Sunday, August 02, 2009

Love Aaj Kal: Can a movie coast on hipness?

A funny thing happens when you make a movie that breaks from mainstream Bollywood convention (and I realize Bollywood convention has been a moving target for a few years now). The frame of reference by which you are judged changes.

Love Aaj KalSo let's say I were to watch a Shahrukh or Salman movie with a lot of needless dhol-dhamaaka, matki-tapaa and rona-dhona in it. I understand the structure of the potboiler and enjoy its moments of fleeting ingenuity. I don't mind the ill-logic of it or miss the absence of a plot.

But try making a more grounded movie - such as the bold but confounding Love Aaj Kal - and my frame of reference changes. Dramatically. And as it turns out, I just about liked the movie without enjoying it much. I'll explain why - but before I do that something worth noting is that writer-director Imtiaz Ali has probably remapped the rules for rom-coms in Bollywood. We'll all see more mature behavior from our 40-something stars in the future and tell ourselves 'well, we saw that in Love Aaj Kal before'.

So why did the movie not work for me? Primarily because its not nuanced. If you have a simple plot - boy meets girl, both figure out they love each other, life gets in the way - you need something to guide the audiences' understanding of why things are happening.

Nothing is more confounding than to watch people act in certain ways and not understand why. What, for example, propels Saif Khan's Jai - a more charming version of the lothario played by Akshay Kumar in Kambakkht Ishq? Why is he that way? Why does it take him so long to come to grips with the notion of love? And what precisely  pivots his mind and helps him act on his affections? (No, it can't possibly be playing a video game too many times or simply because Men are from Mars).

Saif gets a lot of screen time, but as far his character goes - its under written. As is well documented by now, in a nifty bit of casting Saif also plays Veer - a puffed chest, cocky, virile, sardar who isn't afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. He does enough of a marvelous job tuning his body language that he's convincing. Its not a blow-out performance - but its enough to show you a star who takes his craft of acting seriously.

Love Aaj KalDeepika gets much less screen time than Saif - her character is even more loosely defined. Where does her carefully guarded confidence come from? Is she really so absorbed in her work that she doesn't need the support system of any friends or family to overcome her worst moments? And why in heaven's name does she fall for Saif?

In a deliberately frenzied montage that opens the movie, Imtiaz Ali dispenses with the reasons for falling in love. He seems desperate to sidestep the boy-girl-meet-cute pleasantries. Skipping small talk is fine by me - but the deeper conversation has to follow. Over the course of its run, the movie has to explain itself. And you can avoid the ghisa pita scenes from rom-coms past, you can do so in other ways without compromising your characters (see Oye Lucky for some great examples on how to explain characters without expository writing)

There are countless scenes that could have been better served to create a more meaningful exchange. Instead Imtiaz fritters them on the cast engaging in Bollywood-ish cute antics.

Sure, there is nothing like scrunchy noses, doe-eyed exchanges and hipster comedy to capture the imagination of audiences - but is your movie a commentary on modern day love then or something else?

59 comments:

mdeals said...

i don't how is film ?????????
but one thing is clear i like saif, he looks stunning ...

Tanuj said...

Hi Aspi ji,

I could'nt agree with you more on this movie. Its a interesting storyline but more me the movie failed its primary task, keep me entertained.

Anonymous said...

have to agree on the part of 'oye lucky' didn't even like the actor, but the movie was very good... But I do like Saif too, i guess it is not a masala movie but still a heart-throb one !!

meena said...

hum tum and salaam namaste I think already established this jonar of rom coms...thats why the novelty quotient of the movie wasnt enough to make up for the choppiness. With the best will in the world for saif the movie did not set me up to 'feel' with him.

..being a sucker for great dancers I was surprised how much I enjoyed the delightfully graceless dancing of Harleen :) finally, an everyday girl who will not suddenly transform into an impossibly gorgeous dancer at someone's mehndi.

Aspi said...

Tanuj, quite true. ANd if a movie doesn't entertain you - its not entertaining :)

Meena, I couldn't empathize much with Saif or Deepika. And the latter didn't even have the luxury of sprouting a stubble to show us how you know, messed up, she was.

I agree about the casting of Harleen. It was inspired to pick an actress from a different country because the lack of Bollywood polish made the character interesting. And it puzzled me even more that a team that made such good casting decisions went ahead and cast Saif and Deepika in those roles.

