The message of Love Aaj Kal is that there have always been obstacles to true love — whether it’s 2009 or 1965 — but that it has always been worth fighting for. The movie is charming and sweet and utterly deserving of the $1.2 million it earned during its opening weekend in U.S. theaters.
Saif Ali Khan plays Jai, an ambitious architect living in London. When Jai’s sort-of girlfriend, Meera (Deepika Padukone), gets a new job in India, they decide that the practical thing to do is to break up but stay friends.
The owner of a cafe Jai and Meera frequent gets wind of their plan and essentially tells Jai that he’s stupid for letting Meera go, when they were so happy together. After all, it wasn’t easy when he was courting his beloved Harleen in Delhi in 1965.
Flashbacks throughout the rest of the movie show a younger version of the cafe owner, Veer — also played by Saif Ali Khan during the flashbacks, by Rishi Kapoor in the modern day — as he pursues demure Harleen (Brazilian model Giselle Monteiro), falling in love before he even speaks to her. Jai thinks this is quaint, but doesn’t see how it applies to his relationship with Meera.
The relationships don’t parallel each other, but they are analogous. There are obstacles in both relationships, whether imposed from the outside or generated from within. Veer recognizes that Jai has the potential for a happy future with Meera and does his best to help it happen, showing Jai that love sometimes requires grand gestures.
While both of the relationships featured in Love Aaj Kal are charming, Veer’s pursuit of Harleen might be the sweetest love story I’ve ever seen on the big screen. It’s more innocent because of the social restrictions of the time, but it’s no less believable.
Everything in this movie is done well, from the engaging story to the convincing acting, from the bright colors to the catchy music; it’s immersive from the get-go. A lesser story teller would’ve resorted to cheap dramatic twists, but director Imtiaz Ali wisely lets the romance shine through.
The little details are delightful. Separated from Jai, Meera dons a pair of his trademark Chuck Taylors and drinks straight black coffee as reminders of him. Khan and Padukone have terrific chemistry; they should be a go-to romantic duo for years to come.
My only complaint about the movie is a minor one. Twice, Ali resorts to one of my least favorite Hindi-film cliches: the spontaneous parade. How many times have we seen couples in Hindi films stumble upon a parade, complete with a band and costumed performs, only to join in? Often, it’s an excuse to shoehorn in a song that wouldn’t fit anywhere else in the movie.
I’m not sure if parades are a regular feature of Indian life, but they don’t make sense in downtown London. If directors are desperate for a way to include music in their movies, it makes more sense to use a montage.