ADHM comes with a load of unwarranted and unwanted baggage, caught in the political maelstrom between two countries which has engulfed not only art and expression but a whole region of a people, intent on myopia instead of repair. And Karan Johar, intent on salvaging the release of his film, satiates the appetites of the hungry by surrendering to the mob of hatemongers, tarring everyone by the same brush. Perhaps, I would have done the same, had I had 80 crore riding on my film.
Karan Johar burst on to the scene some 19 years ago with what must remain his best film to date, Kuch Kuch Hota hai following which a brand was established. Characters inhabiting a different world, private jets, sports cars, set in exotic locations, whether it’s New York, London or Vienna, all wrapped up nicely in candyfloss, replete with magnificent sound and vision. Johar’s films follow a familiar path and ADHM is no exception.
The film opens impressively. Ayan Sanger (Ranbir Kapoor) is being interviewed and the camera focusses its lens entirely on him. Nothing clutters the frame and it’s left to Ranbir to hold the audience, raising the spectre of ADHM possibly being earthy and grounded, unfettered by the overload of romanticism that permeates each of Johar’s past vehicles. It wasn’t to be.
We move back in time. Ayan sets eyes on a sassy Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) sashaying away on her own in a nightclub. The two meet, drink, bar hop and end up attempting a quick romp in the haystack which peters out almost instantaneously. He’s into huggies and she doesn’t stop talking… Still, for some unfathomable reason (she’s engaged, he has a girlfriend, she’s bursting with life, he’s an introvert), this pair of misfits embark on a friendship. Ayan is “private jet” rich, she is “raees”. He was abandoned by his mother at 2 and is pursuing an MBA at the behest of his father; She on the other hand was the fourth child in a family of four from Lucknow (originally meant to be Pakistan), now recovering from her obsession for a philandering ex-love (Fawad Khan) and currently betrothed to an insipid paramour chosen by her parents. That sums up the extent of our damaged protagonists and we never delve further into their supposedly fractured lives, leaving KJ oodles of time to pastiche bollywood of the 70s and some of his earlier films. We’ve seen this brand of KJ humour before and it’s a little laboured now. . Knock Knock Mr Johar, it’s been 19 years since KKHH and ten years since “blackbeast” in KANH… time to move on?
Realising that she’s dealing more adolescent than adult, Alizeh plumps for a friendship but Ayan wants more. Yes sir, that’s called “unrequited love” according to KJ although it feels much more like “unrequited lust”. She marries her philandering ex-love and he ends up with slinky divorcee Saba (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), a poetess who purrs like Dr No’s cat and paws at Ayan in what is clearly unbridled lust. But our failed poetess falls prey to the “unrequited love” syndrome and the cycle of rejection continues until a ludicrous finale which made me think of the Dan Ackroyd’s “Coneheads” for reasons that will become apparent should you should choose to endure this film.
The central theme of “unrequited love” that KJ has so proudly personalised as his own is a self-indulgent ode to Karan Johar himself. An antithesis to the iconic KKHH, ADHM is not meant to be Archie and Jughead stuff but ostensibly a theme which resonates deeply within KJ. It is therefore a double tragedy that KJ shows little sign of maturity, still serving up sugar syrup and candy floss. His merry-go-round of characters are mere cardboard cut-outs, pawns in KJ’s fantastical retelling of his own feelings of rejection, pasted into a scrap book in two dimensional form, against a storyboard difficult to relate to. You crave realism rather than the superficial frivolity that he has perfected. It’s all “designer passion” or “designer pain”.
Anushka Sharma plays her Alizeh with a great deal of spunk, not unlike “Geet” from “Jab we Met” but without the charm or humour that Imtiaz Ali invested in that character. It’s all a little too feisty and frankly a little tedious but it’s the role and not Anushka, who can bring a spark to even the mundane. Ranbir is an arresting actor, often lost in a product which does not justify his presence. He plays Ayan with a vulnerability that suggests a much greater depth to the character than what we are finally exposed to. There is certainly more than a nod to Tamasha here, both roles having much in common, Tamasha being the more worthy vehicle. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan matches lipsticks with blouses and shoes but has little else to do, a blessing in disguise. For all the brouhaha about Fawad khan, he has all of three minutes in the film, a possible casualty of the current jingoism currently the favourite dish of the sub-continent. Having said that, he does have the best scene in the film along with Ranbir. As for Pritam, apart from the title track, it’s a pedestrian score.
Ultimately, ADHM is as superficial as it is farcical, a mishmash of several films all rolled into one flat soufflé that neither engages nor rises above the ordinary. Ae dil hai mushkil indeed!
Written by Faiz Khan- a lawyer by profession and a cinema enthusiast by night.