Starring: Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Fawad Khan, Lisa Haydon, Imran Abbas
Directed by: Karan Johar
A new film directed by Karan Johar is the most excited I can possibly get for a film, not just a Bollywood film. His work has a special place in my film-loving heart, and yes they might be cheesy or flawed, but they’re the films I grew up on, and they are what I love about Bollywood and the musical genre. I’m a little biased, and thought about not writing a review. But after 14 tweets, I still had plenty to say, and so here it is.
Student of the Year seems like a bit of an anomaly in his filmography, even though I enjoyed it very much, as his latest, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, sees him continue to mature in the stories he tells on screen. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was the young love story, which he followed up with the family saga Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, then marriage and infidelity in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, and then moving onto a protagonist with Asperger’s in Post 9/11 USA in My Name Is Khan. After focusing on young love again with SOTY, Karan Johar returns to focusing on more complicated relationships than the naive ideas of love his films once portrayed. Ae Dil focuses on, ‘ek tarfa pyaar’ or unrequited love, as his hero Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) falls madly in love with filmy, Bollywood-loving Alizeh (Anushka Sharma), who can’t give Ayan the kind of love he wants in return. I won’t explain the plot any further, as it’s better to watch it play out, rather than read my attempt at explaining it.
You would think a tale of unrequited love might be a little unsatisfying to watch, but Karan tells his story so beautifully, and so completely, you wouldn’t want the film to be any other way. So many Bollywood films, including great ones, feature love stories that are more than a bit unbelievable, but we accept them as part of Bollywood and necessary for the plot and so we buy into them, but Ae Dil starts to hit on something more like real life, telling us it’s not quite as simple as Bollywood would like us to believe, and the love of your life might not feel the same. And this is coming from the director who made us believe in his first film that it could be as simple as ‘pyaar dosti hai’.
Alizeh is in a way, the obstacle in Ae Dil being the complete and happy Bollywood love story you might be expecting from Karan Johar, but I’d be surprised if anyone doesn’t fall in love with her, and Anushka’s performance. Karan always has great, well-written female characters, and Alizeh is no exceptions, and he made a brilliant decision to entrust her to Anushka. She added a sense of like-ability to her, despite at times being quite harsh, but more importantly she adds a genuine sense of pain and makes that pain relatable. It is her most impressive performance yet, and between this and Sultan, she deserves all the awards coming her way.
Ranbir is, of course, great as Ayan, as it’s clearly a role written for him, but also one we’ve seen him do before. There are definitely some resemblances to his characters from Rockstar and Tamasha, but Karan executes his ideas better than those two films did. It is wonderful to see Aishwarya Rai Bachchan finally work with a director again who is good enough to get out of her the kind of performance she is capable of. The trailers didn’t do her justice, as she’s much better than they suggest, and in a short amount of screen time, she leaves a strong impact. I didn’t see Jazbaa, but she should have come back with this. Fawad Khan is also pretty good in his short role, and it’s a really shame if they did in fact edit his part down because of all the drama surrounding the release of the film, but to be honest his scenes work well as they are. From a narrative point of view, we don’t need to see his character more than we already do.
There are a couple of nice cameos, but I don’t think they’re surprises anymore. Alia Bhatt’s is just a fun addition, and nice of Karan to feature one of his Student’s in it. Shahrukh Khan has one short, but important scene, and I really hope Karan directs him again soon. Imran Abbas and Lisa Haydon make special appearances early on in the film, and actually make a great impression. Lisa Haydon had people in stitches in the screening I went to.
Ae Dil is a musical after all, and Pritam’s music, and Amitabh Bhattacharya’s lyrics are brilliant. The film wouldn’t be quite the same without them. Most of the songs took me a few listens to get into them, but I was in love with them before watching the film, and then seeing them on screen just made my admiration grow. Karan uses the songs really well, but Ranbir and the lyrics made ‘Channa Mereya‘ one of my favourite Karan Johar moments of all time. My only complaint is that ‘Cutiepie‘ comes in a moment where some relief from all the emotions is quite necessary, but makes it difficult to enjoy the song, which I love. When I listen to it, I chuckle at the lyrics, but in the film I was in the middle of wiping away tears. The film also features versions of older songs, like ‘Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo‘ and ‘Lag Ja Gale‘, which I really hope they release soon.
One of my favourite things about Ae Dil is how many references there are to other Bollywood films. Ayan and Alizeh are filmy people, and so make constant references to bad 80s songs, and build their friendship on jokes from Karan Johar’s own earlier films. It is fairly indulgent to reference your own works, but Karan has never pretended like he doesn’t overindulge as a director. And as Bollywood film lovers, the characters are of the right generation to have grown up on those films, and so it would seem weird to pretend as if films like Kuch Kuch didn’t exist.
I fully admit to being a massive Karan Johar fan, and therefore I don’t think there would be any version of his film that I wouldn’t find things in to praise. But I hope skeptics give Ae Dil Hai Mushkil a chance, because it is a beautiful film, and can be appreciated regardless of your opinion of his earlier works. There are so many aspects of the film that I could pick out as the reason to go watch it, Ranbir or Aishwarya, the music, the story, its focus on friendship as well as love, but I think what I love most, after two viewings, is Anushka as Alizeh. You can’t not be impressed by her, nor could you imagine anyone else be cast in her place.