Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, also known as KKKG or K3G, marked its 20 year anniversary this month. The iconic movie was originally released on December 14, 2001 with a star-studded cast that includes heavy hitters such as Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor, Amitabh Bachan, and Jaya Bachan.

Despite our contentious relationship with Bollywood and Bollywood actors, it’s hard to deny the impact of these films on the culture.

The movie’s director Karan Johar took to his social media to celebrate the milestone and reminisce about how K3G was the second film he made, after his directorial debut with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in 1998. He shared a small video of the title sequence showcasing the cast along with a heartfelt caption on his Instagram:

Johar expressed that he felt the movie’s impact sink in much later, and that’s a sentiment he shares with the audience. This movie has aged into its iconic status which wasn’t a clear conclusion back in 2001 upon its release.

2001 was a huge year for Bollywood with the release of a handful of mega blockbusters such as Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, and Gadar, which gave quite a bit of competition to the family drama in K3G.

Lagaan was the biggest film of the year and went on to be featured in the 74th Annual Academy Awards (Oscars) under the “Best Foreign Film” category. It ultimately lost, but the impact of the film and this monumental moment rippled across India at the time.

Despite the heavy competition, K3G went on to be the highest grossing film of 2021 raking 136.6 crores (US $18 million). Regardless of its success, K3G wasn’t necessarily seen as impactful or meaningful like Lagaan or Gadar were. Dil Chahta Hai was also the first movie of its kind exploring ideas around friendship and love that weren’t common in Bollywood at the time, and it was heavily praised for this. 

K3G was criticized for being a cliché commercial success gained by pulling at the audience’s heartstrings, especially the overseas Indian (NRI) population.

It would have been difficult to predict back then that K3G would go on to become a long-standing example of quintessential Bollywood. Its impact and cultural significance has exponentially grown over the years and is clearly felt today–arguably even more so than its competition from 2001.

The movie’s dialogue, songs and characters are still recognizable today, and millennials (maybe even some Gen Zers) continue to quote the movie and pull references. It has slowly blossomed into an essential representation of early 2000s Bollywood.

As one of those very millennials, I can pull up the exact cadence with which Anjali says “Rahul, take a chill pill,” or when Pooja says “ugh MINUS” when ranking the boys in her college, to this day. 

Even in 2021, you can’t have a bride and her bridesmaids' Sangeet performance without a “Bole Chudiyaan” sequence involved.

One of the biggest Bollywood actresses right now, Alia Bhatt, also celebrated the K3G’s impact by recreating her “favourite scene” in which Poo rates the boys in her college on her Instagram. The video stars huge names like Ibrahim Ali Khan, and Ranveer Singh as the “boys” that Alia rates while paying homage to Poo.

Karan Johar and fellow director Farah Khan Kunder recreated a Bole Chudiyaan sequence on Instagram in celebration as well:

I’ll admit, maybe not everyone is walking round daily in their lives quoting K3G like me, but even so, I’ve never had to explain the reference – anyone who knows about Bollywood, knows this movie, and that is undeniably impactful.

Pooja, or Poo is one of the characters that has lived on to arguably become one of the most iconic in Bollywood history. In fact, people still dress up as Poo for Halloween (shouts to 5X editor in chief). It is one of the crowning gems in Kareena Kapoor Khan’s body of work.

Starting with her entrance onto the big screen with a “get ready with me” dance sequence, to “It’s raining men,” to her style, confidence, and attitude–she embodied the modern badass woman who didn’t consider the male gaze to be her problem. 

A woman depicted this way was the beginning of a new era for Bollywood. This was revolutionary at the time because it was a far step away from the typical helpless woman trope seen across Bollywood, where every female character was centered around family values, with no identity of her own. Nobody was telling Poo who she was or what she could or couldn’t do.

Shah Rukh Khan’s character, Rahul is the epitome of the “golden son,” but he chooses to leave his family and call out his parents for not accepting his wife over superficial reasons. This is iconic, especially considering an era devoted to depicting family as the utmost priority in a man’s life, and in a culture where women are expected to “adjust” to their in-laws and sacrifice for the “peace of the family.” 

The onus hardly ever falls on the man, especially in Bollywood, but Rahul steps up as a husband and demands respect for his wife, and we simply had to stan.

I can’t argue that the movie doesn’t explicitly pull on the audience’s heartstrings and exploits emotions with prolonged goodbye sequences followed by dramatic confrontations in which the characters reconnect–all paired with intense camera angles and background music. 

It is also Karan Johar’s forte to pander to the overseas NRI audience with a larger than life depiction of the Indian family, customs and traditions. K3G was the first movie in which he utilized this tactic to get great numbers at the box office, but it definitely was not the last.

I get it, it’s also cheesy, and the 3 hour and 30 minutes run time is a commitment and then some especially when we think about everyone’s declining attention span. Regardless, it can’t be argued that there is something about this movie. People love it – even if they hate themselves a little for loving it.

Full disclosure, I have personally watched K3G multiple times, and when I think about the hours spent, I really can’t justify it. There are also some problematic elements that haven’t aged too well, including (but not limited to) the fat shaming of Hrirtik Roshan’s childhood character, and the heavy patriarchal vibes in the relationship between Amitabh Bachan’s character and Jaya Bachan’s character.

 I would point out that we’ve all seen our fair share of patriarchal, hypocritical, “head of the family” type men so it’s not necessarily unrealistic–albeit still problematic.

I’m all here for realistic indie movies that make you think and provide insightful and critical commentary on today’s society. Those kinds of movies are necessary and undeniably important, but sometimes you just want to indulge in escapism and pause your existential crisis, and that’s when movies like K3G come in.

Impact doesn’t have to equate to importance, and things can be unimportant, cheesy, cliché but still have a huge impact. I’m not saying K3G was some kind of revolutionary film that invited critical discourse but at least it tricks my cold heart into feeling something, right? Is that so bad?

Hate it or love it, the film’s impact and cultural significance is undeniable.

About the author

Gurshabad Kang

Gurshabad’s educational background in Biology and Psychology is inspired by her lifelong pursuit to seek and decipher the human connection. She loves McDonald’s fries, long walks on the beach, and telling people how to correctly pronounce her name. She regularly forces her friends to sit in her car & record a podcast aptly named Sitting In The Car. You can find her but more importantly her dog, @gurshabadkang on all platforms.

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