By Hindustan Times
Direction: Anu Menon
Actors: Ali Zafar, Aditi Rao Hydari
Rating: ** 1/2
Towards the end of London Paris New York, there is a moment of unvarnished truth. Nikhil Chopra, a fledgling film director played by Ali Zafar, rails against the woman he loves – Lalitha Krishnan played by Aditi Rao Hydari. Among other things, he calls her a tease (preceded by a word that cannot be reproduced in a family newspaper). He wipes away tears and spews hurt and hate. It’s a tough scene but Zafar doesn’t falter. His rage rings true.
I wish the rest of London Paris New York were as well pitched. Written and directed by debutante Anu Menon, the film follows the crisscrossing paths of Nikhil and Lalitha over eight years. They meet, for one night only, in three different cities. What begins as a hesitant friendship evolves into passion and eventually a more mature love. The story echoes One Day, the Lone Scherfig film based on a best-selling novel, in which the man and woman meet on July 15 over twenty years.
Nikhil and Lalitha aren’t very different from Dexter and Emma in that film. Like Dexter, Nikhil is rich and somewhat spoilt and aimless. Like Emma, Lalitha is middle class and focused. But Lalitha, who stridently proclaims that she is a feminist and does work with an NGO, is slightly more annoying.
When an entire film is based on the meeting and parting of two individuals (who are thereby in every frame), it puts enormous pressure on the actors and writer. Both need to sparkle consistently. Even first-rate performers find it a tough act. One Day, which stars the Oscar-nominated Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, is a big bore. I admire producers Goldie Behl and ShrishtiArya for eschewing the star route and casting fresh faces; the choice of Hydari, who till now has been relegated to supporting roles, is particularly brave.
But then the leads are made to fit into that over-familiar glam styling and foreign locations. In the Paris segment, Hydari struts around in mini-skirts, boots and an intriguingly bad wig. The look of course reflects her state of mind but it feels false. Hydari has a luminous presence – even as the bua in Delhi-6, she made an impact. But here she seems to be working too hard to get the right mix of fluttering eyelashes, steeliness and vulnerability. Meanwhile Zafar relies too much on The Smolder – that smugly sexy look that the robber Flynn Rider gives Rapunzel in the Disney film Tangled.
The actors are also bogged down by the writing, which ranges from inspired (the climactic outburst mentioned above) to insipid. Too often, Menon resorts to formulaic character traits, so if Nikhil is a pretentious film school student, he must have a goatee and refer to Andrei Tarkovsky. London Paris New York has sufficiently seductive visuals of all three cities. In Paris, Lalitha, wearing only a sheet, has breakfast on a balcony with the Eiffel Tower looming large. It’s postcard perfect but also a little plastic. As is the film.
Starting today, Anupama Chopra becomes Hindustan Times’ film critic. Chopra has written on the Hindi film industry since 1993. Her work has been published in India Today, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Variety and Sight & Sound. She presented and scripted a weekly film review show, Picture This, on NDTV 24/7. She is the author of four successful books on cinema, including the internationally acclaimed Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema, and Sholay: the Making of a Classic, which won a National Award.