Kuch Kuch Hota Hai [Something Happens] (1998)

(Netflix Streaming, March 2016) Three hours is a long time for a romantic comedy: you can do a lot of thinking during that time, and that’s probably how I ended up liking Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and the quirks of Indian cinema a lot better at the end of the movie than at its beginning. Oh, I’m not changing my mind: Indian movies still suffer from abrupt tonal shifts in trying to be all things to everyone and take forever to make basic plot points. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai itself isn’t above criticism, with blatant product placement, age-inappropriate actors playing high schoolers and on-the-nose dialogue. But while all of this is true, it’s also immaterial: Indian cinema has qualities of its own that outweigh its faults, and so does Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. It’s warm, amiable, cheerful to a fault, not mean-spirited (the romantic triangle is resolved by one rival recognizing that he’s not the best choice and stepping away) and has both the strengths and issues of its chosen genre. The musical number are fantastic—I’m still humming the main theme weeks after seeing the film. Much of the comedy is relatively well done (there’s a fifteen-minute stretch midway through the film that has some funny mistaken-identity material). Shah Rukh Khan is terrific as the male lead, while Kajol is effortlessly likable as the heroine. The portrait of an Indian high school as if filtered through the American clichés is remarkably amusing. By the end of the three hours, we’ve been beaten into submission: What’s not to like about Indian cinema in all of its relentless sunny optimism? I’ll take it. I may wash the dishes while watching the film to make the time go by more meaningfully, but I’ll take it.

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