Some stars have made careers out of making “masala” entertainers, like Rajnikanth, Mithun, Akshay to some extent; and audiences don’t really care for reviews or others opinions on their movies, since they want to watch unadulterated entertainment. Our most wanted bhai’s movie, also falls in this category.
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.
Whenever there is a movie with Salman in the lead, it is no longer just a movie but an experience. The world can be divided in to 2 kinds of audience- Salman Baiters and Salman Fans. Both have their reasons for watching it.
A quiet moment when you just stand transfixed as you see your beloved in front of you, only to see her walk past you as if she did not even acknowledge your presence. Your heart aches and you pine, not just for her but also for all those wonderful moments that you both shared together. And you repeat the act every day, only to see your lady love walk away the same way. What would such a moment remind you of? Would you really expect this from a Salman Khan film? Actually I wouldn’t and not because Salman isn’t good with romance, in fact he has done enough and more romantic films but then there’s always that expectation that he would come up with something animated that catches the lady’s attention at the end. But that doesn’t happen in Ali Abbas Zafar’s latest film, the well anticipated Sultan that’s bhaijaan’s Eid attraction this time around.Continue reading “Sultan Movie Review: Salman Khan and Eid, the Combination Works Once Again”
Ali Abbas Zafar’s ‘Sultan’ has all the trappings of an earth-shattering blockbuster and in all probability it will be one. Not just because it has the box-office demigod Salman Khan, the man who can right now earn 200 crores even by selling peanuts outside a theater, but also because it is a story of redemption, revival and fighting for one’s love – a potion that can be sold like hot cakes to Indian audiences. The fact that Sultan has Bollywood’s original bodybuilder Khan playing a wrestler at a tender age of 50 only adds to the aura and intrigue of the film. But alas, all that augurs well does not necessarily end well. And a lion’s share of that blame should lie at the feet of the director.Continue reading “Sultan Movie Review: This Calls for Giant Leaps of Faith and Your Unflinching Love for Salman”
Director Prawaal Raman’s Main Aur Charles is riddled by an inherent dual conflict. As a viewer, if you are familiar with chronicles of the (in)famous ‘bikini killer’ or ‘the serpent’ Charles Shobhraj, you will find Raman’s film to be devoid of sufficient thrill and excitement. On the other hand, if you are ignorant about Charles Shobhraj, you will find Main Aur Charles to be confused, incoherent and incapable of providing any deep insight into the life and times of perhaps one of the most dreaded serial killers in recent times. It is this ambivalent nature of Main Aur Charles that eventually pulls it down, even if it does have its share of merits and a great degree of style and charm.Continue reading “Main Aur Charles Movie Review: Suave and Stylish, but Where is the Substance?”
I took an additional day after watching Salman Khan’s Kick to consolidate my thoughts about the film before I put them down here for you. As a movie analyst, it is imperative that I do not let any predilection cloud my objective point of view about the film, nor should I project my immediate reaction of it without giving it a second thought. Having said that, we can all revel in the fact that ‘Bhai’ is back this Eid. Yes, and his latest offering is directed by his long time producer Sajid Nadiadwala who makes the jump with this film. Post the debacle of Jai Ho earlier this year, Salman went all out selling Kick to the world, shrugging complacency out of himself. Rightly so. He must not throwaway the super stardom he has worked so hard for, only due to one film. Mounted on an ominously large scale, Bhai fans (read Bhai-tards) looked forward to it with bated breath. Continue reading “Kick Movie Review : Definitely Not A Kick In Your Guts”
Have you as a person, ever felt a compelling desire not to go back to your origins?
Have you sensed a strong urge to leave all your ‘inner demons’ behind and break free, even when you realize that there is no way ahead?
You can’t also escape from the reality and go further with a game-plan or scheme as you are totally aware of the futility of that exercise!
A part of you actually, doesn’t want to move forward! But somewhere halfway in the journey- between going back and moving forward- you are stuck!
And you fall in love with that!
You yearn for that journey to be perpetual, never-ending and in that ceaseless journey – you seek solace!
You just need to be there, involved in that dream voyage for as long as possible, not for once perturbed or afraid of the consequences…
You want some more time to breathe, one more second of happiness for basking in that moment! One more instance of joy…
You just want to spend some time on the crazy expedition seeking something incomprehensible!
You simply wish the journey froze, in the present!
What if that journey involved two contrasting individuals from completely different backgrounds, fighting varied issues, pitted against each other?
How does it feel to be someone from the uber-upper-class, and how does it feel to live off the edge?
What are the odds that these two extremes strike a common chord? On what kind of dire circumstances?
How would it be if you felt ‘susceptible’ in the safe confines of your haven, but ‘safe’ with your captor in unknown dangerous territories?
How will it feel to be deprived of any sort of love, affection or care for twenty long years, only to develop new, hither-to, unfelt strange emotions with someone you have taken hostage?
Is what you are forced to perceive as freedom, the real ‘freedom’?
Is what you are lead to believe as normal, really ‘normal’?
Is what you discern as hostility, actually loneliness and vengeance spewing out?
Does something that is forced onto you, account as something to feel ‘guilty’ or ‘shameful’ about?
Its simple. An emotionally charged road trip unfolds as a consequence of a seemingly violent man accidentally kidnapping an urban girl. Taking this one line as the premise, writer-director Imtiaz Ali attempts to answer almost all of these questions, and much more in his recent film ‘Highway’!
