Love Aaj Kal (2020)

***Spoilers galore

Love Aaj Kal is probably Imtiaz Ali’s most honest movie and hence his most vulnerable. It is naïve, but in an inquisitive way. It is so easy to dismiss the film and the characters as idiotic. The two lead characters don’t even feel like any real people we’ve met. They are foolish 20 somethings looking for eternal love. They are manifestations of the hopeless romantic (read IDIOT) deep down within Imtiaz Ali, who wants unconditional, uncompromising love forever and after. While Zoe (Sara Ali Khan) is the feisty exterior confidently facing the world, Veer (Kartik Aryan, present day) is the extremely under confident interior constantly in chaos, looking for answers which don’t exist. Together they go through intense turmoil trying to find ever-lasting, eventually settling for something transient but real.

I love the fact that Imtiaz Ali still prefers big narratives rather than small intimate ones. He is still a legitimate big screen film-maker. He structures this movie in a typical hindi pickchur way, with a big betrayal halfway. But the mechanics within are very fresh. Though the concept of two love stories influencing each other is reused from Love Aaj Kal (2009), it is much more potent here. The flashback serves as a romantic booster as well as a cautionary tale subverting our expectations dramatically. This narrative within a narrative gives a wonderful quality to the movie. It feels like watching a movie in a conversation with itself. Every argument for ‘LOVE’ has an equally strong rebuttal from ‘LIFE’. In the world of Imtiaz Ali, ‘LIFE’ is our reality, the never-ending, almost inescapable cycle of existence, while ‘LOVE’ is moksha/nirvana, the only thing that can redeem the gross human within us. Imtiaz has always been team ‘LOVE’. He has celebrated and romanticized it to crazy extremes (love can make your WBC count go up – Rockstar). He has always treated ‘LIFE’ as an irritating hurdle to be crossed (think of all his heroines and their ex-lovers), completely inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. But first time, he has given ‘LIFE’ its due. He sincerely accepts that there is nothing permanent about ‘LOVE’, and ‘LIFE’ is a reality to be dealt with, not escape. His pain and grief in accepting this is visible in the broken characters, who undergo intense turmoil within and in case of Veer (Kartik Aryan, present day), he is almost dysfunctional in the real world.

Most people think that Imtiaz Ali has overstayed his welcome. His movies keep getting more and more difficult to relate with. Breezy romances have given way to traumatic love stories. His characters are getting more and more internalized. In his last movie – Jab Harry met Sejal – he shut out the audiences completely from the inner lives of the two lead characters.  Interestingly, in Love Aaj Kal (2020) he writes himself in the movie. Raghu (Randeep Hooda) is clearly a stand-in for the director himself. A man with a penchant of mythologizing true love through stories, but with no lasting relationships in real life. His breakdown towards the end while narrating the final parts of his doomed love story is Imtiaz’s most bare-naked moment on screen. When Raghu (Kartik Aryan, flashback) recounts how he kept staring at Leena’s picture for hours before going to sleep, I could imagine each and every male lead of previous Imtiaz’s films staring at the picture of their lover, in almost psychopathic fashion. In crude terms, all his male characters have been losers in love, and no points for guessing where it comes from. And this is true value of an auteur. The cringy, uncomfortable personal truths emerge out of narratives. Till date, though Imtiaz has always stayed true to himself, he never showed an awareness of his shortcomings. He in fact doubled down on romanticizing true love just to shield himself. But in Love Aaj Kal (2020), he has everything on display in spectacular fashion.

