Movie Review: Ki and Ka (2016)

KiAndKa0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Don’t be fooled into thinking that Ki and Ka (“His and Hers“) is a progressive examination of gender roles in contemporary India. This is Mansplaining: The Movie.

Kareena Kapoor Khan plays Kia, a marketing executive with a clear career path: get promoted to vice president of her company and eventually become CEO. She knows that marriage and especially kids often hamper women professionally, so she’s not interested in either.

She meets Kabir (Arjun Kapoor), son of a rich construction magnate. Rather than inherit his father’s empire, Kabir wants to follow in his deceased mother’s footsteps and be a homemaker.

However, we don’t see any evidence of Kabir working toward that goal. We don’t see him cooking, cleaning, or organizing — none of the activities that are central to the job of homemaking. All we see during his courtship of Kia is him hanging out in bars or tooling around a playground on his Segway. Apparently, his aspirations are enough for him to get his dream job, despite the fact that he’s both unqualified and unmotivated.

But that’s the point of writer-director R. Balki’s film: Kabir’s desire to defy gender stereotypes makes him a hero. He’s lauded for his choice, going so far as to appear on TV on Woman’s Day to explain to everyone how noble he is for cooking and tidying up. He fails to note that he still employs a maid to do dirty work like dusting.

Kabir’s deification comes at Kia’s expense. She apologizes over and over again: for hurting his feelings, for taking him for granted, for being jealous. Other than saying “sorry” for crying too loudly during their initial meeting, Kabir never apologizes to Kia because the screenplay never puts him in a position to do so. In typical Bollywood hero fashion, Kabir is infallible, incapable of doing wrong because he is a man.

It’s worth noting another sequence which chucks any remaining vestiges of Ki and Ka‘s feminist credibility out the window. Kabir starts an exercise program for the women in his building, premised on the ideas that all women think they are fat and that they secretly want to be ogled by strange men on the street.

If Balki’s dated takes on equality weren’t problem enough, the movie is lifeless. The first fifteen minutes of Kabir & Kia’s courtship is a sequence of barroom conversations, with cinematographer P. C. Sreeram’s camera making constant, incremental zooms to give the illusion of dynamism while the actors just sit there. The most excitement we get is a shot of Kia walking slowly alongside Kabir as he rides his Segway. Even the song numbers are mostly montages.

The screenplay’s structure leaves much to be desired. There are no subplots at all, and only a couple of hollow supporting characters. Neither Kia nor Kabir have any friends until they magically appear for scenes in which everyone talks about how great Kabir is, never to be heard from again.

None of the conflicts between the couple lasts more than a few minutes, and there’s nothing at stake in any larger sense either. Their relationship is never in danger, as emphasized by a climax that is literally impossible to have unfold in the tidy way it does.

Characters repeatedly refer to Kabir as “every woman’s dream husband.” The goal of feminism is not to make men do chores. If Ki and Ka is R. Balki’s idea of social progress, he’s missed the point.

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25 thoughts on “Movie Review: Ki and Ka (2016)

  1. moviemavengal

    Ouch! I didn’t hate it as much as you, but I adore Arjun and I thought they had more chemistry than you did. I think we’re supposed to accept that he learned all those cooking skills at his mother’s knee, but showing him struggling, even A LITTLE BIT would have made for some more comedy. Or there could have been more drama if one of the other housewives really tried to have an affair with him — or he developed a drinking problem waiting for her to come home from the office …. or something. SOMETHING.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      There are so many ways that this could have been improved, but most start with basic screenwriting. There have to be some stakes, some subplots, anything to keep it moving rather that these five-minute sequences of Kareena going, “I’m mad. … Sorry, I’m not mad. Now I’m jealous! … Sorry, I’m not jealous.”

      Reply
  2. mindexcrement

    Absolutely despised this movie. It was extremely long, repetitive and patronizing. Their characters are just caricatures.

    I watched it at a theatre in India, and listening to all of the audience’s reactions was a good insight into why this film might even draw a crowd in the first weekend: it sticks to reinforcing the same patriarchal constructs while disguising itself as a progressive movie. And this might work for the majority of the youth that’s in limbo between wanting to discard useless traditional constructs and wanting to move towards progress and modernity but not being able to. It’s kind of a poisonous mix of the two. You feel like you’ve progressed because you’re sitting in a theatre in India watching a man cook and watching a couple having sex, but you’re also simultaneously investing in the man, and are emotionally distanced from the female lead.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      “Poisonous” is a good word for it, mindexcrement. Lots of good points, and I especially like your closing sentence. There’s no sense of parity between the two leads. He’s clearly the hero, and she’s clearly the asshole. Forgot to mention in my review how Kia’s boss — who is not supposed to be sexist — tells her she’s a “lucky girl” for marrying a man like Kabir. She’s a freaking VP, not a girl. Language like that really gives away where the writer’s head is at.

