Preity Zinta’s career started skidding off the rails in the mid-2000s, and she has struggled to get back on track since. Ishkq in Paris, which she has produced, co-written and starred in, is an attempt to gift herself the leading role that nobody wants to give her any more.

Zinta’s trademark bubbliness has gone a bit flat, her late-30s body has filled out, and parts of her face look different, but she remains the liveliest presence in Ishkq in Paris. Her enthusiasm at being back in front of the camera is not curbed by her co-star, who struggles visibly to generate the spark and presence needed to boost his leading man credentials.

The television actor formerly known as Gaurav Chanana, who now goes by the numerologically correct name Rhehan Malliek, plays Akash, a sinister-looking agent who runs into Ishkq (Zinta) in the city of love and falls for her over several hours spent in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower. Director Prem Raj (who previously directed Main Aurr Mrs Khanna under the name Prem Soni) attempts to recreate the casual banter and slow-burning frisson from such strangers-meeting-cute romances as Before Sunset and Serendipity, but it is as hard to carry off a movie in which one half of the romance is miscast as it is to breathe with only one lung.

Malliek isn’t the only stranger on the set. Ishkq boasts of French arthouse actor Isabelle Adjani and Indian film-maker Shekhar Kapur for parents. That’s the advantage, one supposes, of producing your own movie—you get to persuade Adjani to play your mother and pretend to speak in Hindi (Adjani’s Hindi dialogue is dubbed). Adjani’s perpetually startled expression could, perhaps, be attributed to her frozen facial muscles and uncannily wide eyes. Even Kapur, who wanders confusedly into the movie as though he has been teleported from another planet, displays more feeling than Adjani.

Kooky parents, a charisma-free love interest—poor Ishkq is made to pay for her unconventional romantic choices (she has a thing for Italian waiters, she says). If the movie works at all, it is because Prem Raj restricts the lopsided affair to 96 minutes, and Zinta’s joy at being the cynosure of attention is undeniably contagious.

Ishkq in Paris released in theatres on Friday.

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