Your hopes that these are just subtle references, inside jokes, are shrunk as the leading man displays the same goofiness, hat and all, that his grandfather Raj Kapoor adapted from Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp. Then somewhere down the film, Sonam and Ranbir enact the RK logo complete with the rain and umbrella (original with Nargis in Raj Kapoor’s arms). When an entire film is a homage, you wonder whether the limits of self-indulgence by a filmmaker have been challenged. When not making references to the Kapoor khandaan , and assaulting the audience with a song ever ten minutes, Bhansali outdoes himself. He also includes nods to his own films -- the romance, for example, is at first sight like in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam; also is the smitten hero setting out to find the man the girl is in love with (again HDDCS, in both cases, the other man is Salman Khan); the piano’s there from Khamoshi; the abrupt snowfall reminds you of Black; and then there’s the always-present comparison of the heroine’s beauty to the chaand (HDDCS, Devdas). Even the golden-hearted prostitute in love with the hero, who’s pining for someone else, is reminiscent of Devdas. You feel almost left out in this self-sufficient Bhansali-Kapoor family as they go about celebrating and acknowledging each other’s achievements through this film, making you feel like an intruder who’s crashing into their private party.
The lack of subtlety is alarming, for being melodramatic and magnanimous in sets and costumes need not percolate down to brazenness when it comes to spoofs and tidbit tributes. You want an example? In one scene, Ranbir Raj (is it possible to ever get used to this name?) climbs atop a table at a café and shouts ` Kya Tumne Kisi Se Pyaar Kiya; Kya Tumne Kisi Ko Dil Diya?’ You don’t know what happens next because your head is burrowed into your hands and your eyes are closed, while hoping that you’re having a bizarre nightmare.
As for the sets, you see a huge statue of Buddha, a Mona Lisa draped in Indian finery and a zillion other backdrops in one single song. The director’s gone a bit over with his stubbornness of trying to elicit a wide-eyed `wow’ for every frame from the tired viewer. There’s a scene where the two lead characters open a window atop a tall building, and Sakina (Sonam Kapoor) exclaims at the supposedly breathtaking view – it looks straight out of an animation film, that unreal, complete with a chugging toy train. But she’s impressed and so is Bhansali, it seems, with his excessiveness, which ends being distracting and suffocating. In fact, the one prop that needed to stand out – the bridge, that’s almost as pivotal as a standalone character in the film, could’ve done with more imagination. Here, it looks small and inconsequential.
Yes, otherwise, the sets in the film are interesting (Omung Kumar, Black); you do enjoy the lake- roads in the middle of nowhere, and the drenched-in-blue light. But who cares? You don’t bother two hoots about the lead characters who display impressive screen presence and charm, and you end up liking them despite their undecipherable character sketches. The abnormal, effortful, beauty in the film is blinding, but as your eyes get adjusted to it, you begin looking for more, like a cohesive story and interesting characters, perhaps even a plot, or a point. Don’t expect any complexity in the film (has the filmmaker confused mystery and unexplained, unanswered questions in the story for being an interpretative script?). This is a quadrangle love story that unfolds over a few days, and the romance remains at its simplest level. It reminds you of Moulin Rouge (Bhansali has even borrowed the windmill in the background), which was overwhelming in its opulence but retained a simplistic definition of love. But we’re talking different leagues here.
Bhansali’s world is an enchanted one, straight out of his imagination, where festive lights are always on, the women are demure and story-book feminine and the men are good-at-heart gentlemen; where songs and dances can be broken into at any given time, and where voices and laughter echo. It’s commendable for a filmmaker to portray this dream-like world, not bound by reality, onto screen and this effort would’ve worked too, if only Bhansali hadn’t tried so hard.
So while Ranbir charms the socks off old and bitter landlady (Zohra Sehgal, always a pleasure), such that she adopts him as her own son, he begins calling her Lillypop. In no time, he meets and falls in love with Sakina, who is in love with someone else (Iman, Salman Khan). Ranbir’s character mouths dialogues so sweet, you’d grate otherwise, but he, with his floppy hair and earnest puppy- dog eyes pulls it off. Plus he adds the masala when he prances around in a barely-there towel. It’s truly one of the highlights of the film, butt manages to salvage it only while it lasts. Since you’re not supposed to question in a Bhansali film, I suppose it would be pointless to wonder how Ranbir speaks in a Hindi-English college slang combo (I love you Baaby; party sharty) while Sakina speaks in chaste Urdu-laced Hindi. The film reminds one of Gajagamini and Meenaxi for their dabbling in the surreal and even Mera Naam Joker, for similarities in Ranbir’s character.
Rani Mukherj plays the yawning cliché of a prostitute with a golden heart, who occasionally breaks into a silly song and keeps saying `I likes’ till you want to scream that you certainly don’t likes.
Sakina lives with her two aunts, one played to perfection by Begum Para. It’s a strange world, where her aunt, for fear of losing her, keeps her tied with a safety pin. The ambience is perfect with accents and andaaz all convincing pulling you into Sakina’s world. As for Sonam Kapoor, her beauty is exquisite and she is all grace-- right from her mile-long neck, guileless eyes, to her fluid movements. She is such an extreme departure from the poker- straight haired, fitted-into-jeans-a-size-too-small, assembly line heroine onscreen today, you just cannot help take to her instantly.
The chemistry between Ranbir and Sonam is the stuff unforgettable screen pairings are made of. There’s no visible effort in the natural warmth of their interactions and some scenes like the one where they dodge puddles together exploits this remarkable chemistry, full of friendship, child-like romance, fun and a bit of confusion.
Of all the songs Diwana Hua, Saawariya, Masha Allah and the qawwali Dekho Chaand Aaya are outstanding. Technically, this film is impressive (Ravi Chandran for cinematography; sound by Resul Pookutty). Costumes by Anuradha Vakil are extraordinarily beautiful.
Wrapping it succinctly – if you’re willing enough to forgive the film’s overindulgent tenor, the songs, costumes, and most prominently, the lead actors Ranbir and Sonam are just about paisa vasool for your ticket money. You’ll be safe not to expect anything more.