A love story set against a great downpour isn’t all that it could have been – but it isn’t nothing either.
NOV 15, 2009 – FOR THE SECOND TIME AT THE MOVIES THIS YEAR, we witness what happens when exes collide – but unlike the characters played by Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone in Love Aaj Kal (whose separation was alarmingly amicable), Sanjana (Soha Ali Khan) and Akshay (Emraan Hashmi), in Tum Mile, have weathered a bad breakup, the kind that leaves the ex the last person in the world you ever want to run into. But whether in life or in the movies, whether through the services of a screenwriter or that great scripter in the sky, fate inevitably has other plans – and so Akshay boards a London-to-Mumbai flight only to discover that the passenger across the aisle is Sanjana. (They haven’t met in six years.) The scene that ensues makes you salivate at the prospect of what it could have been with two really good physical actors (though, Emraan and Soha aren’t, well, bad) – but there’s enough truth in the material to make us overlook the inadequacies in the performances.
Akshay’s first reaction is stunned disbelief, followed by the time-honoured instinct to duck. But then that other time-honoured instinct, to stare, kicks in – and soon, Sanjana notices him. There’s a bit of excruciatingly polite patter, which leaves him with little option but to request a flight attendant for a change of seat. As is always the case in these situations, the flight is full. And he’s left with nothing but the little bottles of whiskey he keeps bringing to his lips. What’s worse is that Sanjana seems to have moved on. And the man beside her, whose hand she’s holding, is one of those annoyingly nice people you can’t even hate at first sight. He smiles and offers his name, and when he quizzes Sanjana about Akshay, she dismisses Akshay – within earshot, naturally – as “one big accident.” This is not going to be a happy journey for Akshay, not with Sanjana appearing to have ended up with the upper hand after the breakup.
And slowly we begin to see that Sanjana always had the upper hand – even earlier, while she was with Akshay. He was the starving-artist type – the kind that the movies love to foist on us, a Tortured Soul who looks for “Truth” in Art and who won’t sell his Artistic Integrity even if it means a warm meal on the table – and she took up a job and took care of the rent and the bills. (I found it difficult to picture Hashmi as a deep artist, especially the sort who’d go for Daliesque melting effects. I might have bought him as a rakish still photographer, though.) These princess-and-the-pauper scenes are staged with a sure hand by the director, Kunal Deshmukh, and Pritam’s music helps hugely to set the mood. Deshmukh employs these chartbusters as relief as well as roadmaps of the Akshay-Sanjana relationship. (He borrows the trick that Vishal Bhardwaj used to such great effect in Omkara, sneaking snatches of getting-to-know-you conversation into the interludes.)
There are times Deshmukh overstates the potayto-potahto contrasts between Akshay and Sanjana. He’s a scruffy dresser, while she prefers shirts buttoned all the way to the neck. She’s such a control-freak, she eats muffins using silverware and carries Post-its in her purse – though when she first exchanges numbers with Akshay, she asks him to extend a hand so she can write it down for him. (He’s so smitten by this point, he preserves her penmanship. If there’s a hint of deliciously smutty humour in the incident of a single man deprived the use of his right hand, it escapes the director.) But more often than not, the drama is nicely underplayed. There’s such an accumulation of incidental detail – her habit of fingering a silver bracelet; her insomnia; his stealthy smoking – that the sharply observed writing compensates for the aspects of the characters the actors are unable to locate. These are very real people – including Akshay’s best buddy, played by RJ Mantra, who chips in with the film’s loosest, most entertaining performance – and we take to them easily.
What doesn’t work is the interlocking structure of the film – the romance is broken up by a framing device that recalls the torrential rains in Mumbai. The story of Akshay and Sanjana unfolds in chunks as they are stranded in waist-deep water, in the present, and we keep wishing for the past. Instead, we are asked to put up with the high-voltage drama of falling trees and snapping electric cables. The graceless merger of sensitive emotional flashbacks and schlocky disaster-movie clichés makes you wonder if Tum Mile was summed up in the pitch meeting as Ijaazat-meets-The Poseidon Adventure. Even as metaphor, this device has little import – the central relationship is hardly as stormy as its real-life counterpart. (It’s more a question of mismatched grown-ups learning to live together, and in that sense, any relationship is made up of moments of sunshine interrupted by dark clouds and pouring rain. Why single this one out?)
Even the romantic flashbacks become progressively tedious (and obvious, with a cop-out conclusion), though it’s hard to entirely dismiss a drama where the heroine says, “Marry me,” and the hero hems and haws. She wants some kind of guarantee of permanent commitment before she upends her life – he wants them to relocate to Australia, where a terrific job opportunity lies in wait – while he thinks love is all that’s needed. (He’s not ready, he says, but then, when is anyone really ready?) Sanjana lives in the real world, whereas Akshay appears to live in the movies – specifically, the Hindi cinema of a certain age where love trumped everything else, and enraptured couples threw all caution to the wind before embarking on a life based on the shaky promise of together-forever. In films like Tum Mile and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, we seem to be seeing the dark side of those earlier relationships – how those couples might have turned out in real life. That’s worth a thought.
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