I have a hard time being objective when it comes to Deepika Padukone. I adore her. She’s one of the world’s best actresses at the moment, and she’s only 24. But I think I can say with some measure of professional detachment that Break Ke Baad (“After the Break”) could be her most nuanced work to date. It’s worth seeing just for her.
Padukone plays Aaliya, a 20-year-old wild child who aspires to an acting career against the objections of her mother, Ayesha (Sharmila Tagore), herself a former screen idol. Aaliya’s in a relationship with her childhood best friend and long-time sweetheart, Abhay Gulati (Imran Khan). With Abhay poised to take over operations of his dad’s movie theater, everyone assumes that “Al” and “Gelato” will soon be married.
This is fine with Abhay, even though he hates his job and has no life outside of Aaliya. But Aaliya wants to experience the world first, though she doesn’t come out and say it. Instead, she secretly applies to a one-year Communications program in Australia and only tells Abhay about it when she complains that Ayesha won’t let her go.
Eventually, Aaliya leaves for Australia, and she gets Abhay to consent to “a little break.” But, to Aaliya’s annoyance, he won’t stop calling, going so far as to show up at her house one day. Aaliya finally breaks up with him for good, but Abhay refuses to leave Australia without her. He works a variety of jobs in the hopes of finding one he really likes.
Writers Danish Aslam and Renuka Kunzru have a real understanding of what it’s like to be at that age where you’re desperate to chart an independent course for your life, but still eager for parental approval. The dialog is thoughtful, as when Ayesha tells selfish Aaliya that people don’t love her because she’s special, she’s special because a few people love her intensely.
Nuanced writing requires skilled acting to make it come to life, and Padukone does that with Aaliya. Aaliya is careless of others’ feelings in a way unique to pretty girls in their early twenties. She usually gets her way, so she doesn’t worry about the manner in which she does so.
Padukone is careful to make Aaliya simultaneously lovable and frustrating. Aaliya’s obviously fun, and she is caring, but she also deflects blame onto others and fails to consider their feelings before she acts. Padukone manages to show Aaliya’s potential for growth despite her current faults.
Khan has a somewhat detached performance style that actually works for Abhay, who’s simply going along with whatever life throws at him. He doesn’t get worked up about much because he doesn’t know what he wants, nor does he consider the possibility that things won’t work out for him. Khan does a nice job playing low-key opposite Padukone’s more dynamic character.
Supporting characters Nadia (Shahana Goshwami) and Cyrus (Yudhishtir Urs), beach-bum siblings living off their inheritance, keep the plot moving. Misanthropic Nadia’s sarcasm is on point and forces Aaliya and Abhay to act. Horndog Cyrus provides the comic relief. The lead characters’ parents are also good, though I would’ve liked to see more of their relationships with their kids.
Break Ke Baad may not be as universally relevant as some romantic comedies, but it knows its characters well and portrays them with sophistication. This would be a great movie to show to teens as a guide for “how not to act in a few years.” Not that they’d listen, of course, but at least they’d be entertained.