      Reply
  3. Tarika

    Hi Kathy: this is a wonderful review! I was extremely apprehensive when I saw the trailer and the film confirmed my worst fears. It made my blood boil when Kareena’s mum was chastised for asking if Kabir was a freeloader and he said that she would never have asked the same thing of a housewife. The absurdity of pretending this is affluent, urban Indian reality!

    If you read any matrimonial advert today in India, it specifically mentions the profession a woman must have- accountant, doctor, engineer preferred! Ironically, even in the most liberal Scandinavian country, I can’t imagine a man specifying such a criteria on a dating website. And Indian families absolutely do not allow women to ‘freeload’: a very hefty dowry given by the bride to the groom’s family is the norm. And dowry demands and violence are actually sharply increasing (hence the viewing of a daughter as a burden and the country’s terrible, declining sex ratio). Not to mention that amongst the Indian poor, a significant proportion of men are alcoholics and their wives are both breadwinners and homemakers.

    It was so laughable and fraudulent that this movie preached gender equality but didn’t tackle THE most harmful and culturally unique form of gender violence i.e. dowry and instead created an alternate reality where only Indian husbands are socially subject to financial demands. This was the laziest, most reductive way of preaching equality. Fall in love with a beautiful, successful, sophisticated female executive and then marry her and spend your time doing a little bit of cooking, playing with trains and attending parties- which man wouldn’t subscribe to this? The self-righteousness of this film was entirely unwarranted. There far more subversive films that further the feminist cause without the constant, tedious sermonising of Ki and Ka.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thank you very much for such an insightful comment, Tarika. Ki and Ka really glosses over the most harmful aspects of gender discrimination, presenting easy solutions that would do nothing to tackle the problems. Though not as serious as dowry, I think it’s significant that we never see Kabir do anything that would require him to touch anything messy, such as doing laundry or cleaning the bathroom. When he needs to sweep, he has a maid do it (and she’s depicted as freeloading, to boot). As you said, Kabir gets to pick and choose what chores he wants to do and lets a woman do the dirty work.

      Reply
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  5. Avi

    The movie was no great shakes but the review and some comments here are a bit too much.
    Its a movie and not a feminist documentary. Someone commented that the movie does not tackle dowry. It might be because its not relevant to the plot. Maybe he should have also spoken about wage discrimination, genital mutilation too.

    The reviewer says he used a maid to do the chores he didn’t want to do. In the movie Piku, Piku also uses a maid, a man servant to take care of her father and a driver to ferry her. Does that make her less of a progressive female.

    Kia trashes her friend for getting married and starts sermonizing about losing her independence and becoming only a supporting structure to the husband. And three meetings later Kia doesn’t mind having a similar support herself.

    Niether character manages to apologize decently in the movie, Ka for trying to insinuate his wife or Kia for torrential abuse at the end.

    This movie has a lazy narrative and good story written badly. Both the characters Ki and Ka are underdeveloped. So why trash only one of them.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Just because you disagree, Avi, doesn’t mean you have the right to dismiss the feelings of those who were offended by Ki and Ka. I assume what you meant to say is that this is a work of fiction and not a documentary, but this was marketed as an examination of gender roles. The vast majority of the people who watch Ki and Ka will never watch a documentary about gender, thus Balki’s film is of greater social import. He dropped the ball. If you liked it, fine.

      Reply
      1. Avi

        I apologize that my comment came across as dismissive. Even I didn’t like the movie. I guess we didn’t like it for different reasons. I expected it to be entertaining and you expected it to have a social emphasis.

        Reply
        1. Kathy Post author

          Thanks, Avi. I think my feelings and expectations would have been different had this been an out-and-out comedy, with both characters making humorous mistakes as they learn to live together in their unusual circumstances. But Balki’s tone is always more serious than that; both Cheeni Kum and Shamitabh end on extremely somber notes. Since Balki wants to be considered a thought-provoking filmmaker, then he needs to do more work to earn that reputation.

          Reply
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  7. Ninjabilli

    I think the most laughable section of the movie has got to be when they intercut their sex scene with shots of the fountain at the Burj Al Arab. I had learned in film theory class that the opening of a champagne bottle, fountains, hoses etc. are supposed to connote the male orgasm. And this right after he tells her she’s sleeping her way to the top. Way to minimize the damage of his words.

