It’s been a month since Kuch Toh Log Kahenge, the latest offering from Director’s Kut (Bidaai, Yeh Rishta…) was launched by Sony. Let’s have a look at what’s worked on the show so far and what hasn’t.
The promos (1, 2, 3) leading up to the premiere of Kuch Toh Log Kahenge (KTLK) were sweet enough – a cheerful Nidhi (Kritika Kamra) thinking about Ashutosh (Mohnish Bahl), waiting for him, and a hesitating Ashutosh wanting to do what he knows will make Nidhi happy but talking himself out of it at the last-minute. As the Voice-over Lady accurately summarised – “pyaar ki aahat bhi hai, aur hichkichaahat bhi…” (the faint sound of love is there, and the hesitation too). The official music video was further brimful of unconfessed affection, with the dulcet tones of Sukanya Purkayastha voicing the thoughts of Nidhi and Ashutosh as she sang “Saiyaan, Naino Ki Bhasha Samjhe Na” (My beloved does not understand the language of eyes). The title of the show hinted at an awareness that despite the innocence and sincerity of the feelings involved, there’s bound to be sidelong glances and comments… Nonethless, the USP of the show was very much going to be this budding hospital romance between two doctors from different generations – Nidhi, a 24-year-old carefree MBBS graduate and Ashutosh, 42, Chief Surgeon and Head Doctor at Dr. Kotnis General Hospital.
The media and audience anticipating the show, aside from recycling its synopsis, obsessed around two points:
- Sony was wise to capitalise on the growing appetite for sensitively portrayed “mature” love stories; the proof of this hunger having been asserted via the success of Ekta Kapoor’s May 2011 launched Bade Acche Lagte Hain, a love story between two people in their mid-30s who considered themselves past the age of romance
- As an official adaptation of the 1980s Pakistani drama Dhoop Kinarey,a show that was much-loved on both sides of the border, would KTLK be able to live up to the hype and expectations? How will a beautiful 13 episode drama be stretched into the format of a long-winded desi soap, and what would subjecting it to such desi dramatics accomplish?
With both the novelty and curiosity factor high, the scene seemed well set for the arrival of a sweet tv-screen romance. However, romance alone does not an engaging show make and thankfully the first week of the show demonstrated that the makers were not just interested in depicting a mismatched-yet-well-suited jodi but also in exploring the psyche of its characters.
KTLK’s opening shot is of Dr. Ashutosh looking at an abandoned kothi from outside, reminiscing about a happier time, when baba brought him – an orphan – here. When kaka questions Ashutosh’s need to make almost daily pilgrimmages to this house when he lives in a perfectly lovely ghar of his own, Ashutosh replies: “Kaka, ghar tou yeh hai, jo makan kam aur marham zyada tha. Lekin ab sirf zakhm reh gaya hai mere hisse mein aur yeh marham kisi aur ke“. It’s hard not to let your hopes and expectations soar after watching just 5 minutes of the first episode – when the visuals switch so seamlessly between the present and past, when the background music complements without being overpowering, when Mohnish demonstrates in just the first scene why everyone is forever lamenting about how underappreciated he is in both Bollywood and the TV industry, when the dialogues sound like they have been written with care and thought… and you can’t help but smile when thinking that ofcourse Alok Nath would play the father figure to Mohnish – how very appropriate.
It isn’t until the fourth week of the show when Ashutosh says “mera gehre se gehra rishta tha baba ke saath […] ussi rishte ne itni berehmi se mera aetbaar aur mera vishwaas mujhse cheen liya ke ab aur kisi rishte pe vishwaas karna mere liye mumkin nahin“. The beauty of KTLK is that the audience is allowed to infer this on their own long before Ashutosh’s admission. As we suspected, the melancholy of Doctor Ashutosh is not that his beloved baba has passed away, he is a doctor after all – he surely understands that accepting death is a part of life. No, what is painful for Doctor Ashutosh is that not only is his baba no more, but with his last wish he snatched away what little was left in the world that would heal him by bequeathing their home to strangers who were unlikely to even comprehend how priceless the place was for them. He didn’t want the money or anything else, just the home, but he wasn’t even permitted to know who the home was given away to and now it seems to be sitting there, an abandoned unwanted house that features so little in the thoughts of its new owners that they can’t even be bothered to make a decision about what to do with it.
Surprisingly, the most heartrending aspect of KTLK is not witnessing Ashutosh’s sorrows – we know that, though he doesn’t believe it, in time they won’t be so hard to carry; he will find the answers he needs and the happiness he has lost. We can’t be so sure about the continuing equanimity and warmth of his 12 year long frienship with Doctor Mallika though. Their interactions are so painful to watch. It’s as though they’re both stuck in a sad little music box – Ashutosh standing straight backed, slightly apart, Mallika forever poised as reaching out to him. Open the box and you can relive old memories – that time when he stuck tape on her eyes, that time when he turned plumber for her, that wedding, that New Year’s party… and abruptly the song ends, she’s reminded him, yet again, that she’s waiting for something he knows he can’t give her. Then someone has to wind back the music box – either he’ll evade, but after pausing for ten seconds too long, or she’ll laugh it off, but not before he’s looked away from her searching eyes, …and it starts all over again.
