Karan Johar returns to the directorial chair for the first time in three years with a romance drama involving a guy and two girls. The guy is rich and the girls too. There are many foreign locations.
Sounds familiar, does it? Don’t worry. Whining that Mr. Johar’s characters are all filthy-rich would be as inane as questioning why all the characters in a Tarantino film cuss and kill, totally beyond the point. A more legitimate gripe is that the movie suffers from many of the same failings as that of a hundred other Bollywood films, and then throws a few of its own in the mix for good measure.
Ayan Sanger (Ranbir Kapoor) is a “private jet-class rich” guy studying MBA in London. He meets Alizeh Khan (Anushka Sharma) and the two bond over wine, discos and tours. Almost all of the first half of the film is like an extended dream/spoof sequence. The two spoof/pay homage to umpteen Hindi film staples and even throw in a Meta-sounding remark about how weird it is that the filmmakers do such sequences. Talk about being self-conscious. The camaraderie and the chemistry between the leads is sparkling and they play off each other really well. Funny as it is, it still feels hollow until some 10 minutes from the interval when the director surprises with events that are a tad out-of-turn, if not completely unexpected.
The second half features a lot more drama and emotional scenes as the screenplay is tightened to enhance the tearjerks more familiar to a big-screen production like this. At around the 2-hour mark, it felt to me as if the film had reached its climax, which, as I came to know over the course of the next 37 minutes, was a gross underestimation of the capabilities of our directors to frustrate the audiences.
One thing which I found quite hard to understand is the insistence of Hindi films that true music can only come through heartbreak. Among others, it was a driving theme in Rockstar (2011) and it is a major one here too. Not only is this a very clichéd notion, it also somehow elevates heartbreak as a tool over things like talent, grit and hardwork. Incidentally, both films had Mr. Kapoor playing the heartbroken protagonist.
Make no mistake, this film is a huge step up from what we expect and receive from commercial cinema in India. It also manages to tug at the heart on a few occasions. The way it handles the question of a love triangle in this day and age was obviously refreshing to see. But does it tick all or at least most of the right boxes? Regrettably, no. The final half hour or so that I mentioned above was like watching a loop of alternate endings stuffed superfluously. It felt as if Mr. Johar wrote various endings and then shot them too. When the material reached the editing room, Mr. Manik Dawar, the man-in-charge, thought it better to include them. And more’s the pity.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the film. The lead trio all put in terrific turns. Fawad Khan, the hapless real-life victim of this movie’s release controversy, has a short and sweet role. Watching him on the screen, the inanity of the protests against the movie came to my mind. But that’s a discussion for another time. If you like watching good-looking rich guys fly from one city to another and living like a million bucks in every single frame, this movie will definitely not disappoint you. A special word here for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan who plays Saba Taliyar Khan. Despite her years, she still looks stunning and bosses all her scenes. Pity the direction her career has taken these last few years. She still has it in her to give the younger gals (like Ms. Sharma here) a run for their money.
The movie, after taking circuitous routes to arrive at the third act, then suddenly goes into overdrive. One of the alternate endings I mentioned above almost redeemed the film for me. Despite how it depicted things finishing, I’d take that one any day of the week. Unfortunately, Mr. Johar didn’t think so.
The cinematography is top-notch here. I particularly liked a scene early in the film where the leads are talking in a lobby and they’re captured through concave mirrors over each other’s head. Neat! The music, well, high marks there too. Mr. Pritam provides chartbusters again. Bulleya, Channa Ve and the title song are all winners. Credit to all concerned there. Editing was a mess, for sure. But the biggest culprits are the downright poor story and screenplay, dragging the film down despite the best efforts of the cast. What had the potential to be a pathbreaker in Indian cinema is reduced to another run-of-the-mill trash offering, one that the generous audiences are still lapping up.
Thus, we have yet another Diwali big release that fails to hit the right notes but is still raking in the moolah. And we wonder why Indian movies don’t stand up to test on an international platform.
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is Rated U/A and is 157 minutes long. It is now playing in cinemas.
Rating : 2.5/5.
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