Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

January 27, 2007

Love’s labour lost

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:30 pm

January 27, 2007

Cast: Salman Khan, Priyanka Chopra, John Abraham, Vidya Balan, Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Akshaye Khanna, Ayesha Takia, Govinda, Shannon Esrechowitz, Sohail Khan, Eesha Koppikar

Director: Nikhil Advani

What’s common between a 40-year-old NRI in London, an ambitious Bollywood item girl, a 20-something about-to-be-married yuppie, a Delhi taxi-wala, and a television news producer in Mumbai? Well, the fact that they’re all facing love problems. And that, my friends is pretty much the conflict at the heart of director Nikhil Advani’s ambitious new film Salaam-e-Ishq.

Like Richard Curtis’ snappy-yet-shmaltzy Love Actually, Advani’s film also promises a bunch of stories interwoven with each other at some point in the narrative. Salaam-e-Ishq puts the spotlight on six couples in different parts of the world and in different stages of their lives, each trying the resolve the predicament that love has put them in.

But the one single problem that plagues this film is the fact that it’s just too long. And one of the big reasons for that is that Advani spends too much time setting up each story. If he trusts the audience to be intelligent enough to accept this new narrative style, then perhaps the director should trust us enough to interpret each couple’s back-story, instead of spoon-feeding us with elaborate set-up scenes. Why spend so much time establishing Govinda’s character? Why go into so many pointless scenes explaining Anil Kapoor’s mid-life crisis?

Look closely and you’ll notice that the entire first half of the film is as hollow as a drinking straw. Nothing at all happens in the first hour and a half, in fact the director’s spent all that time just introducing us to his characters.

In the second half, Advani gets all indulgent. The scenes with Akshaye Khanna reflecting back on his relationship with Ayesha Takia, the scenes with Anil Kapoor contemplating a choice between his marriage and his new girlfriend – they’re way too long and quite unnecessary.

Now since Love Actually is the basic reference point for this film, remember that film covered much of the same ground, spanning just as many love stories, all in two hours. Salaam-e-Ishq, meanwhile, unfolds over three and a half long hours.

As is the case with almost all films, you can trace most of Salaam-e-Ishq‘s weaknesses back to its script. From adultery and commitment phobia to inter-racial romance, even a Hindu-Muslim angle thrown in — the writers try to pack in way too much all at once.

As a result, what happens is that there’s not enough time to soak in what you’ve just seen and to respond accordingly. The film switches so fast from one track to the next that you really can’t absorb and empathise with the characters. You want to shed a tear for John Abraham because he’s become a stranger to his wife. You want to reach out to Juhi Chawla and tell her it’s going to be okay. But barely do you utter these words, that you’ve been abruptly transported into the next story, and then the next, and the next and the next.

Of the six individual tracks, I’m going to say the weakest of the lot is the Salman Khan–Priyanka story which sets off as a spoof but loses its direction somewhere along the way. As an item girl who’ll do anything to land her first speaking part, Priyanka hams it up, and how! It doesn’t help that Salman Khan seems to be doing pretty much what he wants and how he wants. Carelessly written, that track comes down like a house of cards because it fails to find its groove.

Other inconsistencies include the whole premise of Vidya Balan’s memory loss, also that entire scene in Lahore which suggests that John’s proposal to Vidya was televised and filmed live on a news channel, even Anjana Sukhani’s insta-attraction to Anil Kapoor.

Now having listed all its flaws, it’s only fair to admit that there are several moments in this film that are pure genius. Like Sohail Khan and Isha Koppikar’s track, which if you ask me, is the most hilarious of the film’s six tracks. As the just-married Punjabi couple struggling to consummate their marriage, Sohail and Isha are top class, and it’s a pity their story doesn’t get as much screen time as the others.

Also commendable is the manner in which Advani wraps up John and Vidya’s track, suggesting that their love story really starts where the film ends. But my favourite of the six love stories in Salaam-e-Ishq is Govinda and Shannon Esra’s.

Advani gives us some beautiful moments between the couple who’re at sea trying to communicate with each other in a language the other doesn’t follow.

Salaam-e-Ishq is not a bad film, it’s really not. Apart from its daunting length and those holes in the script, there’s much to enjoy in Advani’s film. For one, John and Vidya’s track is heartwarming and beautiful, and has some lovely moments that will leave you with a lump in your throat. Akshaye Khanna as the groom-to-be who gets cold feet at the eleventh hour delivers a commendable performance, as does Anil Kapoor who plays a man who’s getting naughty at forty. The young lady he gets naughty with — Anjana Sukhani is a fabulous find who plays her role so convincingly, you’re ready to get naughty with her yourself.

It’s to the director’s credit that he ties up all stories competently, leaving nothing incomplete and with no character feeling cheated.

Because we don’t have a rating in between two and three to signify an above-average film, I’m going to go with two out of five for director Nikhil Advani’s Salaam-e-Ishq.

Go watch it because they’ve already lopped off some 15 minutes of the film, and watch it because it’s got good music, a battery of top stars, and moments that will make you laugh and cry. No film is perfect, and Salaam-e-Ishq is no exception. But entertainment it delivers in reasonable doses.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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