‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ released on my 7th birthday. I didn’t know this at the time though. The movie came into my life when I was 8 (the same age as Anjali), inconspicuously stacked between the handful of pirated VHS tapes my parents had packed along with a thousand masala boxes we didn’t have access to in the foreign country that had become our new home. I clung on to it like Anjali to her mother’s letters.
Calling it my comfort film would be too simplistic a definition. According to greater, smarter writers, comfort movies are films which provide nostalgia, take us back to a happy day, a place, or a person. But there is no single moment of epiphany or a life-changing event I can attribute to ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’. It feels like it has always played in the background of my life. So what do you call films that go beyond just a time, location or feeling? The films which feel like home. Films which, no matter how hard you try, you are unable to separate yourself from?
In hindsight, it’s ridiculous to expect an 8-year-old to reunite her father with the love of his life. But as a child, seeing Anjali (Sana Saeed) confidently conspire to go to Shimla made me brave enough to face a school where I barely understood a word that was spoken to me. I’d repeat Tina’s (Rani Mukerji) “London mein rehne se, wahaan padhne likhne se…” scene (snapping and all) in my head whenever my foreignness was made fun of back home. The film showed me kindness during my “I’m not like other girls” phase, compassion during the devastating humiliation of my first heartbreak. It acknowledged the complacency with loneliness that came in adulthood with warm concern. I should have grown out of ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, but instead it grew with me, mirroring my light and giving me perspective, instead of judging me for my silliness. It held my hand and reminded me that things will change, I will grow, people around me will evolve. It will all be okay if I just give myself some grace.
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‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, for all the criticism it faces, never gets enough credit for how well it balances its childishness with moments of maturity. Anjali’s naive plan is pushed to fruition by her co-conspirators – adults who are all too familiar with Rahul’s (Shah Rukh Khan) haunting loneliness. The cliché college love triangle is also a story about the deep bonds of broken friendships. Tina’s heart starts breaking from the second she realizes that she will end up breaking Anjali’s (Kajol) and never stops until her death. Anjali, in turn, is unable to break Aman’s (Salman Khan) because the young woman in her knows it’s the cruelest thing to do to someone so dear to you. Heartbreaks – the film told me – aren’t intentional, their sorrow isn’t experienced in isolation, and healing them takes a village (or a kids’ summer camp in Shimla). But even as wise, rational adults, when things get too difficult to say, too illogical to do, we cling to our arbitrary moral codes like “Pyaar ek hi baar hota hai” as coping mechanisms. We rely on ludicrous concepts of fate, divine signs, and wishing upon stars. We need playground games and dumb charades to let our guard down. We don’t stop being children, teenagers, young adults as we grow older. We remain all of them simultaneously.
As film enthusiasts, so much effort is put into understanding a piece of art, but here’s a movie that understood me when I didn’t even understand myself. A glossy romcom released 25 years ago has become so personal, my relationship to it goes beyond the filmmaker’s intentions or the audience’s interpretation. To 8-year-old me, ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ was her movie more than it was Karan Johar’s. On my 32nd birthday, it’s an old companion that made me feel known and always saw the best in me, independent of box office, discourse, or cultural impact. When the film speaks to my heart, who cares about its objective merits and flaws? All I can do is listen.