‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai,’ the Blockbuster Full of Contradictions

The film reinforced the “suitable girl” trope, but also reimagined widowhood and love. We revisit its legacy, 25 years in.

kuch kuch hota hai scene
Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukerji, and Kajol in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998)

Poulomi Das


October 16, 2023


10 min

Karan Johar’s father, a filmmaker, wanted to shield his only child from the unpredictable, exacting world of film business, and so he decided to send him to Paris to study design. But Aditya Chopra, who enlisted Johar while tinkering with the script of his debut film, wasn’t entirely convinced. Chopra was yet to make Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) or experience its record-breaking success. But he knew one thing: Karan Johar belonged in Hindi cinema. Only a few years later, Johar, all of 26, released Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), a love triangle starring Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, and Rani Mukerji that provided a whole new syntax to Hindi romance, became the highest-grossing Bollywood film of the year, and turned the debutante writer-director into the custodian of cool almost overnight. As Kuch Kuch Hota Hai kept on racking critical and box office acclaim, grossing over ₹1 billion against its ₹100 million budget, the writing was on the wall: Johar was the voice of a new generation in a newly liberalized India and its global diaspora. But Hindi cinema has changed significantly over 25 years. Audiences have ditched their aspirational rose-tinted glasses and romance seems to have gone out of fashion. Over the years, audiences’ perception of the film, including its notions of beauty and gender, has also shifted; Johar, too, has admitted to its gaps. In 1998, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was a progressive love story that showed that a widower could find love again. Today, it comes across as the kind of filmmaking that wore modernity as a glaze. So where exactly does Kuch Kuch Hota Hai stand in Bollywood today? The answer might surprise you.

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