Kajol Steals the Screen

No matter her role, Indian actress Kajol exudes a show-stealing aura. She expresses a wide array of captivating emotions, yet always returns to the safety and stability of her confident and goofy persona. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, but that doesn’t mean she won’t command your respect. While Kajol is rarely the primary star in her films (a place often reserved for male leads like Aamir Khan or Shah Rukh Khan), her versatility and intensity often overshadow those around her. She can command any screen.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the vibrant film, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Kajol plays Anjali, the tomboyish best friend of Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan). Anjali loves Rahul, but he has eyes for another woman, their school principal’s daughter, Tina (Rani Mukerji). In despair, Anjali drops out of college and leaves Rahul behind. In the second half the film flashes forward, taking on a surprising tonal shift. Tina has since died during childbirth, but her dying wish was that Rahul names their daughter after Anjali. Rahul agrees to do so, and on her eighth birthday, the younger Anjali reads a letter from Tina, in which she expresses her regret at having come between Rahul and his real love. The young girl then sets out on a mission to reunite the old friends in marriage.

Due to this complex and multigenerational structure, it is difficult to say if Kuch Kuch Hota Hai actually has the main character. Still, and despite Rahul’s inherent prominence, it very well could be Kajol’s Anjali. She experiences the most change throughout the film, as her past and future selves engage in a dialogue that forms the crux of the film’s narrative and visual style. Rahul, on the other hand, remains relatively static and unchanged. Anjali’s status as the protagonist becomes even more intriguing when one considers the many parallels the narrative holds with Kajol’s own life. With Kajol’s magnificent on-screen presence, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai becomes, in a sense, a film about Kajol.

Kajol has discussed having grown up in a “matriarchal household” in which she was encouraged “to learn everything boys needed to.” One can’t help but consider this upbringing when watching her performance as the college-aged Anjali, who evokes Kajol’s actual past. Anjali’s persona in the second half of the film represents Kajol as she appears at the peak of her stardom. The resulting film expresses Kajol the actress’s past and present, as well as her inner and outer worlds.

On the surface, the college-age Anjali may appear to be a simple tomboy able to hold her own against Rahul in basketball, but she actually encompasses far more. Rahul aptly describes her as having held the school together. In a sense, her tomboy persona represents a blurring of borders and the unification of the students. In the extravagant song and dance number, “Yeh Ladka Hai Deewana,” we see Anjali move fluidly between different gender roles. This gender-fluid Kajol stands in sharp contrast to the woman we encounter later in the film, one who more closely resembles Kajol in her more glamorous and stylized roles, like those in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.

Notably, though, college-aged Anjali’s presence never really departs, creating a blend of the tomboy and the modern star. Song and dance sequences in the second half of the film play up the more glamorized and romantic “star” image of Kajol, to the extent that they feel self-referential. At one point, Anjali and Rahul play charades with a group of campers, and Anjali must act out a famous (and sexy) movie scene. Moments like these, in which we witness Kajol poking fun at her celebrity identity, further demonstrate her versatility and courage as an actress. She can be fully absorbed in a film, while also embracing her star status. She’s so compelling that, at the end of the film, when Anjali and Rahul finally get together, our feelings are tied to Kajol more than any other performer.

With some movie stars, it can be difficult to fully separate their lives from their performances. Star narratives build over time, comprising a performer’s idiosyncrasies, personal life, and all of the films they have ever been in. The more films that an actor or actress does, the weightier their narrative becomes, until one can feel it in all of their performances. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is, to a certain extent, a culmination of Kajol’s star narrative. She shines so brightly in this film that, intentionally or not, it becomes a story about her. Through Anjali, the movie forces us to consider the rise of Kajol the performer: Coming from a family of actors, she had to make a name for herself, and she has, but not at the cost of her own personality and individual quirks. She is an actress who likes to experiment, one who can lose herself in roles and explore her identity through characters, but she is also content to revert back to embodying her actual personality. As one watches her films, it becomes clear that while audiences may come for people like Shah Rukh Khan, they’ll stay for Kajol.

Watch Now: Curious to learn more about the context in which Kajol rose to stardom? Take a deep dive into Fandor’s collection of Indian films. 

While you’re here, be sure to explore the work of other gifted women in films, like Amy Adams, Michelle Yeoh, Ava Duvernay, Jane Campion, and Lucille Ball. Want more Bollywood? Check out our Color by Numbers on “Devdas.” 
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