Boy and Girl crisscross continents in search of a happy ending in an inoffensive, though unremarkable, love story.
NOV 28, 2010 – ONCE UPON A TIME IN HINDI CINEMA, the mere circumstance of the hero and heroine bearing the names Abhay Gulati (Imran Khan) and Aaliya Khan (Deepika Padukone) would be a reasonable indicator of where their love story was headed. Even if they weren’t from opposite sides of the tracks, the religious divide would impel the tale to an incendiary climax. But in today’s romances, like Danish Aslam’s Break Ke Baad, no one seems to care about rich or poor (or more precisely, no one seems to be poor; like the protagonist of Aisha, this couple too cavorts in a Beetle, which appears to have become all the rage among well-heeled Delhi-ites). Parents are barely a presence, and only a tad more relevant to the proceedings than God. (The fact that Aaliya’s last name is Khan is addressed as an afterthought.) And without these external agents planting hurdles along the path of true love, young lovers – these days – are left with little option but to set up their own stumbling blocks.
Thus, Aaliya rejects Abhay, her best friend-turned-cheerleader-turned-boyfriend who has been saving her from herself right from the inventive credits sequence (where the names appear not on screen but inside the lives of the characters). Both Aaliya and Abhay are mad about the movies, and their relationship begins during a childhood screening of Mr. India, progresses through in-school reenactments of song sequences from Tezaab and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, and a few years later, they seal their love with a kiss while holed up in a projection booth watching Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol embark on a similar trajectory from friends to lovers in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Aaliya tells Abhay that any girl would be lucky to get his love – but that girl is not her. Like the free-spirited, commitment-leery Justine in The Thorn Birds, Aaliya is an aspiring actress whose insecurities seem to spring from her fatherless family.
But the more significant reason for her abandoning her significant other is the film’s mantra that it’s necessary to follow one’s heart – not just in the romantic sense, but also in pursuing one’s passions. And for that, you may need to surround yourself with some space, a philosophy echoed in the song Dooriyaan hai zaroori. At first, Abhay does what he’s always done with Aaliya – he regards her rejection of him with the patience of a saint and the persistence of a pit bull. By simply hanging around, he feels he will ride out the rough patch. But later, he understands why she needed to do what she did. He confesses that he was insecure and he made her choose between her dream of becoming an actress and his dream of settling down with her. And because he’s now freed from a relationship and free to find himself, he discovers that he’s happiest being a chef. The director likes to use split screens to denote the couple’s split personalities, and had this been old-Bollywood, we could be watching two movies for the price of one – Abhinetri and Bawarchi.
Some time after Aaliya breaks up with Abhay, he attempts to define his relationship status on Facebook, by toggling between “In a relationship” and “It’s complicated.” And his confusion reminded me that some of the most interesting work in Bollywood, these days, is happening in love stories. Some of them, like Love Aaj Kal, are successful both in artistic terms as well as audience-acceptance terms. Others, like Anjaana Anjaani, come up short on both counts. But even at their worst, they offer a glimpse at the gestation pains the Bollywood romance is going through in trying to deliver a multiplex-friendly heart-warmer with the sprightliness of the Hollywood rom-com and the sentimentality of the great Indian romantic melodrama. (We might name this hybrid genre a rom-tragicom.) For the first time on our screens, we are seeing love stories that dare us to care about people who do not care about anyone but themselves.
The problem, unfortunately, is that this development sounds better in theory than it usually looks in practice. Break Ke Baad isn’t bad – it’s what you’d term “inoffensive” – and it’s livened by plenty of snappy lines (mouthed mainly by Lillete Dubey, as a thrice-divorced woman of a certain age, now wise in the ways of love) and grace notes (like the scene where Aaliya and Abhay have a heated argument in the men’s loo and, after they leave, faces peek out cautiously from the stalls). The film has a pleasingly lazy rhythm, and it continues the light-hearted emasculation of the Bollywood hero, who – at different points – is referred to as “Sunita” and “aunty.” But the story never really catches fire, and it never makes you invest enough emotion in the continent-hopping lovers – painted as opposites, in typical rom-com colours – ending up together. The hurdles that they plant on their way to happiness appear molehills, not mountains.
At least part of the problem lies with Deepika Padukone, who appears to have been cast for her hotness as a pin-up model rather than her ability to radiate inner fire. (Imran Khan, though, is thoroughly charming in a role pitched completely in his comfort zone.) While it’s a relief that the drama-queen tendencies of Aaliya aren’t exaggerated to the extent that the character needed to be played by Kangana Ranaut, there’s a distinct disconnect between who she says she is and who we seem to be seeing. For a supposed smoker, she barely touches a cigarette. For a supposed actress, we rarely see her perform on stage or screen. For a supposed embodiment of ambition, she gives up her dreams a little too easily. Agreed, this is a rom-com (or rom-tragicom) and not a drama, but Nadia (Shahana Goswami, as a glorified extra) shows more substance in a single line reading than Aaliya ever does. The victim of a bitter break-up, Nadia nudges along the Aaliya-Abhay relationship and remarks, “Someone should have a happy ending.” Here’s a candidate for a character if Bollywood is going to continue showing us love stories about unlovable people.
Copyright ©2010 The New Sunday Express. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.