Shah Rukh Khan’s best performance (And film)!

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

Amitabh Bachchan  wasn’t really an ‘angry young man’ when Zanjeer released. He became one only after playing the raging rebel over a series of films. But that raw appeal he demonstrated in Zanjeer could never be recreated. He got better and better with every bout of anger he displayed in front of the camera.

The same innocence can be 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 fare like Deewana, Chamatkar, King Uncle, Maya Memsaab, Dil Aashna Hai), instead of going through the conventional hero routine. He had no established 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.

Traditionally, 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 so special is that he makes his characters and situations entirely believable. The humour is subtle, genuine 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 it’s for him and begins to admire them excitedly. The moment she says it is for Chris, he tosses them aside indifferently. And just like that, the smile is back on his face when she shows him his present, a mouth organ.

* 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 inside 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, buy the soundtrack of this film. The otherwise R D Burman inspired-composer duo Jatin Lalit score some really melodious tunes here. Wonderfully enough, the songs written by the late Majrooh Sultanpuri, form a part of the narrative instead of acting as 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 reveal so much about the film’s main protagonist. If only more films would include songs to make a point instead of blankly inserting silly 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, Swades . Lagaan’s Kachra (Aditya Lakhia) and Munnabhai  MBBS‘s Dr Rustom (Kurush Deboo) constituted the band’s other members.

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 best remembered as filmmaker Shekar Kapur’s significant other or her pop single, Dole dole. When KHKN came out, Suchitra received flak for her tacky look and wardrobe. But the actress, in interviews to various publications, argued how her director wanted her to sport a non-makeup plain Jane look.

Kabhi Haan… is one of the films Deepak Tijori worked on while trying to establish himself as a second lead hero with projects like Sadak and Khiladi.

Although Tijori and Krishnamurthy didn’t make you swoon, the underplaying of their characters by Shah made sense. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa isn’t about them. It is about Sunil. And Shah Rukh Khan made the best Sunil ever. This is his best performance so far. What is not there to love? He is spontaneous, vulnerable, boyish, mischievous and acting straight from the heart. The manner in which he goes about his ‘I love Anna very much’ bit brims with heartfelt eagerness. (Everyone except Anna falls for it.)

Kundan Shah worked SRK’s freshness and vigor to Sunil’s advantage. It was, perhaps, the last time Shah Rukh didn’t play himself onscreen. There was no pressure of delivering 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 and flamboyance when it comes to his trademark mannerisms, gestures and 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 his persona and charisma. So far he has succeeded in being un-Shah Rukh in only two films — Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and Dil Se.. (Later that year, there would be Swades and three years afterwards Chak De! India too.)

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?

First published on on March 25, 2004.

P:S: He obliged with Ra.One and Don series. Well, at least, he tried.

P:P:S: Nevertheless, his Sunil, like the price of gold, will never lose its worth but only grow more valuable with time.

P:P:P:S: My heart is sold on Sunil. My mind roots for Mohan Bhargav.

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