Love is rarely a prosaic thing in our movies. Either sacrosanct or scandalous, innocent or impetuous, tragic or wicked, it can never be as banal as it can be real life. Love that we imagine love to be—that’s what great romantic films play on, and that’s why great romantic films are comfort films (like comfort food). Since his first film Socha naa Tha (2005), writer-director Imtiaz Ali has used that time-tested tool effectively and stylishly. Ali’s new film Love Aaj Kal is no different. There’s boy, there’s girl, there’s love, hurdles, heartbreak and happy ending—not much else. But unlike in Socha naa Tha and Jab we Met (2007), there’s some deliberate verbal discourse on love here. Ali believes that in the good old days, say in the 1960s, love was a thing of the heart. It still is, except he thinks today’s youth are cynical fools who believe that love can be conquered by reason. Quite a shaky premise to begin with, but a premise never made a good film.
Listen to the band “Jea” featured in Love Aaj kal. (Clip courtesy Fever 104 FM)
In this sense, Love Aaj Kal is Woody Allenseque in parts. There are some long dialectics on the true nature of love between two men separated by generations, reminiscent of Woody pontificating in films such as Annie Hall. Ali, of course, is rooted to where his audience is, and is true to his own Bollywood sensibility. He makes the love-for-the-sake-of-love side of the argument win hands down. The result is a breezy, sweet romantic comedy that’s worth two hours of your time. Yes, two hours; the film’s duration gets my full thumbs-up. There is no long, laboured climax drowned in dialogue and background music.
Love Aaj Kal opens in London with a rather amicable break-up of Jai (Saif Ali Khan) and Meera (Deepika Padukone). In the first few scenes, it is clear that there is something wrong and unusual with this situation, which is soon established when the character played by Rishi Kapoor, an affable sardarji who owns a café in London, comes along. He is the writer’s voice, the voice that the film endorses.
The love story of Jai and Meera, which ripens through long distance telephone calls because Meera is a restoration artist who has moved to Delhi to “repaint frescos” in old Delhi monuments, is intercut with the 1960s’ forbidden—and passionate—love story between Veer (the young Rishi Kapoor played by Saif Ali Khan) and Harleen Kaur (Giselle Monteiro). There are two break-ups, a wrong decision, two right decisions, many heartwarming scenes and some mediocre bhangra-heavy songs after this, leading up to the melodramatic climax.
Using Khan in the second role works well for the film, because it not only strengthens the bond between the two men, but also validates how they really imagine themselves. Jai imagines himself as the young Veer to be able to relate to the old man’s character and Veer believes he was just like Jai when he was young—handsome and audacious.
As in his earlier films, Ali’s writing is smart. The dialogues—and not unnecessary, long-drawn situations—pace the film, which is refreshing. His language however is contrived in the parts written for the new generation. Hinglish is clearly not his forte. Otherwise, why such jarring dialogues: “What is your angle?” “We are the mango people (aam aadmi)”. The humour was entirely lost on me and I suspect it will be lost on many 21-year-olds.
One of the best things in the film is the art direction. Like in Jab We Met (2007), where the minutiae of Jalandhar and Ratlam came alive, Kolkata and Delhi look charmingly real. One of my favourites scenes are filmed in a street corner of Kolkata where Veer, the feisty young sardar waits, seated on a crumbling bench, for his love to appear on the balcony of her house across the street. Details such unfinished Durga idols, a tattered poster of an Uttam Kumar film, and the humdrum of the common man populate the frame.
For no apparent reason, Love Aaj Kal is set in London, Delhi, Kolkata and San Francisco. Does the appeal to NRI audiences double if there are London and San Francisco streets in a film? I don’t have the answer; let’s wait for the box office returns to clock in, for Khan’s own banner Illuminati Films and Eros Entertainment.
Khan’s decision to produce and act in a film proves that he sure can do what Shah Rukh Khan can do. He carries the entire film through with long dialogues (in only few of them does he really ham) and dance moves (some of which are really cheesy). He is one of the finest actors we have, and in both roles, he is quite at home. This is not among my favourite roles played by Khan although this is the first time he plays a lead role, in a strictly mainstream Bollywood sense.
Thankfully, Meera’s character requires her to be a woman of few words. Padukone looks charming, but her dialogue delivery is so evenly pitched and her expressions so insipid, you wonder why she is a lead heroine. Padukone has much more to learn about acting. The newcomer Giselle Monteiro fits into her role of a timid, traditional Punjabi girl; there’s not much in the part to show her acting ability.
In the end, when boy is reunited with girl, you wonder what really happened to Harleen Kaur. You might be surprised; in this movie, love is not a bitch.
Love Aaj Kal released in theatres on Friday.