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In 'Kabhi,' love, loss, and song -- Bollywood style

The agonies of star-crossed lovers are nothing new to Bollywood melodramas -- in Indian cinema, tales of almost-adultery abound, as do stories of dallying husbands whose long-suffering wives take them back in the end. But a musical melodrama in which two married people cross the threshold into cheating and divorce? Well, that's something new.

In ``Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna" ( `` Never Say Goodbye " ), director Karan Johar delivers an epic tale of romantic misalliance set among the Indian elite in New York City, where everyone lives in mansions, penthouses, and landmark brownstones. But in every home there's a heartache.

Shahruhk Khan plays Dev, an arrogant soccer star suddenly unmanned by a crippling injury and the glittering career of his fashion magazine editor wife, Rhea (Preity Zinta). A chance meeting with lovely, lachrymose bride-to-be Maya (Rani Mukherji) leaves both wondering if they've met their soul mates at the wrong time. Years pass, until another chance meeting draws them into another not-so-brief encounter at a train station, and soon they're inventing reasons to run into each other.

Though the plot hinges on betrayals large and small, the film has a deceptively lighthearted tone: In between joyous musical numbers, there are subplots about Maya's father-in-law (Amitabh Bachchan), a 60-ish swinger with a penchant for long-legged escorts, and Dev's unathletic young son, who yearns to play the violin. Even as the lovers edge toward consummating their relationship, the dialogue is still comic. ``Tomorrow is both our wedding anniversaries," says Maya. ``Let's do something special for our partners." ``Yes," says Dev, ``Let's leave them. That'd be special."

Interestingly, the put-out spouses are painted with such sympathy that the lovers' quest to be together becomes -- as each acknowledges -- a selfish act. Even amid the delights of this Bollywood spectacle, Dev and Maya are left fretting like leftover characters from a Douglas Sirk melodrama -- not so much passionate as sorrowful and poignant.

Justine Elias can be reached at

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