Synopsis – A story of of two different individuals on a journey of love, loss and life.
My Take – I agree it is absurd to admit, but despite being an unceasing viewer of Bollywood films my whole life, I have never been truly a fan of the romance genre. A genre on which the Indian film industry has literally built its foundation upon.
Sure, there are some classic films like Maine Pyar Kiya, Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein, Raanjhanaa, among many others, along with 85% of Shah Rukh Khan‘s filmography that did manage to strike a chord with me, yet, as a viewer I continue to avoid the penchant to watch one as soon as it releases.
However, filmmaker Imtiaz Ali, ever since his debut venture, the underrated Socha Na Tha (2005), has always been an exception. Mainly as I connected to his unique approach of showcasing intimacy and heart breaks on the big screen, especially in the form of traveling to an eventual destination while finding oneself and love in the process.
An element he perfected by directing films like Jab We Met, Rockstar, and Highway, and writing films like Ahista Ahista and Cocktail. However, with his last two ventures (Tamasha and Jab Harry Met Sejal) failing commercially, films with ambitious ideas but lesser results, director Imtiaz Ali has gone back to his basics by helming a spiritual sequel to his biggest commercial success, 2009’s Love Aaj Kal starring Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone, in a film that follows the similar template about the emotional complexities of the human mind set in two different eras, but with a new set of actors and newer contradictions.
Unfortunately the film, despite pulling off the casting coup of casting Saif‘s daughter Sara Ali Khan and everyone current favorite chocolate hero Kartik Aaryan in lead roles, who no doubt do well here, is nowhere close to the level of the above-mentioned films, or even its predecessor, in terms of direction, screenplay, editing, and the nuances that we have grown to love director Imtiaz Ali for.
While the new film, like the earlier one, too is messy and clings on to the prophetic philosophies, but here they are so contrived and convoluted that you start questioning every aspect of the scripting process. Running for around 141 minutes, the film is simply too boring, confusing to be understood and enjoyed by the general audience, and does not live up to the confidence and expectations from an otherwise very skilled and accomplished film-maker.
The story follows Zoe Chauhan (Sara Ali Khan), a modern, career-driven woman who is averse to the idea of a serious relationship as it will mess with her five-year plan to start her own event management company. Mainly as she has been heavily influenced by her single mother (Simone Singh) to put her career ahead of everything else, and not to make the same mistakes she made.
However trouble begins for Zoe when she starts to grow genuinely fond of Veer (Kartik Aaryan), a charming software developer, who instead being just a potential one night stand for her, is serious about her and wants to go all the way.
Confused about why she is drawn to him so adamantly, Zoe finds a guide in Raghuvendra Raj (Randeep Hooda), the owner of a co-working space called Mazi café, where the romance between Zoe and Veer brews. Raghu being a spectator to the romance that is evolving, compels Zoe to go through with her feelings, and to set an example tells his own tale of how two decades ago his younger self (Kartik Aaryan) feel in love with Leena (Aarushi Sharma), in a time when love was innocent and simpler.
Surely, this was not an easy film to write and execute, as like its predecessor has two stories set in different eras, running parallelly. The film aims to compare how relationships have become complicated between the 1990s and the 2020s. Sadly, the script is riddled with clichés and flaws, which makes the film a mundane love story that talks of love and heartache. Most importantly, it neither proclaims that 1990s was about sublime, unconditional love, nor that cheating is a complication of 2020s relations.
Director Imtiaz Ali is known for his imaginative and inventive take on love stories, but the problem with this film is that it starts off most impressively, has some terrific moments in between, but then the writing gets so erratic and incoherent, as it heads towards the conclusion, that the whole narrative just crumbles.
As a director, Imtiaz Ali has always been known for creating characters that have several layers, and perhaps, a reason to why they are the way they are. But here, almost every conflict they go through is a contrived piece of mess. Unlike his previous films, here his focus is on a woman, who is perpetually torn between the demands of her professional life, and her heart that constantly seeks companionship.
Her outbursts, reactions, ideologies, and desires are as shallow as her mother’s insecurities. And to make matters worse, she is burdened by the lessons learnt by an older man, and in turn does not let Zoe learn her own lesson or have any agency at all. Even if the complexities of love unfold in two different eras and the gender is reversed in the two stories, Zoe’s decisions are based on the storytelling of the man.
A terrible sequence involves Zoe unbuttoning her blouse before going in to pitch her ideas to a big client, something which he notices via CCTV, and judges her for it. But in return, she delivers a convoluted reasoning, which in this #MeToo era sound apt, but completely contradicts her character’s development, someone who is supposed to be this cardboard cut-out of a modern career woman who cannot give the Uber driver the correct directions.
On the other hand, we have Veer, a loner who believes in true love. While the film takes times to establish his character, it makes it difficult to relate to why he is creepily closer to be a stalker. Though, it is a blessing that he is not exactly like a toxic boyfriend who would stop his girl from pursuing her dreams. The girl, in this case, does it herself. There are traces where he hints at the mental health troubles of the two characters, but the easy resolutions belittle their issues and do no justice to the characters.
The film also doesn’t get as much mileage out of ’90s Udaipur as the old-time Punjab of the 2009 film, though there’s a funny, unexpected scene when Raghu asks Leena to dance at a social: he launches into convulsive movement, and, after a beat, the stern, sari-clad Leena does the same. Though, music has always been a mainstay in all of Imtiaz Ali‘s films, here, sadly, it is otherwise. Despite Pritam at the helm of things, the music, sadly, is plain ordinary and does not help in lifting the proceedings.
Nevertheless, the chemistry between rumored beaus, Kartik Aaryan and Sara Ali Khan is piping hot. Kartik Aaryan, in his most demanding role yet, glides into the character effortlessly, and plays both the roles with conviction. Though, Sara Ali Khan, has been trolled for her acting skills based on a snippet of the trailer, she does remarkably well here. Despite the unusual characteristics assigned to her, she carries it with aplomb, and does that while looking drop dead gorgeous.
However, it is Randeep Hooda, one of the most underrated actors of the industry, who leaves a bigger impact even with a lesser screen time. With his sharp looks and relatable character, he manages to draw you into his story. Aarushi Sharma, who makes her debut here, is subtle and plays her part convincingly. On the whole, ‘Love Aaj Kal’ is a flawed love story that uses tired tropes to justify its flawed screenplay and characters.
Directed – Imtiaz Ali
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 141 minutes