Miscasting of actress Kareena Kapoor in the title role of "Khushi" weakens the appeal of this comedy romancer that depends crucially on chemistry between its two leads. Tale of two college students who just can't seem to get it together, despite having their fates intertwined since birth, is an enjoyable enough Bollywood item, with some powerhouse musical numbers, but starts progressively running on empty in the second half as the viewer starts to tune out of the protags' problems.

Miscasting of actress Kareena Kapoor in the title role of “Khushi” weakens the appeal of this comedy romancer that depends crucially on chemistry between its two leads. Tale of two college students who just can’t seem to get it together, despite having their fates intertwined since birth, is an enjoyable enough Bollywood item, with some powerhouse musical numbers, but starts progressively running on empty in the second half as the viewer starts to tune out of the protags’ problems.

Pic is the third bite of the same apple for South Indian writer-director S. J. Suryah, whose original Tamil version, “Kushi,” starring Jyothika, was a hit in 2000 after some re-cutting. His Telugu version, with Bhumika Chawla in the lead, was also a success the following year. Big-budget, much-ballyhooed Hindi remake has held up surprisingly well since opening early February, though below expectations considering its reported tab of 170 million rupees ($3.5 million).

Coming in the wake of the similarly themed “Saathiya,” which benefited hugely from the natural appeal of stars Rani Mukherji and Vivek Oberoi, it’s easy to see how “Khushi” could have been a very different dish with better casting. Fardeen Khan is just fine as the male lead but Kapoor’s consistent over-playing and pouting – highly entertaining in movies like “Kabhi khushi kabhie gham” – is out of place in a film that depends on charm and character nuances rather than plot machinations.

Prologue, narrated by Hindi superstar Amitabh Bachchan, limns the births of the two principals, one in Chamoli, rural northern India, and the other in Calcutta. Flash forward a couple of decades and two snappily edited, lavish numbers intro the adult protags: Khushi (Kapoor), in a wet-sari rendition of the title song by a waterfall, and Karan (Khan), in a punchy modern-urban number (“Good Morning, India”).

Khushi wants to study at university but her traditionalist dad (Amrish Puri) wants her to marry and settle down; Karan wants to study in Canada but is hospitalized in a car accident. Both end up at Mumbai University, where the star-crossed duo first meets by chance at a temple.

Film’s intro, and the fact that a bottle of Khushi’s blood has ended up in Karan’s veins through a hospital transfusion, signals clearly enough the pic’s outcome. As each gets to know the other by helping some mutual friends marry against parental opposition, the main source of entertainment for the next two-and-a-half hours is the verbal by-play and misunderstandings between the two leads.

There are some nice decorative touches in the script: Karan’s fascination with Khushi’s bare, sweaty midriff, or his little dance after seeing her home one night. However, following their major spat prior to the intermission, the second half basically reruns their quarrels of the first, with minor variations.

There’s an increasing feeling that the only thing that’s keeping the pair apart is the script itself rather than any basic differences. Kapoor’s contrived way of playing the headstrong Khushi serves only to emphasize her lack of screen chemistry with Khan, who’s surprisingly relaxed and likable here. Other thesps are standard, with Puri playing his usual paterfamilias and Johny Lever popping in and out with comic routines.

Aside from one elaborate, pop-concert number plugging a well-known soda, musical interludes are generally integrated with the story, such as it is. Part Two’s standout is a fantasy song, shot on U.S. locales, that makes clever use of digital F/X as Khushi and Karan watch themselves in other guises.

Overall, tech credits vary from average to top-class, with color processing of K.V. Guhan’s widescreen lensing shifting both ways in print caught. “Khushi” literally means “happiness” – source of several jokes about the heroine’s volcanic personality.

Khushi

India

Production

An Eros Intl. release (in U.K.) of a Surinder Kapoor presentation of a Narsimh Enterprises production. Produced by Boney Kapoor.

Crew

Directed by S.J. Suryah. Co-director, Sunil Agrawal. Screenplay, Suryah, Bholu Khan, Aman Jafrey, based on an original script by Suryah. Camera (color, widescreen), K.V. Guhan; editor, Merzin Tavaria; background music, Naresh Sharma; song music, Anu Malik; lyrics, Sameer; art directors, Sabu Cyril, Omang Kumar; costume designer, Manish Malhotra; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Leslie Fernandes, Dilip Nath; choreography, Prabhu Deva, Ganesh Hegde; visual effects, Prime Focus. Reviewed at Cineworld Feltham 11, London, Feb. 26, 2003. Running time: 162 min. (I: 76 min.; II: 86 min.).

With

Fardeen Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Amrish Puri, Johny Lever, Navin Nischol, Beena, Sharad Saxena, Neeraj Vohra, Amitabh Bachchan.

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