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From patriarchy, homophobia, body-shaming, and cancel culture, KJo's films have always mirrored these issues of the 21st century, offering steady solutions amidst the grandeur of their setting.
The quintessential plot of KJo’s films is love stories. Bollywood has consumerized love and violence successfully for aeons, and Karan Johar, like many other directors, does the same in his films. But his films stand apart in the way they always critique the prejudices endorsed by Indian society.
From patriarchy, homophobia, body-shaming, and cancel culture, his films have always mirrored these issues of the 21st century, offering steady solutions amidst the grandeur of their setting.
Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani revolves around two lovers, Rocky Randhawa, a gym enthusiast and the sole heir of his Punjabi business family, and Rani Chatterjee, a journalist from a Bengali intellectual family. Rocky and Rani’s love story begins with their effort to reunite two long-lost lovers from the ’70s, i.e., Rocky’s amnesiac grandfather, aka ‘bade papa’ Kanwal Lund, and Rani’s grandmother, aka her ‘thakuma’ Jamini Chatterjee.
Though initially, Rocky and Rani were poles apart, as the phrase goes, “Opposite poles attract each other,” they eventually fall in love with each other. Like all love stories in this film, it’s the different cultures of the two families that come between Rocky and Rani’s love.
The story is typical, reminding us of “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham,” “DDLJ,” and “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna,” and ends on a happy note, leaving the audience content. But the way KJo presents this “old wine in a new bottle” is worth watching.
Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani depicts the women of two households in sharp contrast with each other. While the women of the Randhawa family are meek and subjugated by the matriarch of their household, Dhanlakshmi Randhawa, owner of Dhanlakshmi Sweets (Rocky’s grandmother), it ironically depicts that women at times can be more patriarchal than men. On the other hand, the women of the Chatterjee family are independent and exercise their free will, living life on their terms.
As the narrative of the film unfolds, Rocky and Rani decide to switch households for three months to immerse themselves in the culture and milieu of their prospective in-laws as they plan to get married. This marks the initiation of a change in mindset within the members of both families.
It’s only after Rani’s entry into the Randhawa family that she encourages the subdued women of the household to chase their dreams and raise their voices against the injustice inflicted upon them. This includes infusing courage into Rocky’s mother, Punam, to pursue her career in singing, and teaching Rocky’s sister to stand up for herself, achieve economic self-sufficiency by securing a job, embrace herself the way she is, and defend herself against fat-shaming, making her realize that she isn’t “Golu” any more, but she is “Gayatri.”
Rocky’s arrival in the Chatterjee family teaches him to break free from his masculine conditioning while teaching them that in an era where we laugh at and dismiss people who lack our yardstick of sophistication and knowledge in certain fields, it’s easier to cancel them out.
But what’s difficult is taking the initiative to help them learn instead of shunning them away. There’s no shame in not knowing something, yet what’s shameful is belittling someone instead of enlightening them.
KJo’s portrayal of men has always been unique. KJo’s men dance and wear colours that are generally associated with femininity. In this film, while Rocky’s father, Tijori Randhawa, is a staunch chauvinist echoing Yashvardhan Raichand of K3G, who wields authority over his family.
On the other hand, Rani’s father, Chandon Chatterjee, is a professional Kathak dancer who moved to a new city, leaving his own state, just to support his working wife, who is a senior English professor. Men who dance are still labelled as effeminate and looked down upon by our society, but KJo himself, being someone who loves to dance, subverts this whole stereotype.
Art has no gender, after all. We eventually witnessed Rocky attending Chandon’s dance lessons and dancing with Chandon on “Dola Re Dola” on the eve of Durja Puja organized by the Chatterjee family. Pink is a colour widely termed feminine.
At the end of the film, we see Rocky wearing pink when, after months, he finally reunites with the love of his life, Rani, breaking the barriers of their misunderstanding. KJo thus celebrates men, promoting the idea that gender isn’t determined by biology, but by the conditions of our society. It’s high time everyone learns to break free from their preconceived notions of gender, thus promoting equality.
KJo’s films always preach the fact that marriage isn’t a social contract but a union of two hearts, where proper love and respect are the two chief ingredients for any marriage to work. His films often depict extramarital affairs between a male and a female who aren’t happily married, finding love in each other’s company, for example, in “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna.”
In Rocky and Rani Ki Prem Kahani, as well, we find the same kind of love blooming between Jamini and Kanwal. They were each other’s right person, but it was their wrong time that prevented them from being together when they fell in love with each other way back in 1978 in Shimla.
However, they gradually reunited through the efforts of their grandchildren. Kanwal, being a poet or “shayar,” was never compatible with a materialistic Dhanlakshmi, while Jamini lived a life of sacrifice, being a victim of domestic violence.
They didn’t get much time to spend together because it was too late. KJo’s films thus emphasize the fact that it isn’t wrong to search for love outside of marriage when one is unhappy. If they find love, they should walk out of their marriage at the right time because, at the end of the day, everyone deserves to be happy, and everyone has the right to choose their happiness over anything else.
