Bollywood’s most highly awaited production of the year, with a veritable constellation of star pairings, the family comedy-drama “Kabhi khushi kabhie gham …” is a highly enjoyable, often dazzlingly staged vehicle dragged down by a sluggish final half-hour. Opening worldwide in mid-December, pic started gangbusters thanks to hefty advance bookings, though its staying power will be tested in the coming weeks. Outside traditional markets, film has less crossover chances with non-Indian auds than recent period costumers “Lagaan” and “Asoka,” but, with considerable trimming to the latter half of Part II, pic would be a colorful audience-pleaser at festivals.
Following Karan Johar’s huge 1999 success “Kuch kuch hota hai,” expectation for his “K3G” has been at fever pitch, especially in light of Bollywood’s rocky local fortunes this year. Billed as the most expensive Indian production ever (at a reported $10 million) and going out in an unprecedented 650 prints in India alone, pic cannily brings together three generations of stars (several from “KKHH”). The splashy, super-long production — lensed in India, London and Egypt — plays traditional Indian values off against Western-influenced attitudes.
Repping the older generation of stars are Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan as Yash and Nandini Raichand, traditional heads of a filthy rich family living in a vast English-style chateau outside Delhi. As celebrations for Diwali get under way, younger son Rohan (hot new star Hrithik Roshan) arrives from overseas and learns that his beloved elder brother, Rahul — who’s mysteriously not around for the family get-together — was actually adopted.
In a huge 90-minute seg, pic flashes back 10 years. Rahul (’90s star Shah Rukh Khan) falls for Anjali (Kajol, also from the ’90s), the feisty daughter of a provincial sweetmeat-shop owner, instead of the girl his dad favors for him, the glam Naina (Rani Mukherji, also from “KKHH”).
After some entertaining character comedy between the breezy Anjali and confident Rahul, pic really kicks into gear with its second musical number, set during father Yash’s 50th birthday party, which underscores all the relationships and social divisions.
Stunningly scored and costumed, and gradually bringing in all the principals as it crosscuts between the Western-influenced party and Anjali’s more traditional, middle-class milieu, the sequence is a corker — modern Bollywood at its extravagant, exhilarating best.
As love deepens between Rahul and Anjali, subsequent numbers–including a fantasy sequence by the Pyramids — expand on the relationship. When Rahul insists on marrying Anjali, Yash finally boots his son out of the family.
Second half begins with a switch in tone, as Rohan travels to London, where he hears Rahul and Anjali have settled. Lighter and more modernistic, Part II throws the spotlight on Roshan, here re-teaming with Kareena Kapoor, his partner in recent surprise flop “Yaadein.” Best known to Western auds as the heroine in “Asoka,” Kapoor has a great deal of fun spoofing Alicia Silverstone in “Clueless.” As Pooja, Kapoor first falls for Rohan and then engineers the incognito meeting with his elder brother that drives most of the second half.
“K3G” starts taking on water, however, in Rahul’s reconciliation with his dad back in India, an unnecessarily drawn-out affair with traditional values laid on thick. Script seriously loses momentum in the final 30 minutes and shows its formulaic, soap opera origins.
Performances down the line are utterly confident, with Khan (from “Asoka”) adopting an agreeably lighter style and leaving Roshan to pile on the look-at-me-I’m-a-hunk appeal. Latter has good chemistry with the equally forthright Kapoor, while Kajol emerges as the funniest and most likable of the distaff players; looker Mukherji brings considerable credit to a smallish role.
Tech credits are tip-top in all departments, from Kiran Deohans’ eye-watering widescreen lensing to the sumptuous costumes, both Western and Indian. Between the regulation six musical numbers, Babloo Chakravaty’s copious background score makes hay with the catchy main theme as well as other musical montages. Hindi title literally means “Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sorrow… .”