Tag Archives: John Hughes

Mr. Mom versus Ki and Ka

If you read my review, you know I have a lot of problems with Ki and Ka. It wasn’t the humorous exploration of gender roles promised in the trailer, but rather a disorganized reinforcement of Bollywood tropes that favor men at the expense of women.

Given how non-progressive writer-director R. Balki’s movie is, I wanted to know how Ki and Ka compares to an older film about spouses swapping traditional gender roles: 1983’s Mr. Mom, written by John Hughes and directed by Stan Dragoti. Note: spoilers for both movies follow.

Though the two movies differ markedly in their general setups, they do share some very specific details in common — leading one to believe that Balki has at least seen Mr. Mom, even if he didn’t quite get the point of it. Both movies feature wives who work in advertising, both of whom earn promotions when they create campaigns offering discounts on food products traditionally purchased by women. In both movies, the stay-at-home husband plays cards with neighborhood housewives and leads them in an exercise program.

In Mr. Mom, Jack (Michael Keaton) is an automotive engineer who gets laid off from his job. He takes over the care of the house and the family’s three children when his wife Caroline (Teri Garr) finds a marketing job.

Jack assumes that being a homemaker will be easy compared to engineering, only to discover just how much he doesn’t know. He struggles with everyday chores and his own sense of self-worth, now that he’s not the breadwinner. Caroline explains that what carried her through her eight years as a stay-at-home mom was a sense of pride in a job well done, whether it’s a task as simple as cleaning the kitchen or as complex as raising good kids.

Mr. Mom is an out-and-out comedy, and a very funny one at that. Jack’s struggles are played for laughs, especially in the hilarious sequence featuring an overloaded washing machine, three home repair people, and a runaway vacuum nicknamed “Jaws.”

That sequence highlights what is probably the root problem in Ki and Ka. For all of the lip-service Kabir (Arjun Kapoor) pays to the difficulty and nobility of housework, he never struggles with it. It’s not hard for him.

Kabir has no more previous experience taking care of a house than Jack does. Kabir grew up wealthy, presumably with servants in addition to his own mother to run the family mansion. We know that he earned an MBA, but after that, he makes no mention of having done anything like studying cooking or home maintenance. As far as we are shown, Kabir is just a 28-year-old jobless guy living in his childhood bedroom until he marries Kia (Kareena Kapoor Khan).

When he actually becomes Kia’s househusband, he does so with no problems. On their first morning together, he clears the clutter, gets himself ready, and makes breakfast all before Kia and her mom (Swaroop Sampat) wake up. When he botches their morning coffee, the joke is on the women, not him.

Kabir is then free to redecorate the family apartment as the train depot of his childhood dreams (removing all trace of Kia and her mom from the decor in the process, by the way). After folding laundry and cooking, his time is his own, freeing him to shop for clothes with his new lady friends.

Unlike Jack in Mr. Mom, Kabir does little household cleaning. Kia’s longtime maid handles the dirty work. Even during the narrative’s short-lived budget crisis plot point, Kabir deems the maid’s services essential, even though her salary is one of the couple’s biggest monthly expenses. Why is she essential? They only live in a two bedroom apartment, with no kids. How hard is that to keep clean?

It’s harder to tell an insightful story about gender roles when the main characters are upper class. They keep a maid because they can afford to, allowing Kabir the time to become a celebrity icon of social progress while still making it home to cook dinner.

Because Kabir is rich — and always has been — he never pays a price for his unusual lifestyle choice. Wealthy people live by different rules than the rest of us anyway, so how is his experience analogous to anyone who’s not an elite? What social price would Kabir and Kia have to pay if she were the ad firm’s receptionist rather than an executive? Sure, Kabir’s dad doesn’t approve, but Kabir has already disinherited himself and written his dad off as the stick-in-the-mud he is.

Ki and Ka makes it seem as if being a homemaker is so easy anyone can do it, disregarding the social, emotional, and practical challenges of the job. Even though Mr. Mom is more than thirty years old, it’s more insightful as to what being a stay-at-home spouse entails — and it’s a lot more entertaining, too. You can buy or rent Mr. Mom at Amazon or iTunes.

