Thursday 13 February 2020

From the archive: "Love Aaj Kal"

The globetrotting Hindi romance Love Aaj Kal - Bollywood's biggest hit of the summer to date - centres on a relationship that's over before it's even really begun. London lovers Jai (Saif Ali Khan) and Meera (Deepika Padukone) have only just started dating when the latter lands her dream job restoring frescoes at key historical sites. The pair part amicably, yet on the way back from the airport, Jai's uncle Veer (Rishi Kapoor) begins telling him the story of the great love of his life, providing a cue for flashbacks in which Khan reappears, now bearded and carrying a few extra pounds, as the younger version of that self-same uncle, compelled to follow his beloved from town to city without uttering so much as a word to her. (To modern eyes, a restraining order might well appear necessary.) Back in the present, meanwhile, Jai and Meera are observed moving on - she with a colleague, he with a blonde Swiss poppet who resembles Peaches Geldof (so we know it won't last) - but the amount of transoceanic texting and instant messaging suggests the break wasn't as clean as it first appeared.

For the most part - and not unlike Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle - the stars are obliged to inhabit their own movies until the narrative finds the means to realign them. He's clownish, slightly nerdy, weirdly ageless in the world's most eclectic selection of T-shirts; she's reliably gorgeous and endlessly playful, and the flashback scenes, though handsomely shot and keeningly scored by Pritam, suffer somewhat from casting alongside Khan an actress who comes over as a pale imitation of Padukone - and much too young for her co-star besides, though perhaps that's just how things were done back then. The intention is to contrast the old ways with more modern, emotionally mute behaviour - as Jai confesses, "I don't have a heart or heartache, and I like it like that" - and to say something sincere about love at a time where we're closer together than ever, only ever a text away, and yet prone to moving at such speed so far apart. (The title translates as the Curtis-ish Love, Nowadays.)

This declaration may well come from personal experience on the part of writer-director Imtiaz Ali: presumably, the relationships of many Bollywood creatives have come under strain from having to travel halfway around the world to shoot stories about long-distance relationships. (It can't be healthy.) Otherwise, there's nothing new about Love Aaj Kal: though the stars have been updated, the movie holds dear to many of the same traditions Bollywood has always upheld - a reliable way of getting grandparents and teens into the same auditorium, a feat Western cinema now struggles to achieve. Still, Ali hands novel and cherishable moments to his very likeable cast, such as a poking game Khan and Padukone play to initiate their first kiss, and the "last dance" they share at the breaking-up party they decide to throw. Ali even gets some thematic mileage out of the bridges that recur to connect past with present, and lovers separated by large expanses of water. Compared to such multiplex fodder as The Proposal and The Ugly Truth - films that regard love as, respectively, a transaction and an abasement - it is genuinely and, at its best, swooningly romantic.

(August 2009)

Love Aaj Kal is available on DVD through Eros, and to stream via Amazon Prime; a sequel, Love Aaj Kal 2, opens in selected cinemas from tomorrow.

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