One aspect of the movie that instantly nagged me was the overbearing parent trope. Zoe’s mother emotionally blackmails her to stay away from relationships till she finds a financial footing (I know all Indian mothers do this). As a result Zoe is terrified of serious relationships. It reinforces that we are shaped not by of our experiences, but rather by domineering parents.  I’m not opposed to the idea completely, but the way movie uses it as a screenplay trope was troubling me. But since then thinking about the movie as a whole, it fit nicely with the movie’s running theme of Indian social conservatism vs modern liberalism. The characters in the modern India milieu are free-birds to seek love, but still held tightly on leash by their parent’s experiences and baggage. Should the young ones be left alone to explore the world and make mistakes OR is it the responsibility of the parent to influence them based on their past experiences? The movie makes a convincing argument either way. Both Zoe and Veer carry their parent’s experiences as baggage which is so heavy, that they are incapable of a stable relationship. On the other hand, the dramatic flashback story from their other father figure, helps them gain a perspective about love and relationships. It encourages a reality-check when looking for long-lasting relationships. So I guess the movie advocates for a sort of modern conservatism, the cool father figure.

Many of you might feel that all this analysis is just a pedantic way to cover up the fact that the movie doesn’t work emotionally. I have read many complaints that the movie is just not relatable and the characters are a bunch of bumbling idiots, behaving like confused trauma patients. I understand this completely, but there are many moments throughout which hit me viscerally and aligned me emotionally to the movie. Especially the flashback. We’ve seen movies like Alaipayuthey (Saathiya in Hindi) and Sairat, where things don’t remain rosy after a hard-fought union. But here, we see Raghu deserting his first-love in cold-blood. It reminded me of times when I sat hand in hand with a person, but not feeling an iota of affection. At that moment it felt natural to move on to greener pastures, but it doesn’t feel the same in retrospect. It brings an ache of a wrong-doing. It was the moment I lost my innocence, a part of me died there, and it was painless then, in fact a relief. But as the years passed by, a guilt and a shame stayed with me associated to the memory.  The movie of course turns it into a yearning for lost love, which I didn’t really mind in the context of the movie.

There are many ways to dismiss the current day characters of the movie, Veer and Zoya. They don’t feel like real people at all. Veer is pre-packaged damaged goods, too young to be looking for inner truths. Zoe’s single mindedness about career becomes laughable after a point. It feels she has already seen Marriage Story and has concluded that love, marriage and career cannot sail in the same boat. Left leaners will make them out to be privileged numbnuts. Right leaners will view them as overly mollycoddled youth unable to handle life situations. I am ready to concede all the dismissals, but still many scenes between them felt real and lived. The most memorable one was the scene when a drunk Zoe asks Veer to hold her, but he refuses because they are not ‘together’. It is heartbreaking to watch Zoe refused solace in a moment of weakness, but at the same time we see Veer too battling with himself and Zoe to earn respect. Ironically, the scene is preceded by one which has another man ditching Zoe in middle of nowhere because she wouldn’t submit herself to him. Sabko full Zoe chahiye!!

Maybe I’m overselling the movie here, and it’s possible that Imtiaz Ali doesn’t need art, but needs a therapist. But I’m so glad he has made an attempt here to face his incessant notions of ONE TRUE LOVE, head on, and in the process acknowledging impossibility of his desired utopia. The movie ends on a very humble note, not once suggesting a happy ending. For all we know, Veer and Zoe break up once again when back from Manali.

Gully Boy Movie Review: Authentic Body, Fake Soul

Gully Boy’s aim at authenticity is commendable. The locations, the texture, the music all build up an authentic world of the origin of Gully rap. But the protagonist, the Gully Boy himself is fake and hollow. Not false in the way many of the gully rappers are, wearing their hoodies and flat-rimmed caps just imitating the hip-hop pioneers, but in a way how clean-cut he is without any spunk, neither has a single negative nor a rebellious streak in him. Zoya Akhtar and co. have created a character out of their imagination of how an ideal rapper is, or rather ‘ought’ to be as per their standards.

