Movie Review: Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016)

aedilhaimushkil2 Stars (out of 4)

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Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

WARNING: THIS REVIEW HAS MAJOR THIRD-ACT SPOILERS. It’s tough to talk in-depth about my feelings for this film without also revealing how the plot resolves itself. If you’re spoiler-averse, bail out after the first few paragraphs. (There’s another warning below, just before the big spoilers begin.)

Approximately two hours into Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (“This Heart is Complicated“), during the performance of the emotionally charged title track, one feels the first pangs of concern. How is writer-director Karan Johar going to craft a satisfying ending to his tale of unrequited love, which to this point has been compelling and unexpected? As the song ends, Johar’s film uses narrative crutches to limp along to an ending made all the more disappointing because of the story’s squandered potential.

What Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (“ADHM,” henceforth) has going for it, at least early on, is a cast of interesting characters. Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) lives in London, dutifully pursuing an MBA at his dad’s request at the expense of a singing career. Ayan is absurdly wealthy, as is every other character in the film, allowing for impromptu jaunts to scenic European locales.

Ayan meets Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) at a party, and they find in each other kindred spirits fond of quoting film dialogue. A knowledge of older Bollywood movies will enhance the experience of watching ADHM, but it is not necessary. Terrific subtitle translation substitutes Western equivalents for specifically Indian references. For example, Bollywood bombshell “Sunny Leone” becomes “JLo” for the sake of international audience members. (Unfortunately, song lyrics are not subtitled in English.)

Although both are already in relationships — Alizeh with boring Faisal (Imran Abbas) and Ayan with tacky Lisa (Lisa Haydon, who is utterly hilarious in the film) — Ayan and Alizeh prefer each other’s company. Ayan begins to fall for beautiful Alizeh, but she makes it clear that she’s not interested. She’s still heartbroken over another man, Ali (Fawad Khan), and only wants Ayan’s friendship.

Ayan spends the rest of the film struggling with his unrequited feelings, distracting himself by having an affair with Saba (an incredibly sexy Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). Adding Saba’s lovelorn poetry to his heartbroken music jump-starts Ayan’s singing career, propelling him out of his extended adolescence and into self-possessed adulthood.

This is where those nagging feelings begin. Ayan somehow needs to resolve his feelings for Alizeh. It would be too convenient to have Alizeh change her mind and fall for Ayan, especially since she maintains throughout that she’s not attracted to him. Finding a way to put Ayan’s feelings in narrative context presents a considerable challenge.


Unfortunately, Johar chooses the second easiest possible option: he gives Alizeh cancer. Removing Alizeh from the mortal world absolves Ayan from having to learn how to live in a world where they’re both alive yet apart. It also provides yet another frustrating example of a male writer using the death of a female character to advance the development of his male protagonist.

There are further sexist overtones to the way Ayan treats Alizeh while she is sick. He repeatedly exerts physical control over her body at the exact moment when she’s lost control of her body to cancer. Without Alizeh’s consent, Ayan removes her hat in public to reveal her hairless head. He makes her dance when she doesn’t want to. Ayan tries to kiss Alizeh, and he screams at her for rejecting his advances. He’s enraged that she won’t have sex with him, even though she doesn’t have long to live and he’s taking care of her.

That raises another point about the stupidity of the cancer subplot. Alizeh refuses to tell Ali or her family about her diagnosis, choosing to endure it alone. That’s not how cancer works. It’s an exhausting, all-hands-on-deck endurance test. Certain doctors require you to bring a guardian to help you get home from your appointment safely; they won’t let you take a cab. No one faces cancer alone willingly.

So much of ADHM is about Ayan growing out of his immaturity into the complicated realities of adult relationships, but there’s no wisdom to be found here. In the end, Johar chose the path of least resistance. He has more insight to offer than this. I’m sure of it.


23 thoughts on “Movie Review: Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016)

  1. moviemavengal

    I was frustrated with the ending, too. Like Katti Batti had to pull out the cancer chesnut, too. I kept my review spoiler free and didn’t really get into why I was mentally saying in the theater, “Really, Karan? You’re going there?” Darned if Karan still made me cry. They allude to Anand and Kal Ho Naa Ho, and for good reason.

