Saturday, August 01, 2009

Love Aaj Kal

[Hi to Jyothika and her lovely friends! One should always find someone friendly and fun to sit next to - and bring one's SRK-emblazoned bag to Hindi films :) ]

When wise elder Veer (Rishi Kapoor) describes modern boy Jai (Saif Ali Khan) as having a brain but no heart, I think he summed up the feel of the whole film. I've got absolutely no complaints about that, for as much as I like dil-squishing romance, especially Bollywood ishtyle, that's not the only kind of romance I like. Love Aaj Kal satisfies an itch for a story in which people don't just go around standing on cliffs flinging out their arms and declaring grand passions. Of course, a little heart is necessary to get everything sorted out eventually, learning how to let what's inside come out through your words. There's also the wonderful message that relationships just won't work unless you pay attention to them and are careful with them - normal people don't have epic love stories that grow stronger after separation or death, and just drifting pleasantly along isn't enough. You have to think and feel, then say and do something about it.

Surely it's no coincidence that Jai is a bridge engineer, with the movie bridging a simple, romantic past (explained by Rishi but enacted by Saif in a flashback, so we get the double whammy of goodness of more screen time for Saif and careful, deliberate, "less is more" use of Rishi) with the constant-contact, muddled, far-flung lives of today. It's a very capable set-up, with anchors in each side supporting the romance that depends on them and no harsh judgment or overblown praise of either way of living. I also thought it was clever that the leads' professions quietly represent the thrusts of the story: Jai designs the future while Meera (Deepika) saves the past, and Veer is the host, nourisher, and caretaker.

Now for Saif. Saif, Saif, Saif. It's a good thing he's so bang-on in this - and that Jai is so likable - because it's really the Saif show. Fine by me! The less Deepika, the better, frankly - her lackluster presence doesn't exactly detract from the overall impact of the film, and their joint scenes of friendship were cute enough (so much so that I was wondering if they might in fact end up as friends, with the romance thoroughly over by the end of the story), but she added nothing to her character. My favorite review of any Deepika performance comes courtesy of Filmfare's twitter: "Deepika's tall." Hee. And I hope I never again see her play air guitar. The nearly silent Punjabi girl in Rishi's flashbacks sort of creeped me out - I know it's supposed to be the 70s or whatever, but couldn't she at least speak? Maybe she was supposed to contrast the hyper-verbal Jai, or maybe she serves as testimony that true love can be communicated without words (not a theory I subscribe to, personally). She did get one of the better songs, at least, and I'd sit through hours of her silence if they still led me to her final frame.*

Anyway, back to Saif. He might look a little old for this character, and he might have been concentrating on his choreography way too hard in "Twist," and someone needs to stop dressing him in the text-heavy shirts** that he was wearing back in Salaam Namaste, but the man can act. His portrayal of good-hearted ignorance and genuine confusion were so convincing. Jai is a well-written character, and I totally believed each step in his gradual understanding of his feelings. He's not one of these long-suffering heroes who nobly put aside his feelings for a love he can't have; he's a much more modern - and, frankly, complex - type who just isn't sure what's going on. He goes about living his life, devoting energy to other pursuits and chasing the a dream he's had even longer than he's known Meera (life beyond pyaar? how refreshing!), and when he figures out his heart, he does something about it. Unfortunately, Meera's side of the story felt seriously short-changed; she's much quieter than Jai, but I bet there could have more to her emotional processing than what we were shown. I had just assumed that the script would give their perspectives equal energy, and beyond the shift to male-centered narration, the only problem I have with this is that it necessarily cut down on how much we got to see of Meera's post-Jai relationship with dreamboat historic architecture professor Vikram (Rahul Khanna).***

Overall I found the whole thing cute, very believable, and fresh while still rooted in other traditions of love stories. It's no Jab We Met - a movie I like so much that I haven't written about it because still all my brain can process is "EEEEEEE this is so wonderful!" - but then again, what is? I'm all in favor of stories about non-filmi people. This felt like a movie about my friends rather than about people who exist on some other dramatic, poetic plane. Toss in a handful of beautifully staged Indian locations and non-ridiculous western ones (London and San Francisco), Rishi in a sweater, and the totally unexpected setting of historic preservation and art conservation, and it's a winner.

