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Sukanya Verma

Shah Rukh Khan's best performance

March 25, 2004

There is something really refreshing about films that cast actors who have not yet been tagged with an image.

A still from Kabhi Haan Kabhi NaaAmitabh Bachchan didn't have an 'angry young man' image when Zanjeer released. He got it only after playing the raging rebel over a series of films. But that raw appeal he showed in Zanjeer could never be repeated. He got better and better with every bout of anger he displayed in front of the camera.

The same rawness was seen in Shah Rukh Khan's performance in Kundan Shah's Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa.

When the film came out in 1993, SRK had just about begun as an actor. He was playing oddball characters (in films like Deewana, Chamatkar, King Uncle, Maya Memsaab, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Dil Aashna Hai), instead of going through the conventional hero routine. He hadn't established an image. He wasn't a cool dude. He wasn't a bad boy. He wasn't obsessed. He wasn't dying. 

In Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, he was normal.

Let's rewind a bit and find out what was it about Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa that makes it SRK's favourite film. And what was so special about the performance that fetched him the Filmfare Critics' Award (1993).

Set in Goa, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa is the story of Sunil (Khan) who loves music and Anna (Suchitra Krishnamurthy). What makes him special is his ability to talk his way into and out of anything. He can fib. He can plot. He can fail. Boy, can he fail. He has already flunked his exams four times in a row. No wonder his dad (Anjan Srivastava) wants him to help in the garage. But playing the saxophone with his band (Ashutosh Gowariker, Aditya Lakhia, Kurush Deboo, Deepak Tijori, Krishnamurthy) is more up Sunil's alley.

No one takes Sunil seriously. His band tends to ignore his charming antics. His folks are against him spending time with his saxophone than his college books. His childhood friend and crush Anna (Krishnamurthy) fails to see Sunil's lovelorn eyes and sighs. She is drawn to the conventional good dude Chris (Tijori), fellow band member and friend.

Now the fun begins: Even before Julia Roberts thought of wrecking her best friend's wedding in the 1997 runaway hit My Best Friend's Wedding, Sunil showed what an original he is. To win back his lady love, Sunil brainwashes Chris by telling him lies about Anna. Remember the hilarious sequence when Sunil confuses Chris over a plateful of cream rolls?

Even when Anna, Chris and the rest of the band dump him, Sunil continues to be a charmer. When his band gets booed at the local nightclub, Chinatown, he comes to their rescue. His performance finds an ardent admirer in The Don, Anthony Gomes (Goga Kapoor).

Another opportunity for a hilarious sequence: Sunil's dad is a picture of disbelief and pride as he reads out his son's fake report card which has him receiving 99 in Economics.

Conventionally, the underdog would ultimately get the girl as seen in Saajan and Rangeela. But in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, no such thing happens. In the end, it is Anna and Chris who live happily ever after because Sunil bows out gracefully. 

Unfair? But that's what Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa is all about -- getting up and moving on. Sometimes the door to your dream opens, sometimes it doesn't. Just when you are mourning Sunil's loss, another door opens for him. Like the Don sums it in the end: nothing can keep Sunil down for long.

What makes Kundan Shah's second classic after Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron great is that he makes his characters and situations entirely believable. The humour is subtle and circumstantial.

Any film that succeeds in making you identify with it stays in your memory for a long, long time. If you aren't Sunil, you must have encountered a Sunil somewhere, some place.

Rich in emotion, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa had some beautifully executed scenes:

* When Anna returns from a trip and shows Sunil the gifts she has got for everyone. When she shows him a pair of sunglasses, Sunil assumes they is for him and begins to admire them excitedly. The moment she says it is for Chris, he tosses them aside indifferently. The smile comes back to his face when she shows him his present, a mouth organ. 

Juhi Chawla and Shah Rukh Khan in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa* When a dejected Sunil cries his heart out by playing the saxophone at the seaside. The scene has an I-want-to-enter-the-screen-and-console-him quality about it.

* Remember how Sunil wishes for Anna's company every time he sees a shooting star? In the climax, he and Juhi are shown hunting for a toota sitaara. Interestingly, SRK's love for shooting stars is conspicuous in Karan Johar's Kuch Kuch Hota Hai too.

* When Chris drops the wedding ring at the church. Even though Sunil can see it, he doesn't pick it up because secretly he still hopes Anna will marry him.

If you haven't already, get the soundtrack of this film. The otherwise heavily R D Burman inspired composer duo Jatin Lalit score some really melodious tunes here. Amazingly enough, the songs written by the late Majrooh Sultanpuri, formed a part of the narrative instead of being unnecessary speed breakers.

Deewana dil deewana, Aye kaash ke hum, Aana mere pyaar ko na tum, Sach yeh kahani hai, Woh to hai albela and Kyun na hum milke pyaar karein revealed so much about the film's main protagonist. If only more films would include songs to make a point instead of just forcing dumb item numbers in an idle manner.

Here is a look at the cast of KHKN. The director of the Oscar-nominated Lagaan, Ashutosh Gowariker, played an arrogant drummer in this film. Gowariker is now working with SRK in his new film, SwadesLagaan's Kachra (Aditya Lakhia) and Munnabhai MBBS's Dr Rustom (Kurush Deboo) were the other members of the band.

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron's Vinod and Sudhir -- Naseeruddin Shah (as Father Braganza) and Ravi Baswani (Anna's brother) -- made brief appearances as well.  

This was her debut film. But Suchitra Krishnamurthy is mostly remembered as Shekar Kapur's significant other or for her pop single, Dole dole. When KHKN came out, Suchitra received flak for her tacky look and wardrobe. But the actress said in interviews to various publications that her director wanted her to sport a non-makeup plain Jane look.

Kabhi Haan... is one of the films Deepak Tijori did when he was trying to establish himself as a second lead hero with films like Sadak and Khiladi.

Although Tijori and Krishnamurthy didn't make you sit up, the underplaying of their characters makes sense. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa wasn't about them. It was about Sunil. And Shah Rukh Khan made the best Sunil ever. This is his best performance so far. He was spontaneous, vulnerable, boyish, mischievous and acting straight from the heart.

He went about his 'I love Anna very much' very matter-of-factly. Kundan Shah used SRK's freshness to Sunil's advantage. That was the last time Shah Rukh didn't play himself onscreen. There was no pressure of playing to an audience who knew what to expect from him. He wasn't a superstar then. None of the hamming, lip quivering, forehead frowning, the works. 

Shah Rukh has a lot of style in terms of his trademark mannerisms, gestures and way of delivering dialogues. Many people criticise him for it. Even so, mimicry artistes have a field day imitating him. They may do a K-k-k-kiran (Darr) or Paro, mein aa raha hoon (Devdas), or I am cool (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai) but Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa's Sunil stays untouched.

This is both a compliment and a curse. Instead of being explored as an actor, filmmakers capitalise the beaten to death facet of Shah Rukh Khan. So far he has succeeded in being un-Shah Rukh in only two films -- Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and Dil Se..

Shah Rukh, as one filmmaker who has worked with him, pointed out to me once, "has an extremely powerful personality."

Great. So how about seeing him in a hardcore thriller for once? I would love to see that happen. It would be interesting to see him move away from emotional dramas and romantic love stories. Don't you think?

What kind of a role would you like to see Shah Rukh Khan in? Tell us.

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Feel free to share your experiences with stars and your views on films! I will try and incorporate it in this column. And do let me know about films you would like to discuss.
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