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Yes, we all are quick to jump and attack the filmmakers and writers on promoting a certain toxic narrative and the ideals of society that should be discarded but sometimes, the films are just a reflection of the times that we are living in. While, some films do glorify toxicity or the set notions, the others films simply state it. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, a 1998 superhit film, starring Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, and Rani Mukerji, was a film that somewhere mirrored the mindset of the youth of the mid-90s. The movie completes 23 years today, and two decades later, the film that we movie buffs must have watched 9-10 times (sort of binge-watched), beckons us to talk about what the costumes represented. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is not just a film that highlighted love, loss, and serendipity but was also an essay on male gaze and attraction via clothes.
The movie has three central characters - Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan), Anjali (Kajol), and Tina (Rani Mukerji). Rahul and Anjali are best friends in their college - the basketball players and their friendship is platonic. Rahul is a heartthrob of his college and back in the days when the combination of GAP sweatshirts and denims were considered cool. The wavy hairstyle and the funky chains adds to his look in the movie. Yes, sweatshirts and hoodies definitely became the go-to outfits for young men after this film. The girls in the college are mostly shown in skirts and tops and dresses but Anjali is the girl, who flaunts athleisure (the sportwear) with her hair cut short - the bob cut and the one who wears caps. She is mostly in tracksuits and shorts, her fashion sensibility more in tune of what is considered masculine. With Anjali's character, the movie introduced to the Bollywood lovers, another refreshing character trope of women, who defy conventional femininity.
However, somewhere in the first half of the movie comes Tina, who is exactly what Anjali is not. Tina is feminine with her short skirts and sleeveless tops, her perfect lip shade, and impeccable sleek tresses. She immediately catches the attention of Rahul by giving it back to him with her recitation of a divine prayer, showing that she might be from abroad but isn't detached from her roots. We do understand that Tina is shown gorgeous but apart from her looks and dress sense, Rahul is more so, attracted to her because she is a modern-meets-desi woman - a blend of attractive and homely, something that society hasn't moved on from.
As time rolls, Rahul and Tina become the couple while Anjali is left alone (not intentionally though but because of their honeymoon phase of romance) and Anjali also develop feelings for Rahul. A trouble in the paradise! Anjali with her tracksuits and casual clothes cannot compete with Tina, who also becomes her best friend (like Betty and Veronica). Rahul may be the best of pals with Anjali but somewhere he isn't attracted to her, which makes Anjali dress up like Tina on one of the occasions, only to find that she can't pull off a skirt/dress quite like Tina and she ends up being mocked and ridiculed. Anjali does it to catch Rahul's attention but can't and yes, we all felt for her. While we were enjoying the film back then and didn't really analyse it, now we wonder how easily we digested this narrative and society's perception of what kind of clothes make a woman attractive. It is uneasy to see Anjali changing her wardrobe just to please a man, to fit in, and not be seen for who she is. Anjali is not shown as someone who is not comfortable in her own skin, thereby bringing to light the vulnerabilities and the validation needed from opposite sex - basically the problems of young adults. The good part is that the first half of the movie makes us empathise with Anjali and doesn't project Anjali in a way, as if she is the problem and that she needs to change.
But in the second-half, we see Anjali, who has changed. She is not the sportswear-flaunting Anjali but the Anjali, who has grown her hair longer and is in those understated sarees, feminine and traditional, with just a whiff of her good-old spunk (it comes in one scene). Sure, one can defend it by saying that she has grown out of her previous tomboyish appearance but what drives that change in Anjali, is the question. She is engaged to Aman Mehra (Salman Khan) in this later half of the movie and as fate has it, Rahul meets this new Anjali. He too becomes attracted to her for now she is strictly feminine (as the society puts it) and conventional. So, in a nutshell, Anjali is the one, who changes for the likes of Rahul or prospective Aman - if she wants love, basically she should change her wardrobe and do makeup, is what the movie absolutely highlighted. Now, that was the disappointing imagery of society that the movie showed. The movie is an insight into how much of feminine wardrobe is curated from the point of view of male gaze. However, otherwise the movie was enjoyable to watch and 23 years later, we can watch it again (mostly, the first half).
Pictures Source: Stills From The Movie