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.

Snigdha Sur

December 14, 2022

How ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’ Became a Meme
Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan (Dharma Productions)

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.