Love of the Mango People Aaj Kal

01 Aug

If you’re sick to death of the steadily more misogynistic, if not just plain misanthropic, fare out there masquerading as romcoms, you might want to head on over to a screening of Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal. The love story of a bridge engineer who can’t get in touch with what he wants and an art-restorer who can’t figure out how to put her emotional life back in its proper place, it’s for people who don’t appreciate being sneered at while being relieved of their money.

First off, for those of you prepped to watch Jab We Met Part II: it’s nothing of the kind. Or let’s put it this way – LAK is to JWM what JWM was to Socha Na Tha. It’s got the two people who’re clearly perfect for each other, who understand each other to the point where you’re glad that they do because it’s unlikely anybody else (least of all yourself) would even know where to start, and they screw things up in all the ways they possibly could. But their journey is very much their own.

Which leads me to the second thing you should be aware of: this is not an exuberant movie. It keeps threatening to go the distance, but Jai (Saif Ali Khan) and Meera (Deepika Padukone) are simply too laidback and grounded (in a stuck into unyielding soil kind of way) for things to fall out that way.

The tone is set at the very beginning of the movie, as the credits roll to a stop, and Jai and Meera meet at their favorite London cafe to discuss their future or, rather, lack of one. Meera restores frescoes and wants to go to Delhi to do it; Jai is an engineer obsessed with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco and is working hard to get there. It’s a truism of our times that long-distance relationships never work, so they decide to leave things when they’re still good, throw themselves a break-up party, and set out on their separate civilized paths.

They’re not lovers out of legend, as Jai (who has a habit of blathering when nervous) explains to Meera. It’s one thing for Romeo and Juliet or Laila and Majnu to die pining for love. But this is real life and they’re aam junta – ordinary people – or what he punningly calls The Mango People. And Mango People don’t die of broken hearts. They go with the flow coz they know life goes on.

So that’s that. But with nearly two hours to go in the movie, what next?

Well, life goes on is what next. They meet other people, they keep in touch, career goals slowly fall in place, Rishi Kapoor intermittently shows up to test Jai’s Theory of the Mango People… nothing very dramatic. Unless you think emotional two-timing is dramatic.

As Meera experiences her moment of epiphany in the latter half, for the first time ever that I can think of in a Bollywood movie a character recognizes the utter lack of virtue in a relationship where one party is forever emotionally engaged with someone else. “What am I doing?” she mutters to herself in disbelief as she finally recognizes the utter mess she and Jai have managed to create in their well-ordered, logical fashion and the deep-reaching impact it’s going to have on innocent by-standers. In the hands of a more experienced actress, I suspect that scene would have blown me away – but even with Deepika flatlining in the middle of it, it’s still a remarkable moment because Meera sets up her guillotine in the middle of her freakin’ honeymoon suite without trying to so much as blur the edges of the blade.

[Digression: how many people do you know who called things off within months of their marriage? I was thinking about it, and I seem to know about five couples personally who did so and I’ve heard people mention at least three more. Is that odd or par for my generation? Yet another reason why I should stop attending weddings: “You don’t want me at Pinky’s wedding – I jinx the happy couple, Auntie!”]

To say that Deepika puts in her career-best performance is hardly praise of the first order given her debut movie required her to be a beautiful animated poster girl in a Shahrukh Khan extravaganza and her last two releases were Bachna Ae Haseeno and Chandni Chowk to China through which she pretty much sleepwalked. And as the scene above illustrated rather painfully, she has a fatal tendency to transform into wood when asked to do two things at once – like act while delivering dialogue.

But to give credit where it’s due, she nails the moments of quiet retrospection. So it’s a pretty good thing then that Meera is such a reserved figure, given much more to reaction rather than exuberant action unlike, say, Geet in Jab We Met or even Aditi in Socha Na Tha. In one pivotal scene as the tangled emotions between Meera and Jai reach their knottiest, she doesn’t utter a single word; the camera stays focused on the back of her head as Jai stutters, stammers and fumbles his way to a recognition, not quite an understanding, of what lies between them. It is only then, at the very end of the soliloquy, that we see her face and in that instant, it says a whole lot more than any other scene we see her in.