While Doctor Ashutosh seems unble to move on from his past, Nidhi (Kritika Kamra) is introduced trying to avoid her future – a future that was her, now dead, mother’s dream and which her father would like her to fulfill. Where Ashutosh’s introduction tugged at our heart strings Nidhi’s makes us laugh out loud, several times, in the space of under a minute. Between calling the hanuman chalisa the “chalis stanza wali poem”, offering hanumanji the choice between getting a CD or ringtone of said poem because she can’t recite it herself and praying a lot for the results of her exams, only for us to find out that she is praying that she fails – there’s little choice left but to be immediately charmed by Nidhi, and the show. Like I say, it’s hard not to lagaao a lot of umeedein after a wonderful introduction. Especially when hindi soaps take 10-15 episodes to become really engaging, not 10-15 minutes of the first episode. As it happens, Bade Acche Lagte Hain is one of countless that I recall as having lacklustre starting episodes.
Nidhi is not sure what she wants to do in life. When bhagvanji was whispering in everyone’s ears what they were destined for she suspects she was either absent or not listening. Her mother’s wish and her father’s zidd meant that she stuck through her M.B.B.S studies, and even achieved an All India rank of #14, but the responsibilities and burdens that come with the medical profession are not for her. She feels she can’t possibly be a good doctor, though everyone else is convinced otherwise. Despite the few days she spent as an intern at Dr. Kotnis General Hospital involved Nidhi being unable to hand Doctor Ashutosh the proper equipment during surgery, getting distracted by a child in the middle of a ward round, allowing children not fit for physical activity to play pakdan pakdai and forgetting to administer an important injection to her patient, everyone from Nurse D’Souza to Doctor Ashutosh is dissapointed at Nidhi’s decision to quit medicine and wish that she would reconsider.
A perceptive observation on her first day, winning the hearts of those in the children ward within no time, and a good diagnosis at the right time, are enough to convince them that Nidhi has the potential to be a good doctor. Fair enough. However, the script of the show is a let down when it comes to explaining why everyone has become so emotionally attached to Nidhi in such a short amount of time. I don’t deny that she has a winning charm, and admit myself to liking her within a minute of her intro but there weren’t enough interactions between her and anyone other than Dr. Ashutosh and the children at the hospital to justify such affection on everyone’s part. Given how much time everyone spends in the show wanting Nidhi to return the show could have at least spent some time first establishing, through some more small but notable encounters, why this is the case.
While Ashutosh and Nidhi’s interactions are a wonderful watch the show treats their scenes with a romantic sensibility that seems inappropriately timed. It is far too early for Doctor Ashutosh to constantly be looking at that jacket that Nidhi wore, or remembering every scene he’s been in her with, or feeling drawn towards her. One worries that we are one step away from “look look hawa hawa” type scenes. Those scenes and that kind of instant attraction work for serials of a certain kind, but KTLK is not that serial. Admittedly, the beginnings of Nidhi’s crush were beautifully depicted – the scene with the earrings was sweet because of how unexpected Nidhi found it. Nidhi is young and impressionable and one can believe she may feel a bit flattered at the attention she is getting from a senior doctor, even if the attention is purely professional and platonic. However, it seems harder to believe that a man like Ashutosh could be so easily charmed by Nidhi. Appreciation of her potential as a doctor and amusement at her antics (even if he doesn’t admit to this amusement) should have been quite enough to hook the audience. Romanticising his point of view only serves to mess with his characterisation. Too often Indian serials feel like they need to rush into the main plot and then they stretch that plot like a chewing gum. Some time spent setting the scene and working on the characterisation would not go remiss, especially when the format of a serial by virtue of its length allows one to do so.
Ignoring those niggles though, KTLK is most certainly a show worth keeping an eye out on. Ashutosh and Nidhi could have easily been reduced to caricatures at the hands of less deft writers. Ashutosh could have been a cartoonishly harsh and angry boss (I’m thinking of the Laad Governors and Dusht Danavs) and Nidhi could have been an unrealistically unprofessional scatterbrain (I don’t even need to name the serial heroines – there have been, and will sadly continue to be, many in this vein), but KTLK treats its characters with commendable nuance. Though the hospital staff call Ashutosh Doctor Hard Stone you never get the feeling that he is anything less than fair and though one may marvel at Nidhi’s stupid harkatein you get the feeling that she is going to grow up and learn to be a responsible doctor soon, and you look forward to that journey. The litmus test for the show will be how it handles Doctor Mallika’s journey, though. Unlike Ashutosh and Nidhi, she will probably not remain likeable for long – the signs of jealously and frustration are already showing. If she descends into outlandish vamp territory then somewhere the writer has taken a wrong turn.
Show: Kuch Toh Log Kahenge
Channel: Sony Entertainment Television
Premiere Date: 3 October 2011
Production house: Director’s Kut Production
Produced by: Rajan Shahi
Cast: Mohnish Behl, Kritika Kamra, Rukhsar Rehman, Vishal Malhotra, Ishita Sharma, Alok Nath, Vijay Kashyap
Story, Screenplay, Dialogues: Kamlesh Pandey
Series Director: Mandar Devsthali
Creative Director: Ritesh Modi
Director of Photography: Sanjay Jadhav, Satish Shetty
Art Director: Sumit Mishra
Editor: Sameer Gandhi
Background Music: Paresh Shah
Set Designer: Vinod Bagh
Costume & Styling: Tushar Gupta, Ekta Gupta, Nikhat Mariyam Neerushaa
Title Track: Saiyaan Naino Ki Bhasha Samjhe Na
Music: Abhishek Arora
Singer: Sukanya Purkayastha