Sunday, August 02, 2009
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Rishi Kapoor, Rahul Khanna
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Runtime: 115 min. (citation needed)
Genre: Romance, Drama
I am sensing a lot of flak for the performance Ms. Padukone lends to Love Aaj Kal, and I believe all of that is somehow misplaced and misguided. I read a couple of reviews who juxtapose her acting abilities with those of the two actresses who have preceded her in Mr. Ali’s films – Ms. Kareena Kapoor (Jab we Met) and Ms. Ayesha Takia (Socha Na Tha) – and then go on to compare them unfavorably. To Ms. Padukone. I have seen mere portions of Mr. Ali’s previous film, and nothing in them suggested to me any sort of motivation to dwell any further. But now I am, very motivated, for I see how flatteringly he portrays his women, how generous he is to them giving them the most genuine of moments, and how precise he is with their characterization. I see a casting agent listed for the film and I think he deserves a bonus.
And at the same time I believe Mr. Ali, who has himself written the film, knew exactly the kind of woman he had in mind to play Meera Pandit (Ms. Padukone), and he knew exactly the kind of actress who would have fit the bill. I claim thus because Ms. Padukone delivers an incredibly restrained performance, free from all the bloat that is supposedly the hallmark of the archetypical big-budgeted-Indian-romantic-film actress. She plays it with some kind of matter-of-factness, a certain deadpan. Here is what Mr. Ali believes is a representation of the modern urban woman – strong, responsible and outgoing. As for if she is an extrovert or she generally keeps away from what most teenagers do, well that is an option you can go either way on. I know, what I’m listing out is a stereotype, but reader, a stereotype does contain some shred of truth. Speaking of which, the movie is a verifiable world of stereotypes trying their level best to be real people. And succeeding somewhat, though the movie’s success isn’t based on that.
Now, the kind of urban stereotype Ms. Padukone’s Meera represents might be considered some kind of pretender. The calm exterior that seems to evoke an impression of someone who’s utterly methodical, and someone who weighs in a whole of calculations and doesn’t fall prey to adolescent emotionality. I might be trudging over unknown waters here, but then I do not seem to have much knowledge of stereotypes, apart from a stereotypical idea of them. What I do know is a few people, you know, here and there, across both sides and I see vulnerability and confusion. The stereotype the movie refers to might very well be a façade, and if that is the case, it is a very feeble one. I cannot vouch for Mr. Ali, but I suspect he is aware of it, and he chooses Ms. Padukone for the plain and matter-of-fact demeanor of hers.
And then he sets out to explore, and dig deep, and dig deeper, so as to reveal that confused little girl from within. You should see the final scene. It is a simple shot, capturing a simple yet moving moment from her. And when she breaks down, I felt it. Breakdown scenes can be really cruel, and they are one of those acid-fire tests that reveal the kind of actor you are. Most actors with a hell of a lot of skill earned from hours of training absolutely ruin such a sequence, for their craft betrays the truthful nature of it. Not Ms. Padukone. She is simple and truthful, and it feels heartfelt. There are little variations in voice, so subtle, yet so definitive of the kind of feelings burnt up inside of her. There are little nuances that seem to betray the little girl within. All the ire directed against her performance makes me feel like Veidt observing Doc Manhattan, and almost wanting to claim – Her subtle facial twitches, the little ways in which she directs her gaze and the breaking of her voice wouldn’t be noticed by the layman, but to me she might as well have been sobbing. And the final scene displays a kind of catharsis of emotions we rarely do come across in big-budgeted romantic movies aimed fairly and squarely at family and NRI audiences.
And as I said, Love Aaj Kal is a celebration of stereotypes borrowed from every which where. Every frame is designed not to capture, but to show a stereotypical moment. The dialogs often seems to spill over into the territory of a real conversation, but for most of the time it is safe and secure where it ought to be – The Stereotypical Land. Even the images – of the Qutab Minar standing in for Delhi, and India, the Golden Gate Bridge standing in for San Francisco, and the United States, and the far-off land of dreams, the congested street way with a million buildings cramped into each other standing in for Calcutta, and India, and hot women, cafes and Big Ben standing in for London, a.k.a the target audience. Love Aaj Kal, might not be a culmination, but it very well is a self-aware example of the shorthand big-budgeted Hindi cinema so profusely invokes.
