In the last two-three days, I watched Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna for perhaps the nth time. I know so few people who love this movie as much I do. Almost every film critic has censured it. I do not have much understanding of cinema the way they do but, somehow, I have immense love for this film, and for its flawed characters. I have written here multiple times that I find Karan Johar to be a fabulous film-maker, notwithstanding his reputation as a maker of candyfloss romantic films. It has been more than eight years since the film released and by now, we all know what this film is about. Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna is the story of Dev (Shah Rukh Khan) and Maya (Rani Mukerji), suffocated in their own respective marriages, decide to help each other to find happiness, but eventually, fall in love with each other. As Karan succinctly puts it, "What do you do if you meet the right person at the wrong time? And, all because you married the wrong person at the right time?"
I find it difficult to write a conventional film review talking about story, screenplay, music, and other intricate elements of film-making but I do want to write about the beautiful nuances in the film that I love. I am a big fan of symbolic metaphors in film and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna is full of them. One of my favorite scenes in the film is the one with the bouquet of flowers. At one point, Dev brings a big bouquet of red roses for Maya, whom he is about to meet in a few minutes. All of a sudden, he sees Rhea (Preity Zinta) walking towards him. Maya, unaware of Rhea's presence, is gloriously smiling at Dev, excited to meet him and get those flowers in a few minutes. There is a palpable tension on Dev's face as to what will happen next, and to save himself, he calls out Rhea's name just in time, and Maya quickly turns back. He lies to Rhea that he got those roses for her and gives it to her. And, all he is left with is a single rose which he gives to Maya. The scene is so beautiful that it can sum up their entire lives. For instance, look at Maya and Dev's costumes. Maya is dressed in a red top with a green skirt, just like a rose flower that has red petals and a green stem. Dev, too, is dressed in a green jacket and is wearing a red muffler, almost like a red rose. It is as if both of them are like red roses to each other and bring beauty to each other's morose lives. They both complement each other and complete each other which was the entire foundation of their relationship. However, he cannot give the bouquet of roses to Maya because he is married to Rhea, so he has to give those to his wife. The bouquet of roses is a metaphor for love. He is bound by the rules of society to give those flowers (interestingly, a bouquet is also a collection of flowers forcefully bound together). All he can do is give one single flower, unbound by anything, just like the love that he has for Maya. At one point later, Rishi (Abhishek Bachchan) says to Maya, "Phoolon ki apni bhaasha hoti hai. Khamosh rehkar bhi kitna kuch keh dete hain." Of course, these flower scenes speak so much without saying a single word. Isn't it so beautiful?
Maya is dressed like a rose
I thought a lot about the relationship of Maya and Dev. In Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Johar told us, "Pyaar dosti hai. Love is friendship." But here, it seems he has grown up. He demarcates a line between love and friendship. When Dev and Maya meet for the first time in the film, Dev says, "Rhea aur main college se ek dusre ke dost hain, phir humne socha apni dosti ko ek aur naam de dete hain. Vaise bhi ek dost ke saath zindagi beetane se behtar aur kya ho sakta hai." Maya replies, "Kabhi kabhi dosti mohabbat ki jagah leleti hai aur phir mohabbat ke liye jagah hi nahi bachti." Maya never loved Rishi. But it seems that that Dev also never really loved Rhea. When he met with his accident and became such a bitter person, he became more vocal about his feelings which, perhaps, he always felt. Dev and Rhea had an uncomfortable relationship even before his accident. Dev and Maya never loved their partners in the first place and, consequently, they felt trapped in the relationship. I also felt that the film was making a point on how couples need to have similar personalities to be compatible. Rishi is a man that any woman would die for. He cares for his wife, and says the most romantic lines. He is charming and has the gift of the gab. Similarly, Rhea is beautiful, and is a successful editor of a highly ranked fashion magazine. She is an accomplished woman, and better than her husband in every aspect. Rishi and Rhea are so perfect that their perfection actually becomes one of the reasons for their doomed relationship with Maya and Dev, respectively. Maya can never become a mother, and she feels incomplete and she is always treating her husband as if he is a child. She is always cleaning things because she feels dirty from inside, as if cleaning can remove her internal blemishes. Dev is literally a broken man, whose broken leg is a symbol of his failed dreams. They both are plagued by their imperfection, and the perfection of their partners only accentuates their shortcomings. They both are so similar. They hate going to parties. At one point, Dev says to Maya, "Hum dono ek jaise hain, bilkul ek jaise. Hum ek hi sation par jaate hain. Idiot bachchon ko padate hain. Chot dono ko lagi hai. Fark sirf itna hai mere zakhm dikhte hain, tumhare dikhte nahi." That also explains the brouhaha over everyone not understanding Maya. We could at least see why Dev behaves like a jerk, but since Maya's wounds are internal, even the audience could not understand the reason for her unhappiness. I think this was also the point of the movie that you do not need a perfect person in your life, even two imperfect people can be perfectly happy as long as you have something in common and they love each other. Rishi and Rhea are so different from Maya and Dev, that love was not able to overcome their differences.
