When his girlfriend asks: Do you love me, Jai, the protagonist of Love Aaj Kal, played by Saif Ali Khan, replies: Love, who knows what that is? I haven’t figured out that one yet.
Love Aaj Kal is about how, over the course of many months, across three continents and after several break-ups, Jai figures out what love is. Writer-director Imtiaz Ali begins by establishing the breathless pace of modern relationships.
In the frantic and confusing first 10 minutes the girl and boy, Jai and Meera, played by Deepika Padukone, meet, fall in love and decide to break up. He is an architect who aspires to work in San Fransisco. She is into art restoration and wants to work in India.
Both are ambitious and practical. They throw a break-up party for themselves and say goodbye. This casualness of contemporary love is contrasted with the story of Veer Singh, played by Rishi Kapoor. Veer narrates to Jai, his experience of falling in love 40 years ago. A time when lovers seldom touched or even spoke and love was expressed in breathless silences and lingering looks.
At first Jai laughs at Veer's sentimental story but eventually Jai discovers that the decades haven't diminished human emotions. Despite the Internet and sms, altered sexual mores and gender roles, fierce ambitions and great freedoms, despite the unrelenting push and pull of urban life, love, at least the enduring kind, remains the same. Love Aaj Kal is heart-felt and layered but it’s also uneven. Imitiaz has a wonderful ear for everyday conversation and he creates several delightful moments between the lovers – at one point, after their break-up, they tell each other all the things they couldn’t while they were a couple.
So, he confesses that he dislikes every song on her iPod while she says she hates his sister. Imtiaz is equally adepts at creating the old world romance between Veer and Harleen, played by a charming debutant, whose name for reasons I cannot fathom, the producers don’t want to reveal.
There is a real sweetness in this sepia-toned tale of love. The men in the movie--Saif and Rishi Kapoor--imbue their roles with conviction. Saif starts out playing another variation of his urbane persona but watch how his demeanor changes as his long-held beliefs about love and consequently his super-cool façade, start to shatter. Unfortunately what doesn’t work as well is the screenplay, which is original and inventive but also audibly clunky.
The film constantly cuts between the two narratives and the transitions aren’t seamless. The songs, especially the chartbuster Twist, are awkwardly placed and the climactic epiphany that leads Jai to discover where his heart lies, is totally random. At times, Imtiaz's story seems overwhelmed by the production values. The cities of San Fransisco and London, both of course almost entirely populated by Indians, are relentlessly up market.
But perhaps the reason why Love Aaj Kal doesn’t transport us to a romantic high is the character of Meera. Unlike the fabulous Geet in Jab We Met, Meera doesn’t have enough texture. She quits her relationship for her career but we never get a sense of what this career actually means to her.
In a few scenes, we see her wielding paint brushes. Why this cool, independent woman hurriedly marries also remains a mystery. Deepika looks fabulous but she isn’t a strong enough actor to breathe life into the character.
Eventually then, Love Aaj Kal is an above average film with some wonderful moments, nice lines and fine performances. But it’s not as sparkling or engaging as it should have been. I’m going with three stars and recommending that you catch it.