Continue reading “Gully Boy Movie Review: Authentic Body, Fake Soul”

’96 Movie Review: Some Reflections…

SPOILER ALERT

96 is a bittersweet amalgamation of the ‘BEFORE‘ series – chiefly ‘BEFORE SUNSET‘— by Linklater, beautifully mapped onto the Indian landscape by contouring out the emotional crests and troughs of childhood love, its extensions, and its sustenance. It is a triumph for one of the most interesting actors to emerge out on the Tamil screens, Vijay Sethupathi, who brings his own brand of ‘casualness’ to his act, yet segues it – mainly in the second-half – into a fine act embodying a character who pretends to be living in the ‘moment’ but is really living in the past savoring moments of first love which are, obviously, momentous to him. [In fact, the film opens with a song ‘The Life of Ram’, with the lyrics and visuals expounding on the loneliness that’s part of Ram’s existential crises, as well as the thread he hangs onto to continue his existence. It shows him living life as a travel photographer, but travelling alone, and seemingly enjoying the independence—(he pulls a cart for an old man in Calcutta; drives in circles in his car onto a vast, open field; sits staring at the horizon on a beach, and runs on sand-dunes in Rajasthan, while the lyrics convey his feelings that he hasn’t understood the world yet though his hair has greyed..)— that a relationship-less existence provides, but that’s actually a facade.] There’s a nod here to Ranbir’s characters from Ali’s films portraying his alone-self in a populated world that’s hard to miss.Continue reading “’96 Movie Review: Some Reflections…”

Laila Majnu Movie Review: Crazy in Love!

“I choose to love you in silence, for in silence I find no rejection.
I choose to love you in loneliness, for in loneliness no one owns you but me.
I choose to adore you from a distance, for distance will shield me from pain.
I chose to kiss you in the wind, for the wind is gentler than my lips.
I choose to hold you in my dreams, for in my dreams you have no end.”   -Rumi

Rumi’s words seem to be pillars on which filmmaker Imtiaz Ali builds the foundations of his love stories. And it is once again evident in the latest presentation from Imtiaz, a modern day take on the famed Laila-Majnun tale from the Persian folklore, that of  ‘virgin love’, of the obsession and the madness.  Debutant Sajid Ali’s Laila Majnu is such a tale about a boy who was so madly in love, that the lover itself becomes inconsequential in his world. As per him his love is meant not for rules of this world, of its people and time, but for a place beyond.  In other words’ the epic tale of Laila Majnu is right up Imtiaz’s alley. This idea was touched upon in Rockstar and the folklore of Laila-Majnu also made its way into Tamaasha.

laila-majnu01

Laila, like most of the Imtiaz-heroines is one with ‘bubbliness’ incorporated into her, a loose cannon of sorts given the opportunity. Here she gets a kick out of being the attention of all the local boys. But though she talks the talks of facebooks and whatsapp, her romance is planted firmly back to the ages of ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’ where she with her pigeons, dreams of a charming prince to come to sweep her off. Thankfully we are spared of the legendary lines about ‘dost’ and ‘dosti’ from the Salman starrer in this one.

Thanks to one of her college mates who puts the idea of a wishing Spring, she too decides to wish at a nearby spring for some romance in her life, and presto, she runs into hero in the oddest of situations – she finds herself in the arms of the man who just stepped out to answer nature’s call.  Don’t even ask how!

Meet desi Romeo-  Qais, who is immediately smitten by Laila and decides to stalk her around town. Laila decides to confront the ‘rich spoilt brat’ and even asks him to back off. Qais decides to heed to her wishes and leaves things to fate.  But fate, as expected, decides to throw them back together.

And fate also throws movie clichés one after another. Qais and Laila hits it off, over messages and calls, and before you know it, the harmless flirting becomes full blown romance despite them knowing that their warring families will be dead against this alliance. The parents whiff out the relationship, family heads have a spat, and eventually lover boy sees lady love getting married off hurriedly to someone else.

