There are some defined elements to identify any Imtiaz Ali film with. Journeys to self discovery and true love has been a perennial metaphor, in films like Socha Na Tha, Jab We Met and Jab Harry Met Sejal. Another arc is that of commitment-phobia, the angst accompanying the now on-now off relationship and the idea of a robotic work self pitted against one’s true actualisation. His new 2020 Love Aaj Kal follows the latter trope, is a marriage of the Ali’s film of the same name and the more recent Tamasha.
Two love stories — one set in 1990 Udaipur, other in 2020 Delhi — cross paths, the wisdom drawn from the one in the past, guiding the future course of the other. Interestingly, Ali situates the two at significant junctures, cinematically speaking: one is set in the times of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (with a nod to the film as well), perhaps the last of the older brand of Bollywood romances that were about fighting the cruel society and family, rebelling and running away from the insensitive world. The second, set in 2020, is about lovers battling their own inner demons, as they have been in countless contemporary films.
The interesting departure is reimagining the role of the woman. For a change, in the new Love Aaj Kal, it’s the girl Zoe (Sara Ali Khan) who is trying to run away, from the secure and smothering love to establish a career for herself. Far from playing the supporting role, being the one to invest in a relationship and holding the mirror unto the hero, it’s for her to face the dilemmas of career and success and of love and commitment. Hero Veer (Kartik Aaryan) is content being the eternal pillar of patience.
Love Aaj Kal
- Director: Imtiaz Ali
- Starring: Kartik Aaryan, Sara Ali Khan, Randeep Hooda, Arushi Sharma
- Storyline: Two love stories: one set in 1990 Udaipur, and the other in 2020 Delhi cross paths, the wisdom drawn from the one in the past, guiding the future course of the other
- Run time: 141 minutes
Great? Well, not at all. The work-love debate is handled in an utterly unconvincing, half-baked and clumsy manner. The 22-year-old girl has barely started off on her first assignment and you already have her wondering if she is happy or not. This is where Ali takes it all back to square one, makes it a guilt trip for her even as she is just on her mark to get set and go. There is an implicit apologetic touch in her opting for career over love in her early twenties. Pray why? She is rendered ditzy and unsure, the self-confidence notwithstanding. Commitment phobia is just as feebly handled as the quest for work-life balance and the resolution comes out of nowhere, way too easy, making you wonder why you were needlessly taken round and round in the circuitous plot.
The lack of conviction reflects even in the performances. Sara Ali Khan is perennially high-strung, scaled up several notches but without grounding her ostensible pain in any persuasive context. Other than an ambitious, materialistic mummy in the backdrop who herself has a scarred past. It renders Sara’s angst as designer as her home. Where is this anguish coming from, you wonder? Karthik Aaryan flares his nostrils, sports a cutesy pout and plays silly in trying to portray a supportive simpleton, be it Raghu of the past or the Veer of today. The only one who manages to anchor the film with relative gravitas is the older Raghu Randeep Hooda (the bridge between the past and the present, in a reprisal of the Rishi Kapoor part in the original), who has grown wiser from his past mistakes and misdemeanours but then he is confined to the margins than being in the centre of action.
Ali’s early films had a freshness and simplicity, a delightful irony underlying relationships, the warmth of characters and earthy humour. They made you connect because they were organic and spontaneous.
In the faux intensity and pointless philosophising of his newer lot of films (what with a co-working cafe here called Mazi, dropping names like Kabir and Rumi and an obsession with Lodi Road wall paintings and close up shots of the actors) the soul goes entirely missing and a turgidity underlines the telling. Emotions are either utterly inane or highly overwrought, the conversations alarmingly trite. Love swings between words like “compromise, underutilise, optimise” even as the audience is left rolling its eyes. At best, love feels torturous, tired and worn-out, and at its worst it becomes little more than a caricature. For the viewer, there is very little by way of options other than lapsing into sheer disinterest, boredom and exasperation.