As far as R Balki is concerned, first let’s talk about the elephant in the room. (Brought to you by Kerala Tourism, let’s say.)
Product placement. An integral part of his films, there are times when it is subtly done, but then there are times when it jolts you back into the reality you want to escape; where advertising propagates everything that an equal world would want to eradicate.
Sample this: Kareena Kapoor tells an ostensible admirer, in multiple ways no less, that she’s menstruating. His hassled response? “Okay, okay. Stay free.” Doesn’t matter that he looked like he wet his pants and was in need of some advanced moisture absorbing technology of his own.
There’s no escaping it, Balki goes overboard with product placements in his films, and Ki & Ka is no different. Listing out all of the brands that make cameo appearances would be a fun academic exercise, but it would defeat the purpose of this point of critique. How nice would it be if captive audiences who’ve paid money to enjoy a few hours of respite from their lives were not taken for granted, in order to make the film more sellable. (A practical hindrance no doubt, but surely there can be some innovation in this regard?)
Funnily enough, Arjun Kapoor’s house-husband character Kabir, at one point, professes an interest in using his status as celebrity male homemaker to debunk the gender stereotypes that advertising propagates. Noble of Kabir, but one wonders if Balki, who has also written the film, has tried harder to do that in real life. He probably has, because Balki’s intent is in the right place with Ki & Ka.
Unfortunately, it comes across as just another case of him doing what Ki & Ka does all through; and there’s a lovely new-fangled word for it - ‘mansplaining’.
For that is the perfect word to describe what Ki & Ka is. Swaroop Sampat (who’s still got such a refreshing presence,) explains to her daughter why it’s natural for her to be jealous of her homemaker husband for getting more attention than she.
“The person who usually earns the money is used to the attention. If the other person suddenly starts receiving more of it, it is natural for the earning person to feel a little threatened. Gender has nothing to do with it,” she says. Mansplaining 101.
Apart from one delightful scene starring Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan as themselves in Ki & Ka, there’s little in the film that actually reveals the sincerity of Balki’s intent, because it unavoidably falls prey to every stereotype that it playfully tries to deconstruct. The singular problem with this is not the fact that it inadvertently reinforces the stereotype, but that all the explanation is also inadvertently condescending towards the audience.
Also, there’s an unmissable fundamental lack of complete awareness of gender issues from a holistic perspective. When they’re in need of finances, Kabir comes up with what’s meant to be an enterprising way of ensuring some additional income.
And what does he do? He starts a paid fitness routine for plump middle-aged ladies in his apartment complex. Yup, body-shaming be damned, because this unique house-husband is going to show how tough house-wives have it in real life.
Gender is a tricky issue to handle, so it’s no surprise that an advertising stalwart struggles with it. This writer maintains that Balki seems to have the right intent, but since Balki is short for Balakrishnan, he might as well start calling himself Balka, because Ki ka problem is something that the ad man just hasn’t fully understood.