Saturday, February 22, 2020


Release date:
February 14, 2020
Imtiaz Ali
Sara Ali Khan, Kartik Aaryan, Randeep Hooda, Arushi Sharma, Simone Singh, Siddharth Kak

Great film romances have the power to make a cynical viewer believe and become so invested in the characters on screen as to yearn for their union. Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal redux had the opposite effect on me: it drove me to turn my back on my Gandhian principles and long to smack its ensemble of leads – Zoe, Veer, Raghu and Leena – across the face, then yank them off screen, thus to end the agony of watching this mind-numbing film.

Imtiaz Ali must be suffering a peculiar bankruptcy of ideas that he chose to remake his own 2009 hit Love Aaj Kal with nothing worthwhile to add to what he said 11 years back. That one – the story of differing journeys to the same emotion in the past and present told in parallel – had the collective charisma of Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone and Rishi Kapoor, a cute newcomer called Giselle Monteiro, a narrative structure unusual for Bollywood, the charm of the old-world Khan-Monteiro saga and a darling finale surprise going for it. It was not earth-shatteringly great cinema, but it was nice.

This Love Aaj Kal is what is known as a “spiritual successor” or “spiritual sequel”, except that it is so godawfully boring, contrived and wannabe that it provoked some very unspiritual, unholy feelings in me. Drowning as it is in stereotypes of millennial women and youth at large, Kartik Aaryan’s awkwardness, some surprisingly hammy acting by the usually solid Randeep Hooda and tedium, the new film tragically marks a further decline in the qualitative graph of a writer-director who debuted with the sweet Socha Na Tha in 2005, crackled and popped with the Kareena Kapoor-starrer Jab We Met (2007) and has only shone intermittently since.

Before we get to know Leena (Arushi Sharma) and Zoe (Sara Ali Khan) of Love Aaj Kal 2020, we see them yelling at two men played by Kartik Aaryan. That in itself is a warning bell: Aaryan barely has the skill to pull off even one character who does not look and sound entirely like Aaryan, so imagine the error of stretching him to play two men within the same film. Leena is screaming at Raghu (Aaryan) for stalking her, then she screams at him some more for promising to stop. “Did I tell you to stop?” she hollers. That is the second warning bell: here comes yet another Hindi film peddling the dangerous trope that women intentionally send men confusing signals, that a woman’s “no” usually means “yes” or “maybe”.

As the film progresses, in the present day in the National Capital Region we meet Zoe and Veer (Aaryan). She appears to be Ali’s notion of what a millennial city-dwelling Indian female human is: she wears chhote-chhote shorts, wants men for sex but not love, says the word “career” a zillion times and uses “whatever” as an exclamation point. All these characteristics serve as superficial markers and nothing else. Veer pursues her with a loyal doggy expression on his face, and we are given to understand that he wants more than sex from her.

As Zoe begins to fall for him, she turns to an older man played by Hooda for advice and is dragged into flashbacks to his 1980s-90s romance with Leena in Udaipur and Delhi. You see, Hooda is the older version of Raghu who we first saw in his younger days played by Aaryan. Same guy who was being rebuked by Leena for stalking her and then further rebuked for agreeing not to do so. Confused? Just you wait, Henry Higgins, Love Aaj Kal has only begun.

In the Leena-Raghu plot from kal (yesterday), she may send mixed messages to him at first, but she has absolute clarity in her mind about what she wants. He does not. In the aaj (today) of the narrative, Zoe is muddled in the head, and views her professional dreams and personal feelings as mutually exclusive although Veer has at no point pressured her to choose between the two. The paavam fellow, on the other hand, is smitten and stricken and completely committed to her, but aiyyo she chews up his brain with her indecisiveness, while she and the older Raghu chew up our souls with all their philosophical mumbo-jumbo about pyaar, the burden placed on us by the mistakes of earlier generations, fidelity, human instincts and so on.

Gawd, how much do Zoe and Veer talk. They talk and they talk and they talk, and they go back and forth, back and forth, back and forth in their messed-up, mixed-up minds, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, until I wanted to beg them to hook up.

Ms Khan has pizzazz and gives it her best shot, but even her striking screen presence cannot redeem this film. Mr Aaryan, on the other hand, is even worse than this script. Perhaps realising his acting limitations late in the day, at one point Ali gives Raghu a beard planted very carefully and precisely on the rim of his jaw and prosthetics to chubby up his face, hence distinguishing him from the scruffy, thin-looking Veer.

Post-interval, a stand-up comedian pops up to pontificate about how monogamous relationships have been imposed by society on men, who are naturally wired to wander and to keep their youknowwhats hanging out instead of confining them to their pants. Ah okay, so this is the point the film wishes to make? But wait, no, is it not Veer who is singularly focused on Zoe while SHE is shopping around? Whatever.

Love Aaj Kal is pretentious, verbose and thoroughly insufferable. Among its many contrivances is the use of Hooda’s voice playing in the background as the end credits roll, whispering sentences that are perhaps meant to be wise and impressive. I managed to catch the very last line as the very last word disappeared from the screen. “Romantic hai na kahaani?” I think I heard him ask. (The story is romantic, is it not?) The answer – if you have any doubts after reading this review so far – is an absolute, vehement, resounding no. That truth hurts though, because once upon a time jab Imtiaz Ali and Kareena Kapoor met, they did create screen magic.

Rating (out of 5 stars): 0.01

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
141 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

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