In theory, Lekar Hum Deewana Dil, directed by Arif Ali (brother of Imtiaz), is pretty interesting – it turns the elopement trope of our cinema on its head. In the older movies, when the boy and girl eloped, it was the result of deep, unflinching love. They met, they sang songs, and when their disapproving parents wouldn’t let them sing songs anymore, they ran away and built log cabins, and he went and did some blue-collar work and she made chapattis and waited for him to return, and so forth. Some of that sensibility is retained here. We have the scene where the couple’s families are at war, and the scene where they’re stopped by cops, but what we don’t have is the scene where we see how much in love Karishma (Deeksha Seth) and Dinesh (Armaan Jain) – who prefers to go by Dino – are. They’re more like good friends who decide, on the eve of her engagement to someone else, that they may be better off with each other. They take this decision like they’d order pizza – on a whim. Remember the confused youth of Imtiaz Ali’s Socha Na Tha? That’s the template for the lovers here. (Dino even has an older brother who’s all sorted and quite his opposite, like the one in that film.) Dino says he doesn’t know if he loves Karishma, but he knows he doesn’t want her to get engaged to someone else. She wonders how she will know if someone’s The One. After they elope on his bike, he stops suddenly and kisses her and says he loves her. A little later, they wonder if they’re making a blunder.
In Socha Na Tha, Imtiaz Ali wove these maddening flip-flops into his incisive screenplay. Arif Ali comes close to doing this in the scene where Dino admits he likes music because it isn’t forced on him, and if he’d had to endure music classes – that is, if they’d become a formal part of his life – then maybe he wouldn’t like it so much. That’s pretty much how he reacts to Karishma. The minute they become a ‘couple’, the minute their relationship is formalised, they begin to have doubts and drift apart. They still care for each other as friends, and maybe a little more, but they’re not sure if they’re destined for a life together, or for lifetimes together. (Their janam-janam-ka-saath lines are delivered in mocking tones.) In the older Hindi films, indeed in the older India, love was an easier emotion. You were either in love (and if you were, you knew it), or not in love – there was none of this neurotic I-think-I-may-be-in-love, which is something of a western import. At least among a section of Indians, love, today, is a more complex emotion, and we need more films that reflect this indecisiveness. After all, how long can Imtiaz Ali be the only one making those movies?
There are flashes in Lekar Hum Deewana Dil where Arif Ali looks like he’s going to give his brother company, but the film is pretty much a mess. (And despite that bouncy title, this is a serious affair.) The primary problem is this: it’s okay if Dino and Karishma are confused about their feelings for each other, but the film has to be clear about the trajectory of these feelings. Dino and Karishma are defined by the scene where she steps out her lehenga and we see she has a slinky little dress underneath. At heart, they’re meant to be a modern couple, and the film could have been something if it had stayed true to who they are. We may not have ended up liking them a whole lot, but we’d have seen what today’s rich kids are like when it comes to love. But Arif Ali makes the disastrous decision of laughing at them. (And he wants us to laugh along.) He wants us to see how pampered and privileged these brats are, how unlike the couples in the older Hindi films, who took to eloping only as the most desperate of measures. Here, when Dino goes on his bike to pick Karishma up, in order to elope, he finds her waiting with many suitcases. (Where did she think she was going to fit them? On his head?) And he, when they end up in Naxal territory, doesn’t know what a ‘Maovadi’ is. They don’t think of taking enough money with them. (Maybe they thought they’d use their cards?) But they do remember to take along his guitar and her camera. They seem to be going on an excursion. At every point, the director seems to be nudging us about how clueless these kids are. As long as the money lasts, they’re great together. “Jaise chahe rahenge, jo chahe karenge,” they proclaim, not realising that to do whatever they want, they need some kind of regular income. Inevitably, their money runs out. She sells her jewellery. But it never occurs to him that he could find some work, earn something. The Salman Khan character in Maine Pyar Kiya was a rich kid too, but he proved how much he loved his girl by renouncing his wealth and becoming a labourer. Dino would never do that. Where, then, would he find time to play the guitar? And why on earth would we be interested in the romantic destinies of two such profoundly ridiculous people?