Saif, I can understand got to call a few shots as producer (and save some money by casting himself). At least it was fun to watch the songs and marvel as to how bad a dancer he really is.

But the other role was a disservice to Deepika.

Mind Rush said...

Part 1: This movie was perhaps miscast or likely under-written. But one thing is for sure: The title is most certainly a misnomer. This movie is not about love-aaj!

It is about someone's superficial and stereotyped notion of how to twistedly explain post modern man-woman relationships. Take it from someone who has seen a fair share of love and un-love both kal and aaj.
News flash! Folks still long for love and connection in the 21st century. We are not in some brave new world where love is a dispensable accessory. However, the expression of such a love has morphed--slightly.
See Part 2 below....

Mind Rush said...

Part 2:
I was deeply moved by the movie nevertheless. Tho the movie is steeped in a shallow lack of self-awareness and un-love, I am a sucker for "boy-meets-girl-and-enduring-love-and-loss" type drama.

Tip to future viewers: Take a hanky or five to the show...

Aspi said...

When Harleen and Veer drank tea without milk in the movie - an uncivilized prathaa - I cried!

Anonymous said...

yea, some are lovers n some are propah tea lovers!

Tanvi said...

I personally loved the scene when Veer goes to meet Harleen in Cal and she brings him tea and he brought her Boondi! (That also reminds me I LOVE boondi, completely out-of-context)!

musical said...

Aspi, meena, priceless comments :).

I just saw the clip of Harleen's dance on youtube and it looks natural and not a forced, rehearsed dance.I read somewhere y'day that apparently the director felt that Giselle could have done with some more "adaas" etc!!

musical said...

Oh, and is Saif's character is a rehashed version of his earlier characters from Kya Kehna and Salaam Namaste, as in "someone who doesn't understand what true love is" or the proverbial "commitment-phobic"? Just curious. The various descriptions of his character i read on the internetz seem to be hinting that way.

meena said...

musical, saif's character is more about being 'practical' and 'logical' and far from realizing that the heart needs to be examined as well...you know..the popular concept of aaj ka love. The one that mind rush is taking exception to.

..anyway..not to be shallow or anything but whats going on with saif's hair? is the mini mullet staging a come back?

Deepa said...

Hi Aspi,

I'm totally with you on this one.. I thought the movie was a huge letdown. I knew this was not going to be another SNT or JWM so I went in with an open mind but was extremely disappointed when I walked out of the movie theater :-(

The transitions between the love kal and love aaj didn't work for me. I couldn't see the point. The love kal was very similar to the run of the mill fare we see in Bollywood movies.. Having said that though I thought that was best part of the movie..

The love aaj was so not aaj that I couldn't believe that Imtiaz actually believes this of the younger generation. I agree with mind rush.. This is one person's view of how today's generation perceives love but for a majority of us - this is not true..

And the underlying message of the movie was supposed to be that love, whether kal or aaj, is the same.. I just didn't get that sense.. I didn't feel for any of the characters, didn't sympathise with any of them..

Saif was in his been there done that role - Dil Chahta Hai, Kal Ho Na Ho, Salaam Namaste.. And I thought he looked extremely old even with the botox (read an article about this).. Perhaps it was to do with the role he was playing.. A 38 year old trying to be a cool 21 year old (or whatever age he is playing - that was never established).. He was trying too hard..

Deepika's character was just confused.. and underwritten.. How can you go ahead with a marriage (and ruin someone else's life) if you aren't sure of your feelings.. I can understand this in love kal - societal, parental pressure etc.. But surely in today's times, you will have the courage to say no to a marriage if you thought you were in love with someone else.. That whole bit was just so superficial..

And dialogues were meant to be Imtiaz's forte.. I read in the reviews that the dialogues are everyday dialogues.. Maybe I am just misplaced but I just didn't think they were.. JWM and DCH had more realistic dialogues so LAK failed in this department as well :-((

I can go on and on - I bet you can't tell how disappointed I am ;-)

Aspi said...

I should have paid more attention to Salaam Namaste - this would have been a much better review if I had :)

I did notice that Saif looked old and his hair looked funny. But sardar Saif looked pretty cool. There is a lesson in all of this for the stylists of a movie: don't over-style your clients - it looks all too well laid out and takes away from the movie's authenticity.

