Matters of the heart have always been the leitmotif of director Imtiaz Ali’s films, be it his debut movie Socha Na Tha or 2007’s super hit,Jab We Met. While his plots are simple and linear, and generally follow the same story line—boy meets girl, boy loses girl, will boy get the girl in the end?— to his credit he paints convincing characters and breathes life into the mundane.
In Love Aaj Kal, he uses the same basic story to bring out the similarities and contrasts between love in two different eras.
Taking commitment phobia to new heights are Jai (Khan) and Meera (Padukone), the hipster couple of today, who believe in being practical and keeping their respective careers their top priorities. The movie starts with their seemingly cheerful break-up. They still find the need to connect over long distances, which should have been a clue to the depth of their feelings for each other. The two continue to live in denial and it falls upon the jolly restaurateur Veer Singh (Kapoor) to make them understand their feelings for each other.
Ali uses the device of parallel narratives with multiple timelines to deliver the message that love, whatever the era, essentially remains the same. Sepia tones distinguish the story of the young Veer (also played by Khan) from that of the modern Jai. The contrasts between the eras are brought out very subtly; today’s young lover Jai can talk non-stop but cannot articulate his feelings; the Veer of the 50s holds in his emotions silently, but his silence is vastly more eloquent than all of Jai’s jabber.
Khan is in his element in his now-perfected role as a metrosexual male—smart mouthed and stylish—but he does justice to the young Veer too, who follows his girl on his bicycle and gate-crashes a wedding ceremony to catch a glimpse of his lady love, a throwback to the style of successful romance director Yash Chopra. However, the crucial chemistry between the two lead stars, which is the core of a love-story, is completely missing. And this makesLove Aaj Kal more of a buddy movie rather than a modern day love story.
Comparisons to other romantic movies, however odious, are inevitable. Love Aaj Kal is an ordinary story told passably well, but without the spark of Jab We Met. The music could’ve been a little less Punjabi-fied, though the songs have made it to the top of the charts, thanks to their foot-tapping beats.
One wishes for a better written role for Padukone’s Meera, something which would make the charming girl’s decisions look credible. And why take an actor of Rahul Khanna’s caliber for such a nondescript role?
The result is a vague sense of “what if?” What if there had been a more mature actress than Deepika here, somebody who could rise above the underwritten role? What if the role had been better written?
Love Aaj Kal is a movie which will be known for some great scenes without them culminating into a memorable film; the heart-warming scene where Veer’s young love, Harleen, brings a glass of black tea for him; or the one where Meera and Jai tell each other their shortcomings after breaking up. On the other hand are scenes which borrow heavily from other blockbusters; the bashing up of the hero by the girl’s family, wedding ceremonies, departures at train stations. Where a better cast could have set the screen on fire with their longing and frustration, the two leads look like kids exchanging text messages! So much of the promise of creating a legendary celluloid moment is wasted, with both the actors looking like they are playing at love.
Madhumita Gupta is a freelance writer, teacher, and children’s author based in India.