Love Aaj Kal review: Imtiaz Ali and the agony of love – an endless saga!

Kartik Aaryan discovers few shades of grey,  Sara Ali Khan struggles in her maiden emotionally draining character

Rating: 3 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

A romantic film on Valentine’s Day would be an ideal celebration of love. But if it’s an Imtiaz Ali film, then you know it will be a complex affair.  In 2009, Ali delved into the complex human relationships with the coming of age drama Love Aaj Kal.  11 years on, Ali tries to recreate the emotional chaos with its spiritual successor also titled Love Aaj Kal [2020].  Naturally, the ‘aaj’ (today) plays out in 2020, while the kal [past] takes us back to 1990.

11 years on, who would have thought that Saif Ali Khan’s daughter Sara (24) would experience a Love Aaj Kal of her own.  Ali follows the set template.  A boy and girl meet, they share some candid moments but are confused about their relationship and so they drift apart.  A wise old head narrates his love story and urges the principal character to not give up on his true love.  Back then, Rishi Kapoor played the wise old head Veer Singh Panesar. Forward to 2020,  Randeep Hooda steps into Rishi Kapoor’s shoes, but Raghu [Hooda] is not as wise or noble as Panesar.  As opposed to the boy in the first film, it is the girl Zoe [Sara] who is enamored by the story of Raghuvendra aka Raghu.  In 2009, Jai [Saif Ali Khan] visualized himself in the Panesar love story, while Zoe visualizes Veer [Kartik Aaryan] in Raghu’s stories. Back then, it was (rightly) deemed as a novel idea of storytelling. 

On the face it, it would be easy to paint Love Aaj Kal [2020] as a rehash. But it’s the twist in characters that brings both 1990 and 2020 on equal pedestal.  Love Aaj Kal [2020] doesn’t get drawn into any ‘old is gold’ debate.  The eras are immaterial as the film exposes the impetuosity of naive minds. Love Aaj Kal [2020] busts all myths of middle-class morality.  In the past, it was very convenient to label complex relationships as high society malaise.  But Veer, Zoe are urban middle-class citizens while Raghu and his true love Leena [Arushi Sharma] hailed from conservative Rajasthan. With its small town setting, the Raghu-Leena story will naturally have a strong mass appeal.  

Veer [Aaryan] and Zoe’s chaotic relationship may be self-constructed but its important to understand why the duo are behaving in such a manner? Is it a crime to place career above love at 22?  Zoe and Veer’s immaturity is only natural. The former is more-strong headed, more career-orientated but love can sometimes distract you from your goal.  The lady though is also temperamental which leads her to making impulsive decisions.

Veer [Aaryan] is more intriguing. There’s no real back story to him.  Veer and Zoe meet at a Delhi bar.  Moments later, they are set to get under the sheets but the boy strangely aborts the act.  Is he restrained by a sense of morality?  Well, if that was the case then why would a traditional person even pick a mate at a bar?

Imtiaz Ali unleashes a new, intense, emotional Aaryan. The geeky Veer strikes as a reticent, confused, nervy guy.  Right from the first moment, Aaryan looks under great stress and you fear whether he is a bit of a looney? Later on, Veer briefly mentions about not doing the same mistake as his parents – dragging a comprised relationship. The boy has perhaps suffered from the fractious relationship between his parents.  Zoe, too, comes from a broken home.  Perhaps, this justifies their commitment phobia.  Aaryan is largely very competent in his stressful but refreshing avatar.

Perhaps misogynistic, but Aaryan’s made a name for himself preaching morality in Luv Ranjan films – Pyaar Ka Punchnama series, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety [2018].   Imtiaz Ali takes Aaryan out of his comfort zone and makes him experience vulnerability.  Aaryan treads onto immoral path while enacting the young Rajasthani stud Raghu [Hooda].  It’s commendable that Aaryan chose to do acts which goes against his good, sanskari (cultural) image.  Bollywood influence among small town youth comes to the fore with Raghu being a huge fan of Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and their popular romantic films like Qayamat Se Qayamat Se Tak [1988] and Maine Pyar Kiya [1989], respectively. A makhan (clean) shave and waxed chest though is not enough to get a 29-year-old Aaryan look like a school boy.

Young Sara Ali Khan is now just three films old.  Both Kedarnath [2018] and Simmba [2018] showcased a bubbly side to her.  Love Aaj Kal [2020] though presented a stern test.  She is playing a Delhi-based character, but Khan struggles to hide the Mumbai-lingo.  She believes in dating than have a relationship. She convinces you in bits and pieces, but is found wanting in the emotional scenes.  Perhaps, it was too, emotionally draining for her. She was all hailed for her confident show in Kedarnath and Simmba, but Love Aaj Kal exposes Khan’s frailties. However, this experience should be a great learning curve for Khan,

Seasoned actor Randeep Hooda is convincing in large parts, but loses the grip in the business end. In fact, there is a serious drop in intensity from the leading cast that makes the last 30 odd minutes insufferable for the audience. Blame on the director.

First time actress Arushi Sharma is the most consistent performer from the lot. But that’ s largely down due to her one-dimensional character.  Leena is a simple Rajasthani girl who dares to defy tradition but she’s no complex character.   Sharma has a fine screen presence and displays the requisite intensity nicely.

There are couple of women with strong Delhi-accents who shine in their brief but entertaining roles as one of the many women that come in Raghu’s life.

Music has often been the lifeblood of an Imtiaz Ali film.  The music here pales in comparison with the original and other Imtiaz Ali films, but Love Aaj Kal [2020] sees couple of fine tracks , chiefly the Shayad song by Arijit Singh. It’s bewildering to find just a few songs in an Imtiaz Ali-Irshad Kamil, Pritam collaboration. The film has a strong visual appeal with fine cinematography by Amit Roy.

Having spent 15 years in the industry, Imtiaz Ali has often been appreciated for being a maverick filmmaker who thrives in bringing out the agony of love.  The recent failures – Tamasha [2015], Jab Harry Met Sejal [2017] have inevitably led to a critical question? How long can Ali continue with his cathartic idea of love?

Love Aaj Kal [2020] is no rehash, but it is far from a perfect recreation.  While there is still a lot to be liked about the film, but Imtiaz Ali is increasingly getting monotonous with his stories. It would be cruel to ask a filmmaker to digress from his cinematic ideology, but even the best need to introspect at some point of time in their careers.

Co-produced by Maddock Films, Jio Studios, Window Seat Films and Reliance Entertainment, Love Aaj Kal [2020] is set to be released on 14 February.

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