Before starting to write this review of the tragically spelling-challenged I Hate Luv Storys (more on that later, believe it or not), I thought I’d go back and read my take on the last Imran Khan movie to take a panga with Rom-Com stereotypes and attempt to say something new with something old. While Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na ended up being a slick, well-written pastiche of Bollywood romances, I Hate Luv Storys* seems to be a dish made of the same ingredients, but by a different chef.
*(Always have to make sure I get that spelling right — er, I mean wrong)
(But more on that later…)
Any plot synopsis of IHLS is bound to seem like deja vu, and for a movie that is all about cliched Bollywood love stories, this is to be expected. Boy meets girl, girl loves dreamy but bland other guy, banter, fights, misunderstanding, bonding, airport climax, etc etc. You know the drill by now.
And thankfully, so do the filmmakers, for the most part. From start to finish, IHLS is a relentless skewering of genre tropes, both in the love story between its protagonists and the cheesy romantic Bollywood movie they are working on. It’s played right on the nose, with thinly-veiled caricatures of producer Karan Johar and romantic superstar Shah Rukh Khan (or at least, thinly-veiled caricatures of what people like to think they are). It’s funny enough to pass muster, but as Karan Johar has been milking this very KJo-centric lampooning for nearly a decade now, this is the last movie where it will be okay.
When the movie tries to be more subversive with its humour, it truly catches your attention, and seems to be going somewhere. Director Punit Malhotra has a knack for non sequiturs and sight gags, and the less filmi the movie gets the better the humour plays. Alas, these moments and sequences are few, and in between there is the heavy-handed deluge of drippy Bollywood romance that the movie tries to convince us is something real. In this aspect it fails; IHLS never seems to trust itself enough to let its own self-aware characters be real people, nor does it let them go with the surreality of their world (as it often does, successfully, in the comedy).
As expected from any Dharma production, the film is slick and glossy, with cinematographer Ayananka Bose bringing his trademark deep warm shadows and hot pink highlights to everything. It’s overproduced, of course, with three camera angles to everything when one would have sufficed (and even added impact) but this is a symptom of Bollywood at large.
There are also more t-shirts with hip graphics and slogans than any Dharma production to date(!), and if you made a drinking game out f it you wouldn’t be conscious come the intermission. The music by Vishal & Shekhar is catchy and memorable, which in the many montage sequences sometimes helps you to overlook the fact that you’re watching yet another montage sequence of two people bonding over work and mischief and endless cups of chai.
It’s one thing to spot direct homages to shots from romcoms in the movie-within-the-movie, but when they start showing up in the ‘real life’ bits it seems odd that even the filmi bag of tricks can’t seem to conjure up new ways for people to fall in love. That’s probably the point of the movie, that not only art imitates life, but that your life will eventually get a Bollywood makeover, and you’ll luv it, dammit! Still, as lessons go it rings a bit hollow.
There’s one truly good performance in IHLS, and that belongs to comic relief Shah Rukh Khan caricature Rajiv (Aamir Ali). Faux-KJo-meets-Sanjay-Leela-Bhansali Samir Soni is also entertaining, but sometimes seems straight out of a Madhur Bhandarkar exposé movie (hey, wait, maybe this is the ultimate movie in-joke!).
The lead pair are serviceable but somehow less than convincing, and this has as much to do with how the scenes are directed as their acting. Imran Khan plays J (no relation to Hrithik’s character from Kites, alas) with comfort but little vigour. He goes through the motions of the bratty urbane Punjabi munda type that is always the hero in these things, but come time for his conversion at the temple of Bollywood love, even he seems uninterested as he, shirtless, serenades his heroine on a beach and assorted Foreign Location vistas.
Sonam Kapoor is melancholy and filmi from start to finish — there’s a brief pre-intermission scene where you think the character is going to shrug off this affectation and the real movie is about to begin, but it resets fairly quickly once you’re back in your seats.
I can imagine all of these scenes, with much the same dialogue, working quite well, but it always seems like the director was standing over their shoulder with a large stick that says BOLLYWOOD on it (and Karan Johar was chuckling in the background at how awesome it was that he was totally making fun of himself — but not really).
I didn’t hate I Hate Luv Storys, nor did I love it (or, for that matter, Luv it). The end result is a mostly above-average cliche romcom experience, albeit with a lot of padding, and the unfulfilled promise of something truly groundbreaking.
I was entertained, if not satisfied.
(A quick note about spelling, as foreshadowed in the opening paragraph: While the subtitles are actually credited at the end, obviously a spell-checker or a proofreader were not a part of the team. Beyond the typically mediocre writing of the subs, people in the movie were always ‘loosing’ things and they ‘dint’ know where they went.)
(But wait! Maybe this was also an in-joke — it is called I hate Luv Storys, after all).