R Balki’s fourth film is in line with his previous offerings: it spins on a clever, easily marketable story idea that can be communicated in a single sentence. Like Cheeni Kum, Paa and Shamitabh, it is set in an affluent sub-set of society, and features conversational humour and lots of product plugs.

There are scenes in Ki & Ka that seem to exist only to promote strategically placed consumer brands. Balki’s moorings in the advertising world are also evident in his sincere belief, articulated in his latest movie without a trace of irony, that “society changes when advertising does” and in the episodic narrative, which is stretched to 126 minutes without adequately exploring the issues it stokes.

Kia (Kareena Kapoor) is a successful marketing manager who meets Kabir (Arjun Kapoor), a man-child who rides a Segway and collects toy trains, on a flight. One of the best lines comes early in the movie: The problem with low-cost airlines is that you don’t know who is rich and poor.

Fortunately for Kia and the purposes of the plot, Kabir is a business school topper and the son of a wealthy builder (Rajit Kapur), but he doesn’t want to be an “MBA robot” and is instead devoted to the memory of his late housewife mother. She was an artist, a domestic goddess who built their home, Kabir declares, and he wants to be like her.

It’s a gender role reversal made in heaven – an ambitious woman who wants to climb the ladder is paired with a progressive male partner who is happy to stay at the bottom – and the early months of married life are bliss. He cooks, cleans and plays the house husband to perfection while she toils away. Kia’s mother (Swaroop Sampat), an impeccably dressed social worker who lives with them, is most pleased with the arrangement too.

But as the movie rambles on, Balki’s ability to reduce relationships to easy transactions comes into full play. In this movie’s universe, a skill or a belief that cannot be marketed and monetised isn’t worth having.

The trailer of ‘Ki & Ka’.

As a commentary on gender norms, Ki & Ka is about as deep as the washing machine commercial that suggests that domestic dynamics will change for good if men start washing the clothes. The binaries along which both the characters are plotted leave no room for negotiation. Kia hates housework (which woman doesn’t?) and is terrified at the thought of pregnancy, while Kabir doesn’t want to be a corporate drone (which man wants to be one?) and embraces domesticity. At no point do these two narratives merge, and by sticking the characters in His and Hers corners, the movie misses an opportunity to examine the straitjackets that society forces on men and women.

The main characters are too sketchy for the movie Balki hopes to have made, and they are not light enough for the movie he should have made. Ki & Ka could have been an interesting screwball comedy about the gender wars if the director had a greater attention span and a genuine interest in moving beyond gimmicky plots and contrived situations.

The movie is essentially a two-hander, and although Arjun Kapoor is too raw for the role, his co-star more than compensates for his ineptitude. Kareena Kapoor is back on the screen in a meaty role for the first time since Gori Tere Pyar Mein (2013). She has been selling herself short through insubstantial supporting roles in blockbusters and item songs, and she finally has a movie in which her unusual beauty, sophistication and preternatural ability to hog the camera is put to good use. She superbly conveys Kia’s shallowness and deftly switches gears when the going gets rough. In this battle of the sexes, her “Ki” wins over “Ka” comfortably.