I'm not going to talk about Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic in this post. Suffice to say I liked it a lot, but a proper review will have to wait until the eventual DVD rewatch. Instead, I'm going to talk about the film's maker, Kunal Kohli.
Kunal Kohli is certainly not the best Indian film maker, not even the best making films in Hindi. But he probably is my favourite contemporary one in the field of honest-to-god commercial cinema - the one guy whose films I always look forward to. Maybe it's just the fact I feel like I understand him. Let me explain.
1. Kunal Kohli is a filmi fanboy. There are people who want to make movies because they want to make money, and people who want to make movies because they want to tell stories. I think Kunal Kohli might claim to be one of the latter but in fact he is probably of the third kind: the people who make films because want to make them. He is openly enthusiastic and passionate about cinema, and admires people who belong to a different type of film making than he himself does - I believe his biggest favourite is the legendary Guru Dutt. Now, he is probably never going to be as good or as legendary as Guru Dutt, but the admiration there is endearing to me.
I doubt he will ever stop making the kind of films he makes and yet at the same time, when his idols are of this sort, perhaps he will one day leave his sandbox and attempt something different, something more social, something more tragic in a less apparently filmi manner. I would cheer for him to do this, and hope that he wouldn't fail as miserably as Karan Johar did when attempting it.
The little tributes all of his films have to the golden oldies, especially their music (medley of Mujhse Dosti Karoge, Antakshari in Fanaa just to name a few) is very telling. What really made me realize how much of a filmi fanboy Kunal Kohli is, was listening to his Director's Commentary on the Fanaa DVD. He talks a lot about the poetic lyrics Prasoon Joshi wrote for the film, and is also in awe of Aamir Khan. If you own the DVD but have not rewatched with the commentary, please do.
2. Kunal Kohli loves his filmi moments. You know the sindoor scene in MSK? Or the scene on the second half of Fanaa where Kajol calls out "Rehan"? (I'm trying very hard to be vague as to not spoil the people who haven't seen these films yet!) The last rain scene in Hum Tum?
There are so many moments in Hindi films where something completely improbable but absolutely perfect in terms of audience satisfaction happens magically, and Kunal Kohli is the current master of them. At times he takes them dangerously close to the point of cheesy, and sometimes beyond it, and while some sections of the audience will roll their eyes and wish they'd rewatched something more intellectually stimulating, some people, the people Kunal Kohli caters to (read: me, me, me and some of my Bollywood-loving friends!) will gasp and squeal and if they're feeling dorky enough, go "Yes!" and pump their fist in the air. And sometimes those scenes alone are worth the movie ticket, or the DVD rental, that's how KK builds them up to be.
3. Kunal Kohli makes flawed films. As much as I like the guy, this has to be said: there is room for improvement in all of his films. I believe with MDK he is very good at admitting his error - the film's story and style was somewhat outdated, something that would've worked well in 1998 but not five years later. Hum Tum, I'm a huge fan but could easily lose the cartoon sections and some of the other artificial battle-of-genders type of thing. Fanaa has some absolutely cringeworthy scenes which I really wish would've been cut or reshot because overall I adore the movie. Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic was a fun Disney-ish children's film, but could've been more intelligent on the whole (there is no need to patronize children) despite the genre.
Is he getting better at making films? Probably. But I think that there will always be points in his films where I think he goes in the wrong for me, and for others, even people who (like me) are pretty much his fans.
4. Kunal Kohli works the genre. If you tune into Fanaa expecting any sort of realistic portrayal of Kashmiri politics/terrorism, good luck trying to enjoy it. The film is a typical ridiculous melodramatic love story, as improbable and outrageous as the premise - "blind girl meets terrorist, epic tragic love ensues". But if you go in expecting that and some very strong performances by Aamir Khan and Kajol and you are a fan of the whole intense love story thing, you just might enjoy it a ton.
Similarly, I think Hum Tum is among the absolute best romantic comedies out there. It's funny, it's romantic, it has touching moments - what more do you need? And then there's Thoda Pyaar, clearly a kids' movie, chock-full of moments of juvenile mischief that is hoping to appeal to the young hearts and minds in the audience.
So, this is not to say KK is incredibly good at working the genre, but he does do it pretty effectively most of the time.
5. Kunal Kohli is NOT Karan Johar. Because let's be honest, the previous four facts could also apply to the other popular film maker of our time. And yet, one director's work I anticipate, the other one's I dread. How come?
KJo (he doesn't like being called that, which is all the more reason for me to use it - har har!) is also a filmi fanboy, adores his own type of filmi moments (with bonus glycerin-induced tears!), makes flawed films and works the genre (of family melodrama, I guess). And yet, no matter how they are both sincere in their love for cinema, there is something about KJo films that I dislike and something about Kunal Kohli films that I enjoy.
I've analyzed this and come to the conclusion that it all boils down to their own favourite films. Karan Johar's absolute favourite is Yash Chopra's Lamhe, a film whose romantic jodi creeped the hell out of me, despite good performances by Sridevi and Anil Kapoor. He tends to admire the sort of overly tear-filled formula of melodramatic masala, and the sort of chiffon-sari-in-Swiss-Alps that I also like, but it can get a little tiring. The romances in his films are nearly always somehow peculiar and thus a turn-off and of course, his undying love, uh, I meant friendship, just friendship for Shahrukh Khan is another thing I can't really relate to. Kunal Kohli's taste in films seems a lot closer to my own.
So there you have it. And I managed all this without a single Chuck Norris Facts-related joke. Go team me!