It’s quite hard to explain what Imtiaz Ali is going for in Love Aaj Kal, a remake of Love Aaj Kal, also directed by Ali. Is this a movie about how Uber drivers are often confused about the exact location of the pick-up point? Is it about how running a cafe is the most profitable business in India, considering multiple characters in the film end up doing so? Or is it about how hard it is for women to ‘balance’ career with love, because come on, love in itself is a full-time job, why do women need silly distractions like a career?
Like the original, the counterfeit also intercuts between two timelines. Zoe and Veer meet at bar and head to his place for a quick fling. He refuses to sleep with her because, duh, she’s too ‘special’ to be made love to. Later, he stalks her, shows up at the place she works at and like a good Indian lover, remains persistent. “I’ll leave the moment you feel I’m intruding” he says, which is Ali’s preemptive way of countering charges of his character’s creepiness.
At the same time, Zoe, who’s ‘career-driven’ and doesn’t believe in long-term relationships is ‘guided’ by boomer Randeep Hooda, who has a hipster-cowboy-Rumi-fuckboy vibe. He’s the sutradhaar of the film, a conduit between the present and past. He schools Zoe on how she better be serious about love and like a true dudebro, wingmans the hell out of Veer. Hooda is permanently high on his past - on a woman (Arushi Sharma) named Leena who he abandoned his life in Udaipur for - and now lives a melancholic existence, running a bunch of restaurants and co-working spaces, longingly romanticising his days of yore. “Ek nasha hota hai yaar,” he says, referring to, my guess is, youthful rebellion.
To cut a long story short (which technically was editor Aarti Bajaj’s job), Zoe is taken by Hooda’s idealism and turns to love, ditching a fancy career opportunity in Dubai, only to realise that Hooda had messed up big time. Lol. Objectively, there isn’t a real conflict in this movie, definitely not strong enough to sustain its 140-minute long narrative. Come to think of it, in 2020, we’re still watching films about women not being able to balance a love life and their careers?
Nobody in the film poses that question to the male character.
This is a film that exposes a filmmaker as someone steadily losing grasp on his once-celebrated storytelling skills. This is a film that makes the unbearably bad Jab Harry Met Sejal appear like a lowkey masterpiece. Rockstar carried gravitas and explored the complex psyche of an artist’s battle with fame and identity, Tamasha turned predictable rom-com tropes into a dark commentary on societal conformism and the original Love Aaj Kal actually made one ache for an old world romance in an increasingly automated world where algorithms decide our romantic fate.
However, Love Aaj Kal 2020 is a hollow exercise in indulgence, an objectively tacky film that gives way to a lot of unintentional laughs. In the first half, one wonders if why Aryan’s character always appears visibly troubled. Turns out, that’s just him being ‘cutely awkward.’ On the other end, Sara Ali Khan is so loud, you feel like exiting this film and rewatching Lootera to observe some poetic silence. Her face visibly strains with the effort of her performance. Hooda. the brooding loner, is just about watchable.
Love Aaj Kal reinforces same old stereotypes we thought we were done enduring. Other than the career-or-love quandary the female character faces (as if one has to come at the cost of other) the film equates sex with impurity. Veer often remarks that he can have sex with whichever woman he wants but Zoe is ‘different’ and ‘special’ so they should only do it when they’ve reached a level of seriousness. It isn’t very different from old people looking at casual sex with disdain as if sex was a reserve of only those who’ve encountered true love or the societal definition of it: marriage.
The only interesting bit in the new film is Hooda’s old love story which has a genuine conflict. That in itself could’ve been a self-sufficient story of a small-town boy coming-of-age and reevaluating his idea of love. What’s the point of this unstable fusion? Is Ali saying, unlike in his older film, that this generation is more transparent about their feelings as compared to the previous one?
His grasp on the complexities of millennial dating is unsurprisingly tone-deaf and it seems that he wants to project a conservative worldview on the freedom afforded to and enjoyed by the Tinder generation. This is most evident in how Love Aaj Kal’s modern-romance is filtered through the gaze of Hooda’s archaic notions of what should constitute modern love.
If nothing else, Ali’s films have always carried a certain slickness and appear technically polished. Bajaj did a terrific job as editor of Rockstar: a film where the film’s narrative style blended with the erratic personality of its protagonist. Form met theme and the result was stunning. Tamasha’s visuals and its colour palette were in sync with its characters emotional pathways: tungsten yellows in Corsica, dramatic greys and blues in Delhi revealed efforts put in the film’s visual grammar. However, Love Aaj Kal has surprisingly amateur treatment. The choppy editing never allows the narrative to settle into a rhythm, while some shots (Amit Roy) resemble an inept film school project.
For someone who has grown on Imtiaz Ali’s films and happily soaked in its pop-philosophy, it’s sad to see a filmmaker who subverted the template of romantic dramas and invented an original voice, fall into a cycle of self-plagiarism. Ali has become Ved from Tamasha: he has imprisoned himself in patterns that he needs to liberate himself from before he goes, God forbid, the Ram Gopal Varma way.
Socha Na Tha, Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal, Highway, Tamasha, those are five films and each of them is entitled to claim its share on the way it shaped pop-culture and gave us characters that were both flawed yet likable, extra yet endearing, complex yet real and more precisely, characters that were worth rooting for. In this iteration, you neither care for Veer, nor Zoe.
Love Aaj Kal should serve as a reality check for Ali. Maybe he could adapt, collaborate or simply collect new experiences to mine for the movies. One can forgive him for telling the same story again but not for telling the same story badly.