Film Review: Love Aaj Kal

Love Aaj Kal

Directed by: Imtiaz Ali

Starring: Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Rishi Kapoor, Florence Brundell Bruce, Giselle Monteiro and Rahul Khanna

**WARNING: Review contains spoilers, if you do not wish to know what happens in the film, please read my review after seeing the film!**

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Zor ka jhatka, dheere se laga” – (A powerful jolt, delivered softly) was the phrase that kept going through my mind as I made my way to the cinema and clearly, it was to dominate the day. First was the nasty shock at the box office that the cinema had stopped discounting its early bird showings and it was now the same price as an evening show – not that I minded too much but a bit of warning would have been nice, as I could have had that all essential weekend lie-in instead of getting up so early.

Then again, I’ve been so excited about going to see Love Aaj Kal this weekend that a lie-in would have been out of the question. The film has been garnering its fair share of hype but like a hungry Bollywood vampire that tasted blood with New York and then gorged on Kambakkht Ishq, LAK was special prey, what with it being Imtiaz Ali’s follow up to Jab We Met, (a fact that is oft repeated but shows how JWM has been embraced by audiences everywhere) and a chance to see Saif Ali Khan doing his day job rather than making headlines for his relationship with Kareena Kapoor. As I settled in and watched trailers for Do Knot Disturb and Aladin, I got my second jhatka as I realised I was really rooting for the film to do well both critically and commercially – something that I haven’t felt in a while…

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LAK is the story of Jai (Khan) and Meera (Padukone) who enjoy a year long whirlwind romance which comes to a crossroads when their careers intervene and offer to take them to different places. Deciding to be mature about the whole thing, Jai and Meera decide to have an amicable break up, with no drama or tears, even holding a party for their break up.  Interspersed with this is Veer Singh’s (Kapoor) story of how he pursued his love Harleen (with the young Veer also played by Khan) and as Jai-Meera’s story moves forward, we also learn more of Veer-Harleen’s story and how many things may have changed over time but love is not one of them…

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So, the big question: does it work? You bet it does. Almost on every level, LAK succeeds as a film and perhaps the most astonishing thing is how effortless the whole thing seems. From a technical perspective, the edits, the camerawork and cinematography are so quiet that one hardly notices them but this is not a bad thing at all – it just shows how seamlessly put together the film is. Script wise, the plot is simple but the treatment (which is what matters the most!) is fresh and natural. The film is very contemporary but at the same time, will not date easily – even after one viewing, I could see that this was one film that could be watched again and again and would reveal different things each time.

However, LAK arrives with one problem – the shadow of Jab We Met. A lot of people will be comparing this film to JWM which is easy to do but also quite dangerous as LAK is a totally different film from JWM. Though there are undoubtedly some similarities, whilst JWM was a more outgoing film, LAK has a lot more in common with Ali’s first film Socha Na Tha, which was very subtle and made an impact in a different way to JWM. I must admit, even though I tried hard not to compare, many of Ali’s trademarks (the use of trains in the film, the Punjabi song,  the repetition of dialogues) did remind me of JWM.

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Having said that, Ali certainly has a distinctive touch that is getting stronger with each film and he never allows the film to talk down to its audience. The dialogue (one of the film’s strongest features) is instantly quotable and makes smart points without preaching. I also loved the way black coffee is used as a metaphor  for love  – an acquired taste that not everyone will get. Note at the interval when Harleen tries the black coffee – at first it is bitter but as she drinks more, she gets used to the taste – a really well executed scene. Another nice moment is when Jai and Meera look at themselves in the mirror – this really makes them feel real and Ali doesn’t allow the actors to go overboard, hitting the right note with those scenes and showing strength as a director.

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Surprisingly, the styling in the film also warrants a mention with both Deepika and Harleen looking gorgeous in their various get-ups. Deepika works the boho look and the glam look, alternating between jumpsuits, boilersuits and tye dyed smocks over skinnies with gladiator sandals (phew!) with structured dresses that reference floral and metallics. Harleen looks gorgeous with the simplest of salwar kameezes, with retro prints and muted colours as well as an effortless no make up make up look. I liked some of Saif’s wardrobe like the funky T-shirts, leather jackets and suits he wears in the latter half as well as the long kurta he wears as the young Veer Singh. He also scores bonus points for getting the Punjabi uniform of checked shirt and plain flared trousers.

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Moving onto performances, this is first and foremost Saif’s film through and through. Although Saif can play the character of Jai with his eyes closed, in LAK, he makes Jai believable and yes, we’ve seen this character before but under Ali’s direction, Saif plays with more intensity and passion than seen before. I did feel there were a few scenes where Saif went a little overboard and rushed through some key dialogue  and sometimes, Saif did appear a little too old for the role but he manages to pull it off. He also makes a commendable effort as the young Veer Singh, speaking some heavily accented Punjabi but clearly enjoying the challenge posed by the role. LAK also proves that Saif can easily carry a film on his shoulders and that “secondary” hero tag is well and truly shaken off.

LAK also heralds the arrival of Deepika the actress – welcome! FINALLY, we get to see a small spark of acting talent shine through. Deepika is likeable and makes Meera a real person and even likeable, even though she breaks Vikram’s heart. Ali manages to coax a decent performance out of her, and although she does not always manage to match Saif’s energy, ironically, she brings a different but welcome vibe to her scenes. She also does well in her scenes with Rahul Khanna, showing some nice chemistry. This is by far her career best and if Deepika can continue in this vein, she may surprise us all.

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Giselle Monteiro is delightful as Harleen and the biggest surprise is that she is a Brazilian model who does not speak Hindi or Punjabi (which makes her performance more commendable) managing to play the perfect foil to Saif’s Veer Singh. Even though her dialogue is minimal, she manages to communicate a lot through her silence and Ali rightly makes her the surprise package of the film. What Giselle does next will certainly be of interest in Bollywood. Rahul Khanna is good in his brief role and though he is sidelined, he manages to make his presence felt. Rishi Kapoor gives a effortless turn as the older Veer Singh, bringing back the strong chemistry he shares with Saif with ease and is very endearing in his role. His appearance alongside wife Neetu at the end is also a nice touch. Brudnell Bruce doesn’t really have much to do but does look very beautiful and seems bemused by the whole thing, though this works in the film’s favour.

LAK is not for those looking for a quick fix of a film. Although I was totally engrossed in the film, I realised that the flash forwards and flashbacks (another Ali trademark) could confuse the inattentive viewer and the idea of using Saif to play both Jai and the young Veeru may have been lost on some of the audience. But again, I would argue the plus point of the film is that these features. would all become more apparent and understandable on repeat viewings. LAK is a real multi-layered film and at the end of the day, does have something for everyone, young or old and that is another rare factor in today’s Bollywood.

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Perhaps the most profound jhatka was the one I got as I walked out of the cinema – how much I really liked the film and could easily see it sitting in my list of all time favourites which has not happened since Fashion last year. LAK, for me, is an instant classic and definetly worth a watch on the big screen. I would even go as far as to say LAK is my favourite film of the year so far and though we have some great films in the pipeline this year, LAK will definetly be a contender for one of the best films of 2009 and dear reader, if that doesn’t give you a jhatka to go and see the film, I don’t know what will!

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