Friday, April 30, 2010

Love Aaj Kal

Love Aaj Kal (Love These Days, 2009) has appealing actors (Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Rishi Kapoor in his avuncular uncle mode) and spectacular locations: London, Delhi, Kolkata, San Francisco. It does, though, have a few minor flaws: the direction, the editing, and the story.

First, a brief synopsis: Jai (Saif) and Meera (Deepika) are desis living in London who hook up after a night of clubbing and soon move in with one another. Both are apparently skeptical of deeper emotional commitment, though--Jai openly ridicules the idea--and when a couple of years later Meera gets her dream job restoring temple paintings in India, the couple agree to break up with no hard feelings. Jai's friend Veer (Rishi), an older man who runs a London cafe, can't believe that Jai is so willing to let Meera go, and tells Jai the story of his love for a young woman named Harleen (Giselli Monteiro) in the India of a generation ago. The two stories intertwine, with modern mores--the ease of sex and the difficulties of commitment--contrasting with those in Veer's time.

But the multiple flashbacks and shifts in location are presented confusingly by director Imtiaz Ali. (I don't think it's me: I had no difficulty following the multiple flashbacks and flash-forwards in Shyam Benegal's masterful Bhumika, (1976), for example). It doesn't help that Saif plays a double role (as Jai and the young Veer) while Deepika doesn't. In an apparent attempt to help us out by signalling the time-shifts, some of the scenes from Veer story are given a sepia tone. Thinking about the chronology, though, the Veer-Harleen story must be taking place in the mid-70s; somehow I don't think of the 70s as being a particularly sepia decade. Even granting this choice, it's applied inconsistently, sometimes leaving us floundering for a few moments before we're sure of where and when the scene is supposed to be taking place.

This is true even in the present-day sections. There's a moment in the script when Meera talks about her imminent trip to India, while Jai mentions his desire to go to San Francisco. The next shot is from the point of view of a car driving down an urban street. Are we in Delhi? San Francisco? No--we're still in London, as it takes us a few seconds to realize. The movie is filled with moments like this--either an expected jump in time or location that doesn't happen, or an unprepared cut that vaults us to a different time and/or place without our realizing it at first. I don't remember Ali's Jab We Met (2007) having this problem. That was a more linear story, though; the task of keeping Love Aaj Kal's intertwined narrative threads from getting tangled seems to have defeated him.

As writer and director, Ali has to take the blame for this, but it's also true that Aarti Bajaj's editing is at times simply incompetent. There's a scene where we see Meera dancing with her new boyfriend Vikram (Rahul Khanna). The camera is placed behind Vikram, shooting over his shoulder at Meera's smiling face. The very next shot is of Vikram walking towards the camera carrying a couple of drinks. By the conventions of continuity editing, it appears that he is walking towards himself. This is the sort of mistake that shouldn't happen in a student film, much less a slick commercial product like this one.

And how hard can it be to make Deepika Padukone look good? Too hard for the three credited costumers, apparently--Deepika keeps winding up in unflattering, cheap-looking outfits.

But Deepika's dumpy clothes, the confusing direction and poor editing would be insignificant if the story were compelling, or even made sense. Spoilers follow: Jai and Meera live together for three years, but never have The Talk about commitment? (At least an unmarried couple living together is treated in a matter-of-fact way: no one has to get pregnant, commit suicide or contract a terminal disease.) Meera doesn't realize until the morning after her wedding to another man that she's still in love with Jai? She then does nothing about this realization except disappear into her work? Jai doesn't realize until he's beaten up in San Francisco a year later that he loves Meera? And this is supposed to be a great love story? Sorry--love overcoming obstacles is indeed a classic story line, but the obstacles have to be something other than the couple's willful disconnection from their own feelings.

--End of spoilers--

Love Aaj Kal was a big hit, so apparently it struck a chord with many viewers. And it's not a total loss. Saif and Deepika acquit themselves honorably even if their characters are seriously underwritten (this is getting to be a problem for Deepika--see also Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008)). If the present-day story is nonsensical, the Veer-Harleen story is charming, as is its narrator Rishi (and it culminates in the brief onscreen reunion of a famous jodi).

The Veer-Harleen story also gives us the one compelling song in the movie, "Thoda Thoda Pyar" (music by Pritam, lyrics by Irshad Kamil). Harleen, dancing at an engagement party, sings about the pesky boy who keeps pursuing her, simultaneously signaling to him that "a little bit of love" for him has entered her heart. It's the sort of clever, charming and multilayered scene that Love Aaj Kal could have used a lot more of:


  1. Agree with every word of your review...LAK was a very underwhelming movie and I never expected anything like this from the Imtiaz of Jab We Met and Socha Na Tha.

  2. Anishok, I was probably one of the few people in the world underwhelmed by Jab We Met--for me, its borrowings from DDLJ and other films were just a bit too obvious. However, LAK makes JWM look much better in retrospect!

    I haven't seen Socha Na Tha, but your review makes it sound really charming.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. I still haven't gotten around to seeing it. I feel a ridiculous sense of guilt about that fact.

    I think directors don't know what to do with Deepika because *she* doesn't know what her niche is yet so she's taking a bunch of roles that are pretty different, trying to see what clicks. Just a pet theory of mine. It's not her fault that the scripts are underwritten, but I do think that a more experienced/rounded actress would be able to portray enough depth to the characters to make us not care as much about the writing failings. (I'm referring to Bachna Ae Haseeno here.)

    And man oh man are you right about the costumes. I've seen all the songs and whoever outfitted her for "Chor Bazaari" should be fired. And then hired so they can fire him/her all over again. She looks like she's six months along and that shouldn't be possible.

    Of course, I feel like this film was mis-cast from the get-go with Saif in the flaky-young-man role AGAIN, forget about Deeps. That fact, compared with a majority of reactions similar to yours, has led to me not actively seeking it out.

  4. Ajnabi, thanks for your thought-provoking comment. You make some excellent points that I haven't had a chance to fully consider. But off the top of my head:

    I actually liked Deepika in the first half of Bachna Ae Haseeno as the tough-minded, independent, and totally honest heartbreaker--a very different role for her than in Om Shanti Om. But then in the last five minutes of the movie she had to repudiate everything her character had said and done up to that point. I'm not sure that even a seasoned actress could have carried that off!

    I even liked her in the annoying mess that was Chandni Chowk to China. Even though it may not saying much, her dual role was one of the best things about it.

    Your theory may be right--she's taken on some pretty diverse roles so far. I think movie actors want to show their versatility so that they don't get typecast, but then they run the risk of not establishing a memorable screen persona. Deepika doesn't have to worry about being memorable--she just needs to find some better scripts. (And to avoid costumers who make her look pregnant.)

    As for Saif, I'm with you--I think his wild young man persona is getting pretty tired. When he's playing a less cocksure character I think he's more appealing, as in Kal Ho Naa Ho--or in the Veer-Harleen sections of Love Aaj Kal. Unfortunately those sections don't counterbalance the shoddily scripted and shot modern-day scenes, which bring the whole thing crashing down.