Rajkumar Santoshi did a terrible thing in the 1990s – he directed a much beloved movie called Andaz Apna Apna. Unlike his other great successes (primarily the two Sunny Deol-vehicles Ghayal and Damini), AAA was a madcap comedy starring two Khanicons in their youth that managed to attain cult status, with audiences paying it the ultimate compliment by turning its dialogues into oft-quoted bits of Bollywood hilarity.
Possibly Santoshi knew what he’d done because he wisely eschewed the genre altogether for the next fifteen years and saved himself the aggravation of endless comparisons. Until now.
Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani is the story of an odd duck called Prem (Ranbir Kapoor) with an affinity for trouble who falls for a girl named Jenny (Katrina Kaif) who is nothing but trouble.
The movie gets off to a flying start (literally) as Prem foils the nefarious plans of an evildoer who is only missing the black-and-white striped uniform and diamond-shaped half mask of the true cartoon villain. In a matter of minutes we learn that Prem isn’t given to vainglory, isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, is well known in the community and is the President of The Happy Club – a sort of bolthole-cum-revenue generator for him and his do-nothing friends that occasionally supplies them with, er, opportunities for social work shall we say? Like when they help out a fellow member by kidnapping his married girlfriend for him.
And so they bump into the beauteous Jenny, who is everything that Prem is not. She’s from a different religion, she is educated, she is “class” as his friends put it, while poor ol’ Prem is an amiable dimwit who spends all his time figuring out ways to get out of work. The only thing they have in common, really, is their shared habit of stammering when upset. Of course he falls for her like a ton of bricks.
The result is predictable and about as exciting as watching a toddler add up single digits. A whole bunch of things keep happening that make you think – uh, so? And unfortunately for everybody concerned, the romance between Jenny and Prem is one of them. However, there are a couple of rays of sunshine:
Santoshi chooses to set his characters in a hyperverse that allows them to act in ways that might remind the faithful of the over-the-top antics of the characters that populated AAA (and leave them longing for the grace that is missing from this movie) but he actually manages to put it to good use occasionally. When Prem, for example, prompted into getting a job for love of Jenny where all his father’s recriminations went in vain, struts about his new workplace, he converts into a superhero. A rather shabby superhero perhaps but it’s a lovely little scene expressing the idea that love can move mountains – or put a kaamchor to work, which might be the more difficult task. And really, holding down a steady job that you don’t much care for is a lot more difficult than bouncing bullets off your rock hard alien chest, don’t you think?
Ranbir Kapoor (making me more and more accustomed by the film to hearing Rishi Kapoor’s voice come out through Neetu Singh’s face) and Katrina Kaif (still gorgeous) are the two other good decisions Santoshi made for his movie – as long as they’re not asked to act overtly romantic, the two of them are pitch perfect. There is a gentle ease between Prem and Jenny that keeps the movie from drowning in its pitiful pleas for your ha-has. The scene in which we find out Jenny stammers the same as Prem is especially nice, with Katrina even managing to mine a certain amount of vulnerability.
There are a couple of other scenes – like the one in which Prem thinks it necessary to talk English to Jesus when he ducks into church after disappointing his parents yet again – that succeed in giving you a glimpse of the movie this could have been but Ajab Prem‘s Kahani never quite turns Ghazab for all the hot water he lands himself in.
For one thing it doesn’t seem able to make up its mind what it wants to do – is it strictly aiming for the gags or does it want to say something (“To thine own self be true”, etc?), that fatal flaw of the true blue Santoshi movie? Whatever the case may be, the end result is mostly forgettable and a lot less fun than it hopes to be.