Deepa, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Good point about Deepika's character acting suddenly a bit too Love Kal when doing the marriage bit.

Aspi said...

I forgot to mention this: when Saif shuffled down the tram tracks and didn't get run over, I cried!

Aspi said...

Tanvi, that was boondi? I totally missed that. Probably too busy eating my smuggled Ritter Sport marzipan dark chocolate.

musical said...

Meena, thanks :).

Aspi, Deepa, I am having serious doubts now about watching this movie!

Btw,how old is Mr. Imtiaz Ali and why is he viewing "love aaj" this way? And what exactly is aaj and kal anyways! Sigh!

This talk of boondi and chai reminds me of pind (the pind of "kal") though.....

Deepa said...

Lol musical.. I seem to be in the minority because the movie has got good reviews from both the critics as well as fans. Many have loved it so maybe something is wrong with me :-((

And Imtiaz is only 38.. And I think he meant to show the difference in how love is perceived by the older and the younger generations but the bad screenplay played spoilsport..

Mind Rush said...

Tanvi, how did you figure out that the mithai was boodi? Since it was in a clay pot I thought it was dahi! Silly, no?

And, yes. Saif looks old. Salmaan looks old too. Even my heart throb Aamir looks old. Will casting folks please wake up and pair them with heroines their age? Come to think of it, even Madhuri, Kajol and Juhi would look young next to some of these men.

Anonymous said...

sounds like the food in movie was much more appetizing than the movie itself. Its all about food, has tainted this one gathering too.
And, now we know which sports bar our drift sahib prefers...

meena said...

..and another thing..I cant see that kal ka love is all that much either (or as mind rush would say, our stereotyped concept of kal-ka-love). It seems to be uniformly based on the idea of stalking. granted they did not have too many options but yaar was that the only way?, janam-janam-ka-pyaar being created in direct proportion to the tenacity of the stalker?
..well its another reason I give thanks that I live in aaj and not in kal (apart from modern medicine that is)

Aspi said...

As far as stalking goes, its the same really. The bicycle of kal is the twitter (or Facebook) of today.

And even to this date, the good looking stalkers get on the inside track. The ones who aren't good looking get to participate in one way eyeball love. Come on now, it might be rude to say, but you all know that's how its always worked.

The only difference between a dreamy stalker and a creepy stalker is how hot the stalker is. Anyone remember what happened to the title character in Hunchback of Notre Dame? Right.

meena said...

much in what you say Aspi, altho I was thinking more about the kal-ka-stalkee..even after bagging a hot stalker, it is pretty annoying for the girl if she has to stage a bhaghavat against her family, elope with said stalker and marry him to boot before she can find out if he slurps his soup or if his hair smells or ye gods if is a republican :)

.and ha ha one way eyeball love..havent seen that before..NOT!

Aspi said...

I know, scary! In this case if I were Harleen and Sardar Saif turned out that way I'd just go back to my dad and say "Daddy, that dude forced me to run off with him at knife point. Go kick his ass again"

Anonymous said...

Well did someone forget to mention, love is blind...
Aspi, in real life girls fall for the stalker with no looks,no chance of him stalking again.

Aspi said...

Love is blind is the kal way of saying aaj that 'I don't agree with your choice'.

Hey, maybe I should have written the movie instead of Imtiaz.

Anonymous said...

this is kal and aaj ka way of saying, 'never too late to start a new career', Aspi sahib ho jaya ek movie ap ka name ki.

Anon Fan said...

Drift saab's Love Aaj Kal
Review showed much "akal."
Made me reminisce and mull
Is today's love truly dull?

Nah! That hypothesis is null.
Aaj love seems like new hull
Same ole' Love just new "shakal"
All else is just gull.

Drift saab, I feel "chanchal"
Tho' Anon I am being vocal
Your fans are abroad and local
Make the movie today, not kal!

Aspi said...

Anon Fan, brilliant. If I get my remake financed, you'll be doing all the songs for sure.

Mind Rush said...

I feel song-y...
That was my poem! Am gathering all my shaayari-laden thoughts to one-up Javed Akhtar when your film is financed.

Anonymous said...

real question: Aspi have you lined up your finance-errs !!

