Love Aaj Kal: Imtiaz Ali gives a peek into modern love through art, graffiti, easter eggs, Delhi and the mighty Himalayas
Filmmaker Imtiaz Ali takes his viewers on a journey his characters take in his stories but they’re more than just a great storytelling experience. From 2005’s Socha Na Tha to 2020’s Love Aaj Kal, here’s exploring the idea of modern love, art, culture and the role a city plays in taking the story forward.
What is it about the Imtiaz Ali brand of films that makes every believer of love and the most practical minds want to keep their eyes peeled on the screens? Is it the portrayal of the (seemingly) real characters looking for love and in the process, themselves, that have found a home in the corner of many hearts?
The setting of a scene has as much to do with the story as the characters who are telling their stories. That’s where the moment is born, one you’ll remember for the things you loved or didn’t so much long after the runtime is over. Sometimes, you’ll imagine yourself in a situation like that. That’s what love stories do: they take you from where you are at that moment and transport you into a world you wish for, identify with.
Then there’s the case of the cities and how they play such a crucial part in taking the story forward. For Imtiaz Ali, it’s always coming back to Delhi and seeing it from his eyes, what makes the city come alive. When we speak of Delhi, we imagine a melting pot of lively people meeting loads of colour and culture. Who can forget the Himalayas that stand strong and tall as yet another backdrop of a love story penned and directed by Ali. Imagine if Ilsa had never walked into Rick’s bar, would there be the heartbreak the latter was reminded of, or Paris, the city they fell in love in? Rick tells Ilsa as they’re parting, “We’ll always have Paris,” and thus one of the most romantic movie dialogues was born in 1942.
In the eight stories written for celluloid by Imtiaz Ali, this is a trend we have seen repeating itself in one way or another. As Meera from 2009’s Love Aaj Kal said: All couples think they’re special, which makes them exactly like one another. Even when love has been the central theme, it’s not the sappy kind that one has to feel closeted about enjoying. Romance is a genre far wider than just dancing around trees, or professing love by performing a stunt or a dance number. It’s a fabric of our souls. It’s a driving force. And if that makes you a hopeless romantic, then where’s the joy in finding hope through a pragmatic approach? Just let it flow.
In the seven stories, with the eighth releasing soon, there’s a perfectly good explanation about how love is a spiritual journey, the one we hope to take to grow into the people your partner (or soulmate if you’ve managed to find that part of your soul) intends to grow old with.
As Rumi has been quoted saying, “lovers don’t meet each other somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
This is the reason why one finds the same theme repeating itself because love today (aaj) or tomorrow or yesterday (kal) will remain the same, even when the characters have evolved into the era (yug) they live in.
Rumi’s influence on the writer-director Imtiaz Ali is an important one. The stories he tells come with a message in them, and usually with a Rumi quote to explain the theme or the point where the story leaves itself. Think the serious, compelling love of Jordan for his Heer that he is able to make music only after he feels pain from the heartbreak that he realised after a spiritual awakening through Sufism.
Think Harry and his travel guidance that ends up guiding him towards what he missed the most - explained through Rumi’s quote: What you seek is seeking you - which he was looking for his home having fled his country and his people only to find home in a person, the woman he falls in love with. Having said that, one might even notice how love has been compared to seeing God in the person you love. Victor Hugo explored this concept in Les Miserables, followed by a recent Bollywood song, also starring Shah Rukh Khan.
Women and their strength:
They have had a voice ever since Ali came out with his first film. They are bold, verbose and not easily intimidated through curve balls life throws at them. A loss of a bag or a ring might make them cry but they’ll find a way to counter that. You feel their anger, pain and angst even if you don’t agree with it all. Your heart might have broken the number of times theirs did on screen until you collected yourself and realised that they’re characters. Then you might ask yourself if they’re really. If they’re someone you know from real life. That girl you see sitting alone in a cafe mulling over something, or the girl you see shedding one too many tears in the metro/local train or the girl whom you see every day at work and think you know her; they’re all those characters you’ve seen before or will become more aware of noticing the next time. While we’re on the topic, it’s important for me to add that crying is a cleansing process, it’s like that storm described by Haruki Murakami that you feel inside you and that’s why you need to let it rain every once in a while. Everything becomes clearer when the dust settles. You get a better view through the windshield and the window pane.
Graffiti, art and the Easter eggs:
You would have seen graffiti in Michael Jackson videos back in the ‘80s because it was all a part of a revolution, even termed as vandalism or a criminal offence at the time. With artists like Banksy, and landmarks like the Berlin street art and the famous Lennon Wall in Prague, this kind of art and its expression has found a voice. In India, St+art has been working on making art districts by painting walls of residential buildings and other government buildings around the country to convey a message. In Mumbai, one of the first murals was that of Dadasaheb Phalke, the father of Indian cinema, which can be viewed at a crucial landmark in the city, where the boundaries of ‘town’ meet the ‘suburbs’. This was a collaborative effort between Ranjit Dahiya’s Bollywood Art Project and St+art’s festival back in 2014.
Imtiaz Ali films have these as a recurrent theme that also serve as Easter eggs. As a viewer, I noticed how Geet and Aditya both offer a hint into what the next scene is going to be. Aditya is asked to present a ‘geet’ (song) where he describes the capricious bubbly girl that Kareena Kapoor’s character was. Then she talks about running to catch a train and nearly missing it, explained in the way she stops Aditya from leaving (dialogue and train sounds are heard in the background).
In 2009’s Love Aaj Kal, there are neon signs indicating ‘Mango People’, ‘Pratigya’, and even a milestone that reads 0 km - indicating that love aaj and kal meet here.
2015’s Tamasha has a reference to 2011’s Rockstar, a spray-painted ‘We Should Kiss Now’ indicating a crucial point in the latter film that changes the course of the lead character’s lives and everyone related to them. Tamasha also beautifully portrays the angst of a break-up in the scene preceding ‘Agar Tum Saath Ho’. Here too, we see a graffiti wall probably to indicate the jumbled thoughts Ved is going through at that moment.
In the soon-to-release Love Aaj Kal, art and graffiti plays a crucial role. We see messages like, “Don’t touch my soul with dirty hands”, A lovesick girl portrayed through a spray painted heart and a girl vomiting smaller hearts, Woh pehli baar jab hum mile, See you on the dark side of the moon (Pink Floyd reference, anyone?) and a profound message like, “those who come from nothing... to love”.
‘Haan Main Galat’, touted to be the party song of this generation is a colourful artsy set that tends to sum up the theme of this new-age romantic drama. Some of the things I noticed here were: messages like “Phir baatein kar rahe ho”, Justice Chaudhary kehwe OBJECTION MILORD!, F**k this (without the asterisks), the film posters of Maine Pyaar Kiya and Qayamat Se QayamatTak that bring back the ‘90s element. That’s not all though, there are neon signs that say 2+2=5 (a generation of overthinkers?), the words Romeo Juliet and Once Upon A Time as neon signs and a lot more.
Explaining the song video, filmmaker Imtiaz Ali says, “This video is a museum of film. The old film posters, the graffiti and everything else you see here is symbolic and means something in the film. It captures the freshness, the nostalgia and the overall vibe of Love Aaj Kal.”
Here’s looking forward to yesterday and today’s love in the 2020 version of Love Aaj Kal.