Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

"It's one of those Karan Johan films where I leave feeling sorry for Karan Johar," said a friend on twitter (whose account is private, so I can't link you to it). If My Name Is Khan was an angst-gasm over cultural identity and Student of the Year over sexuality, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is one over un-mirrored love. I don't know if I'm supposed to be moved by Ayan's (Ranbir Kapoor, who is very good, as he should be, given his experience with the aspects of this role) years of pining for Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) or just sort of intellectually appreciate his devotion, but it's exhausting. There's some empathy in that exhaustion (we've all been there, no?) but it's a tricky subject to do much with because it is fundamentally kind of boring and unchanging. It's also hard to share—as a cameo character says later in the film, it's a selfish kind of thing that only the lover him/herself can participate in—and thus maybe the kind of subject better left to a mini-series, when you can have a break in between episodes of suffering.

What gets lost in the ├╝ber-gloss of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is an important, maybe Imtiaz-Ali-ish response from the unrequited love's object: this is the love that I have for you, and you cannot change it. Alizeh repeatedly tells Ayan "I do love you! Just not the way you want me to." Saba (Aishwarya Rai) has a line like this as well to her ex-husband: when he says she gave up on their love, she responds with something like "And you're not even trying my friendship." You might think your object is not being fully honest with themselves (this is what eventually happens with Saba, after all), and you might hope that their emotions change over time, but what you are offered is all that there is. You don't have to take it, but you can't change it.

I actually don't know quite what to make of how the film ends, but it's possible to read Ayan and Alizeh's final interactions as him having learned to accept what she is able to give and be happy with it while also being honest to his own feelings and character. They both have had tantrums, he says, but they both are able to pull themselves together and be better than that.

Related, there's a quiet point about the human tendency not to change our basic natures. When the character of Ali is first mentioned, he's described as having behaved in certain ways with certain effects, and so he continues through the rest of the film. The only change comes in Alizeh's reactions to him. This feels to me like a very personal statement from KJo, whether he's speaking professionally or personally. You can't change other people; you can only control your own responses. If you're unhappy with someone, your freedom will probably only come in trying to change what you do in response.

While I was watching the film, I couldn't quite put my finger on what was bothering me about Alizeh. Here and there, Anushka seems a little over-done, maybe too studied, but not enough to ruin anything. And anyway Alizeh is a somewhat closed-off person, so her temperamentalness and snits could reasonably result from sudden panics of her inner fortress being breached. Alizeh is dangerously close to MPDG at times, but she gets enough independent personality and arc that in the end that label would be unfair. Then I read this excellent piece by Piyasree Dasgupta and I realized: she's mean, and she is written so that she is established as "good," empathetic, and desirable in comparison to another woman who is "bad." She publicly shits on Lisa for being a gold-digger while knowing absolutely nothing about her. As Dasgupta says, "But Ayan and Alizeh's friendship doesn't ebb. You know why? Real bros bond over objectifying, sexualising, and then saying nasty things about women." Alizeh continues to benefit from Ayan's money in exactly the way Lisa was demonized for doing. This is a very regressive way to write women. She eventually invites him to her wedding even though she knows—or would know, if she would stop to consider the feelings of the person she calls her best-est-est-est friend—for days of public pain because apparently she has no other friends who will come from "her side." Life lesson: be wary of adults who have no other friends.

I have long considered myself an Aishwarya apologist, but what she does in this film is modeling, not acting, and I have to put that on KJo because I know she's capable of more. We saw more of that ring she constantly contorts to display than we did of Saba's personality. I like the idea of a super-confident "older" woman setting terms of a friendly, sexual affair, and I think it makes good sense in this story, but there's no actual desire from her. (One exception, and it's fleeting but telling: in "Bulleya," as they walk away from each other, she looks back twice and he does not at all.) Ranbir does well at being agog in her presence, and we can understand that a devastated person may throw themselves into any interaction in which they are invited just to feel some kind of human connection. But she's so plastic, down to the too-regularly spaced fake eyelashes.

Something I never thought I'd do is issue Karan Johar a yellow card for mis-use of exceptionally charismatic and handsome men. Only two films old, we can hardly say that Fawad Khan has a type in Hindi films already, but "tattooed asshole DJ" just feels off. Maybe if he'd had more dialogues and interactions? I think the character of Ali is written well and used effectively—I don't want any more of Ali for story-related reasons (to gaze upon Fawad, sure)— but he should have been played by someone else who could more instantly express "super magnetic bad boy." Ranveer, maybe (like in Finding Fanny)? KJo's world does in fact have more than facades in it, so "really hot" isn't enough to actually drive emotions or decisions, as is demonstrated effectively in the beginning of the film with Lisa Haydon's and Imran Abbas's characters.

KJo also failed to direct SRK in his cameo, so much so that the superstar seems to have been transplanted from an entirely different project. The "nobility and strength of unrequited love" dialogue he is given is exceptionally facile, in a weird contrast to the lugubrious lines of Saba the poet and the much more normal-sounding speech of the younger, less guileful Ayan. If that dialogue was necessary, SRK, echoing back to his Darr stalking days, was the perfect person to embody it, but the lines and the performance of them feel so shoehorned here. The awkwardness of the situation makes sense, but the lecture does not.

But how interesting is it that KJo's famous romantic lead is now the oldest character in the film to have any spoken lines and has become the patriarch! Here he seems almost as antiquated as Amitabh in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham—my god, that's a terrible fate.

The one thing the leads of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil love without complications, and which loves them in return, is Hindi cinema past and present. I have a fairly high threshold for in-jokes like this, and in fact watching Ranbir romp on a hillside in two sweaters like a deranged meta-Kapoor and Anushka give voice to what every chiffon-clad-in-Switzerland heroine has surely thought, is very satisfying. But it goes a little too far. In his review for Mint, Uday Bhatia says "[KJo's celebration of his own career] is beyond just self-referential—it’s self-reverential. Maybe that’s the answer to the film’s dilemma: when the object of your affection doesn’t reciprocate, you simply learn to love yourself." And isn't that basically the advice everyone gives you when you've been rejected romantically? "No one else will love you until you learn to love yourself." Of course, plenty of people, audience and industry alike, love KJo, or at least claim to, and he enjoys a unique position of power and influence, so why he felt he needed to make such an endless movie about this topic, I do not know.

End result? Ae dil hai meh.

Comments

Mahesh Jagdale said…
Powerful performances by Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma. A typical Karan Johar movie but with a modern touch to it. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan looked stunning. It's definitely worth a watch. Hear is more in depth review of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil which I found
Amile said…
For the last 10 years KJo has done nothing noteworthy in cinema and this latest effort is painful to watch. Ranbir Kapoor is playing the usual spoilt little rich brat in 30 yr old body: cringeworthy and painful. SRK is totaly out of sync: his "cameo" seemsto come out of some of his worst movies: overacted and painful. AR is pretty but cannot act to save her life but oh so beautiful and pretty and therefore painful to watch. As for the story: what story? Young rich adults jeting through Europe doing what? Still trying to figure it out! KJo and SRK both have remained in the K3G period and don't seem to realize that indian cinema has moved beyond masala movies tovards a more modern realistic but still widely entertaining cinema:just see Kapoor& sons!
Anyway I do agree in full with your review! Thank you for putting in words how I felt while watching this disaster of a movie! Painful experience indeed!