    There’s probably another message with one party in a friendship having no sexual interest in the other, yet they’re soul mates in every other way. Ahem.

    I liked it more than you, but agree with you that you get to a certain point — the title track, and you’re wondering how is Karan going to end this? He had the great set up, but not so great ending.

    1. Kathy

      I think I wrote, “OH COME THE FUCK ON,” in my notebook as soon as she showed up in the hat with no hair sticking out the bottom of it. I haven’t been as mad at the very ending of a Bollywood film since Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. And I’m skeptical of the sexless soul mates angle, too, LOL.

      Here’s a link for anyone who wants to read moviemavengal’s review:

      1. Ben

        I did shed a tear towards the end knowing very much I was being emotionally manipulated. My main issue was the chemistry between Ranbir and Anushka. I still don’t understand why 30 something adults talk to each other like they are teenagers. There is absolutely no charm or sophistication when these two meet in the initial reels.

        1. Kathy

          Hi, Ben! I wonder if they were supposed to be much younger than the actors actual ages when they first meet, like very early twenties. That would go a ways toward explaining Ayan’s extreme immaturity and lack of life experience. Granted, that would still make them mid-late twenties by the end of the film, and their conversational dynamic doesn’t change significantly over the course of the story.

  2. Tina

    Kathy in the movie I thought if it was explained a bit more why Saba broke up with her husband and why alizeh was so obsessed with Ali yet after marriage wasn’t happy. I felt like if it was explored more we would feel more for the characters. that’s why it was hard for me to care about them

    1. Kathy

      That’s a good suggestion, Tina. The movie seems to equate obsession with love. At one point, Alizeh even says something like, “You can’t choose who you love.” Of course you can! Every day, I choose to love my husband because he’s kind, smart, funny, etc., and he does the same for me. Obviously, stories of unrequited love and unhealthy relationships can be interesting, but only if the writers explore why the characters choose to subject themselves to situations that make them unhappy, rather than just saying, “It’s fate.”

  3. Vetshaloo

    Hi. Kathy. Hope u r doing well. We connected through twitter a while ago. Great fond of your reviews. Read them all but commenting first time.I surely know its an average movie . Its getting below average rating on imdb too. I never liked kjo s movies. I always felt them meldramatic, but adhm idk why is best of him for me. Its so much moving and accurately depicted the concept of friendzoned among youth. Its so emotionly engaging and a feel good film. I have one word to describe it. Relatable.. I think its an underrated movie. In the end the best thing about movies is ranbir and anushka s chemistry and acting. They just rocked. Keep writing reviews. Stay blessed

    1. Kathy

      Hi, Vetshaloo! Good to hear from you again. You have an interesting definition of “a feel good film” since everyone in the movie is so miserable. πŸ˜‰ just kidding

      What I was hoping for was evidence of emotional growth on Ayan’s part. I assume most people who love someone who doesn’t love them back eventually grow out of their feelings, either by realizing that the dynamic wasn’t healthy for them or because they find someone who does love them back. That’s what I wanted to see KJo explore — that process of Ayan realizing that maybe what he felt wasn’t love at all. I generally like KJo’s movie about turbulent romantic relationships, and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna is my favorite.

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  5. mansah

    Thanks for putting it so well, the where do we go from here and the disappointment with the road chosen by KJo was exactly how I felt. And it’s a pity because while it took me a while to connect with the characters I do think there was a lot of material that could have made for a really interesting film if dealt with differently. I think it’s true that we could have benefitted from slightly more access to some of the characters’ motives here and there.
    I also couldn’t agree more about Ayan’s problematic response to Alizeh in several points in the film (it was definitely there before the cancer diagnosis), the violence and entitlement was very off-putting.

    1. Kathy

      Thanks, Mansah! And thanks for reiterating that Ayan’s anger at Alizeh simmers throughout the film, it doesn’t just boil over at the end.

      1. mansah

        Ugh no, the amount of times Ayan took Alizeh by the throat throughout the film. I found it deeply problematic that unrequited love became equated with such violence and possessiveness. It’s obviously one way it may go but then I think we’re telling an entirely different story.

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