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When I opt for a Karan Johar film, I want the stuff that he does best — the impossibly beautiful people, the lovely foreign locations, the humungous homes, the songs-and-the-dances, the zardozi and the flash — in spades.
What I also want is the heightened emotions and the messy love you-hate you-can’t live without you moments that he manages to create in his most felt work. He has to make me feel enough so I can keep the glitter at bay.
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil scores high on the first count. You can’t get better-looking actors than Ranbir Kapoor-Aishwarya Rai Bachchan-Anushka Sharma-Fawad Khan. You can’t get more atmospheric cities than London and Paris, ohhh. And instead of New York, there’s Vienna. So far, all slurp worthy.
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But Johar is unable to go the extra mile it in the other department, leaving you wanting both more and less: less of the incessant yak-yak (you want to tell these impeccably-styled people to stop and draw breath and then speak, so that they, and we, can absorb the moment they’ve created), less of the non-stop background music (if it is real, you don’t have to underline it), less of the frantic reaching for the next old Bollywood classic line or song (because too many of these, and ‘Ae Dil’ is stuffed with these references, makes your brand new film feel same old); and more silence (the most effective parts of the film happen when it’s quiet), and more fresh plot points.
Meet Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor), Alizeh (Anushka Sharma), Saba (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) and Ali (Fawad Khan), the four who play ring around the roses with each other. Ayan is ‘private-jet’ rich but wants to be a singer, the out-going Alizeh loves Ali, and the happily divorced Saba is looking for love.
The most flavoursome relationship dramas, where characters pair up, leave, and return, are a compendium of sighs and tears and moments where you want the lovers to fall into each other’s arms because you can’t bear to see them apart. But I didn’t get there in ‘Ae Dil’. Or at least in not more than a couple of places.
That’s because of a lack in focus: this he falls in love with her-she loves another-he falls in lust with another-she teaches him how like is better than love is all over the place and stretched at ends, the intervening bits filled with songs (club, shaadi, even a ‘break-up’ ditty) and dialogue (yes, not lines, but dialogues, in the old-fashioned way: why, when your characters inhabit the here and now?). Sure, they play ‘shayars’ and singers, but their delivery makes a lot of those conversations feel forced and cheesy.
Of the actors, Sharma comes off most familiar even when she is the one who is given a clear departure. Rai Bachchan is eye-catching as the older, experienced woman but I wish she was given more time to channel hurt. Poor Fawad Khan, over whom so much controversy broke out, is dishy but doesn’t really have much to do.
Lisa Haydon comes on in a walk-on part as a ditsy girl and is a hoot. But the one who lifts this film, or as much as he can, is Ranbir. As the fellow who crumbles and cries and shoves his aching heart on his sleeve even when letting a pretty thing wipe his eyes, he is terrific.
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There’s a nice bro-moment between Fawad and Ranbir when the film sparks to life. And you wonder if this pair shared more screen space, would the se ‘dils’ have been in a little less ‘mushkil’ ?
I’m going to think more on that, and listen to some weepy old songs, and hope that Johar will come up with something newer and sharper the next time around.