Article Hindi

20 years of Kya Kehna: A refreshingly bold take on single motherhood


Preity Zinta turned in a fine performance as a single mother who chooses to tread an arduous path despite the odds.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Hindi cinema has seen several films over the decades that dealt with the social and psychological prejudice that unwed mothers have to face, often punished for their ‘mistake’ in some form or the other. Films such as Dhool Ka Phool (1959), Aradhana (1969) and Julie (1975) are just some examples.

In the portrayal of guilt and shame, Yash Chopra's Trishul (1978) marked a significant shift, as the child born out of wedlock (Amitabh Bachchan) does not deem himself to be illegitimate but declares his father illegitimate instead.

Yet, Kundan Shah’s Kya Kehna (2000) stands out for the way in which it addresses the social issue as it presents a courageous heroine and places the onus on the family to become her strength.

Priya (Preity Zinta) is a vivacious young woman who stands up for what she believes in, irrespective of the consequences. She falls for the charms of rich playboy Rahul (Saif Ali Khan), despite her family and her best friend Ajay (Chandrachur Singh) cautioning her.

While Priya, in her innocence, thinks that all the cozying up will lead to marriage, Rahul simply says “I am not interested”, citing his “class-conscious” parents, and brushes her off as just a fling.

Humiliated and heartbroken, Priya finds that she is pregnant. Rahul agrees to marry her on condition that she will be divorced the following day. She refuses that, as well as the option of undergoing an abortion, and insists on giving birth to the child while completing her studies, fighting against all odds.

It was and still is quite remarkable for a woman to take such an open and courageous stance. What is also markedly different in the film is that here, the private matters of the family are located in the public space. The people of the idyllic town of Solan ostracize Priya and her family citing izzat (respectability) and deeming her to be a corrupting influence.

Her condemnation is public (at the college annual day function), but so is her redemption. In the apt yet astounding denouement, Priya rejects Rahul’s proposal for marriage, claiming the child as solely hers, and choosing Ajay instead, who respects her.

Honey Irani’s script sensitively portrays Priya and her predicament while making her take societal prejudice head-on. Along with the heroine's strength, the script emphasizes the supporting role a family can play when a woman faces such a crisis, taking the social theme a step further.

Zinta started her acting career by shooting for this film. Though its release was delayed by a few years. Kya Kehna became a surprise hit and Zinta, who had already established herself in the film industry by then, proved her acting chops with her exuberant physicality and innocence that were finely calibrated to create a believable character. She was nominated for a Filmfare award for Best Actress, but it was scriptwriter Honey Irani who won the award for Best Story.

There are moments in the film that are over-the-top and the criticism of Priya in the public space plays out at a high pitch, but overall, the film works as a family drama where the family sticks together, in good times and especially during the bad.