Cleaning her internal blemishes
At a later point, Dev's mom says something to them which makes Dev and Maya realize the similarities between them. She says, "Jab do insaan ek hi daur se guzarte hain, to vo ek dusre ko zyada ache se samajh sakte hain. Kareeb aa jate hain. Jo kisi se nahi keh paate, ek dusre se keh paate hain." They are so alike that the film shows us that they love to drink coffee at the same time. During the song Mitwa, they order the same food and have the same drinks. They sit on the same side of the dinner table. They, sometimes, wear the same colored costumes. In contrast, when Rhea and Dev sit down together to have a cup of coffee, they actually break-up, as if the coffee is only meant for Dev and Maya. Such lovely nuances the film shows us.
Dev and Maya like coffee
Sitting on the same side of the table
Same color costumes
When Dev and Rhea drink coffee, they break-up
There is something so beautiful about the way Karan picturizes his songs. In the title song, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, we see the emptiness in Dev and Maya's lives. All the places that they are seen in the song, there is not one person in it. There is only one scene in the song where Maya is shown around kids which in a way also point to the emptiness in her life. Dev is walking through empty stadiums. Maya is sitting all alone in a bench, or she is standing outside her apartment, or is eating alone, or is sitting inside an empty stadium. The emptiness of scenes are a metaphor for the void in their lives. The motif of emptiness is such that when Dev proposes to Maya in the end, he says, "Tumhare saath rehkhar shayad zindagi puri nahi hogi, lekin zindagi to hogi. Kya yeh adhoori zindagi mere saath jiyogi, Maya?"
The emptiness in their lives
I also love the small metaphors that the film shows us. When Dev and Rhea are fighting, she is standing on a higher pedestal than him on the staircase as if reflecting Dev's pettiness and Rhea's superiority over him.
Rhea is at a higher level, like in life
When Sam finds about Maya's affair with Dev, and they come home, she starts panicking. In her trepidation, she breaks a plate into two pieces. The broken plate refers that her relationship with Rishi is also broken forever. Even if she tries to repair, some cracks will always show.
Broken plate and broken relationship
Dev and Maya's love story starts and ends inside a railway station. They meet at the station. The station signifies that they are waiting to embark on a journey to find love, to find happiness, and to get out from their marriage, if only they could escape. That is why Dev says to Maya, "Sochta hun is train se safar karna chhod du, buy myself a new car, a nice new blue car, you like blue."
Waiting for happiness
When Rishi comes to invite Maya for his wedding, they are standing on opposite sides of the road as if distances have come between them and they have moved away from each other, emotionally and physically.
Emotional and physical distance
There is also very interesting tribute that Karan pays in the film. When Dev meets Maya in the park when she is about to get married, he introduces himself as Dev Anand. Later, in the song, Rock and Roll Soniye, we see that there are references to 1960s with some dance moves based on Shammi Kapoor and women dancers dressed as Mumtaz from the song Aaj Kal Tere Mere Pyaar Ke Charche. When Rishi meets Dev for the first time, he calls him Rishi Kapoor. And, we have Amitabh Bachchan, and Shah Rukh Khan as actors in the film. So, basically, Karan pays a tribute to all superstars from the each decade of the Hindi cinema. From Dev Anand in 1950s, to Shammi Kapoor in 1960s, to Amitabh Bachcan in the 1970s, to Rishi Kapoor in the 1980s, and of course, Shah Rukh Khan in the 1990s.
Aaj Kal Tere Mere Pyaar Ke Charche
Books In Movies:
Maya reads Fighting For Your Marriage by Anna Marie Lou.
Tarun Mansukhani, director of Dostana, plays a special appearance in the film. He also did one in My Name Is Khan.
I will always love this film. Please also read this terrific review of the film by Baradwaj Rangan who has called it the most mature film since Lame. I love this line, "When Dev and Maya finally admit to their spouses that they are in love, Rishi flies into a rage and begins to break things around the house, while Ria remains calm and collected. Rishi wants to know if Maya enjoyed sleeping with Dev, but Ria asks Dev if he’s in love with Maya; the man is more concerned with the sexual aspect of the betrayal while Ria, all woman, tries to come to grips with the emotional implications." I wish I could write just 1% like him. Beautiful.
For the sake of completeness, also adding the text of earlier post on the song, Tumhi Dekho Na.
As I was watching, I was yet again amazed by Karan's sense of visual poetry. The song Tumhi Dekho Na is a picturesque song that is accentuated by the terrific use of colors. As in Dil Se, the song Satrangi Re depicted the seven colors of a rainbow, Tumhi Dekho Na also shows the seven colors of the rainbow. Maya and Dev are in love, and their love is like a rainbow that brings color to their grim and desolate lives, and everything around them becomes colorful. Everyone around them is wearing the same-colored dress as them because Dev and Maya see the colors in those people as well. All the colors of the rainbow — blue, green, yellow, orange, red, violet, and indigo — are present in the song. At one point in the song, Dev and Maya are surrounded by nothing but yellow taxis. No other cars pass by them, and all around them are the yellow cabs rushing past them.
Dev gives yellow flowers to Maya, and then, they are surrounded by yellow cabs, and no other cars pass by except the yellow ones.
Then, we move to orange.
Now, everything is violet with a tinge of indigo
Then, we see everything is red.
And, finally, green takes over.
Dialogue of the day:"Sapno ka kya hai, neend khulte hi saath chod dete hain."
— Dev, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna