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HomeScreen: A Karan Johar film by the numbers

HomeScreen: A Karan Johar film by the numbers

It is ironic that Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (ADHM), a movie preceded by hype, hoopla and extensive cross-border mushkils, has a plot that is uncontroversial to the core. It is, in fact, anti-climactic that all ADHM does is tackle that time-worn balance of love and friendship between a boy and a girl.

Admittedly, the boy is a Hindu and the girl a Muslim, but beyond the lead pair’s names, the religious insinuations are non-existent. Instead, you get a movie that is laden with plenty of melodrama, long-winded dialogue and some soulful music. Standard Karan Johar fare but by no stretch of the imagination can ADHM be considered Johar’s best.

All the usual glossy ingredients are doled out in spades. The locales are scenic, traversing London, Paris and Vienna. The ensemble cast is gorgeous with Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma as the main leads, and Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan and a much-talked-about Fawad Khan playing side roles.

Given Johar’s extensive clout in Bollywood, there are plenty of cameos too. Topping them is King Khan, Shah Rukh, followed by Alia Bhatt at her extreme bubbliest, a very funny Lisa Haydon as Ranbir’s giddy ex and our very own Imran Abbas playing Anushka’s casual flame.

There are odes to ’80s Bollywood music, plenty of Indian film dialogues thrown in as quips and umpteen references to Johar’s own movies. At one point the lead pair try to enact a scene from Chandni and in another scene they yodel out an Evening in Paris — plenty of happy, warm moments here.

Stringing these scenes together, though, is a joie de vivre that seems far too contrived to make sense to an audience that lives in the real world. As usual, the protagonists are rich, love discotheques, bicker in cute ways (a la Rahul and Anjali) and aren’t too bothered by the inanities of earning a living. Rather, Ayan (Ranbir) has a private jet at his disposal and seems to be whiling away the years till he meets someone who understands him. Oh, and he’s a budding singer but as his friend Alizeh tells him he will only sing well once his heart breaks and he feels true pain. And he manages to do so — no big surprise there.

Old wine in a new bottle? Certainly. Again and again, ADHM reminds one of various angsty romantic hits from Bollywood’s recent past.

Anushka as Alizeh slips easily into the feisty girl rut that she is now adept at playing. She doles out filmi wise words — Pyaar mein junoon hai, dosti mein sukoon hai — has a kooky sense of humour and for most part of the movie, she struggles through a destructive relationship. Both leads act well — especially Ranbir as he endures unrequited love, lust and heartbreak — but are let down by a plot that is inordinately long and comes littered with prodigious dialogues that sound more as quotable quotes rather than regular speech, leaving one dumbfounded.

The riveting bits, though, belong particularly to Fawad Khan and Aishwarya. Fawad is the very good-looking, tattooed, philandering DJ who Alizeh is in love with. Aishwarya is the sultry older woman in a no-holds-barred relationship with Ranbir. Side characters in Indian movies often fade away into the woodworks but Johar gives Fawad and Aishwarya a fair amount of screen time. They look so good and act so well that one actually regrets it when their scenes end. For it leads to more yo-yoing emotion, more lovelorn — albeit catchy — songs and more character analysis to the point that you’re fidgeting and waiting for this 158-minute long sob-fest to end.

Johar has long mastered the formula of churning out glossy romance, peppered with memorable humour, strong characters, fabulous music and a heavy side order of tears. With ADHM, he’s delivered on the music but, otherwise, is trying too hard and ends up failing.

Box office reports indicate that ADHM is a mega-hit internationally. Had it released in Pakistan, it would have drawn in crowds as well, such is the magnetic pull of a star-studded K-Jo extravaganza. But is it a memorable movie? A must-watch have-to-watch-it-again collectible kind of a movie? Hardly.

One had regretted it when ADHM had been banned from local cinemas. In retrospect, it’s no big loss.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 13th, 2016

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