The second half, takes place four years later, when we have Qais returning to Kashmir to attend a funeral. And that is where Qais meets Laila yet again. Has the love between them been dusted and buried? Or does the forgotten flames rekindle and reignite?  This is where the story decides to let the madness of this relationship take over, and along with it, taking the movie places.

laila-majnu02

Like Imtiaz’s works such as Rockstar and Tamaasha, this debut feature from his brother Sajid Ali can be both a captivating as well as a frustrating experience. It is one that would easily split audience depending on whether they are in the zone for this kind of mood and feel. It would speak strongly to a few sections while a major lot may not even get empathize with the lover’s pain.  To top it, consistency is not the movie’s key features. You must make peace with watching it soar at certain points, while witness it dipping badly at others. However even in the cliché ridden first half, the makers make room for some freshness like the only scene Qais shares with his father, where he coaxes him to ask Laila’s hand in marriage. Also, in the second half, there is a notable sequence where Qais compares his conversation to his lover akin to the conversation of the religious with their God.

However, it is still a tricky subject we are dealing with. And to convincingly translate a state of depression and madness, onto the big screen is no easy task and is more of a tightrope trick which can backfire easily. Sajid Ali may not have successfully managed to pull it through but does make a very good attempt. And that is brave stuff, especially considering it is his debut feature.

Despite its inconsistencies, the movie deserves to reach a larger audience. Mainly because of its two huge strengths – the music and the brilliant lead performance from newcomer Avinash Tiwary. They end up elevating the movie by a great deal.

Music from Niladri Kumar and Joi Barua brings together the voices of Arijit singh, Atif Aslam, Shreya , Mohit Chauhan, Jonita for some dazzling tracks and each of them, most importantly, blends so well with the soundtrack without sticking out or hampering the pace. Hitesh Sonik’s background score also works well.

And then the performance. Avinash Tiwary who is a great find in the role of Qais. He starts off with the charm of Ranbir Kapoor but comes out in flying colors with the madness of a Ranveer Singh and if given the opportunity, looks all set to step into their huge shoes.  He brings an authenticity to the portrayal of this Majnu making it one of the biggest reasons for one to check the movie.

laila-majnu03

However, the same cannot be said about newcomer Tripti Dimri. Though she appears fine enough to look pretty and cute, it becomes too much of a herculean task when the character of Laila is asked to take on more complex layers. Yes, you may call it the ‘Nargis Fakhri syndrome’ we saw back in Rockstar.  Or maybe it is just the writing where the focus was too much on Majnu’s descent that did not make room for Laila. As a result, the film ends up become more about Majnu rather than about the lovers, Laila-Majnu. Also certain shifts in Laila’s characteristics is too sudden and seem conveniently forced.

Among the supporting cast, Sumit Kaul makes an impression as Ibban, Laila’s husband even though a tad overdone in the initial scenes.  For a first-time director, Sajid Ali, shows he is a risk taker and capable of more like his brother.

Kashmir is captured beautifully by cinematographer Sayak Bhattacharya and works beautifully as the backdrop to this tale without infusing any political angle to it, it remains like Laila, completely unclaimed between her suitors.

Laila Majnu is certainly not for those who like their love stories sugar-coated and packed in standard ready-to-go delivery packs. Like the Imtiaz brand of love stories, this one requires you to dive in to the experience and savour it. And then the feeling may linger on. Either of love or of hate.  Either ways, you need to try it first.

 

Cast:  Avinash Tiwary, Tripti Dimri

Directed by Sajid Ali

Produced by Ekta Kapoor, Preety Ali

Music : Niladri Kumar, Joi Barua

 

Jab Harry Met Sejal Movie Review: Tab Head Met Wall!

There’s a moment, bang in the middle of Jab Harry Met Sejal, when one of the titular characters remarks snidely “This is silly, we need to get out of here”, and you end up thinking to yourself, what if the same had been said by Aditya to Geet (Jab We Met) or Tara to Ved (Tamasha), the seeming voices of reason asking a dreamer to change course, to not fly too close to the sun, to stop sprinting and take a breath. When the promos of JHMS first showed up, it seemed like yet another Imtiaz Ali tale of two strangers in a strange land, but when the two strangers happen to be Shahrukh Khan and Anushka Sharma, can the magic of Jab We Met, the soulfulness of Highway and the pathos of Tamasha be captured again on celluloid?Continue reading “Jab Harry Met Sejal Movie Review: Tab Head Met Wall!”