* Not to spoil it (and don't read my twitter if you want to stay spoiler-free), but OMG BEST CAMEO EVAH thank you thank you Imtiaz Ali.
** My favorites: one at the beginning that says "Local Star" and one later says "Florida: Road to East Coast 1971." Was that an allusion to Veer's rail trip to Kolkata in the flashbacks?
*** Going into the record books as my second most ideal Hindi film man, only behind Kaalaa Patthar's Ravi. I even wrote my master's thesis on historic preservation! Swoooooon.

16 comments:

ajnabi said...

Well, I read two "it's poor" blogger reviews and your "it's a winner," so I'm waiting for more before making up my mind I guess. ;-)

Filmi Girl said...

I'm glad you got a chance to see it in the theatre!!

I think I'm going to wait for this one on DVD so I can ffwd through Deepika to the Saif-show, which is something I most certainly enjoy.

Glad that Saifu acted his pants off! It's funny how these uncles can play "20ish" convincingly, once you give them half an hour or so for the weirdness to wear off. :)

Darshit said...

Ooh. I loved your thoughts. Rather different then what I am reading since morning. And I too loved that historic preservation thing. Lovely concept, never seen before.

And agree...Saif...Saif....Saif :D

dustedoff said...

Now I'm very confused... your review is more like the newspaper one I read yesterday, but poles apart from the other blogger reviews I've read. Hmmm.

Anarchivist said...

I'm extremely unlikely to see this in a theater, but just knowing there's Rishi in a sweater out there waiting for me will make the time between now and the DVD release more bearable.

indiequill said...

My God, isnt the cameo the best thing to happen ever though? I EEEEEEEEEEEEEE'd all the way through it. Although frankly, she has way too much personality to be poor ol' Harleen with her cup of tea. But that made me think about our perceptions of people and maybe the Harleen we got to see was the way Veer saw her, and in actuality she was a little spitfire. After all, she was ready to run away with him - not a very demure thing to do. But then again, she slept with the letter next to her, which is a fluff brained thing to do. So difficult!

Anyway, yeah - I had a good time.

Beth said...

Ajnabi - Did you? I've only heard good things from bloggers (Indie Quill, Dunkdaft, Filmiholic, Totally Filmi's tweets) but haven't dug around too much yet. Don't expect "traditional love story" and don't expect Jab We Met and you should be fine :)

FG - Yesss! I meant to add in a few observations about being in the theater, such as during one quite emotional scene that a bunch of guys just guffawed through, and I couldn't tell if they were just dumb boys who laugh at emotion as a defense mechanism, if somebody's acting was so bad it was funny, or if there were jokes the subtitles didn't convey.

Deepika is totally not good. Like you said somewhere, I don't know why she keeps getting work. She is tall, though. But even she looks STUPID IN A JUMPSUIT, OKAY FASHION DESIGNERS? NO MORE JUMPSUITS.

And YES! It did take a few scenes for me to get used to him being 20somethingish, but he pulled it off. And not as visually jarring as Aamir in RDB, fortunately.

Darshit - Right on!

Anarchavist - I thought of you in that scene! You'll love that, if nothing else. Rishi is used to the T - not as hammy as in Thoda PYaar Thoda Magic.

indiequill - IT IS. As they led up to it, I thought "Who's it going to be? Oh my god, it could be so many awesome people. OH MY GOD WILL IT BE" and then it WAS and my HEART EXPLODED. I agree that it was not entirely consistent casting in terms of the character that had been established, but heck, let's hope we come out of our teenage shells by the time we're 55 or whatever. But you're right, Harleen had a lot more to her than her general verbal silence, and though I dig "acting with one's eyes" and all, I found it creepy, like the writers had wanted to mute her or something. Oh well - it came out in the wash, and as you said she certainly wasn't degraded, so that's a satisfactory baseline, I guess.

bollywooddeewana said...

"I also thought it was clever that the leads' professions quietly represent the thrusts of the story: Jai designs the future while Meera (Deepika) saves the past, and Veer is the host, nourisher, and caretaker"

I loved this point you made about the movie, my quips about this movie as i've said on my blog is that the ending, although i perfectly don't mind happy endings is that they destroyed other people to get a happy life of their own, surely Meera could have called off her engagement/marriage to Vikram rather than leading him round the fire 7 times and then breaking up with him post marriage that was so unfair, and though i am not the strictest moralist I thought that their selfish, self centred behaviours were rewarded at the expense of other people's happiness

Here are my thoughts on the movie
http://bollywooddeewana.blogspot.com/2009/07/love-aaj-kal-2009.html

Mini Monkey said...

