[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.