Instead of growing apart from each other, as the film progresses Jai and Meera grow up apart from each other. One of the funniest sequences in the movie (well, nobody said my sense of humor was a thing of light and joy) comes as Jai ends up in a deep funk towards the end, rather comically so. If you’ve ever known an Indian man (sorry guys, but it’s not a secret, is it?) completely stuck on a  girl, it’s a hilarious variation on a theme. The only difference between Jai and the sepia-tinted Veer Singh (Saif as Rishi Kapoor in his salad days) is that Jai’s depression sneaks up on him in his modern day isolation cube of brown bag lunches and video games, while Veer celebrates his despair with his friends just as much as he celebrates his foolishly romantic love.

And it is as you watch Saif (getting better by the minute) painfully arrive at his hard won moment of epiphany, blindingly obvious as it was to everybody else, and make his way to Delhi to once more run his Theory of the Mango People past his best girl, that you’re shocked to feel the stirrings of affection in your heart for these two crazy kids.

Because frankly, while you like Jai and Meera as people, and you like the way they are together, the movie does a good job of showing us an alternate reality where they really could go on the way they were up till then and things would’ve been fine. And if they were other people, other Mango People, without that strong sense of individuality that infuses these two, then perhaps their choices would have been different. Perhaps Jai wouldn’t gone into a tailspin if only he could’ve talked to Meera every so often; perhaps Meera would have stuck to her guns if Jai didn’t like to talk aloud when nervous.

The difference between the lovers aaj and the lovers kal, Love Aaj Kal seems to say, is that lovers back in the day weren’t held back by the fact that they were Mango People. When Veer falls for his Harleen (a very pretty girl who can’t lip-synch worth a damn and is either called Gisele or Shweta or Simran – nobody knows!), his first thought isn’t that he isn’t equipped to be a lover when all he has is a bicycle and a bunch of louche friends, neither of which she appreciates; love has exempted him from Mango-status. Even though the lovers these days have more choices and more options, the movie says, they seem to be a little too taken by their Mango-status to ask for the things they need while busily running after the things they want.

The smartest, and perhaps even bravest, person Jai meets on his journey might well be Jo the Swiss Blonde (what’s with Saif and Swiss blondes anyway?) who may not be able to speak English very well but is clever enough to directly address the big gaping hole in their relationship and ask him for what she needs – and then sweetly tells him to take a shovel to the bullshit he offers her instead.

Didn’t I say it was a good thing Meera and Jai have each other? Maybe that’s what made for each other really is – when you meet the one person in the world who is willing to wait for you to realize that you’re standing in a field of manure… by your side.


Posted by on August 1, 2009 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video


25 responses to “Love of the Mango People Aaj Kal

  1. DewdropDream

    August 1, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    I’d pretty much sworn off watching this movie, more so when a certain friend with no discernible taste in movies was gushing over it, but after reading your review, I think I’m going to have to give it a go!

  2. Gradwolf

    August 1, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Damn, now I gotta watch this movie after a thumbs up each from you and Brangan. Btw the girl’s name is apparently Gisselle Monteiro!

  3. Beth

    August 1, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    I promised myself I would just write about the movie without reading anyone else’s thoughts, but nooooo, you had to be SO TEMPTING about it, and now you have said it all. Hmph.

    BUT OMG THE END I almost died of glee.

  4. pitu

    August 1, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    Uii ma! I was getting rdy to leave for the 9:15 pm show of Love Aaj kal. I shall read your review and write my own after returning hehe..

  5. E Pradeep

    August 2, 2009 at 4:18 am

    Did not click for me. Imtiaz Ali seemed to try so hard to make the entire thing so cool that it seemed so laborious at times. Lost track of the movie somewhere in between and so, important scenes like when she tells her husband did not seem to register at all:(

    What’s with Rishi Kapoor being the Universal 1st Gen lover guiding the next generation guys in every movie?

