Ki & Ka, for the most part, feels less like a film, more like a lecture, one that’s mediocre and pretentious — regurgitating its core message over and over again, yet trying too hard to be subversive and cool, taking a moral high ground in lieu of sharing something valuable and heartfelt. The film’s trying to say something as simple as this, something no sane progressive person would disagree with: Our genders cannot — in fact, should not — define us. A woman needn’t necessarily be a homemaker, and a man isn’t obligated to be a breadwinner. We are people, with unique capabilities and desires, not representatives of our genders. It’s a simple enough fact that should ideally be agreeable to people of different class — both urban and rural — but, as we know, sadly, that’s not the case; however, R. Balki, Ki & Ka’s director, treats it with so much wonderment that makes you feel as if he’s just discovered water on Mars.
Quite early, Balki goes about in defining his ‘hero’, Kabir (Arjun Kapoor), a man who isn’t driven by conventional professional goals but wants to be an “artist” instead, a homemaker. The film’s heroine, Kia (Kareena Kapoor), is a marketing manager, who aspires to become a company’s vice president some day, and, ultimately a CEO. Balki takes the most easy and predictable route; he brings two contrasting people together. Kabir is easy going; Kia is restless. Kabir wants a home; Kia needs a cabin. Kia is a long-winded sentence; Kabir is a full stop.
Balki slots his leads but struggles in showing the initial trajectory of their relationship, which appears abrupt and forced, constantly reminding us that these two characters have been written, and not how two people would ordinarily talk and react. Right from the first disagreement between the two, to Kabir proposing marriage to Kia, nearly nothing about them seems natural. It also doesn’t help that Kareena in this role, even eight years later, seems stuck in the Jab We Met mould, someone who prefers monologues to straightforward conversations. More importantly, there’s no spark between Arjun and Kareena, nothing that convinces you that they are falling for each other.
Balki also shoots these portions, and much of the conversations in the movie, very awkwardly, through frequent jump cuts, needlessly drawing attention towards the craft that doesn’t aid our understanding of the characters or their situations. What’s more troubling, nearly everything in the film seems to be in place to plant its conceit and message — of reversal of genders and of gender equality — rather than tell a compelling a story. Balki achieves this by reveling in subversions. When Kabir and Kia get married, Kabir insists on wearing a mangalsutra. On the first night of their marriage, Kabir not only cooks food for the ‘men’ of his family (Kia and her mother), but also serves it to them, acting like a waiter. While watching a sappy movie, Kia and her mother doze off, while Kabir cries silently. It’s as if Balki is nudging and telling us, “Look at this! This is so different and cool. Do you see what I did there?”
In fact, forget the fact that Ki & Ka is a narrative and cinematic failure, this seemingly progressive film’s further beset with many troubling viewpoints. So Balki is not just content with how his leading man is (or what he wants to become), he has to tell us, implicitly of course, that he’s the film’s hero. We are told early in the film that Kabir is from “IIM-B”, an achiever who quit a life of financial freedom to follow his passion, lest, you know, we might think less of him.
Balki has to convince himself first, toe the line of what society considers markers of success, before he can tell a story he so wants to. Kabir can’t just be content with the life he’s chosen for himself, Balki has to show that, by doing so, he’s become much more successful than his wife. (At one point, the film shows a dejected Kia, looking at her Facebook page, which has 74 ‘likes’; while Kabir’s popularity is rapidly hitting the roof. His Facebook page, which seems to have gone viral, has ‘likes’ in excess of 55,000.) Kia can’t just be a career-driven woman; she has to, later in the film, be petty and envious because of that. Kabir, on the other hand, is someone with a heart of gold, a man who can do no wrong at all. Balki seldom treats his characters as people, but as mouthpieces dispensing platitudes.
Ki & Ka wants to be a certain kind of public service announcement — appropriate and correct, edgy and progressive — but it’s not even honest about its intentions. It seems to showcase its political correctness through characters, a love story, the stories of families, but doesn’t succeed in moving beyond the stereotypes. And the Amitabh Bachchan segment in the movie — cutesy, forced and disingenuous — is the film’s worst few minutes. Ki & Ka is like a large square peg that is desperately trying to fit in, to be something, but sadly, it can only seem to find potholes.
The review was first published in the Wire.