In R Balki’s Ki & Ka, Arjun Kapoor plays an IIM grad for the second time in his short career. The first time he played the role was as the generic leading man of a generic Chetan Bhagat creation who is drawn with the broadest of brushstrokes. A large part of Ki & Ka in fact resembles something that’s been long overcooking inside Chetan Bhagat’s head. The characters shaped out of cardboard, the philosophy that is simplified to appeal to the lowest common denominator, the unenviable talent for falling into the very trap one is fashioning oneself out of, the pretense of a progressive mindset falling dead on its face. It is all there. It is a wonder this is not already a Chetan Bhagat novel.
While Balki has gone after slice of life, that he often rushes to resolve, more than grand sermonizing in his films, Ki & Ka seems to form the exception. His decisions in Ki & Ka are alarmingly Bhagatian. It is no wonder that when Kabir (Arjun Kapoor) aces his “house husband” character and becomes a role model for so many, he is seen giving a TED talk, that sham of an attestation for how hollow your achievement really is. Another painful stretch is when Kabir accuses Kia (Kareena Kapoor) of sleeping with her boss. An almost unforgivable baseless accusation ends with them making up by having sex, not even hinting at revisiting the issue. I found my eyes at the back of my head.
To Balki’s credit, he comes up with a few visuals that rise above this unrewarding talky. We see Kabir getting around in a segway electric scooter while men around him sweat it out on cycles. A visual gag that works for his character but only for a few seconds. There is another continuing visual motif that uses Kabir’s love for trains. His house is full of them – behind his bed, inside his kitchen, bringing food to his dining table. It is him choosing to ride Kia’s gravy train all his life but Balki doesn’t do anything with it. Shockingly, he only ends up showing Kia as the oppressor and Kabir as the oppressed.
For Balki, the written word is a sledgehammer. This was apparent in the trailer and is irredeemable in the film. When we first meet Kabir, we see him remembering his mother, eyes welled up. He says he wants to be like her but Balki doesn’t fail to mention that he is an IIM grad who has just chosen not to have a career. Because he is privileged enough to do so. Among other shortcuts, the gender role reversals in Ki & Ka still come with regressive qualifiers. He is supposed to wear the mangalsutra, he is supposed to be the wife in the relationship. Scene after excruciating scene follows on similar lines. The amount of smugness in Ki & Ka would power a whole city. There is an utter lack of cynicism that renders the whole exercise moot and the self-aware performances from the leads don’t help. Especially Kareena Kapoor. A debilitating fall for a promising actor from her Dev, Omkara and Jab We Met days. The only member of the cast having any sort of fun is Swaroop Sampat as Kia’s single mother. I’d rather pay to watch her love story.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)