The real test of a scriptwriter/director’s prowess is his show of ‘versatility’- his ability to keep the dangerous ‘genre tag’ at bay! Few people in the South, like KamalHaasan, have mastered that art. Imtiaz Ali has tried to break out of his ‘loud, romantic and commercial’ shackles by trying his hand at a honest ‘unhurriedly- simplistic’ movie, which moves you with its intense visuals and moments of mesmerizing silence!
At its soul, ‘Highway’ is Ali’s take on ‘Stockholm syndrome’, which he crafts effectively by conflicting the ‘fear’ of an abducted girl, with her slowly developing sense of ‘freedom’ and increasing ‘comfort levels’ with her kidnapper! A contrasting display of emotions is caught raw on screen, as the captor doesn’t know that the girl is an engaged daughter of a big-shot, and further insists on resorting to a ‘do or die’ strategy on realizing it ! The beautiful bond that the two come to share is something not to be analysed or judged, but savored! For one thing, this doesn’t fit into the typical ‘Stockholm’ script like Amarkalam or Raavan, as the hostage here actually doesn’t develop any kind of feelings for the captor, but instead senses freedom when he is around! This makes the script unique and definitely one with lots of potential.
With a persistent dark, gritty feel and a state of silent stagnation at many instances, the director leaves it to the audience to reflect and ponder on the emotions of the characters on screen! So, essentially, this is not the kind of cinema, which would entertain everyone, but, is certainly the type that will keep you ‘hooked’! The director builds the suspense with many tense moments all through, but he doesn’t reveal anything till the end! That keeps you guessing on when the eventual will happen; and when it does at the least expected moment, it does hit you strong and hard! Having said that, few incongruities in screenplay and excessive dark layering in the script does make the viewing experience a bit strenuous and unappealing at times!
The film’s technical credentials are outstanding! Casting is top-notch and the performances are rock solid! Alia Bhatt as ‘Veera’- being the natural performer that she is – turns out to be a revelation throughout! She manages to portray fear, vulnerability and insecurity even with her half-covered face in the initial parts of the movie! And at times, when she is clowning around with her dangerous captors, she makes it all ‘believable’ with that naive look of hers, convincing us of the the false security, she is bound to feel and express because of extreme upper class ‘closed upbringing’! The authentic feelings of claustrophobia, the ‘giving up’ moments of escape, lack of normal human fears and reactions – all these, bearings of a rich caged girl, flow out from her naturally! Full credit to the script which has brought out her best! Later when she shows traces of real freedom bursting out, she absolutely nails it, even amidst all that that dark silence! She comes out unscathed and terrifically convincing in that particular long sequence, when she recounts the ‘closed, oppressed’ nature of the urban society and the ‘silent abuse’, she had to endure as a child! The gleam she gets to her eyes, when she finds her dream destination at last is all ‘sheer magic’ – you have to see to believe! On the flip side, her monologues sometimes pass off as a bit eccentric!
On the other hand, Randeep Hooda, with a Haryanvi jat accent, lends tons of credibility to the role of Mahabir Bhati, a violent rustic criminal who is seemingly ruthless and intensely cynic on the outside! With so many opportune moments to overreact, he delivers an extremely guarded brilliant performance, hiding under dirty clothes and messy looks for almost the entire movie! Eventually, in an emotionally intense scene, when he gets to finally smile, Alia cries and we are caught between them, crying and smiling in joy! And then, there is this surreal scene in the end, when he keeps hesitating to enter a make-shift ‘home’ with Veera, where we can actually see through his emotions! Finally, when he opens up and weeps in agony, conveying his uncertainties regarding the remains of his humanity, and his motherly emotions for Veera, he makes us wonder why such fine actors are hardly ever utilized! You know its not just another film for him and you have been treated to something really genuine and honest, when the first credit to appear at the end of the movie is that of the body language consultant! And add to it, the trivia that he didn’t speak to Alia during the major portion of the shoot, to get the character shade! This man has shown, when given a chance, what he is capable of!
Astonishingly marvelous cinematography in pristine beautiful locations and a restrained yet appealing background score are the two concrete pillars of ‘Highway’! The movie has some insanely splendid visuals, showcasing the beauty of the road highways of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, the six states through which the lead characters get to travel! The final shots in the valleys and rivers of the Himalayas have to be seen on screen to feel the experience. Well done, and thank you Anil Mehta and his entire crew for all the efforts taken! Rahman gives a scintillating background score which gives lots of space for ‘silent’ introspection! That is clearly a rarity in Indian cinema, and Rahman gives a demonstration of how it is rightly done! The songs are a rage and perfectly blend in with the narration!
‘Highway’ is definitely a triumph for Ali, personally and for Indian cinema as a whole! It engages and awes you with its rich visuals, at the same time leaves you pondering over a lot of sensitive social hypocrisies! It gives you the kind of high, you would get while you are trekking in Ladakh, sans any sort of artifice, reflecting on the beauty of the terrains… and Yes, it pains, because its not a fun ride! Its a trek for god’s sake, but it rewards you with wisps of fresh crisp breeze and unusual resplendent sights!
A sort of ‘different’ high, worth taking the risk of indulging!
So, the house is divided on Highway. Some loved it and some didn’t. And the latter mostly belong to the ones who have already seen Imtiaz Ali’s short film. Highway starring Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda is more of a retelling of Ali’s telefilm also titled Highway which was part of the Rishtey series on the small screen.
So, in case you haven’t seen as yet, here’s the telefilm and do let us know whether your thoughts on Highway( feature film) have changed or not. 🙂Continue reading “Sunday Watch: Short film on which Highway was based”