20 Years of Main Hoon Na by Farah Khan
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Circa 2001. Ace choreographer Farah Khan announces her debut film with Shah Rukh Khan. Film lovers off and on the internet (which was in its nascent stage) scoffed at the idea, “What will she make? A dance ballet?” Three years later, the promos of Main Hoon Na splashed the television screens and the detractors collectively dropped their jaws.

Unbelievably fresh yet every bit of a familiar Bollywood potboiler, Farah and team saw the audiences smile, cry, guffaw, and feel patriotic as they minted big money for the film which was its lead actor’s maiden solo home production. 

Today, as Farah Khan’s film turns 20, I fondly reminisce about the hugely entertaining film with great music, unique characters, and top-tier emotions.

Shah Rukh Khan – The Safe Space

Shah Rukh Khan is everybody’s safe space. It won’t be wrong to believe that around him, one can truly be himself, herself, or themselves. 

In Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Rahul (Khan) tells a miffed Naina (Rani Mukerji), “Main Hoon Na,” Despite his flirtatious ways, we know he meant it. Farah Khan takes the actor’s insane affability to make him a pillar of reliability in her film. Ram Prasad Sharma enters the scene, brings smiles, unites families, loves fiercely, fights bravely, and saves the nation as he does it all. What more do we want?

SRK Main Hoon Na Army Officer SRK in Main Hoon Na Darjeeling Toy Train

The Bollywood Masala DNA

Farah Khan’s film emerged in an era when NRI dramas flourished in Bollywood. There was a generous usage of English in the dialogues and the regular viewers slowly erased the memories of Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra’s potboilers. It felt greedy to ask for a lost family plot or a desi dance number in an action-packed masala fare.

In Main Hoon Na, Farah Khan brings every element together – characters, music, humor, romance, action, and a topsy-turvy story  – like how the genre veterans from the ’70s would have concocted on a good day.

 SRK and Sushmita in Main Hoon Na

The Decade’s Finest Music Album

India no longer has a popular independent music scene. With a large community depending heavily on film soundtracks, the quality of these songs must go through a longevity test before we label them iconic, classic et al. In 2024, a hit song stays in our memory until YouTube and Spotify blast another manufactured chartbuster or till your gym management reshuffles their playlist with another generic Punjabi rap number.

In stark contrast, every song Anu Malik created for Main Hoon Na is played, performed, and savored to date. Whether it is sentiments (‘Main Hoon Na’), groove (‘Gori Gori’), romance (‘Tumhe Jo Maine Dekha’), energy (‘Chale Jaise Hawaayein’), communion (‘Yeh Fizaayein’) or a sense of sheer Bollywood wholesomeness (‘Tumse Milke Dil Ka’), the album has it all.

Put to beautiful words by Javed Akhtar, Main Hoon Na was not only the year’s best soundtrack (as certified by major awards for Malik) but is arguably the decade’s greatest Hindi film OST with each number having stood the test of time.

Anu Malik in Main Hoon Na

Amrita Rao Becomes The National Crush

Decades before social media coined the term ‘National Crush’ for Rashmika Mandanna, Tripti Dimri, and the likes, Amrita Rao was the girl every guy wished to date. The lissome actor’s pictures were all over – in roadside poster stalls, outside rickety beauty parlors, and autorickshaws. Film magazines received endless letters asking for Rao in an era when Kareena Kapoor was the media’s sweetheart. 

While Rao made a breakthrough via Ishq Vishk (2003), Main Hoon Na skyrocketed her to national fame – earning her award nominations and stronger fan clout. Interestingly, the actor’s then-competitor Ayesha Takia was supposed to essay Sanjana Bakshi but couldn’t due to date clashes with Imtiaz Ali’s Socha Na Tha. Producer Gauri Khan soon spotted Rao in a coffee commercial and the actor never looked back. In the film, she portrays a conflicted college girl who is both vulnerable and feisty. The film also quietly overturns the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai syndrome when Rao’s character, after a wardrobe makeover, exposes her love interest’s prejudice for looks.

Amrita Rao in Tumse Milke

Zayed Khan, The Hunk-Next-Door

Unlike Amrita Rao, Zayed Khan who plays Lucky alias Lakshman Prasad Sharma is Bollywood royalty. All of 22 at the time of its filming, the actor looks every bit of his part and none of us whined that he snatched a chance from a deserving outsider. Khan’s long hair, tall and lean frame, vibrant smile, and athletic build complemented his abundant energy (although a wee bit high-pitched in emotional scenes). Physicality-wise, Khan looked natural in a period when steroid-injected bodies were not a common sight. Zayed’s easy chemistry with Shah Rukh Khan, Amrita Rao, and Kirron Kher is among the many factors that make Main Hoon Na what it is.

The Sen-sational Sushmita

The former Miss Universe surfaces around the mid-point of Main Hoon Na. Sushmita Sen’s Chandni Chopra isn’t very consequential to the larger scheme of affairs in the film. While Sen isn’t a plot mover in Farah Khan’s story, she ensures that every viewer – irrespective of gender and sexuality – stands moved every time she shows up as the saucy chemistry teacher. 

Sushmita Sen Intro in Main Hoon Na Red Saree

Clad in Manisha Malhotra’s sensual chiffon sarees and halter blouses, Sen forges unforgettable chemistry with Shah Rukh Khan which threatened to topple the latter’s hyped screen sizzle with Kajol, Rani Mukerji, and Juhi Chawla.

I will say it everywhere. Sushmita Sen’s Chandni Chopra in Main Hoon Na is a glowing ode to Indian femininity. She is an efficient teacher, a woman of substance, and a screen icon in the truest sense.

