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By A starry remake that stays broadly true to its original but disappoints PRIYANKA ROY IS KAJOL OR KAREENA THE REASON TO WATCH WE ARE FAMILY? TELL T2@ABPMAIL.COM
  • Published 4.09.10

How do you remake a film that has been watched by many on the big screen and had countless reruns on the small? Do you simply take the central idea and build your own story around it? Do you copy it frame by frame, dialogue by dialogue? Do you copy half of it and conjure up the other? Do you Bollywoodise it to the point that it becomes unrecognisable, often intolerable? Confusion hi confusion hai, solution ka pata nahin!

By now we all know that We Are Family is Stepmom, the 1998 Susan Sarandon-Julia Roberts drama of a single mother who not only has to adjust to her husband’s new girlfriend but also accept that she herself is terminally ill and has just a few months to live. All that Karan Johar had to do was faithfully copy the original, having bought the rights for it. But he chooses to temper it with so much Bollywood tadka that what was a strong, silent and subtle story of the resilience of one woman and the tolerance of another in Stepmom is reduced to a superficial and unnecessarily melodramatic mix in We Are Family.

From Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham to Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and My Name Is Khan, KJo the director has rarely let go of an opportunity to tug at the heartstrings. With We Are Family, KJo the producer unabashedly attacks the tear ducts. No wonder Dharma Productions ignored the hundreds of films churned out by Hollywood and bought the remake rights for Stepmom, made 12 years ago. For when it comes to extracting the sniffs and sobs, it doesn’t really get more kerchief-soaking than the Chris Columbus-directed drama.

Except that in We Are Family the emotional manipulation becomes a little too apparent — and too much. Despite the gloomy theme, Stepmom had a certain spunk that goes missing from We Are Family. Every reel, every scene, every dialogue is a constant ploy to make you reach out for your handkerchief. So much so that as the end credits roll, you strain your eyes and stare at the screen. Not to catch a glimpse of Arjun Rampal or steal a glance at Kareena Kapoor, but to spot a possible marketing tie-up with Kleenex, the tissue people. You even crane your neck to see if someone is distributing free handkerchiefs in the hall!

Which is a pity because We Are Family has a promising first half. The crackling face-off between Kajol (Maya, a divorcee and mother of three) and Kareena (Shreya, Maya’s husband’s much-younger girlfriend), the negative vibes between Shreya and the bratty kids (they call her everything from ‘wicked witch’ to D, short for daayan, she introduces them as ‘monsters’), the helplessness of Aman (Arjun) who is caught between his children and his girlfriend.... Within the first few reels, Maya is diagnosed with cervical cancer and Aman abandons Shreya to return to his family. When Maya discovers that her illness is terminal, she opens the doors of her house to Shreya to take over as the replacement mother.

If Stepmom was a story of intense conflict gradually leading to acceptance and reconciliation, We Are Family is syrupy-sweet, the tension between the two women being eased midway through the film. Sure they flash their eyes at each other and engage in the occasional tu tu main main, but there is practically no fireworks between the two firebrand women. Despite the heartbreaking premise, you rarely comprehend Shreya’s confusion or empathise with Aman’s helplessness. Maya’s pain as she feels life ebbing out of her and the children’s vulnerability as they come to terms with their mother’s illness moves you, but is marred by an unnecessarily stretched and over-emotional second half.

The stilted dialogues (Niranjan Iyengar) really don’t help. It rarely gets more corny than “Main ek career woman hoon, mom type nahin.” No emotional scene is complete without “Nahin tum nahin mar sakti”. Now where have we heard that before? Oh yes, in a Nirupa Roy film 30 years ago!

A Karan Johar film is characterised by foot-tapping music but Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are in disastrous form here. Not a single track stays with us and the less said about the take on Elvis Presley’s iconic Jailhouse Rock the better.

If We Are Family works, then it is largely in the performance department. Looking like a million bucks, Kareena breathes life and a new-found maturity into what is largely a uni-dimensional character lacking depth. Stuck between the two alpha women, Arjun carries out the limited role of bystander, while the cute-as-a-button Diya Sonecha is primarily responsible for the film’s (rare) light moments.

But it is one woman who makes the We Are Family journey worthwhile. One woman who makes you look forward to every film of hers. One woman who has rarely disappointed her fans. Envious and possessive, dominating yet succumbing, Kajol internalises Maya the way only Kajol can. She oscillates between feisty and forlorn, alternately scorning the woman in her man’s life and then reaching out to her helplessly for the sake of her kids.

In the last few scenes, she goes completely without make-up unruffled by the wrinkles on her face and the bags under her eyes. Watch out for the scene where she keeps things normal with her kids, only to break down uncontrollably when she finds herself alone. Kajol stays with you long after the lights come on. We Are Family doesn’t.

Stepmom vs WE ARE Family

We Are Family stays broadly true to Stepmom, but director Siddharth Malhotra does make some additions and subtractions…

• Stepmom had two kids, a boy and a girl. WAF has three children, two girls and a boy

• In Stepmom, Julia Roberts played a photographer. In WAF, Kareena is a fashion designer. Arjun Rampal is a fashion photographer

• Susan Sarandon’s Jackie was significantly older than Julia Roberts’s Isabel in Stepmom. Here Maya and Shreya are separated by a few years.

• In Stepmom, Luke (Ed Harris) and Jackie were separated. Here Maya and Aman are divorced

• Luke is the one who gets Isabel home in Stepmom. In WAF, it is Maya who brings Shreya home to stay with the family