London, Paris ,New York: A Review
London Paris New York – Dir: Anu Menon; *ing: Ali Zafar, Aditi Rao Hydari
When Nikhil Met Lalitha
Ali Zafar’s quest for Bollywood greatness has been an astute one thus far: start with a low-budget but newsworthy (and cleverly made) indie (Tere Bin Laden), follow up with a flashy (and well played) supporting part in a big-budget, high-profile extravaganza (Mere Brother Ki Dulhan) and then work your way to the lead role in an atypical romantic comedy (LPNY here). As a strategy, it’s a sound one and has already helped the actor gain a foothold and also win valuable support from within the industry, and should yield the desired results eventually, even though, as it turns out, this latest may be a major step but also a slight hiccough in the plan. Not that the onus of LPNY’s less-than-stellar quality lies with either Zafar or co-star Hydari. But more on that later.
The template for the film is most obviously Julie Delpy-Ethan Hawke cult fav Before Sunrise, but with bits of When Harry Met Sally, Serendipity, and 500 Days Of Summer also thrown in for good measure. So here we have cocky, charming rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold Nikhil Chopra (Zafar) and pretty, sensible babe-in-the-woods Lalitha Krishnan (Hydari) who meet cute at Heathrow and hang out together for the next one day, sightseeing, having long conversations, flirting tentatively (her) and aggressively (him), singing and dancing in a church and eventually sharing a goodbye kiss as she departs for college in New York and he stays behind, with a promise to visit in six months which never materializes. When they meet two years later in Paris, both are changed people; he is mellower and goateed (as all aspiring filmmakers, it seems, must be at some point), while she is wizened and mini-skirted. Sparks fly again and they paint the town rouge, but misunderstandings lead to another separation, this time a rather less amicable one. Fast forward five years and we come to the final stop in our itinerary, the Big Apple, where he is premiering his first film and she is a day away from walking down the aisle. And if you don’t know what comes next then you are obviously a movie neanderthal.
This is, of course, not the first time that a Hindi film has looked Westward for inspiration (and, presumably, not the last time either), and the fact of it being a re-hash should not in itself be a put-off, and neither should the ostensibly risky prospect of the leading man also being put in charge of the film’s music (not surprisingly, he acquits himself nicely as both composer and singer, natch, with some truly sweet melodies). One can even, without much trouble, work around the notion of the film serving, rather like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara before it, as a bit of a travel brochure. What cannot be brushed under the proverbial rug, however, is first-timer Menon’s crushingly pedestrian direction. Under her auto-pilot helming, the cinematographer, the editor and, crucially, the actors flail and are forced to rely entirely on themselves. Result: an uneven work with competent but uninspired camerawork and montage scheme, and two lead players who, quite plainly left to their own devices, do the best they can but are clearly in need of a director who, curiously and unforgivably, seems to have absented herself. And it’s a damn shame too, for LPNY could so easily have been another Jab We Met; the story and script (co-written by Menon) is not without a generous dollop of frothy fun, and Zafar and Hydari share great chemistry, you root for them as a couple.
The good news is that despite LPNY’s faults, one doesn’t see it causing much of a dent in Ali Zafar’s cinematic aspirations, the boy has talent and presence aplenty and that’ll take him far; it’s taken him to Mumbai already, the three titular cities are a mere hop, skip and jump further.
Cult: Jab We Met – Even director Imtiaz Ali himself is yet to better the charm of this Shahid-Kareena starrer.
Current: Ek Main Aur Ek Tu – Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor play the ‘opposites attract’ card to varying degrees of success.