    Reply
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  9. Monika Sulik

    I just I saw it yesterday and disagree with some of your assessments 🙂

    1) I actually assumed that Kabir had indeed practiced his homemaking skills before their marriage and that the film didn’t show it. I just figured the film was quite clumsily written, especially at the beginning. IMO the whole courtship wasn’t well handled and Kabir’s background is generally not elaborated on. He doesn’t take any money from his father and yet it seems he has money to live from, so presumably he must have been earning it somehow, but how? The film mentions nothing.
    Bottom line is – I don’t think the film gives us any evidence either way about whether Kabir did or didn’t practice his homemaking skills. We just don’t know.

    2) I actually liked that they didn’t make Kabir a clumsy homemaker – the whole “man thinks homemaking/childcare/some other traditionally female job is easy and then discovers it’s hard work” is IMO a big cliché. And I think it was actually very respectful to have Kabir acknowledge early on in the film that homemaking is an art and that it’s something somebody could genuinely aspire to.
    Besides, I know many men who are much better at taking care of a home than I am (I suck at it), so it’s not unrealistic. And why do we have to always portray men as clumsy homemakers in such films? They didn’t portray Kia as somehow lacking on the career front, so why do they have to portray Kabir as such?

    3) Kabir is definitely not infallible. In fact I would say that it’s Kabir who makes the biggest mistake of the film and ends up not delivering on his part of the deal. When Kia goes to New York, Kabir’s reason for staying home is to take care of Kia’s mum. But when it comes down to it, when Kia’s mum has a medical emergency, he is *not* there! Kia doesn’t particularly mind ordering in food, paying for a maid etc. It’s situations where she needs that kind of support at home when Kabir’s status of house-husband is of biggest value to her and he fails big time! From what I recall he also does try to apologize for this.
    And it’s not just Kia saying unpleasant things out of jealousy. Kabir also has a nasty jealousy episode. Feeling unappreciated in that situation was not entirely unfounded perhaps, but accusing Kia of being the type of woman who would sleep around to advance in her career really was out of line.
    So to me the assertion that Kabir is portrayed as somebody who is morally superior is completely false. In my eyes he is just as flawed as Kia.

    4) Kabir may be lauded for his choice to defy gender roles, but IMO the film actually does make a comment at how unfair it is. There’s a great sequence where Kia keeps getting told by everyone how they had seen her husband’s interview and how much they loved what he was saying. Then finally somebody says they saw Kia’s interview and loved what she was wearing in it.
    I also thought this was a very true observation of life. All a man has to do is cook a great meal and everyone will be saying what a great husband he is and how lucky the woman is to have him etc. But I’ve never seen anybody tell my dad how lucky he was because my mum did many male jobs around the house (fixing things, building work, chopping wood etc.). I never got the impression the film condones this, quite the contrary actually. As a result of Kabir enjoying the praise he was getting, he ends up failing at his job as a homemaker. And the letter Kia gets from Jaya Bachchan is the ultimate counterbalance – the praise Kia deserves but never gets from anybody else because she’s a woman.

    5) I never got the impression that the film was saying that feminism wants to make men do chores. To me this was a film about people consciously creating their relationships regardless of gender stereotypes. That it doesn’t make somebody less of a man because they’re a homemaker or less of a woman because they’re ambitious in their career.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Monika. In regard to your first point, we’re both in agreement that Balki dropped the ball on Kabir’s backstory. We only know what Balki tells or shows us, and failing to do so weakens the plot and makes the characters less sympathetic. How great would it have been to have an early scene of Kabir’s dad rejecting a dish cooked by his son, snarkily telling him, “That’s why we have a cook, Kabir. You should spend less time in the kitchen and more time trying to find a real job.” It would have set up their conflict and established Kabir’s qualifications in less than one minute.

      Since Kabir’s character is underdeveloped, we needed scenes of him failing (check out my comparison of Ki and Ka and Mr. Mom for more evidence). Otherwise, he’s just an entitled, rich Bollywood hero with no obstacles to overcome. And when he does fail — as in your third point — he runs away!

      “I never got the impression that the film was saying that feminism wants to make men do chores.” Come on, Monika! Give me some credit for writing a catchy hook! 😉

      Reply
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  12. thegirlsalmighty

    Have you seen Angry Indian Goddesses, Kathy? I haven’t myself but I’ve only heard good things, and it’s supposedly a lot more ‘feminist’.

    Reply
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