By Hindustan Times
Director: Pankaj Kapur
Actors: Shahid Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor
There’s an old, popular Shailendra ditty in this movie that goes, of course, Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh. Kahaan Shuru, Kahan Khatam (It’s a weird legend. Not sure where it begins. Not sure where it ends).
The second time they play that Shankar Jaiskishen song on this screen, you’re convinced, this is some kind of an inside joke between the film’s director and his drooping audience. He’s ushered you into the theatre all right, seated you comfortably with popcorn, coke and other supplies for the day, it’s been over three hours (has felt like multiple mausams, seasons, of a television series), you’re still not certain when this epic tragedy will end, or if it will at all.
You do remember how it had roughly started. Sort of. The camera pans to reveal a sleepy, small pind or village in Punjab. Hero plays the fool with friends, getting cheap thrills out of challenging a train to knock his car over as he speeds across the rail tracks. That car looks like a topless Contessa, but is probably not. Homes have fat box TVs with poor reception. ‘Respected’ elder men lord over affairs of the young. Tutak Tutak Tutiya is the Bhangra number of the day. We’re in the early ‘90s. Detailing is perfect, down to the aloo puri, that looks delicious. The sweep is still wide.
It feels like a more realistic, warm, alternate route to Yash Chopra’s lush greens of Punjab. The picture, promising so far, appears comic in parts, romantic at moments, poetic in portions, and the all-genre Bollywood film otherwise. The director (Pankaj Kapur) appears to have made his debut with the same level of honesty and conviction with which he's scripted his own, rather under-rated acting career (Maqbool, Ek Doctor Ki Maut, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro). But hold on. It’s not even been an hour, bouyz -- mustn’t speak too soon.
The leading couple has barely met. They eye each other from a distance. Constantly. It’s a popular form of rural love. She disappears from the pind suddenly. He checks out from the village as well. The movie goes off on another tangent, on to another plain. So do your brains, from here on.
The gentleman before us, an officer now, is called Harry, for Harinder Singh (Shahid Kapoor). His girl’s Ayat (Sonam Kapoor). Lovely name. You’d imagine their religion is perhaps the conflict of this romance. It’s not. Don’t even ask what is. Yet.
He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t womanise. In the real world, such a man would be dangerous! In the pictures, he makes for the ideal Rajshri Prem-type Bollywood hero. She, on the other hand, rarely talks, radiantly smiles, shyly whispers.
It’s been seven years since they caught each other’s eyes. He keeps her autograph and picture in his wallet. They randomly bump into each other in Scotland. Sitting in a café, they read minds, make unspoken conversations in their heads: “Are you married?” he asks her, in his head. “Why'd you think so?” she replies, in her head. “Thought you'd have had five to six kids already.” She laughs, for real. Both are single. Get me the Pringle. Because, there you go, they disappear again. He’s off to war. She’s, as usual, still placing a call from circular dials of her Bakelite phone, writing letters, tracing those eyes to somehow lock hers with.
This goes on for a decade, and more. Shahid Kapur gets to play the Bollywood superstar he shares the first four letters of his name with, as well as Tom Cruise from Top Gun. He ages well. Wish you could say that for his viewers. Between Swiss Alps, Scotland and Punjab, they witness a ball-room dance performance squeezed in somewhere, a Mozart concert elswhere, desi beats, and of course, the air force sorties.
Political events in the interim form the picture’s backdrop: from Babri Masjid, terrorism in Kashmir, through Kargil, to 9/11, and Gujarat riots. Each, in their own ways, affects the characters. You figure, this film, floating over a sea of nothingness, is undone by its aspirations alone. That ambition being? A Gone With The Wind, a Dr Zhivago, or a Cassablanca, you suppose. You can only suppose: an epic romance through passage of time and history. Crores have been pumped into the director’s convictions. Setting out with a script with better drama, leave aside a plot, could’ve helped its scale more.
Meanwhile, misunderstandings between missing couple multiply. Their cellphone numbers, addresses change. By now we’re in 2002. It’s about time, people. For God’s sake. Get yourself an email id. Seriously.