Aspi said...

Mind Rush, just for the record - especially after Kaminey - I think Gulzar is really the coolest lyricist around and probably way better than Javed Akhtar. The younger ones (Sid, Anvita) are pretty good also.

Thank god, I was getting a bit tired of 40-50 somethings trying of articulating college romances. It was like Rishi Kapoor playing a sophomore in an undergrad program.

However, I would take you over everyone else when we make the movie. I don't have financiers but I have a working title: "Aaj Karey So Kal Kar". You can guess what the sequel will be called.

Tanvi said...

Mind Rush, I think it was boondi (I assume) coz that's what she went to get on the Mithai shop the first time Sardar Saif was following her.

Aspi G - I agree with you about Gulzar. He is totally the coolest! He has been my fav. director, writer and of course lyricist since the earliest memories of my movie-hood!

musical said...

Gulzar is the most versatile of all lyricists! And i guess, the most consistent too. He's been doing lyrics since ages. His lyrics are fresh and do not overtly rely on the standard Hindi movie repertoire of words like "dil", "pyar" etc. etc. Plus they have this inherent musical quality. He has also done some amazing work for childrens' programs such as the Hindi versions of Alice in the Wondeland, Jungle Book and Sindbad the Sailor (for Doordarshan). Those lyrics are fun, cute and very sing-along! It's not everyone's cup of tea.

The only time i felt that Gulzar's style was somewhat forced was for the lyrics of this song from Saathiya, which goes like "Zulf ke neeche, gardan pe".

Javed Akhtar also is highly versatile. I mean the same person wrote the songs for "Refugee" and "Om-Shanti-Om". Among the new ones, I like Prasoon and Anvita. Again, they are fresh and exciting. Vishal does some mean lyrics too. On another note, what do people think of Sameer? Does he write anymore? In the '90s, every other song on radio used to go like "bol likhe hain Sameer ne" :).

Oh and talking about lyrics, i noticed that the lyrics for "Gulon Mein" from Sikandar seem to have been entirely credited to Neelesh Mishra. The mukhda of this song is actually from a poem by the Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz!! This is not to take away from the beauty of the lyrics in the antara.

joules said...

Speaking of Gulzar, I love his movie Ijaazat. The dialogs,the songs the acting - everything about that movie is simply beautiful. The lyrics of the song "Mera kuch samaan" and "katra katra" are so unconventional and poetic.

Aspi said...

ok, but the real test is: who is the best when it comes to writing double entendres? Or at least lyrics we can entertain ourselves on slow days by hanging double entendres on.

That would be Gulzar, I think.

Anonymous said...

Hey Aspi, How did u forget to mention Rishi Kapoor in your review, I think his performance was outstanding and a USP for the movie. Juxtaposing his story side by side to Saif's, makes this movie a classic.

Anonymous said...

Joules, totally Ijaazat is still a classic for songs...especially 'Mera kuch samaan', still haven't come across lyrics like that.

Anonymous said...

any chance of an interview with Brazilian actress Harleen?

Aspi said...

Great idea! There would be much to ask her. But I have no leads :( If you find her on twitter lure her in, will you.

Anonymous said...

Aspi, I don't twitter, but will sure see if i can ind a way to lure her in..

Bappida said...

Farget lyricist. I should have done music for this filum.

Lub aaj oye oye
Lub kaal oye oye
samajh na aaye
turuturu
woh roye roye

Superhit gaana hey! Eemtiaz, Pritam ko chhodo, Bappida ke saang dolo. I am waiting for your call.

MallikaLA said...

Yoo everyone I am twitter - follow me there to learn more about my movie Hisss.

Wait how many s' were there. I forget. Anyway - I am creating my own dikshunary on twitter. For example, I call everyone 'my tweeps'. Sometimes I refer to myself as Twallika.

I am also trying to get some interest whipped up in a desi version of Charlie's Angels starring myself, Bipasha and Priyanka.

Anand Amritraj said...

Twallika, will you star in my new movie Twits?

MallikaLA said...

Anandji, great lunch the other day. What is this new movie about?

Anand Amritraj said...

Why start asking these types of questions now?

Did I mention I log on to the Internet only because of you?

MallikaLA said...

Good enough. I'll do the movie. Twits - here I come!

woot said...