  6. Ramsu

    August 2, 2009 at 6:55 am

    I wish this movie had worked as well as I had hoped it would. It seemed to have all the pieces in place, but the sheer delight of his earlier movies was missing even in the lighter portions.

    I thought making Deepika bring up her unresolved issues right after the wedding was a brave move — most filmmakers wouldn’t have had the guts — but I felt her performance didn’t quite work in that crucial scene. Contrast this with Saif’s monologue just before her wedding — I don’t expect her to be anywhere close to that good, but I’d have appreciated it if she had at least been passable.


  7. BlueMist

    August 2, 2009 at 7:39 am

    Just finished watching it. but you make it sound so ridiculously well than the actually it is on screen. Kudos !! 🙂

  8. pitu

    August 2, 2009 at 11:15 am

    I liked it 😀 Just done reviewing. Even the usual poker-faced husband liked it :p I won’t be rushing out and getting a dvd a la JWM though. And Deepika shd go back to modeling. Seriously. But Saif’s DA MAN!!

  9. Mango Lass, I

    August 2, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Ya know what I really dig about your reviews? It’s how when just about everyone else is of the opinion that a movie could use a little more Heart, you make such a convincing case that it works, that too “in Spades” (your favorite “Bridge” metaphor), just as it is (remember Benjamin Button?), that even a skeptical someone is likely to believe it’s so. (And since I’m oh-so-certainly NOT a skeptical someone, you can probably envision me smacking my lips and slurping away — It’s “Mango,” people! The “King” of fruit, no less.) 😀

    Now for the Three things I learned this week, building up to this review:

    1) Everyone in my family has a stomach of steel — while we swimmingly withstood the Bad Mango Lassi stress test (surely) administered by the Chaat extension of Cal’s Microbiology lab (near University Ave), our Elderly Relatives (extended family visiting from India) proceeded to make their peace with the toilet bowl.

    2) I’m so in love with stating the obvious, namely: Of the Three Bridges adorning the SF Bay — Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge and Richmond-San Rafael Bridge — the former is the engineering marvel that never fails to make my heart skip a beat…Sure, it helps that they painted it Brick Red. (As for Elderly Relatives — who were the sole reason we set out to admire said bridge for the nth time in recent memory — they were understandably busy “preserving” what little was left in their bellies to offer commentary on how well the bridge has been preserved, since its opening in the 1930s.)

    3) Why spend a week planning a three-day trip to admire what Ansel Adams had already immortalized for us in that coffee-table book sitting in the living room? And for those of us who don’t want to learn that lesson the easy way, there’s always destiny’s trump card (Major Suit: Spade! aka Mango Lassi). And so I reconciled to pointing out to Elderly Relatives how Junipero Serra Blvd (the other name we know Hwy 280 as) taking us to the GG Bridge can actually stand in for those juniper trees they’d have seen in Yosemite; how that Wawona street we crossed, on 19th, leading up to The Bridge, could symbolize that stupendous Wawona Tunnel view… talk about “alternate reality.”

    Coming back to your review, thank you for puttu puttu vechchufying like this (and I mean it sincerely, not sarcastically; coz like you, I happen to like spoilers too — but obviously only in reviews of romcoms, not Poirot/Holmes style romps). For those of us stuck in limbo land (what else can one call an existence book-ended by Ali’s First and Third?, JWM being his only feature I’ve watched and, much like Beth, gone gaga over… “EEEEEEE this is so wonderful!”), that second para was such a lovely let on.

    What’s not to love about a Mango fare topped off with a sprinkling of Swiss blonde, and possibly, a Brazilian brunette? And, given that a DVD release isn’t exactly tantalizingly close, what’s there to do but… wait?

  10. sweets

    August 3, 2009 at 1:52 am

    Every film stands differently same LAK is a romantic comedy movie.
    i Just like saif’s acting nothing more.

  11. Amrita

    August 3, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    3D – OH NO! (waits for the joote to fall!) 😀

    Adithya – ok, that whole Brazilian thing seriously took me by surprise! But hey, if Katrina can swing it, then why not her? Apart from the lip syncing thing, I thought she was charming.

