Director Imtiaz Ali has a thing for repetition. Right from 2005’s Socha Na Tha, he has included (at least) one sequence showcasing the monotony of life in all his films. Invariably, the shoulders droop, a character grows a scruffy beard in some cases, the Pritam background score hits crescendo. No amount of materialistic pleasure is enough unless ‘the one’ is beside you. It’s a quintessential Imtiaz Ali scene, something he developed in 2009’s Love Aaj Kal.
That Love Aaj Kal was a generic romantic comedy trying too hard to be Y.O.U.T.H.F.U.L, featuring a 39-year-old Saif Ali Khan, wearing vibrant colours to convince us that he’s the same age as Deepika Padukone. It’s during this San Francisco sequence that the film really comes alive. The heady rush of landing one’s dream job subsides, and the initial spring in the step is nowhere to be found. It’s also Saif Ali Khan’s ability to play both the life of the party and the recluse, that makes this sequence interesting to watch.
There’s a similar sequence in Tamasha, when Ved and Tara begin dating after being reunited in Delhi. He brings flowers for her, he opens the door for her, they eat at the fanciest restaurants and then he drops her home. Like clockwork. It’s almost like Ali is trying to scratch beyond life’s banality, to arrive at a deeper truth.
In what seems like the end of the tunnel for Imtiaz Ali, he’s even gone so far to name his latest film like his film from 2009. Exactly the same, not Love Aaj Kal 2… not Love Aaj Kal 2020. Sara Ali Khan and Kartik Aaryan’s film is called Love Aaj Kal. Accused of telling the same story again and again… this could be viewed as a provocative experiment or a lazy stunt, depending on your opinion of his recent work. It’s something he’s even addressed in Tamasha, where Piyush Mishra’s character mixes up Valmiki’s Ramayan and Homer’s Iliad, reasoning that all stories are the same. In his latest offering, Imtiaz Ali’s obsession with telling the same love story is beginning to feel like a silly excuse.
22-year-old Zoe (Sara Ali Khan), much like Saif Ali Khan’s Jai from the earlier Love Aaj Kal, is singularly focused on her career. She’s too ambitious to sentence herself to a ‘jail’ of a relationship. Kartik Aaryan, playing a part quite contrary to his forever-ranting dude bro personality, is quite unbelievable as Veer, the ‘nerdy introvert’. Which in Bollywood’s lexicon means… spectacles and handing the character a book/laptop.
For someone who seems to be struggling to come to terms with his place in the world, using lofty Sufi philosophy (a cafe in the film is Māzi), Ali’s filmmaking language is embarrassingly simplistic. Something that reveals itself in the way he sees the ambitious woman of the 21st century, who goes around numbing herself with multiple tequila shots. Much like Deepika Padukone’s Veronica in Cocktail (written by Imtiaz Ali), even Zoe’s moment of vulnerability unleashes during a late-night rendezvous on a pavement.
Similarly, when Veer needs to ‘find himself’, he (conveniently and obviously!) moves to the hills. Ali can’t seem to see beyond his one-line vision of how he imagines every love story as the coming-of-age story too. If you thought he has rehashed this again and again, in his latest film he circles it, underlines it and uses a highlighter on top of it. Much like his 2009 film of the same name, even this ‘spiritual sequel’ seems to be trying to hard to have a conversation with the youngsters. In a bid to write dialogues that sound like youth banter, Ali ends up writing unintentionally comical lines like where the lead pair keep saying ‘sab mess ho gaya‘.
Releasing this Friday, Love Aaj Kal could also be called the mixed tape of Imtiaz Ali. We revisit all his popular tropes where Pritam/Arijit Singh song ring in some of the film’s most tender moments, the sepia-tinted flashbacks from the earlier Love Aaj Kal. The idealism and the somewhat patronising tone of elder characters (played by Randeep Hooda and Simone Singh) towards the young pair. Imtiaz Ali’s characters exist in a vacuum where they talk like – ‘chal beer maarte hai’. The cussing and the F-bombs feel synthetic.
Love Aaj Kal is not an unwatchable film, but retelling a story that’s already been done to death by Imtiaz Ali himself, it’s frustrating how little new ground he uncovers while telling the same story again. Repetition warrants itself only when a director hints at some personal growth, which Ali doesn’t seem to be exhibiting in his last two films.
Right now, Imtiaz Ali sounds like a broken record.