How ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’ Became a Meme

The beloved 2001 Bollywood film, colloquially known as K3G, somehow has the right scene for all of life’s moments.

K3G
Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan (Dharma Productions)

Snigdha Sur

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December 14, 2022

A helicopter is buzzing atop a large mansion. Feet land on the gravel as a man disembarks from the helicopter. The man, in a black sweater and grey slacks, whisks off his sunglasses and starts running — in slow motion — down the long driveway to the mansion’s entrance. Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) has arrived just in time for his family’s annual, elaborate Diwali celebration — replete with a dancing Rani Mukerji, plenty of diyas, and Lata Mangeshkar-voiced musical numbers. But, during COVID, elections, the return of Donald Trump to the White House, family gatherings — or really, any of life’s many moments — this scene became something else: the perfect meme.

When Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham came out in 2001, expectations were riding high for director Karan Johar’s second film. Johar had created a certifiable hit with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), cementing the status of one of Bollywood’s most successful jodis — Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol — while elevating the star power of Rani Mukerji. Now, with K3G, as the film came to be known (what else do you expect from such a long title?), Johar had brought together some of the biggest names in the business: Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol (in their fifth pairing), relative newcomers Hrithik Roshan and Kareena Kapoor, and Rani Mukerji. Decades later, Johar would say such a multi-starrer film is nearly impossible to make today due to budgets. The premise of the film was simple: it’s all about family. Little did Johar know that he would end up creating, in addition, a meme machine and a movement.