In this land, Mr. Ali, about whose films I learn from some friends are somewhat observational in nature, brings some kind of comparison, as the title suggests. It is like an exercise we have had at school when we were asked to chalk out the similarities and differences between flora and fauna. You know reader, that such an exercise often needs the services of a stereotype, and although I am not at all for such kind of cinema, I do understand Mr. Ali’s intentions. He juxtaposes and then criss-crosses between two romances from different periods, the old guiding the new, in a way I leave you to discover. I agree, the idea is kinda lame, but what had me sold was the unprejudiced manner in which Mr. Ali goes about things. He doesn’t preach, and I hate goddamned preachers. He doesn’t ask the old to shepherd the new, but instead sits back, and asks his young to sort it out for themselves. Make your own mistakes. Realize your own follies. He isn’t being cynical, he is just being a good old-fashioned liberal.
He paints the old in sepia and the new in the most colorful of candyfloss, and goes about pointing out the beauties in both of them. Mr. Ali, I believe, plays a song right at the onset that kinda telegraphs beforehand everything that is to follow, and the structure the film might acquire, and I asked myself why he does that. I think he understands the kind of inevitable conclusion such a story takes, and he doesn’t want to meddle around with that. His stories, as everything is in the film, stereotypical, and consciously so. What he instead works upon is in the specifics, in enriching these moments with spices borne out of the observations my friends suggest he possesses. Not real life mind you, but from the best of cinema. These are sweet and tender moments, with refreshingly romantic touches. There is Veer, the romantic from the olden times, and when the beautiful girl he loves so dearly is plucked out of his life and thrown to some far off land unknown to him, he leaves everything and follows. A real story would have had him search for her in the vast expanse of the city, day and night, but this is not one. The film has other ideas. He stands in front of her building, and when she comes out of the balcony, and walks out, it is a wonderful moment. And yet, that is not the first time they have their first conversation. It is fascinating how they have it when the girl comes to out to tell him that she has been engaged. Stereotype, yes, but a gloriously romantic stereotype.
Which begs me the question – is the sepia tanned oldie the stuff of an old romantic’s fantasy? I wonder, you know, because even within the framework of the film, it kinda feels like a dream. I wouldn’t reveal much, and I would want to judge it for yourself, but when I see the oldie living happily ever after with the woman of his dreams, I kinda find the whole frame evoking a feel of the surreal.
The performances are just about top flight. Mr. Khan, with the kind of comic timing he is so god-gifted with, absolutely sleepwalks through the film’s lighter times. But then, the make-up department doesn’t earn its pay, and we see a crumpled face. The man is getting old, but never mind. Not our business. Our business is to give benefit to Mr. Ali, for his film’s tone is derived from his characters, and his characters in turn seem to be inspired from his actors. The film always has plenty of droll in spare, and instead of reigning in dramatic touches that betray the innate nature of the characters, it kinda works around them. Another film with totally different characters would have ended a good thirty minutes before, when one of the characters is wedded and one seems to have realized his dream. But not this bunch, and not this film, because I believe these guys do require the extra length to come to terms with the façade. Mr. Ali’s film does play around with a lot of conventions, especially the one from those god-awful tearjerkers – Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Pyar to Hona Hi Tha – and disposes them away with a certain disdain. One of the causality of the affair in here is a nice guy, with a good heart, played by Mr. Rahul Khanna, and the film isn’t afraid to be a touch cruel in the way it deals with him. I think that is interesting, you know, not being politically correct all the time.
There’re songs galore too. A wonderfully designed song etches out a year in the life of Jai Vardhan (Mr. Khan) in San Francisco and another one is so happy it assembles folks from every which country in Europe to make a splash and shake a leg. Which leads me to wonder if true audacity, something which I always admire and support in a film, lay in the route of the stereotype, as against etching out two real stories? I do not know, dear reader, which is the tougher one, but isn’t creating a moving little film out of a film stock that is used to film something that is stock count for something?
Posted by Satish Naidu at 12:42 PM