his role seemed almost tailor made for him but lately he has degenerated into a one-note actor, glowering through every performance like a man in abdominal pain. Of all the supporting cast, Sonya Jehan as Ratanbala, the queen who Nikhat dethrones, gives the most scintillating performance, though her role is pretty small. She has exactly the period looks needed for this movie.
If you want a loving tribute to the 50’s era of film-making, give KKC a chance and rent the DVD. Be prepared to give up half-way through though.
Kid advisory – Some adult scenes but shot discreetly.