Things get more ridiculous when Arif Ali ventures into the territory of his brother’s Highway. On the run, Dino and Karishma find themselves hiding in an India that’s very different from the one they’re used to. (In case we don’t realise this, we’re given the scene where they enter a forest and a monkey scampers across the frame. Seriously.) He tells her that they know all about the US and Europe but nothing about their own country. She tells him that she finally sees the difference between fairy tale and reality. And at some point, Arif Ali decides that instead of entering the heads of his characters, he’d be better off aiming lower. When they’re forced to spend a night at a dingy hotel, Karishma is disgusted at having to use the toilet after Dino has vacated it. She cannot bear the stench he’s left behind. Later, when they’re in Naxal territory, she needs to go. A Maovadi hands her a leather pouch filled with water and points her to the vast forest. She’s had enough. She flings the water at Dino’s face and smashes his guitar against a tree. He pins her down and comes this close to punching her. We brace ourselves for the breakdown of civilisation. We cut, instead, to an item number. I literally did a double take. One minute, he’s about to hurt the girl he thinks he loves. The next, he’s matching steps with a group of sexy dancers as ‘tribal’ ululations echo in the background. The Maovadi leader seems to be having a good time too. Long live the revolution… of these hips.
After a point, the film turns as clueless as its characters. It’s a nice little loop. Arif Ali is laughing at his leads (both of whom wilt under the bad writing), and we are laughing at him. He cannot decide what kind of movie he wants to make, and for whom. If he’s interested in updating the elopement scenario, then why is he so coy about Dino and Karishma having sex? And is Dino a smoker or isn’t he? He is, the first few times we see him, and then he never touches a cigarette for the rest of the film.
So many opportunities for genuine emotion are bafflingly left unexploited. Dino and Karishma adopt a pup, and they seem to be a family unit – mom, dad and kid – until he leaves it behind. Dino and Karishma get married in the middle of nowhere. Dino burns with fever and Karishma is helpless. Dino and Karishma return to their homes and file for an annulment. Not one of these scenes furthers our involvement with this couple. At some point, it appears that the only thing they care about is a good bathroom. (She dreams about soaking in a bubble bath.) There’s only so much you can bring yourself to care about a couple whose love for a Western closet exceeds their love for each other.
In the older films, the act of elopement was a political statement. It was a fuck-you to the establishment. Parents were important then. Families were important. Sex was something major. Today, when parents are hardly in the picture, when sex is so casual, what kind of statement are Dino and Karishma making? Karishma says that she ran away because she didn’t want to lead a traditional life in an arranged marriage after having such a modern upbringing, but when it comes to doing something about it, she finds that she prefers an arranged marriage if that means she won’t have to take a crap in the open. It’s a fuck-you to every love story that’s come before.
Arif Ali sets up the film so that its second half is one long wait until Dino and Karishma get back together. What do you do in the meantime? We slip half-heartedly into Dino’s brother’s life. He loves this girl and can’t bring himself to say anything. Then there’s Mahesh, Karishma’s suitor. He’s the quintessential third-wheel character. He calls her Karishma-ji. Dino, meanwhile, simply calls her K. It’s all so facile. The big, fat romantic moment at the end is meant to echo an earlier moment, but it feels ridiculous because that earlier moment was staged like afterthought. How do you echo an afterthought? Dino and Karishma, we’re constantly told, are the kind of lovers who cannot see that they belong together even if everyone else can. But of course, they belong together. They’re back in their air-conditioned worlds, with his and hers bathrooms. They’ll live happily ever after – or at least until the flush fails.
* Lekar Hum Deewana Dil= With our joyful hearts
* the elopement trope = see here
* built log cabins = see here
* Socha Na Tha = see here
* janam-janam-ka-saath = together across time; also here
* that bouncy title = see here
* lehenga = see here
* Maovadi = Naxalite
* “Jaise chahe rahenge, jo chahe karenge” = We’ll live as we want, do what we want
* Maine Pyar Kiya = see here
* Highway = see here
* stench he’s left behind = see here
* quintessential third-wheel character = see here
Copyright ©2014 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.