Give Love a Chance

What Main Hoon Na, among the many messages it packs, intends to highlight is about giving love a chance. Ram is deprived of a mother’s love. Laxman never had a father to give him wings. Sanjana refuses to forgive her father (Kabir Bedi) for the neglect she endured in childhood. 

In a Masoom-like episode, Madhu (Kirron Kher) is too furious to care about Ram even though she would make peace with her husband’s (Naseeruddin Shah) previous relationship.

Broadly, the film advocates India and Pakistan to end years of animosity by releasing war prisoners through Project Milaap. India takes the first step, sets an example, and expects the neighboring nation to reciprocate – which they do. Similarly, Ram takes the first step to reconnect with his lost family aside from advising Sanjana to be kind to her father.

SRK and Amrita Rao in Main Hoon Na Scene SRK and Amrita Rao in Main Hoon Na Scene SRK and Amrita Rao in Main Hoon Na Scene

Chase Evil, Not a Nation or a Religion

Suniel Shetty plays Raghavan (an antithesis to Shah Rukh’s Ram) – a court-martialed soldier with an intense hatred for Pakistan. Like several extremists on this date, the man believes the Indo-Pak clash should never cease. To Raghavan, there is no room for harmony between the two countries with shared histories, cultures, and languages. 

Suniel Shetty in Main Hoon Na

Interestingly, Raghavan’s detest for Pakistan is not for its majority religion (Islam). His prime commander-in-chief is Captain Khan (Murali Sharma). If you watch Main Hoon Na in 2024, it is amusing how the filmmaker refused to insert the chest-beating, jingoistic concept of loving one’s nation in her much-loved maiden film. Simpler times, perhaps!

Suniel Shetty Main Hoon Na

Humble Tributes, Easter Eggs and Quirky Characters 

Farah Khan, in her interviews, often elaborates on her growing-up days. Born in a not-so-privileged film family, she was brought up on a staple diet of masala Bollywood films. They were never considered bad despite an evident lack of intellectuality. Khan’s film, too, like many of the Manmohan Desai predecessors is less brains and all heart. 

Dhanno in Main Hoon NaRani Mukerji in Main Hoon Na

Main Hoon Na pays homage to several yesteryear films, songs, and stars. If the rickshaw that Ram rides is named after Hema Malini’s horse Dhanno in Sholay, Sushmita Sen’s Chandni is a Yash Chopra fantasy. The narrative is interspersed with yesteryear chartbusters ‘Chand Mera Dil’ (Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahi), ‘Jaane Jaan’ (Jawani Diwani), ‘Ik Ghar Banauga’ (Tere Ghar Ke Saamne) and ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh’ (1942 – A Love Story) along with slo-mo action shots a la The Matrix.

The supporting cast is equally vibrant with their peculiarities. Bomani Irani (the forgetful principal), Bindu (the Hindi teacher with atrocious English), and Satish Shah (the Physics professor, dripping with spit) or Rajiv Panjabi (the nerdy Percy) bring their share of fun to the story. There’s even a harmless reference to queer love.

Boman Irani and Bindu in Main Hoon Na Shah Rukh Amrita in Main Hoon Na Sushmita Gay Reference in Main Hoon Na

The Joyous Dance Numbers

Can there not be resplendent dance numbers in a film helmed by an ace choreographer and featuring the likes of Sushmita Sen and Rakhi Sawant? Almost every song of Main Hoon Na has a danceable rhythm. Amrita Rao dances like a dream in ‘Chale Jaise Hawaayein’ – a campus number shot without many cuts (dexterously picturized by V. Manikandan). Farah and Anu Malik give a modern verve to the ‘qawwali’ genre to create what must be one of the greatest songs in Bollywood history – ‘Tumse Milke Dil Ka’. The retro number ‘Gori Gori’ has an infectious pace and a series of gorgeous frames (editing by Shirish Kunder). The inventively filmed climactic number makes sure to credit every person who worked for the film with a happy dance. 

Rakhi Sawant in Main Hoon Na

Opulence That Is Easy on The Eyes

Main Hoon Na is a grand film. Every frame screams magnificence although not in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali or a Yash Chopra way. The characters did not live in mansions or foreign locations. Perhaps this intimate world emerged from the filmmaker’s experiences where the actual living spaces were small whereas the essence of cinema brought in a larger-than-life aspiration.

 Shah Rukh Sushmita Tumhe Jo Maine Dekha

The Formula to Entertain Everyone

From mothers to meme creators, Main Hoon Na has something for everyone. No Bollywood dance night goes without the DJ blasting the roof off with its songs. The costumes worn by Sen and Rao are still trendy. The dialogues (Abbas Tyrewala) are remembered and it is not uncommon for cinephiles to use them in life situations. The cultural relics of the film’s impact can also be seen in Darjeeling – its prime location. Farah Khan’s debut film must have turned 20 but its memories are fresher than any recent blockbuster. My fondest personal memory of the film is of repeatedly playing its audio cassette on my Philips Stereo along with my childhood best friend who fangirled a lady named Susmi Dasan (Sushmita Sen was too offbeat a name for her 10-year-old Malayali tongue).

Kirron Kher Main Hoon NaSRK and Zayed Khan in Main Hoon Na

Main Hoon Na, for myriad reasons, is special for Hindi film lovers. Here is hoping for many more electrifying masala films to emerge from Farah and Shah Rukh Khan’s stables.

Main Hoon Na is streaming on Netflix.


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Tusshar Sasi

Author at Filmy Sasi
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