Cast: Kareena Kapoor Khan, Arjun Kapoor, Swaroop Sampat, Rajit Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan
Director: R. Balki
LOL at R. Balki, husband of Gauri English Vinglish Shinde, if he thought that he was setting out on a feminist enterprise when he dreamt up the scenario of Ki & Ka. If, on the other hand, he planned to insidiously give vent to his latent misogyny, then, well, LOLz at those who deduced from the trailers that Ki & Ka could be sweetly, even if superficially, subversive. Writer-director Balki’s Ki & Ka draws a sharp line between the two genders, and he and his film stand decidedly on the side of his gender.
She, Kia (Kareena Kapoor), is the “type” who can’t hold herself back when she hears, while chugging booze at a friend’s wedding, banal talk between samdhis of how the aurat, the woman is the support on which the mard, the man stands. Wife is the pillar; husband the building standing on it. Kia can’t take such talk and must show her middle-finger to patriarchy then and there, loudly, for everybody’s shame-faced, sheepish consumption. Kia is different. Indifferent.
And not needy — of approval, man, marriage. She’s blissed out in her corporate job, her career path charted clearly and with conviction. Obviously, it’s time she met a man. This happens on a flight. He, Kabir (Arjun Kapoor), is sitting in the window seat and sobbing, openly. Whooah! There he is. The liberated man not afraid to cry. She, in the aisle seat, makes fun of him. This leads to a conversation about his mother, and that leads to, upon landing, drinks and more conversation.
Ka: I wanna be like my mom.
Ki: Waiter! Whiskey. Double, on the rocks. What did she do?
Ka: She was an artist. She was a housewife.
Ka: (smug, with one eyebrow raised) Yes.
Ki: Waiter, where’s that damn whiskey?
Their instructive, this-is-what-the-film-is-about conversation on bar stools could have been fun. But it’s written in a stilted, staccato style, and is accompanied with such exaggerated primary expressions that if you and I were sitting next to this couple and listening, we’d doze off, fall and roll out of the nightclub like two empty LPG cylinders. She, however, is intrigued and interested enough to attend repeated dates with him, at restaurants and, soon, the Rail Museum which holds a very strange and special place in his heart.
Why would an MBA topper, son of big builder want to stay at home and roll chapattis, she wants to know. Because, he says, that’s the real thing. Real work is nurturing, providing, baking, taking care, changing dirty bedsheets, cleaning, washing, watering the plants... She’s always missed having a home, a real one with food in bowls, and not packets. He wants to select the bowls and cook the food that goes into it. Apparently, a perfectly decent house has to be turned into a bizarre male-child fantasy before it can be called a home. That happens and it’s as irritating and put-on as the film’s premise.
To be fair, Ki & Ka has a few decent moments, but most involve other characters who do some realspeak. There are also some interesting role-reversal moments which delude us for a few seconds into thinking that Balki may be challenging the status quo. But that’s not the case. The change is purely cosmetic, and the film is happy to marinade in its own superficiality. So while Kabir and not Kia may wear the mangalsutra, he is still very much a man. Enough care has been taken, including in the casting, to ensure that Kabir not be even mildly androgynous, forget effeminate. He is, in fact, very manly with facial hair and dole-shole. He even gets to bash up goons and is rewarded with hot sex.
His reactions are men’s reactions. Always. Like when he is not available at a time of crisis. There is no guilt, no self-loathing. Just very confident and rational explanation. Huh!?! Kabir may repeatedly ask Kia, “Are you sharminda of me? Do I embarrass you?” But he doesn’t take lightly to any slight or joke about being a “housewife” and throws tantrums in response — I’m-uh-so-liberated-and-superior ones. Worse, no matter from where you look at this film, you’ll find a stinking sexist bomb.
For one, it reduces what housewives/homemakers do to very easy things if done smartly, like a man, i.e. Kabir waltzing about on a Segway. Of course, the film makes things very easy for him. While it touches upon perhaps the most significant and testy love-hate relationship of the modern woman — the bai, the maid, the caretaker, cleaner — it immediately construes a situation that gives Kabir immense power over the maid, for life.
I mean, come on. Have you ever met a woman who has “control” over the woman who cleans and cooks for her? There are daily Kitty Party Symposiums on this issue, for god’s sake. And, of course, here’s a man doing household chores out of choice. Showing this as a real, conscious choice is a privilege very few women have.
While this notion, thankfully, is pooh-poohed in the film’s best scene — a cameo involving two great actors — this very scene also, inadvertently, reinforces the point Kia had raged against in the beginning, i.e. pillar and building, because of the personalities involved. Not working it isn’t always a choice. At times it’s a decision forced on women by circumstances or families, and at times it’s the only option because they just know that by evening their children would turn into Mouglis in chaddies and be found swinging from curtains.
As for women who work and look after their families, the film simply shrugs its shoulders and says, can’t fathom, they are, like, superhuman. At its best, Ki & Ka is a Dummies Guide to Small Courtesies that most Indian men couldn’t be bothered with: Ask if she’d like you to carry her bag, give her a shoulder massage after a long day, don’t start doing Gangnam style dancing if she initiates sex. Get over it, and just do it.
At its worst it’s a reprimand: Ladies, men would love to look after the house and let you go out and work, but the problem is that while you say you want that, the truth is that you really can’t take it. You are the real pillars of patriarchy.
This is conveyed by making Kia alpha but also very cold, while Kabir is the warm and charming one. She is the one full of jealousy, rage, selfishness, conventional talk, while he is liberated and luminous.
And here lies the irony — the film ultimately puts the onus on women for allowing men to change and accepting that change, but not on men because, apparently, they’ve changed while you and I were busy lugging shopping bags. At the end, hero remains the hero, and patriarchy wins. Y-Film’s Man’s World series on the Internet is much more sorted in its clever and challenging role reversal.
Swaroop Sampat (who plays Kia’s mother) is sweet, and Rajit Kapoor (who plays Kabir’s father) amusing. Kareena Kapoor is very star like and boring, and Arjun Kapoor limited but cute. His is a much more fleshed out, sympathetic and believable character. Her character, on the other hand, is not just divested of all female emotions, but is basically an a*****e.
There isn’t much going on with her. She has a life and is always overreacting.
While Balki’s gender politics is regressive, his scenes and direction are way too often focused on product placement. And his dialogue for his lead characters lack lucidity. There is too much artifice and very little spontaneity.