There is exactly one scene in R Balki’s Ki & Ka that may be worth the price of admission, involving a self-deprecatory cameo by one of yesteryear Bollywood’s foremost star couples.
You’ve probably figured out who the pair is, and I won’t give away any more, but the scene is a bit of a marvel, especially if you’ve read enough gossip columns over the years. It is quite satisfying to see one of the icons of Indian masculinity being forced to take a backseat, while his arguably-more-talented wife takes the limelight for a few moments, in a film that borrows elements from one released in 1973 starring both of them.
Much like his disastrous Shamitabh (2015), Balki’s latest film can be interpreted in two ways. Starring Arjun Kapoor as Kabir Bansal, an heir to a business empire who only has dreams of being a homemaker, and Kareena Kapoor as Kia, an ambitious corporate exec for whom career ascendancy is everything, Ki & Ka can be seen as a flawed-but-well-meaning PSA on gender roles and masculinity.
Or it can be seen as the one-dimensional, badly acted, terribly directed, and wholly predictable melodrama it is.
Funnily enough, though, Ki & Ka didn't fill me with murderous rage for most of its running length the way Balki's other films have. I mean, sure, I hated it as a movie. Arjun, in another non-performance, brings back his casually-bored-by-everything persona from 2 States (2014). Kareena is somewhat more bearable to watch, even though she seems to be channeling an older, more cynical version of her character from Jab We Met (2007). Overall, the film has all the subtlety of an episode of Full House (minus a laugh track), with Bob Saget’s “You see, Steph…” sermonising replaced by Kabir’s condescending “Main aapki confusion samajh sakta hoon.”
But another side of me was listening to how some portions of the audience were reacting, at a Thursday press preview (a rarity nowadays) held in suburban Mumbai. “I love this movie so much!” exclaimed a girl sitting next to me; I remember hearing something similar when I watched Balki’s insufferable Paa (2009). I could imagine newly married couples getting into fights after watching this movie, which depicts Kabir as some sort of uber-flawless, super homemaker (thus reinforcing the idea that men are always better at everything they do — sigh). But then, I could also imagine at least one man walking away from this movie thinking, “Well, I suppose I could help around at home a lot more”.
Here’s the thing: we don’t need an entire movie to tell us just this; it is the same message we got from that #ShareTheLoad advertisement, which didn’t take up two hours of our time. But that’s pretty much all Ki & Ka has to offer, which is unfortunate. The jerky narrative powers through from one clichéd situation to another. Consider a scene in which Kabir and Kia visit his father, a cold-hearted businessman (played by Rajit Kapur as though suffering from chronic heartburn), which escalates before it can even settle in, leading to weird lines like “Mard woh hota hai jo jaanta hai woh mard hai” or something to that effect. You don’t say.
Ki & Ka is an unfortunate misstep from Bollywood at a time when films like Neerja and Kapoor & Sons: Since 1921 are raising the bar.
Truth be told, this is a movie about more than gender roles. An early conversation between the couple highlights the futility of chasing a stressful corporate career only to eventually suffer from lifestyle ailments and get treated at expensive, private hospitals. It’s a fine idea, very relevant, and should’ve had a larger impact on the story. But it doesn’t. The two discuss it and go right back to doing what they were doing. Creditably, though, Ki & Ka does highlight the importance of treating housework at par with chasing a career — a concept so alien to contemporary India that it’s almost post-feministic.
The usual upper-middle class sensibilities present in Balki’s films — impossibly overdone interiors (Arjun’s hobby train sets are an interesting touch, though), stock urban characters delivering contrived Hinglish lines — are present throughout. On the technical front, however, it is yet another failure. The omnipresent background score is so ridiculously over-the-top that you wonder if it’s parodying itself, while cinematographer PC Sreeram returns with his roving, hyperactive-toddler camerawork that made Shamitabh an unwatchable experience, quite literally.
Ki & Ka is an unfortunate misstep from Bollywood at a time when films like Neerja and Kapoor & Sons: Since 1921 are raising the bar. However, as bad as it may be as a film, I am glad that someone attempted this leap. All we need now is for someone to actually succeed in doing so, without sending out mixed messages.
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