Tamasha (2015) Movie Review: The Art of Bad Storytelling

Imtiaz Ali’s film Tamasha is, at best, an attempt at a grand spectacle, and at worst, an eloquent exploration of the title’s other meaning, that is, commotion.The movie starts with the back story of a child fascinated with storytelling, beautifully shot by the talented Ravi Verman of Barfi fame, and coherently strung together by editor Aarti Bajaj. The movie is narrated not so subtly, by a theatre show of a futuristic robot and a joker.In a desperately clichéd attempt to portray the story as contrary to reality, young Ved is seen escaping his cruel father, collecting stolen pennies in a secret box, and using them to pay to listen to an old man’s (Piyush Mishra) fantastical tales. The old man keeps reiterating that all stories are essentially the same with characters that keep changing. The child, much like the protagonist in Pan’sLabyrinth, finds stories in unlikely places, and imagines characters materializing from the dark corners of his house. Unable to discern reality from fantasy, his young mind is enraptured by the possibilities of a fictional world, which contrast starkly to his life under his father watchful eye.Up until this point, Tamasha has merit enough to be a very good children’s film.Continue reading “Tamasha (2015) Movie Review: The Art of Bad Storytelling”

Tamasha Movie Review: Performance of Life

 

Jab We Met, Break Ke Baad, Ek Main Aur Ek Tu and Tamasha – what do these have in common? They have a stuck-up, somewhat depressed beta-male who is liberated from the monotony of life by a freewheeling sorted-in-life chic. They unlock the guy’s true potential. Out of these movies, 2 have Kareena Kapoor, 2 have Deepika Padukone and 2 are made by the same guy, Imtiaz Ali. It says a lot about all of them. Kareena and Deepika are the true female superstars of the multiplex era. Just like Madhuri and Sridevi (Beta, Chalbaaz) from the 90’s, they fulfill the male writer-director’s fantasy of women with reins (“If I’m going to submit myself to someone, it has to be one of these”). Imtiaz Ali’s lead male characters are highly conflicted (nothing profound, just confused) and eventually turn to the women for life-affirming comforts. With Tamasha, he continues with his adolescent pre-occupations of finding the one-true-special-one, but this time he exhibits a very strong narrative control for almost three quarters of the movie, where he shifts through places, timelines and perspectives much more organically than his other more ambitious films like Love Aaj Kal and Rockstar.Continue reading “Tamasha Movie Review: Performance of Life”

Tamasha Movie Review: Imtiaz Ali’s Mera Naam Joker Moment

Tamasha Poster 1If you flip through filmography of accomplished directors, you will find at least one film that goes on to become a symbol of their pedigree. ‘That one film’ may not necessarily be the directors’ most accomplished work or a roaring commercial success, yet it beams with the faith, idea and conviction of its creator.Continue reading “Tamasha Movie Review: Imtiaz Ali’s Mera Naam Joker Moment”

Tamasha Movie Review: A Mainstream Commercial Film with a Lot of Heart and Mind

There comes a time in life when you introspect, reflect about what you have been doing all these years. Is it the real you? Being enslaved in mundane stuff for eons, can a spark bring back that true self in a quest to recognize your identity. Significantly, have you even identified that deep within, you are not living a life that you once aspired for. Sometimes an incident, a moment or maybe even a failure can shake your core self; leading to a descent, only to realize your own self-worth. A worth which is required to accentuate your importance in your own eyes.Continue reading “Tamasha Movie Review: A Mainstream Commercial Film with a Lot of Heart and Mind”