There is really just one scene in We Are Family that has any emotional traction. And that can only be bad news for a professed tearjerker.
The scene in question works primarily because of Kajol. As a terminally ill mother lying in a hospital bed, she tells the would-be stepmom of her children (Kareena Kapoor) that she is their past and the latter their future, playing on the word 'kal' (yesterday and tomorrow, jaanewala and aanewala). Sob, sob!
But I hate sob stories, especially those that try too hard to activate the tear-ducts only to fail.
We Are Family looks pretty. But then which Karan Johar production doesn't? Trouble is there is little in the film that could take your attention away from the surface-level inducements.
It is difficult not to warm up to Kajol in We Are Family. She stamps her authority on the character that Susan Sarandon famously played in Chris Columbus' 1998 smash hit, Stepmom. She spouts even the corniest of lines with such conviction that you cannot but marvel.
Wish one could say the same about Kareena. The natural verve of a Julia Roberts is conspicuous by its absence in her performance.
Saddled with a screenplay that simply doesn't provide the instant invigoration of the original film, Kareena is unable to pack any real punch into the character of a career-minded girl who must prepare herself to play mother against all odds to the three children of the once-married man she loves (Arjun Rampal).
Full marks to Kareena for effort but much less for effect.
That is true of We Are Family as a whole. It has the essence of a fabulous weepie. What it delivers teeters on the edge of mediocrity, swinging wildly from the vacuous to the mawkish.
Kajol's character, when she learns she has cervical cancer, breaks downs in her designer kitchen and mutters through her sobs, "I don't want to die!" Scriptwriter Venita Coelho and first-time director Siddharth P. Malhotra don't leave even that thought to the imagination of the audience. We Are Family is that kind of film.
Leading up to this particular kitchen scene are a series of equally over-articulated moments. First the husband in the muddle declares to his estranged wife that he cannot afford to let go of his mistress nor can he turn his back on his children. You know what is coming next.
But just in case you haven't cottoned on, there is another broad brushstroke of a giveaway soon thereafter. Now the new woman in the man's life pipes up: "Meri zindagi tumhare bagair nahin chal sakti aur tumhari bachchon ke bagair (I cannot live without you and you without your children)." Got it? It's time for the divorced wife to move on.
And then comes one of most pedestrian "you have cancer and your days are numbered" scenes ever written for the big screen.
The doctor (Iravati Harshe, who pops up at periodic intervals to make pronouncements about the patient's health) tells the supermom: "You have cervical cancer." The latter asks: "Am I going to die?" The nonchalant reply: "You will live as long as you can, but from now on count your life in moments, not years."
It's awful. But, coming to think of it, it might be good business. The general lack of subtlety that pervades We Are Family may actually help it strike an instant chord with that segment of the soda-and-popcorn crowd that loves the feel of moist eyes and drenched hankies.
Lack of depth is the norm in We Are Family. The lighting is uniformly dazzling and the film is bathed in the same sort of soulless blue and white blush all through. The makers obviously don't have much faith in variable lighting as a means of orchestrating moods.
We Are Family is set in Sydney, Australia, but you are unlikely to spot any locals in the film's sparkling but inexpressive frames, which are swept clean of people, street activities and the sounds of the immediate environs. This film could have been shot in Bujumbura without the world noticing!
Arjun Rampal is perfectly cast as the `phlegmatic' photographer caught in the crossfire between two spirited ladies. He is so wondrously wooden that he could give the finest mahogany a solid complex. What was the intense and mercurial Ed Harris doing in Stepmom?
But We Are Family is recommended for two reasons. One, Kajol is in fine fettle here. Two, it's a rare Hindi film
that is a legitimate remake, inspiration acknowledged and rights purchased. It's a sign that Bollywood's chori chori chupke chupke rip-off days are beginning to fade away.
** and half