A bunch of blazer-clad 12th grade students are made to stand in the hot sun as a punishment for rudely interrupting the morning assembly. One moment they're complaining about melting in the heat, the very next they're prancing about, mouthing lyrics like gham chabate jaaye while actually chewing gum and then walking around in slow motion. Always Kabhi Kabhi is a lot like the desi version of Glee or High School Musical, without the inimitable Jane Lynch and with a lot of Indian teen issues thrown in the mix. The film oscillates between the bubble-gum like song and dance routines and the all-too-serious junior college dilemmas, leaving the viewer terribly confused in the process.
Set in a picture-postcard of a school campus, which looks more like a fort, in what is supposed to be Delhi, Always Kabhi Kabhi traces the journey of four friends in their last year of school. Nandini Oberoi aka Nandi Bull is the rebel, an aggressive rich kid who's turned out that way because her parents are always in London or Dubai for an "important meeting". Tariq Naqvi aka Einstein is the college nerd and Nandini's "childhood enemy" whose sole aim is to carry forward his family's legacy by getting into MIT. Tariq's best friend Sameer Khanna is 'da man', the most popular boy in school who is cornered by a pair of corrupt cops in a drugs case. The latest entrant to the gang is the London return, Aishwarya Dhawan, whose former second-lead mother wants her daughter to not just win the Miss India crown, but also make it big in the big, bad world of Bollywood. While figuring out how to deal with all of their personal problems, these four scramble through rehearsals of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' and the film culminates in their final performance, a pop song which would have certainly disturbed the Bard.
Adapted from Graffiti, a play written by Abbas in 1999, the film tries to tackle one too many problems, which have already been dealt with in a more mature manner in other cinematic offerings. The first half with its blossoming romances and last-days-of-school montages is fairly engrossing, but it all goes down-hill after that. Post-interval, all four protagonists are suddenly stuck in looming predicaments which are stretched out like bubblegum. There are no real twists and turns and the film seems to go on and on and on, making you glance at your watch more than once. However, what makes one really squirm in the seat is the blatant in-film branding, which sometimes makes the entire sequence seem like an extended advertisement for a particular product!
The penultimate scene in which the youth attempt to bridge the gap by having a 'dialogue' with their parents is trivialised by a 'Youngistan' song and dance number. And before you can heave a sigh of relief after the Antenna strains have died down, it starts all over again! A jazzed up, remixed version of the song blares out and producer Shah Rukh Khan finally makes an appearance, perhaps a bit too late as even his superhero act couldn't possibly have saved the movie.
The film does have some endearing moments and flashes of ingenuity. The idea of taking the narrative forward through status updates when Nandini goes from 'heading to a club' to putting up pictures of her wild night out to saying 'hangovers are hell' in under a minute, is certainly an interesting one. The cinematography too manages to capture the fresh, energetic vibe of high school, but the saving grace is undoubtedly the new foursome.
Zoa Morani stands out in her fiery role as Nandini, and though she may not seem like traditional heroine material, her confidence and screen presence could take her a long way. Satyajeet Dubey (Tariq) has the chocolate boy looks and a personality to match. Ali Fazal, who was earlier seen as Joy Lobo in 3 Idiots sails through his performance as Shortcut Sam aka Sameer Khanna. Giselli Monteiro looks flawless, but remains expressionless for a major part of the film, and the inaccurate dubbing doesn't help either. The supporting cast includes the likes of Satish Shah, Navneet Nishan, Lilette Dubey, Vijay Raaz, Mukesh Tiwari and Manoj Joshi. In spite of having all the right ingredients for a laugh riot, Abbas has wasted all these talents by featuring them in poorly defined, meager roles.
For a film which is highly inspired by Glee and High School Musical, Always Kabhi Kabhi has a strictly average soundtrack. The title track is uninspiring and while Antenna aims for a We Will Rock You feel, it gives out a more robot-ish vibe. The only song which stands out is School ke Din, the first song in the film which is accompanied by some fun visuals.
Bollywood 'Always' churns out candy-floss romances, 'Kabhi Kabhi' they touch your heart and leave a mark. Unfortunately, and ironically, Always Kabhi Kabhi is not one of those. Head to the theatre only to watch some spirited performances by a bunch of newcomers, otherwise you can 'Always' rent a video and watch Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens do their thing in High School Musical, all three parts.