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Movie Review: Student of the Year (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

If John Hughes had made a Bollywood movie, it would be Student of the Year (SOTY henceforth). Writer-director Karan Johar incorporates some of the best elements of ’80s teen romantic comedies into a film that feels current but familiar.

The film begins with some direct-to-camera monologues — a la Ferris Bueller — that I wasn’t initially in love with. The technique allows Sudo (Kayoz Irani, son of Boman Irani, who steals the show in a brief cameo) to introduce present-day circumstances and explain how past events influenced them.

The “present-day” I’m referring to is actually ten years in the future. The film isn’t especially clear on when “now” is, though there is a flashback to 2011 within the main flashbacks, so “now” is 2022 and “then” is 2012. Hang on to those ripped jeans, fellas, because they’ll be stylish again in ten years.

Sudo sets the stage as he and several of his former classmates gather at the hospital to attend to the ailing former dean of their prep school (played by Rishi Kapoor). The dean left the school in disgrace, and Sudo and his classmates feel responsible.

As in many Hughes films, economic class has a huge influence on the lives of the teens at the heart of the story. St. Theresa’s High School in India populated by the wealthy offspring of business tycoons and academically gifted scholarship students.

Chief among the rich kids is Rohan Nanda (Varun Dhawan), the younger son of one of India’s richest men. Friendship with Rohan is seen as the surest path to future wealth. The most popular girl in school, Shanaya (Alia Bhatt), is rich herself, yet her parents push her to date Rohan, just to be safe.

Little do the other students know that Rohan is the black sheep of his family. His musical ambitions embarrass his father, who doesn’t hide his feelings from his son.

The tension within the Nanda family becomes more pronounced when Rohan befriends the new kid in school. Abhi (Siddharth Malhotra) is a scholarship student who is academically and athletically every bit Rohan’s match, and Rohan likes having a real peer among a sea of suck-ups.

Ambitious Abhi knows just what to say to impress Mr. Nanda, who seems to wish that Abhi was his son instead of Rohan. When Abhi suggests to Shanaya that the way to cure Rohan of his wandering eye is to make him jealous — using Abhi as the new object of her affection — it becomes clear that his ambition may be more important than his loyalty to his friend.

Rounding out the Breakfast-Club-like motley crew are nerdy Sudo, Shanaya’s tomboy best friend Shruti, slutty Tanya, and Rohan’s right-hand-man Jeet. While they are peripheral players to the main love triangle, they all compete in the titular “Student of the Year” competition that takes up the second half of the film.

The competition itself is inherently unfair, which the film acknowledges. Given that the final stage of a four-part competition is a triathlon, one might as well skip the preliminaries and hand the trophy to Abhi, who’s about a foot taller than everyone else. Nevertheless, the second half of the film contains some entertaining interpersonal drama and a great dance competition, which Kajol crashes for no apparent reason.

Though the film unapolagetically uses its youthful cast of unknowns as eye candy — the lingering pans of Malhotra’s manscaped torso are practically pornographic — the actors show some real promise. Malhotra is able to pull off emotional scenes as easily as he pulls off his shirt. Bhatt does a fine job as her character grows beyond her spoiled rich-girl beginnings.

Of the three leads, Dhawan seems the most capable of establishing a real career as an actor. He’s a tremendous dancer, which is a plus. His character is arguably the hardest to execute in that he needs to become more than just a snobby a-hole. Rohan is Steff from Pretty in Pink, but with a conscience. It’s easy to root for a poor, orphaned underdog like Abhi, but by the end of the film, I was on Team Rohan.

Teenage struggles with developing friendships, a sense of identity, and self-worth have been around forever, and Johar is beholden to use those plot triggers. In another nod to Hughes, Johar includes an array of catchy song-and-dance numbers in the film. Apart from some continuity issues and the questionable direct-to-camera monologues, Student of the Year is a really successful film.

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