Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Rahul Khanna, Rishi Kapoor
Direction: Imtiaz Ali
There's a funny scene in Love Aaj Kal in which its protagonists Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone having just broken up amicably, take the liberty to reveal to each other what they've always liked and disliked about the other, now that there's no romantic pressure on them anymore.
"You really shouldn't drink on dates," Saif tells her. "You have no idea the advantage I've taken of you when you've been drunk."
Deepika responds, "Actually I don't get drunk very easily. I was always awake and quite enjoyed what you were doing. I realized that pretending to be drunk might be the only way to get you to do something."
It's witty, charming moments like these peppered throughout the film that are the best bits in writer-director Imtiaz Ali's Love Aaj Kal, which is in fact a standard Bollywood love story disguised as a realistic take on modern love.
Saif and Deepika play Jai and Meera, a pair of practical, career-driven Londoners who realize they feel true love for each other well after they've split up, gone their separate ways and hooked up with other partners. Nothing unusual about that, except that the film opens with their break-up and follows them up to the point when they are finally reunited.
A second love story is narrated in flashback by Rishi Kapoor who plays Veer Singh, a Sikh restaurant owner in London. In his heyday, he wooed a pretty sardarni who lived in his neighborhood in Delhi, but eventually relocated with her folks to Calcutta. Consumed by love, he followed her there and despite opposition from her parents, eventually brought her home with him.
DDLJ you're thinking, and you're right. Except for the twist that the younger version of Rishi Kapoor's Veer Singh is played by Saif Ali Khan again, wearing a turban this time so you can distinguish between the two characters he plays. It's an interesting device, and the logic used to justify it is that Saif's character Jai reminds Veer Singh of himself in his younger days.
Using chatty dialogue and smart tools like parallel narratives and jumping timelines, Imtiaz Ali tells us a familiar tale with a worn-out message. It doesn't work for the most part because there's no inherent drama in the plot and barely any depth to the relationship Jai and Meera share.
From the moment you're introduced to them in that break-up scene, you long to root for these characters; you're meant to believe they're making a foolish mistake by going their separate ways, but alas the lack of chemistry between Saif and Deepika and their surface-level emotions never quite convince you that they're made for each other.
The film refers to sexual compatibility but chickens out from using it as an important factor for their mutual attraction.
On the other hand, Veer Singh's romantic track is engaging because it's innocent and it's simple and it doesn't try too hard.
There' s an earthy charm to those scenes between a younger Veer and the delicate Harleen Kaur, played by a new actress whose name, strangely, has been kept secret.
Silences convey so much more than irreverent banter, and nowhere is this more evident than in the interactions between Veer and Harleen, whose romance is conducted almost entirely through their eyes and longing expressions.
There is such tenderness in that scene in which she sneaks him a glass of black tea under her dupatta, and he brings her sweets from her favorite mithaiwala in Delhi. Or those Romeo & Juliet-like moments where they gaze at each other affectionately, she at her balcony, he outside on the street.
Love Aaj Kal is not a bad film. It's got its heart in the right place, but its other parts seem scattered. The screenplay, for one, is far from foolproof.
The incident that drives Jai to realise where his heart lies is ridiculous, and equally unconvincing is Meera's hurried marriage. The young Veer and Harleen track is wrapped up with a convenient culmination that isn't even dramatic enough to justify how much time has been spent establishing these characters.
For a film trying so hard to capture the attitude of the current generation, Love Aaj Kal relies too heavily for its key plot points on such Bollywood hits as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Dil Chahta Hai, and even Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna.
I can't speak for others but I don't think I can take one more film in which a wise old man scolds s a younger fellow for not knowing his heart. "Trust me, you don't know it yourself but you love her," Rishi Kapoor's Veer Singh tells Jai.
It's the oldest cliché in the book and I wish Jai would turn around and tell the old man to mind his own business.
Love Aaj Kal suffers also because the writers fail to develop Meera's character entirely, which explains your bafflement at her sudden decisions. Deepika Padukone lacks the maturity or the skill to make up for the lapses in the writing and to construct a credible character out of Meera.
Saif Ali Khan, meanwhile, effortlessly pulls off the restless, footloose Jai, and brings depth even to the part of the love-torn Veer.
It's a joy to watch Rishi Kapoor take ordinary lines and deliver them convincingly, and never miss a beat.
The film in the end is ordinary stuff, watchable but never memorable like the director's previous efforts, the far superior "Socha Na Tha" and "Jab We Met". I'm going with two out of five and a n average rating for Love Aaj Kal. It's like that plump mango you bite into only to discover it's not ripe yet. Watch it nevertheless for the sharp dialogue and some clever humor.
Rating: 2 / 5 (Average)
What do you think? Write your own review here and win exciting prizes. Winning entry will be read by Rajeev Masand on his show on CNN-IBN next Friday. Do not forget to leave your contact details.