Saturday, 8 August 2009

Love Aaj Kal

Last night I went to see the Bollywood movie Love Aaj Kal with my mum. We don't often go to see Hindi films in the cinema (the release periods are quite limited round our way, and we usually miss the ones we want to see) so it was a bit of a treat for Amu and I.

I'd previously seen two songs from the film on Zee Music (I usually scan the Hindi music channels while having my breakfast in the morning before work). One was a lovely, simple ballad and featured Saif looking rather fetching in a turban, and a captivating girl dressed very simply in a cotton salwaar kameez. The other was the kind of Hindi pop I really can't abide - loud, Punjabi-dance-based and without any kind of melody to my ears (how old do I sound!) with Saif and Deepika waggling about wearing the trashy, lurid and overembellished stuff that does the rounds as contemporary fashion in Hindi movies (yuck. I don't know who likes, let alone wears, this stuff in real life!). The contrast between the two got me intrigued and a recommendation from Bartimaeus in Bom sealed the deal.

And the contrast is central to the plot of the film, which compares an old fashioned love story set in the 60s, with a modern day love affair. It worked well as a premise, and crucially both love stories had enough charm to keep an audience emotionally engaged. The cynic in me thinks it is also perfectly conceived as a "family" movie with two parts to appeal to two different generations - and sure enough, I wasn't the only one there with her Amu.

I think there wasn't quite enough of the what I found to be the more beguiling of two romances, the 1960s one, and a little too much on the jet-setting and the casual nature of modern love, but it was amusing, well observed, and quite moving at points. Saif really is one of the best actors in Bollywood today, and played his double-role very well. It's not as charming as Jab We Met (one of my very favourite modern Hindi films) but it's good, and to be honest, convincing Hindi romances don't come around all that often, so I think it's worth catching.

Bartimaeus informed me that there was a bit of a surprise to the casting. I watched the whole thing bemused by this bit of information, and couldn't grasp what he might have been talking about. He let me into the secret today, and it is indeed a surprise. More and more international actresses are appearing in Bollywood, but usually they are cast very prominently as the "non-Indian" girlfriend (who is usually ditched right at the end for the good Indian girl - or is that me being jaded? Well this is indeed poor Swiss Jo's fate in Love Aaj Kal too, so I think there is some truth to it.) But the surprise here is that the role of the innocent, lovely Harleen, Saif's 1960s love, is played by a Brazilian model. Very convincingly too, I might add - I really had no idea she wasn't Indian! She doesn't have much dialogue, and that was dubbed but I think she coped with the dancing a heck of a lot better than some actresses in Bollywood today (Katrina, I'm talking about you, and your flailing limbs).

What is now particularly amusing, is my mum's comments after the film that Indian actresses nowadays are unnaturally tall and thin, and her hypothesis that they are injected with growth hormones to be so from a young age. Tee hee. I was also struck this morning by a comment I read by the director, who claims the role of Harleen could not have been played by an urbanised Indian actress:

Even when Harleen became visible in the trailers she remained inaccessible to the public. Imtiaz says, “Why a Brazilian girl to play an old-fashioned Punjabi girl? Well, I was auditioning girls from all over the country to play the Punjabi girl opposite the Sikh Saif. I couldn’t find the right girl to play the 1965 ki gali mein rehne wali ladki, purane zamane ki.”
[...] Significantly Giselle understood the old-world values of her small-town character better than an urban Indian actress would have. Says Imtiaz, “The small-town mentality in every part of the world is similar.” Times of India

I'm not sure if this is true, - rather it seems to be a hasty defence of a quirky bit of a casting. But it's still an interesting statement on the nature of the "modern" Indian woman (have we become so "Westernised" that we can really not do "demure" anymore? Moreover, should we even want to?)

I'm also bemused by the fact that Giselle Monteiro's name was left off the trailers and credits (it isn't even on Whilst Denise Richards's role in Kambakkht Ishq has been prominently advertised as a draw for the film, and Katrina Kaif, who is half-Indian and from Hawaii/England, is one of India's hottest actresses right now, it seems that the film's producers felt that India's not quite ready for a non-Indian actress playing an Indian role. Which makes me wonder exactly what kind of roles ex-Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger is being offered, on the back of Jai Ho...

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