Nice review. Love your blog.

Aspi said...

woot, nice name. Welcome.

Teddy said...

Aspi Aaj -Kal

Screen play of upcoming movie, based on true- ekdum real means real life istory of Aspiji

Directed by Hush Chopra

Dhamaakedaaar music by Hi-messbhai Kesammiya

Cast: Rishi Kapoor as Aspi
Bipasha Basu, Priayanka Chopra and Rakhi Sawant are in the running to be cast as Drift Memsaab

Aamir Khan will play Motorsandal (so what if the age doesnt match yaar, at least the height is matching..besides, acting bhi toh kuch maayne rakhta hai ke nahi?)

Darsheel's secretary said he will get back to us about youngling's role.

Here's a preview of kal ka love:

Aspi (Rishi), a sweater tied across his shoulders, and the Memsaab (in white sari, hair flowing in the wind) are running in slow motion through fields of tulips, arms outstretched towards each other. Lata Mangheskar warbles in the background."la la la laaaaalalalaaa"

They come close to each other, the music rises to a crescendo, and Lata's voice gets all screechy, as it often does. And then they miss each other. You see, Rishi-Aspi was running between the red and yellow tulips, and Memsaab was just one tulip row to the left, between the yellow and the pink ones.

Aspi said...

Ha ha, Teddy. I love the idea of Rishi Kapoor playing me. That would rock! But I insist we cast Bips. And I need a scene in which I put Aamir on my laps and say "now listen gattu"

Dr. Woot said...

Heyy Mind Rush jii you are very well known in the Bollywood circles, given your affinity to solve the problems of our frequent lovelorn. I would like to pass on a case from a frequent visitor who comes for his beauty check ups. Hope you can solve his woes.

Mr. S(ave) (my) A(ss) K(hhaan)

Mindrushjii I was recommended to as you were known as the baap of all counsellors. MY problems are as follows. I have a 20 yr old girlfriend while I am reaching my 40. While she may say pharak ki painda, I take extreme measures to bridge this age gap. I went to Dr Woot for my Buttox treatment. And Boyy it just works fiinnee. Of course I had to mooch around wearing sunglasses covering half my face for a couple of days. But the results are heartening, but KK doesnt appreciate my efforts at all (she doesnt show or mention it at all boohoo). I desparately want to get settled down as Im(itate)'s LAK is running successfully before I grow even older. Even though I am the producer, for publicity's sakes I capitalized on poor Im(itate)'s name so as to draw viewers. I feel guilty if it causes LAK to be constantly compared to Jab They Met !!I worked really hard to maintian a cool Khan image. I checked on numerology hence the extra K's and A's, I went through Buttox ( age scares me !! look at my mates Salesman and Starlook very haggard in appearance. I am tired of being the overlooked Kkhaan. I want to be the No. 1 Kkhaan. Wat do i do??? I got the girl, I got the productions company now what do I do?

-- Save (my) ASs KKhaan

Hi this is woot again. You may hear from me again. AFter the disastrous luck of Luck. Someone in another Kkhaan household cried WTF!!?? I will soon pass his queries to you. will wait for the response. I bid adieu.

Deepa said...

Aspi, will you be doing a post/blog on Vishal Bharadwaj's new movie 'Kaminey'??? I would be interested in your thoughts on this film :-))

Aspi said...

I'll do my best to get to it - I'm a huge fan of caper movies esp. since I've read that Bhardwaj was inspired by Guy Ritchie films (which I absolutely adore).

Anonymous said...

really inspired by Guy Ritchie. I heard it was inspired by Pulp Fiction..didn't seem to be inspired by either of these factors to me.

Aspi said...

The inspiration can come from several places. I think Bhardwaj mentioned that he specifically liked how Pulp Fiction threw stuff at you and then explained it later.

Anonymous said...

well, I guess that must be it. Because, the stuff is thrown at you with a lot of characters, just like pulp fiction, but Pulp fiction needed explaining, Kaminey you get explain even though you understood everything clearly, and it sort of take away from the effect of the movie. It difficult to explain, but you will see the difference when you watch the movie.
I was never too fond of movies inspired by movies, movies inspired by incidents or books are bit more enticing and captivating of the audience.

Aspi said...

Anon, I couldn't quite get what you were trying to say - but I'll watch out for it!