I remember waiting to see Jab We Met on DVD, reasoning that a debut film with a hokey, polyglot title was not worth wasting $9.50 on. Boy, was I wrong. JWM was funny and charming, a crazy train ride through Indian suburbia (albeit a pretty glossy one), so watching Love Aaj Kal on the big screen was a foregone conclusion.
It is always a little nerve-wracking to see a successful debut director’s second movie; there’s all the hype, even when you try to discount it.. There’s the memory of previous let-downs(there was really no way Farhan Akhtar could top Dil Chahta Hai–-Lakshya was oookay and Don was puzzling). In this case, though, while Love Aaj Kal is no Jab We Met, it doesn’t disappoint.
Director Imtiaz Ali doesn’t break any new ground in terms of plot. It’s a When Harry Met Sally storyline, already plumbed to some success by Kunal Kohli in Hum Tum, also starring Saif. What Ali brings to it is the refreshing treatment that made audiences gush over JWM. For instance, can you recall any recent Bollywood movie where the leads sat staring at each other for a few seconds, the silence speaking volumes for the two of them? Such poetic moments recur through the movie, with Deepika Padukone’s expressive eyes doing all the talking for her, while Saif(playing Jai Vardhan Singh) babbles like the man-child character he’s perfected in mainstream Bollywood fare. Watch out for another such scene towards the end, at the wedding.
What is it with Saif and these roles anyway? I can count over half-a-dozen movies where he’s essentially playing the same character, a shallow, self-centered jerk who gets reformed at the last minute by the redeeming power of love. He performs his usual schtick without breaking a sweat and is mainly a foil to the lovely ladies on screen.
One of the lovely ladies is, of course, Deepika, whose leggy, coltish grace illuminates the screen. She is a very young actor, but improving with each movie. If she can survive the next five years in Bollywood, she is going to be a very fine performer..she has great potential. Here her eyes and smile cover for her lack of experience, though she is miles ahead of other female actors her age in Bollywood. Deepika is like the chrysalis of a future Grace Kelly-like actor and I look forward to seeing her grow and develop into the fine thespian she can be.
The other lovely lady is Simran Giselle Monteiro. Jai’s misadventures in love are sympathetically observed by Veer(Rishi Kapoor), who narrates the love story of his youth to teach the modern Jai a thing or two about what it means to love deeply. His story is told in flashback with Saif playing the younger Veer , and Simran Giselle, his love interest Harleen.( updated, thanks to friends in India..her credits don’t appear in the film and imdb.com doesn’t mention her either. Giselle, apparently, is a Brazilian model who can’t speak a word of Hindi. Hmmm… that might explain why she has no dialogues in the film!)
Harleen has the simple girl-next-door beauty that makes Veer’s obsession with her completely understandable. Her sepia-toned story is where Imtiaz Ali’s talent truly shines; there are many touching scenes that play like a silent movie, where just the actors’ glances and small movements tell the story.
Pritam’s music, while foot tapping, is actually a bit of a distraction in this gentle movie. The songs break the narrative in a discordant fashion, though I suppose it’s not possible to completely omit them in a mainstream Bollywood movie. Pritam has become somewhat known for being “inspired” by previously composed music, and here the big number “Twist” lifts its base melody from the snake charmer’s theme in Nagin. The song sequences are where you really miss Shahid Kapoor( the hero of JWM) because Saif can’t dance, sala.
The heavily Punjabi Love Aaj Kal spans the NRI globe, staying the longest at Bollywood-friendly UK, with stops at San Francisco( go Bay Area!), Delhi, excuse me, Dilli and Kolkata. I guess we now know which community brings in the most ticket moolah . In a sense, Imtiaz Ali is the true inheritor of the Yash Raj brand of entertainer, though this movie was produced by Saif’s company. And like the better Yash Chopra movies, Love Aaj Kal leaves you in a good mood as you exit the theater. The song “Yeh Dooriyan” stays with you, and even its melancholy lyrics can’t stop you from feeling the satisfaction of being well entertained.