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Review: Love Aaj Kal

Eventually, a script that starts off supremely crisp, loosens out into climaxes. And a final explanation that while times have changed, only expressions may have altered. Romance is eternal, says Mayank Shekhar.

movie reviews Updated: Aug 01, 2009 11:23 IST
Mayank Shekhar

Love Aaj Kal
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone
Direction: Imtiaz Ali
Rating: ***

The girl here has broken up with her boyfriend. Knowing she can tell him simple truths about himself, now that they aren’t together anymore, she suggests, he’s cooler when he doesn’t try. The boy makes a valid query: “Then how do you try, not to try.” It’s the key to the dating game.

Pardon the usage, if you may, the fundamental premise behind scoring a girl in the urban jungle is to seem least interested. This is where Indian boys suck big time. They either overdo the insouciance, end up all arrogant, or they just cannot fake disinterest, and come on way too strong. Either way, they get nowhere, or only some do.

This film’s urbane hero has few such problems. He’s just broken up. And in fact celebrates the moment with a house-party. The London couple is being separated: she, moving to Delhi; he, at some point to ‘Frisco. They mutually agree, long-distance relationships don’t work out (Lord, hell, they don’t). They move on to newer gigs, but still keep in touch. This sweet, semi-casual or pseudo-serious ‘ex’ business, I suspect, is new to Hindi films.

Love Aaj Kal (literally, Love Today Tomorrow / Yesterday) actually translates to love, these days. As against back in the day, where we find the same hero, about two generations before (wonderfully art-directed ‘60s), wooing a girl merely with his persistent eyes. Over there, the couple hasn’t met, never spoken, but the boy could give up his life for her. The suggested contrast between present and the past relates to love at first sight, over lust at first night; eternal bonds with limited options, over an emotional highway, where couples hook-up and break-up at the rate they quit smoking.

The latter part is most of the film, and you wish it were entirely in English. Somehow, “Main bahar nikal raha hoon” doesn’t quite sound the same as, “I’m going out”. “Vikram mujhe discotheque le jaane ke liye taiyar ho gaya hai” (for “Vikram’s asked me out to a club”) doesn’t quite cut it either. Also, its context is largely western.

The boy cannot pass off for anything less than 30. By this age, Indian homes develop nervous parents nagging their kids to “settle down.” Most friends are married. Loneliness starts to creep in. The filmmakers have smartly done away with families for their lead characters. Yet, so good so far.

Saif Ali Khan, as usual, plays the charming ‘Hugh Grant-ish’ Saif, which is a great thing. I don’t know anyone in popular imagination who can play the adorably slick, goofy Saif better. His leading lady (Deepika Padukone) is ever-ready with that endearingly catty, knowing smile, which she also gets complimented for, in dialogue, every once in a while. The two have a breezy thing going, and they certainly sustain your interest.

You finally sense a mental debate (between the audience and the writer-director) on how much this love-story must turn mythical, when for most parts you’ve loved it for how real it’s been. The filmmakers occasionally break a cliché (referenced from past films), and feel like they’ve gone too far, so they step back again, to break a cliché still.

Eventually, a script that starts off supremely crisp, loosens out into climaxes. And a final explanation that while times have changed, only expressions may have altered. Romance is eternal. Soul-mates do materialise. There is that special someone for you out there. I’m not sure. But I’d like to believe so still. That’s what good rom-coms are made for. This one is Love Aaj Kal.