Kuch Kuch Hota Hai review 25 years later: Revisiting its troubling themes and why they no longer resonate

| Updated: 16 October, 2023 2:23 pm IST
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai review 25 years later: How time has altered our perspective on its themes.

As the iconic Bollywood film “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” celebrates its 25th anniversary, it’s essential to look back and reflect on some of the problematic themes that were portrayed in the movie. While this film was celebrated for its entertaining narrative, lovable characters, and memorable songs, it’s important to acknowledge that it also perpetuated certain stereotypes and problematic concepts, which, if released today, would undoubtedly face scrutiny and criticism on social media platforms.

  1. The Makeover Trope:

    One of the most glaring issues with “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” is the portrayal of women who have short hair or engage in traditionally ‘masculine’ activities like playing basketball as undesirable. The character of Anjali Sharma, played by Kajol, undergoes a complete makeover in the film, transforming from a basketball-loving, short-haired woman to a more conventionally feminine and glamorous figure with long hair. This trope reinforces the idea that a woman’s desirability is directly linked to her adherence to traditional beauty standards, which is an outdated concept.

    1. The ‘Friendzone’ Myth:

    The film also perpetuates the problematic notion that friendships between men and women are incomplete without romantic love. Anjali, played by Kajol, is initially portrayed as Rahul’s best friend but eventually falls in love with him. This reinforces the narrative that genuine friendship between opposite sexes must evolve into romantic relationships. It’s important to recognise that platonic friendships are equally valuable and fulfilling.

    1. The ‘Cool Girl’ Stereotype:

    Anjali’s transformation from a tomboyish basketball player to a more traditionally feminine version of herself reflects the ‘Cool Girl’ stereotype. This trope suggests that a woman should be willing to change herself to fit a man’s idea of an ideal partner. This perpetuates the damaging idea that women need to suppress their true selves and conform to societal expectations to find love.

    1. The Inadequate Portrayal Of Single Parenthood:

      The film’s treatment of single parenthood is problematic. Rani’s character, Tina Malhotra, who is terminally ill, decides to write a series of letters for her daughter, advising her to reunite her father (Rahul) and Anjali. While this might be seen as a heartwarming gesture, it simplifies the complexities of single parenthood and assumes that a child’s happiness and well-being can only be achieved through a traditional two-parent family structure.

      1. The Glamorisation Of Stalking:

      Rahul’s relentless pursuit of Anjali, even after she is engaged to someone else, borders on stalking. This behaviour is depicted as romantic and persistent in the film, which sends a troubling message that persistence in the face of rejection is acceptable. In today’s context, this would undoubtedly be criticised as promoting intrusive behaviour.

      1. Lack Of Diverse Representation:

      The film also lacks diversity, as it predominantly features characters from a privileged, urban, and upper-middle-class background. Bollywood, like any other film industry, should strive for more inclusive representation of different social and cultural backgrounds. This lack of diversity further isolates and marginalises underrepresented communities.

      1. The Role Of Women:

      “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” focuses primarily on the male protagonist, Rahul. Anjali’s journey revolves around her love for Rahul, and Tina’s character is mainly a plot device to unite the central characters. The film could have delved deeper into the female characters’ aspirations, dreams, and personal growth, rather than using them primarily to further the male characters’ storylines.

      1. Kajol’s Puzzling Choice:

        The decision to depict Kajol’s character rejecting Salman Khan’s character in favour of Shah Rukh Khan’s Rahul in “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” was indeed questionable. It seemed to send a misguided message that a kind, caring, and respectful partner like Salman Khan’s Aman could be easily discarded for someone like Rahul, who displayed possessiveness, insensitivity, and at times, disregard for Anjali’s feelings. This choice in the narrative undermined the importance of choosing a partner based on their character rather than just emotional history, perpetuating the idea that one’s history with someone is more valuable than their qualities as a person.

      2. The Shot Of SRK Holding Rani’s Hand While Hugging Kajol:

        The controversial scene in “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai,” where Shah Rukh Khan’s character Rahul hugs Kajol’s Anjali while holding Rani Mukerji’s Tina’s hand, encapsulates the film’s convoluted love triangle. This scene is emblematic of the film’s portrayal of complex emotions, but it also raises ethical concerns regarding the characters’ feelings and the impact of their actions on others. While the scene is designed to evoke drama and tension, it inadvertently underscores the blurred lines between friendship and romantic relationships in the movie. It serves as a reminder of the film’s often questionable portrayal of love, friendship, and relationships, which, when viewed with a contemporary lens, might be perceived as emotionally manipulative and ethically problematic.

      3. The Notion Of Falling In Love And Marrying Only Once Feels Outdated:

        Shah Rukh Khan’s iconic line in “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai,” where he proclaims, “We fall in love only once in life, and we get married only once in life,” might have resonated with audiences of its time, but it’s a statement that feels out of touch and quite problematic in today’s world. In an era where love and relationships can be incredibly fluid and diverse, implying that one can only experience love once or should only get married once is not only unrealistic but also disregards the complexities of modern relationships. It diminishes the value of second chances, self-discovery, and the evolving nature of love, which often leads to multiple meaningful connections and even multiple marriages for various reasons. This line serves as a stark reminder of the film’s outdated views on love and commitment in a world where people have the freedom to explore and redefine their relationships.

        Evolution Of Hindi Cinema:

        While “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” was celebrated as a groundbreaking film during its release in 1998, it is essential to recognise that societal attitudes and expectations have evolved significantly over the past 25 years. What may have been accepted and glorified then is rightfully criticised today. The film’s problematic themes are a reflection of the cultural context in which it was made.

        Bollywood, like many other film industries, has begun to address these issues over the years. Modern Hindi films are increasingly exploring more diverse and nuanced narratives, featuring strong female leads and breaking away from traditional gender norms. There is also a growing awareness of the importance of representation, both on and off the screen.

        As “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” marks its 25th anniversary, it is essential to remember that films can both reflect and influence societal attitudes. While the film may have entertained and resonated with audiences of its time, it is important to recognise and critique the problematic themes it portrays, particularly in the context of today’s more progressive and inclusive society.

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