    Beth – it appears we’re in the minority! We must stick together! And I’m trying so hard not to spoil that end scene. So CUTE!

    EP – hee! Well, Rishi used to be the go-to guy for youngster in every single frickin’ A-list movie in the 70s so I guess this is a natural progression. I actually find him a lot more bearable now than I did when he was young.

    Ramsu – that’s true, she really was the weak link in that scene. Rahul was spot on, telling her off, and she just rattled it all off like it was some grocery list. I think I need to see this movie again, actually, to see if it gets better or worse.

    BM – oh noes! That wasn’t what I was going for at all! lolz!

    Pitu – YAY!

    IML – if you ever get your hands on a DVD, then watch Socha Na Tha. It’s very much a first effort movie, Imtiaz and Abhay’s, but it’s so incredibly sweet. And fresh. I loves it. And all this talk between you and Blue Mist have me wondering if I’m overselling 😀

    Sweets – he did a good job!

  12. Broom

    August 4, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Just came back from LAK after reading Pitu’s recommendation. It was good, but nowhere close to JWM.
    It felt a little forced. But compared to the manure out there in Bollyland, this was a good watch.
    And TG insisted that this was JUST like Dil Chahta Hai where Aamir is in love with Preity and mopes around till he realises it. The only difference according to her was that the hero was moping in Australia instead of the US.

    • Amrita

      August 5, 2009 at 2:46 pm

      He IS just like Aamir in DCH! You know why? Because thats what Indian boys are like when they’re lovelorn. For reals! Except Aamir did it with a hint of a scowl and Saifoo just looked pouty.

  13. AnuK

    August 5, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    I liked your review more than the movie 🙂
    It felt anticlimactic after Chor Bazaari.

  14. haroon

    August 12, 2009 at 1:33 am

    very nicely reviwed

  15. Fahim Farook

    September 27, 2009 at 12:11 am

    Compared to some of the other Bollywood-fare of recent times, LAK was pure gold! But compared to something like “Socha Na Tha”, this feels a little deficient but I think you pointed out the most telling point – you don’t care for the two main characters at the beginning. Heck, I felt more for Veer in the “kal” story than I did for Jai in the “aaj” story but towards the end, you actually begin to like the Jai and Meera better and you end the movie with a tear in your eye and a cheer in your heart! So in my book at least, it’s still a great movie 🙂

  16. P for Pati (a la)!

    January 12, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Oh forgot to tell you, I finally caught the film by the year-end… Dec 16th, to be precise. The Patiala train-station scene was awesome (it really takes you back in time), as was the turning-point engendering (engineering?) Little Photo That Could (though that mugging scene by itself was gratuitous as hell, or maybe it was just a literal way of showing that he badly needed some sort of (metaphorical) kick in the seat of his pants, whack on the side of his head to shake him up / wake him up, etc?).

    • Amrita

      January 12, 2010 at 4:14 pm

      Yay! I do love the Patiala train too! Yeah, that mugging scene was just gratuitous on one level. OTOH it was his one moment of filmi-wala, amar-kind love.

      • PfP

        January 12, 2010 at 6:37 pm

        Hey, I totally love your take on the mugging bit. It makes sense. Wonder why I didn’t put myself out of my misery by looking at it that way too, coz I kept thinking how Ali (who I kept commending for being different and all, up to that point) could have done something so masala-movie-ish, but now it feels good to actually look at it as Saif’s little “life imitating art” moment. Thanks! (See, that’s why I read the review(er)s I read!)

        And another lovely moment was that “My Estyle” taxi coming into focus on Ring Road, and the duo happily hopping on board… that whole (“un-embeddable”) Chor Bazaari song is pure awesomeness (that bit where Saif sends off Jo-the-blonde on a bus tour and rushes off to Deepika but grabs someone else’s hand in a hurry… that’s totally me! I’ve done that once with my dad when walking thru a crowded bus stop (in 8th std.), I had no idea when I’d switched to holding the wrong hand…and was conversing with this random guy, and when I actually realized it and looked frantically for dad, he was right behind, laughing his ass off!!! 😀

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