Sunday, January 28, 2007

Salaam-e-Ishq - A Tribute to Love Sans Emotion

The problems with Nikhil Advani's Salaam-e-Ishq are many. A one-line concept that looks good on paper (which also worked in an earlier English film - Love Actually) goes terribly wrong thanks to inept and shallow writing. A well-intentioned idea gets crushed to smithereens under the weight of its own gargantuan ambition. A director so completely besotted by his own much applauded first film goes overboard with the devices that worked in his earlier film (Kal Ho Na Ho) - try counting the number of times the device of split screens is used in this flick. The problem is - what worked fabulously in Kal Ho Na Ho were the emotional excesses of the Karan Johar school of film-making, but here, 'emotion' doesn't quite grace us with its appearance on the screen - no, not even cursorily. The writer/ director gives us 'six relationships with one common problem - love', but where is the intensity, where is the depth, where is the 'emotion'? A 'tribute to love' sans emotion? And one that goes on and on and on...... Nah, it just cannot work!

In the last couple of years, the concept of a portmanteau film (a film consisting of several different short films, often tied together by only a single theme or premise) has caught up in a big way. I'm not sure about when it really started, but I think it was Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction that started the trend. Yes, In India Hrishikesh Mukherji experimented with this format way back in the 50s with Musafir and Satyajit Rai with Teen Kanya, but they were precisely that - experiments. It was Pulp Fiction - and the cult status it achieved - that probably set the stage for a wider adoption of this kind of narrative structure at a global level. The most celebrated example being Alejandro González Iñárritu's trilogy - Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel. Then we have Paul Haggis' hugely controversial Academy Award winner, Crash, and of course Love Actually. Closer home, we've seen this format in Mani Ratnam's Yuva and Ram Gopal Varma's assembly line products - Darna Mana Hai and Darna Zaroori Hai.

In my opinion, the basic requirement for a portmanteau film to work is that not only should each individual story be 'complete', it should - in some way or the other - follow the graph of the traditional three-act structure (screen writing guru, Syd Field's Paradigm). That's the real reason why Salaam-e-Ishq didn't work for me. None of the stories had any depth or a rollercoaster ride of emotional ups and downs one expects in mainstream Hindi cinema. Also, the linkage between some of the stories seemed tenuous and very forced. It's not clear what Salman Khan is doing at Ayesha Takia's wedding. If he was required to be present at the wedding scene for a neat wrap-up, why not conjure a few more coincidences and bring the other two couples also to the wedding? That would be neater.

But yes, some of the stories did have a lot of promise. For one, the Anil Kapoor-Juhee Chawla story tries to address a very real situation - mid-life crisis, but its journey is so linear that you're left wondering if it was really an issue. Similarly, the problem of commitment in the Akshaye Khanna-Ayesha Takia story is also true to life. If only it was developed a little better. I felt that the more promising stories in this mish-mash were told from the male point of view, which is fine, but it brings down the emotional quotient of these stories because the female characters - Juhee Chawla and Ayesh Takia in particular - have all the depth of a half-filled bath tub. Wasn't this film supposed to be about '12 different lives'?

Now the actors. John Abraham still needs to learn acting, while Vidya Balan is dependable and endearing as ever. Anil Kapoor gets a role written just for him but sometimes overplay the boredom of his character. Since she didn't get a meaty character to portray, Juhee Chawla uses her charming smile and natural acting style to cover up for it. Akshaye Khanna is fine despite going a trifle over-the-top in a few scenes. Ayesha Takia has nothing much to do, but she does remind us that she's the same girl who surprised us with her bravura performance in Dor. Govinda tries to make up for that HUGE mistake called Bhagam Bhag, and succeeds to a large extent.

That brings me the most irritating track of the film (which unpardonably ends up hogging the maximum screen time) - Salman Khan and Priyanka Chopra. The track is irritating mainly because of them. But I must credit them for their consistency. They're consistently BAD all through the film. Priyanka could well be the next queen of hamming - I don't buy the crap that her role (that of an 'item girl') required her to act over-the-top. Somebody should tell her the difference between being flamboyant because the character demands it and downright hamming. If you've seen Rakhi Sawant (who seems to be the inspiration behind this role) in her interviews and Bigg Boss you'll know what I mean. I strongly feel that if Nikhil Advani had taken Rakhi Sawant in this role rather than a bigger star like Priyanka, the story would have worked better. Salman Khan's phony accent is.....well, Shannon Esra's Hindi is less accented than Salman's.

To be fair to the director, he does manage to add some good directorial touches to the film. I particularly liked the use of grey as the predominant color in the Anil Kapoor-Juhee Chawla story as a metaphor for their boring existence, and the bright colors that come into the story with the arrival of the other woman. But will anyone choose to paint their house in varying, depressing shades of grey? That's acceptable cinematic license I would say. But when the film runs almost for 4 hours, it almost feels like the director is trying too hard to give the audience a glimpse of his 'touch' in an endlessly meandering montage of uninspiring sequences.

Maybe Nikhil Advani wants us to sit in the theatre for as long as is humanly possible- pata nahin, kal ho na ho