How ‘Kal Ho Naa Ho’ Gave Us Perspective

Was Shah Rukh Khan’s Aman just a manic pixie dream girl? Or something more? We revisit the film on its 20th anniversary.

Shah rukh khan in kal ho naa ho
Shah Rukh Khan as Aman in 'Kal Ho Naa Ho' (2003)

Snigdha Sur


November 28, 2023


10 min

“Please take your happy-go-lucky nature and just go somewhere else,” a frustrated Naina Kapur (Preity Zinta) almost yells at Aman Mathur (Shah Rukh Khan), who has just arrived from India in New York City to live with his uncle, Naina’s neighbor. Aman had invited himself over for dinner, helped Naina’s mother Jennifer (Jaya Bhaduri) cook the entire meal, and was now laughing uncontrollably because of a mixup that led Naina’s classmate Rohit (Saif Ali Khan) to go to the wrong house and flee from the neighborhood in a taxi. 

Suddenly, Aman stops joking. “What’s your problem?” he says. “Why do you think the entire weight of the world is on your shoulders?...For you, what you have is little. But if you look at your life through someone else’s eyes, you have a lot. Live. Be Happy. Who knows? What if tomorrow never happens?” 

And such is the central thesis of Kal Ho Naa Ho, a 2003 Bollywood film about a 23-year-old Indian American MBA student in New York City, Naina. Her father died by suicide and she lives in a household whose members hate each other and whose sole income source — Jennifer’s restaurant business — is dwindling. And so, for Naina, her life feels gloomy. But the film reminds us that it’s important to look at the brighter side of things — thanks to the farishta (angel) of a character that is Aman. He’s constantly meddling in others’ affairs — spilling family secrets, matchmaking, scolding people for being fatphobic. He almost feels too good to be true, perhaps because he is (Hindi film’s first manic pixie dream girl, anyone?). But his message is still the same: look around, because you have everything you need to be happy.

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