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Steering clear of cliches 

 
In a recent interview, Preity Zinta said Kya Kehna was the film in which she was meant to have made her debut, the film she signed first. But Dil Se, in which she disarmingly asks a visibly rattled Shah Rukh Khan whether he's still a virgin, pipped it to the post.

If Preity had indeed been first thrown at the masses via Kya Kehna, it would have been as bold a debut as Rani Mukherjee made in Salim's Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat. But where Raja Ki... fizzled out after its bold beginning, succumbing to pathetic melodrama, Kundan Shah's Kya Kehna holds firm to its story of an unwed mother, who decides to have her baby against all odds, and the family that supports her in her decision. There is no compromise right till the end: the baby, when it's born, is a girl, and Priya, the heroine, refuses to marry the man who has seduced her even when he begs her on his knees. I could only find one line-that too in a song right at the end-that stuck out like a stray strand: Chandrachur Singh singing Tum jaisi bhi ho, jo bhi ho sanam ji, maine tumhe pyar kiya.

Preity is dazzlingly good as Priya, the young, fun-loving girl fresh out of school, who falls in love with a notorious flirt as soon as she steps into college. Right at the beginning, Shah establishes that Priya is brave in spirit and perfectly willing to fight for what she believes to be right. Having said that, he does not deviate from the line he has drawn for her, and neither does she.

Saif Ali Khan looks debauched enough to be the rogue he plays. He is the only dark aspect in a film that is sunny and bright even at its most tragic.

Scared of making a commitment, a constantly nagging mother, who's more interested in her social status, drives him to undertake daredevil risks and consider all girls fair game. He is nevertheless capable of looking at Priya's parents and saying he can't marry her simply because he doesn't want to. He is equally capable of looking his mother square in the eye and telling her he knows the baby is his because Priya is not "that kind" of a girl. An interesting character, who's neither black nor white, but plain human. One just wishes Saif would give his designer the boot-the clothes he wears in the film make him look positively aged.

After two interesting protagonists, it was perhaps too much to hope that the third one, too, would be out of the ordinary. Chandrachur plays the lover waiting in the wings with flowers in his hand and a proposal in his heart, never quite attaining more than `best friend' status with Priya. Like zillions of other Hindi movie heroes. But redeemingly, Shah does not make him propose to Priya as soon as she learns she is pregnant; he makes him wait till she has convinced the whole town that she is right.

Kundan Shah has made a sensitive film, on a sensitive subject. In doing so, he has created a courageous heroine who is not afraid of admitting she's made a mistake, and refuses to cower under the shroud of morality, disowning responsibility for her actions. Kya Kehna is a film that should have been made years ago.

-- Mimmy Jain

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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