Indians are inherently filmy, and Bollywood songs play a huge role in this. Bollywood romantic tracks and dance numbers help us bask in our utopian world where lovers dance, making love amidst yellow fields, snow-capped mountains, and green meadows. Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani has certain sequences that take every Indian cinephile across all ages on a roller-coaster ride of emotions.
From a dance number on “Jhumka Gira Re” to using “Meri Pyaari Bindu” as a background score, from clandestine meet-ups of lovers Kanwal and Jamini arranged by Rocky and Rani in the forts of Delhi to all of them romancing on “Abhi Naa Chhod Kar” and “Aaj Mausam Bada Beimaan Hai.” From “Ek Pyaar Ka Nagma Hai” to Kanwal singing “Chaudvin Ka Chand,” remembering Jamini, Karan Johar beautifully pays tribute to the roots of Indian Cinema, the cult classics that led to the evolution of Indian Cinema. He brilliantly juxtaposes the old and the new, thus showing his unwavering allegiance to tradition.
The depiction of exotic locations and costumes in KJo’s song sequences is an indispensable part of the narrative of his films. In Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani, as well, the songs enhance the cinematic experience of the audience. The song “Tum Kya Mile” bears a sharp resemblance to “Suraj Hua Maddham” from K3G and “Tumhi Dekho Na” from “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna,” while “Dhindhora Baje Re” recreates the atmosphere of Bhansali’s “Dola Re Dola.”
After ages, these songs of RARKPK remind us of old Bollywood blockbusters that still rule over our hearts. This indeed paves the way for the box office success of RARKPK.
Being a Bengali, it was an absolute delight to witness one of the titular characters (Rani) of RARKPK hailing from a Bengali family. Rosogolla isn’t the only thing or dessert that defines Bengalis; there’s much more to our culture.
Such as the portrayal of Rabindranath Tagore in a certain scene and the singing of Rabindra Sangeet by Rocky and Jamini Chatterjee in another two scenes were heart-warming to watch. The conversation between Rani and her family members in fluent Bengali and the use of the saree, which is one of the chief signifiers of Bengali culture, is proof of KJo’s true representation of Bengali culture.
Though KJo’s films are flamboyant, and the initial films of his career weren’t socially critical, his filmography in the second half of his career deals with contemporary issues of modern society. In KJo’s films, women characters share equal screen space with the male characters. From Anjali of “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” to Anjali and Pooh from “K3G,” from Naina of “Kal Ho Na Ho” to Alizeh of “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” and Rani of RARKPK, all these women have a strong voice. He empowers women in all his films, thus addressing the issues of suppressed women in his country.
In the post-pandemic society, when Bollywood films are reduced to mere remakes and a medium of propaganda, thus repeatedly failing to produce any impact on the audience and, therefore, on the box office after Pathaan’s grand success, it’s KJo who once again delivers Bollywood from the drought. KJo’s return as a director on the big screens with RARKPK, consisting of a stellar cast who shine in the roles they enact, once again brings back the charm of old Bollywood films, thus attracting the audience to the theatres.
Being a filmy ’90s kid, I mostly grew up watching KJo’s films, envisioning being like Pooh someday. And there lies KJo’s speciality of turning a piece of fiction into truth, instilling hope in the audience that a parallel universe where everything ends on a happy note may have some traces of existence in reality, making him one of the finest storytellers of Hindi Cinema.
Image source: Edited on CanvaPro
An overthinking cinephile who occasionally seeks refuge in poetry.
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If her MIL had accepted her with some affection, wouldn't they have built a mutually happier relationship by now?
The incident took place ten years ago.
Smita could visit her mother only in summers when her daughter had school holidays. Her daughter also enjoyed meeting her Nani, and both of them had done their reservations for a week. A month before their visit, her husband told her, “My mom is coming for 4-5 months!”
Smita shuddered. She knew the repercussions. She would have to hear sarcastic comments from her mother-in-law for visiting her mother. She may make these comments directly only a bit, but her servants would be flooded with the words, “How horrible she is! She leaves me and goes!”
Maybe Animal is going to make Ranbir the superstar he yearns to be, but is this the kind of legacy his grandfather and granduncles would wish for?
I have no intention of watching Animal. I have heard it’s acting like a small baby screaming and yelling for attention. However, I read some interesting reviews which gave away the original, brilliant and awe-inspiring plot (was that sarcastic enough?), and I don’t really need to go watch it to have an informed opinion.
A little boy craves for his father’s love but doesn’t get it so uses it as an excuse to kill a whole bunch of people when he grows up. Poor paapa (baby) what else could he do?
I was wondering; if any woman director gets inspired by this movie and replicates this with a female protagonist, what would happen?. Oh wait, that’s the story of so many women in this world. Forget about not giving them love, you have fathers who try to kill their daughters or sell them off or do other equally despicable things.
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