My lil ol review gives some functional speculation into why Harleen's role was the way it was/ http://www.planetbollywood.com/displayReview.php?id=f080309021944

shell said...

Well, it seems that this movie may be another love it or hate it film. As always, I will reserve judgement until I get to see it - which won't be until it goes on DVD. Stupid movie theatre!

Amodini said...

Quiet little Harleen creeped me out too, although I rather liked Deepika - thought she did well. Her role was kind of unusual - when exactly do we see "reserved" Hindi film heroines ? Not in Bollywood.

dri said...

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh Beth!!

What an excellent excellent Excellent point about the future and the past as occupations! God, I wish I had figured that out myself ... brilliant insight.

I've been avoiding all reviews like the plague so now I'm very curious as to why people wouldn't like this film. Cos yeah, I loved it to bits and am totally hearing you on the Jab We Met adoration.

Honestly, it's like we invented Imtiaz Ali. He is such a gift to Indian cinema.

indiequill said...

@ BollywoodDeewana - interesting you bring up the selfish aspect of it. Did you feel the same way about JWM or SNT? Because Viren/Aditi and Geet are all equally selfish people. Geet is possibly THE most selfish and self-obsessed person on the planet. Or maybe she thinks of herself as a cultural Objectivist. WHo knows? Even in Ahista Ahista, which Imtiaz wrote, the leads are people who do exactly what they want, and only reluctantly think of others. Aditya is perhaps the only person who spends his time thinking about other people and although he is ultimately rewarded, truth is he's the most boring character of the lot.

Bollyviewer said...

Watched this one today and am not sure what to make of it. Saif, as you observe, is very good. But as one who grew up watching young Rishi, I found it a bit jarring to have Saif play young Rishi. And then there are the women paired opposite Saif (in his different roles) - all of them are exceptionally bad actresses! Deepika is actually the best of the lot, but she just doesnt have the charisma/gravitas to carry off the role.

My biggest problem though, was that the two love stories are the cliched "then" and "now" of romance (which I think is more of the filmi vareity). The older romance is like a 50s version of Mere Mehboob (a "Muslim social" where the hero falls for the heroine's eyes and hands - which is all he sees through her burqa!) - hence the ultra "shy" woman (she isnt as silent as I expected from your post!). And the newer part is a bit too much of the cliched "new-romance" (which has been thoroughly dealt with in Salaam Namaste and Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, already) to be more than slightly interesting.

On the plus side, though, there is SAIF (he made such a great Sardar, too!), some fun dialogues, and the fact that a Bollywood heroine is allowed to have a new full-fledged relationship and then go back to an older one (and there is no suggestion of her "virginity" even before - Bollywood is finally getting into the 21st century!). Guess I'll re-watch when the DVD comes out and, who knows, decide to love it, after all!

kmatthews said...

Ah, finally I've finished recording my thoughts and am catching up -- I picked up on the professions, but in a different way -- and I missed Veer completely. I think you have the more satisfying interpretation of them.

I have to say, I just adored this film. Now, I have not yet seen Jab We Met (I have the DVD, just hadn't got to it yet, and perhaps that might have changed my mind on LAK?)

Quite possibly, I adored it more than I should have, because I'd sat through the first films that opened after the strike and felt so utterly let down by them all. I may have been so completely and utterly relieved that Love Aaj Kal did not disappoint that that may colour my view slightly.

It's also possible that I was reading a lot between the lines. I really wish I had the opportunity to see the film one more time, to have another good think about it.

However, simply the fact that I want to do that, that the film makes me want to think more about it, that fact makes me love the film even more. I'm all for some mindless-leave-your-brain-at-home-time-pass movies (In fact, I suspect Life Partner will happily do that for me), but right now, I just needed to believe that Hindi films could give me something more to chew on.

And I agree about that superspoiler moment, I was squealing in the theatre.

Pitu said...

Yay!! I lurved it! And Saifoo was amazing but Deepika, yeah, um... AWFUL!! I thought Harleen was refreshingly beautiful in a non-artificial way. Trust a non-Indian to portray natural Indian beauty so beautifully. She made over-bronzed, over-lip glossed, over-hair straightened Deepika look overdone ;-)