Some stories are just well-told.
Time out: The PPCC is all about philosophy of aesthetics, and we appreciate things like sharp narrative structure. In Love Aaj Kal, we were in for an unexpected treat: exciting, razor-tight, efficient pacing. Vah!
That may not sound like much, but it was exciting for us. Hindi films tend to be pretty Baroque in their narrative: they spend a lot of time lingering on emotional climaxes, building our interest in characters slowly and in great detail. Just remember the days of Manmohan Desai, where we would follow the Amitabh and Shashi brothers from the sidewalk to the front room, into the kitchen, upstairs, to the bathroom, and all that? There was a reason these movies were long.
They were also conventional in their chronology: the scenes were ordered according to the straightforward idea that what happened in Scene B was maybe a few minutes, or maximum a few days, after what happened in Scene A. If a larger jump in time was required, we would experience the required Flashback/Flashforward fuzzy camera + song.
This scene felt very Four Weddings and a Funeral, for some reason.
So what was very, very refreshing about Love Aaj Kal (Love Today Yesterday) was its use of a more post-modern style of storytelling. The plot spans two different generations, with the modern day love story taking place over several years. And yet - partly (we think) in order to maintain the intimacy of the emotional experience - director Imtiaz Ali abandons the David Lean epic effect in favor of a series of short vignette-style scenes. In this way, the characters and their romance is painted in broad brushstrokes; things are intimated and suggested more than explored in any great detail. And yet, paradoxically, as we abandon the mundane details of their lives in favor of a series of speedy snapshots, it becomes more realistic and more engaging! It's a bit like a Michael Ondaatje novel - most scenes don't last more than a minute or two, and they jump forward months and even years. Yet we never lose touch with the main thread.
Saif looking very good as a Sardarji.
That thread is the slow realization that Jai (a slightly plastic-looking Saif Ali Khan) and Meera (an unexpectedly wonderful Deepika Padukone) really do love each other in the old fashioned, soulmate way. A pair of light-hearted, cosmopolitan career people, Jai and Meera meet in a bar, date, enjoy each other's company and, when Meera's job takes her from London to Delhi, amicably part ways. Neither seems particularly devastated by their parting, there are no proclamations of eternal love. In fact, the two are pretty convinced that such love doesn't exist!
"Those 'made in heaven', 'can't live without you' soulmate types. They only exist in stories," Jai says confidently (and later in the film, desperately). "We're just regular people."
Their eventual understanding, over years and distance and obstacles, that they were, and are, in Love with a capital L, is a pleasure to watch. And it's partly helped along by a wonderful (CAN HE BE ANYTHING LESS THAN WONDERFUL THESE DAYS? THE ANSWER IS NO) Rishi Kapoor, who plays a sympathetic Sikh London coffee shop owner. As Kapoor relates his ultra-romantic, traditional love story from yore, we cut rapidly back and forth between the 1970s Delhi of the young Kapoor (played by Saif Ali Khan) and Harleen (Giselle Monteiro) - with its cinematic train departures, disapproving fathers and midnight escapes - and the stubbornly cynical text messages of post-modern Jai and Meera. The moral of the story: stop trying to deny your old fashioned heart goo, Generation Y!
We have very soft spots for jump cuts, drastic cross cuts (as between Sardar Saif and 2009 Saif) and old Rishi Kapoor, and we are also - at heart - old fashioned romantics, so we really enjoyed this film. Saif Ali Khan is dependably charismatic, and, since the film is mostly from his perspective, he does a fine job taking us through the highs and lows of Jai's awakening. He also impresses as the passionate young Punjabi in the old timeline. Deepika Padukone was surprisingly great - we say "surprisingly" because her roles in Om Shanti Om and Chandni Chowk to China were mostly throwaway stand-and-pose affairs. Or maybe she's maturing as an actress? Either way, she was just great. Rishi Kapoor... well, need we say more? What happened to this guy after 2000? He seems to have reinvented himself as, like, the best Papa Bear ever! The songs were fine, though - having heard them approximately ten billion times in the supermarket, gym, malls and autorickshaws - we were a little saturated. Special mention goes to the remix of the evergreen personal favorite Mera Mann Dole.