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13 years of Kal Ho Naa Ho: Death and Karan Johar’s films


On the 13th anniversary of Karan Johar’s Kal Ho Naa Ho today (29 November), starring Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan, we take a look at how the death of a central character is a staple in most of his films.

Sonal Pandya

Thirteen years ago, Aman Mathur (Shah Rukh Khan) burst into the life of Naina Kapur and went on to change it forever. He taught her how to embrace love and life despite his own diagnosis of terminal cancer. Written by Karan Johar, Kal Ho Naa Ho was director Nikhil Advani’s first film. Advani had been an assistant director on Karan’s first two films.

The tearjerker was a crowd-pleaser, especially Khan who won audiences over with his portrayal of the charming yet tragic Aman who can’t have what he really wants — his love Naina, but before he leaves forever, he makes sure she’s taken care of. Kal Ho Naa Ho was made a difficult time for Karan, his own father, Yash Johar, the head of Dharma Productions was dealing with his own battle with cancer. Yash passed away on 26 June 2004. 

It bears bringing to light that almost every film directed or written by Karan has some element of fatality woven into the story. In his debut, the death of Tina (Rani Mukerji) brings together former college friends, Rahul (Shah Rukh) and Anjali (Kajol) on the path to love in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). 

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In Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... (2001), the sudden death of Anjali’s (Kajol) father forces Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) to undertake a decision that rips his family in half. With Sam’s (Amitabh Bachchan) death in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006), Maya (Rani Mukerji) takes on her father-in-law’s advice and pursue love by walking out of her own marriage. 

Shah Rukh and Kajol in My Name is Khan

The supposedly made-for-each couple Rizwan (Shah Rukh) and Mandira (Kajol) spiral out of each other’s lives after Mandira’s son Sameer is killed in a hate crime in My Name is Khan (2010). And even in Student of the Year (2012) which launched star kids Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt, the imminent death of their former principal Dean Yogendra Vashisht reunites the old gang back together despite all their previous grievances.

Ranbir and Anushka in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

This year, with his latest Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Karan took the love triangle further than he had in Kal Ho Naa Ho. He explored the deep heartache of one-sided love that Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) goes through, once when he loses his love Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) to Ali (Fawad Khan) and the second time, when Alizeh is diagnosed with cancer and doesn’t have much time to live.

In all these films, death looms large and has a ripple effect on the rest of the characters. 

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