Love Aaj Kal is the maiden venture of Saif Ali Khan's Illuminati Productions about the modernisation of love versus the ardor and soberness of vintage romance. True, the basic picture behind the film is a tad simple one pit our now-familiar idea of contemporary (albeit short-lived) relationships supported by modern technology (Internet and worldwide SMS) against that of olden times, without cheapening or degrading it.
Imtiaz Ali's previous fable, Jab We Met, starring Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor, played with serious characters in an unusually crafted movie plot. In it, he stuck to the formula and elements of a hit Bollywood romance and sparkled because of his judicious execution of the story and characters.
Socha Na Tha, his feature film debut, connoted this knack — intelligent individuals working through identifiable situations. But for all the resources Bollywood has at its disposal, the ability to compose intelligent sequences still eludes most directors. Ali is not one of them.
Instead of the usual three-hour long fable which drags during the film's middle hour, Love Aaj Kal deploys a strict pace which ping-pong between the past and future events sans the disused inflexible feel.
The film begins with a fast-forward fling between Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone, Jai and Meera, respectively — younglings in London with zeal for life and no emotional baggage. In a quick chain of cuts we jump months as their liaison blossoms.
Yet, as compatible and committed as they are, they do not want to bog each other down with a solid, legally bounding relationship. When professional opportunity knocks, they decide to call it quits as easily as placing an order for pizza.'These Heer-Ranjha, Romeo-Juliet type janam-janam-ka-saath type couples exist only in storybooks' says Jai in their break-up scene.
Enter Rishi Kapoor as Veer Singh, a successful entrepreneur in London whose past brings the Kal in the film title. The young Veer Singh (played by Saif Ali Khan in a turban and beard), has his attention rapt by Harleen Kaur (Brazilian model Giselle Monteiro with a dubbed voice) in 1965's Calcutta. The present-day Veer, befuddled by the wryness of today's romance, recalls his hardships. In a scene when Jai asks Veer about choices and options in pursuing other relationships, the latter answers that in the case of Harleen, 'there were no options'. An arresting disparity when compared to Jai and Meera's pragmatism.
At no time do the songs (music by Pritam and lyrics by Irshad Kamil) seem diaphanously woven into the screenplay. The beats are alluring in some cases, peppy in some, and are naturally ingrained in the plot. It goes without saying that the Punjabi beats and lyrics dominate the album, given the emphasis of the film's Punjabi heritage in the Kal segment of the story.
The number titled Twist, the song with the classic sapera-nagin (snake charmer's) tune embedded into it, is an inconsequential yet catchy number sung by Neeraj Shridhar. Chor Bazari, again sung by Shridhar with Sunidhi Chauhan, has a peppy, country western beat to it. Aahun, Aahun, again with Shridhar, Saleem and Suzie Q, is an amalgamation of electrifying pop and Punjabi.
Dooriyan is an exceptionally designed number about distances and relationships with melancholic undertones in the singing of Mohit Chauhan. Then starting with a slight alaap, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan goes through the token, yet heartfelt, Aj Din Charheya. Thoda Thoda Pyar with Sunidhi Chuhan is a catchy shaadi number set in the slight old-school era by Pritam. The music director then brings in electronic and psychedelic beats for Main Kya Hoon sung by an always engaging K.K. Off-album, the remixes are good as well.
Coming back to the film, Saif Ali Khan's Jai is flawed with oodles of charisma built into him by default whereas as Veer he is serviceable. The present Veer (Rishi Kapoor) is uniformly excellent. While Deepika Padukone is beautiful on screen, her voice modulation needs work. This is an affiliation she shares with about 90 per cent of Bollywood film actors. Rahul Khanna appears midway into the film and plays a token good guy with as much ease has his character allows.
Patel, working from his own screenplay, has written an oddly appealing movie made up of flawed characters, and whose practicality hinders their understanding of love. As a film-maker, he knows when and how to push his scenes without being preachy. He knows he's making a commercial film, and it doesn't have to stoop to the level of the ludicrousness of Kambakkht Ishq to hold attention. This is Ishq of a different nature.