My slightly vague memory of watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was obsessing over their college campus. I remember gawking at the basketball court, the spacious auditorium, and would imagine myself entangled in a swooning college romance when I attend university. However, once in college, I saw myself critically analysing the film and pointing out its various flaws during discussions with friends. While my 'always a Shah Rukh Khan fan' girlfriends relentlessly defended the film, I couldn't overlook the film's stereotypical gender lens.
To give you a quick recap, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai features a love triangle involving Khan, who plays the role of a college heartthrob named Rahul. Kajol, plays the role of Rahul's best friend Anjali, and their friend Tina, is played by Rani Mukerji. Rahul and Tina fall in love and get married after graduating college. A heartbroken Anjali uses this emotional setback to transform herself from a short-haired tomboy to a sari-clad vision of Indian femininity (with long hair, naturally). However, Tina soon dies during childbirth and leaves behind letters for her newborn daughter, who is also named Anjali. Upon reading the letters, the now eight-year-old daughter decides to bring together her widowed father, Rahul with his long-lost friend Anjali, thus giving them a second chance to fall in love.
A huge success on its release, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai won the Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment at the 46th National Film Awards ceremony in 2000, along with several other awards at the 44th Filmfare Awards—which may explain why this film enjoys the cult status till date.
However, decades after the film's release, its director Karan Johar opened up on his stance on the film and called Rahul a ‘deeply confused character.’
“Rahul doesn’t stand for very much. He’s a deeply confused character, doesn’t know what he wants and, really, didn’t do a lot much in the movie. Whatever happened to him was because there were people pushing him - his dead wife’s spirit, his eight-year-old daughter, and Anjali herself. What made him endearing was his charm, his large heart and Shah Rukh’s personal charisma,” he added.
Johar is not entirely wrong. The film was riddled with flaws. Rahul comes across as slightly mean and also selfish. Meanwhile, Tina is more of an idea, a philosophical sacrificial idea than an actual person and Anjali should have been decisive and known better. It's not a great film and it has perhaps inadvertently propagated an endless number of stereotypes about who the 'right kind of girl' is and why she deserves a happy ending.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai reimagined: Sisters Over Misters
Built on the ethos of 'love is friendship', Kuch Kuch Hota Hai has humoured us for many years. However, while looking back, what if the same ethos of friendship was applied to Anjali and Tina? What if neither of them chooses the man? What if Tina and Anjali ditch Rahul to become best of friends? So many possibilities, and alternate endings that possibly would not involve the man-child that Rahul is. One such ending was proposed by this Twitter user, who shared a recent photograph of Kajol and Mukerjee, and wrote, "Anjali and Tina dumping the man-baby that was Rahul and chilling together is the perfect ending that we will never have."
While the 'cultured, well-dressed' Tina stands in stark contrast to an athletic, short-haired Anjali, both are good-natured and only choose to see the best in others. They both put up with the nonsensical Rahul but also never shy away to call out on his bullshit. Tina accepts Anjali for who she is — until she tries to be more feminine while still within her tomboy body. Her neon pink-orange outfit is a target of mockery, where even genteel Tina throws a laugh around. However, she soon realises body-shaming is not cool and enlists Rahul to patch things with his best friend Anjali.
I imagine Tina and Anjali as BFFs would have had a blast. They probably wouldn't have passed the Bechdel test at first, but gradually learnt to have a way around it. They would have helped each other grow, been each other's cheerleaders, and set a benchmark on endearing female friendships.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai enthrals many with its stupid humour but delightful music. On your worst days, you can fall back on the foot-tapping 'Koi Mil Gaya' and watch Rahul and Anjali wish on a shooting star. There's a familiarity that the film carries within itself, a familiarity that is reminiscent of an enduring metaphor that says 'love is friendship', whichever it might be.
Views expressed are the author's own.
Suggested Reading: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai: A Timeless Classic Or Highly Problematic Film?