Monday, April 21, 2008

Ajay, Kajol aur The Notebook...

Making the transition from actor to director is no piece of cake. Not to mention when your name is Ajay Devgan, and your predecessor is a certain Aamir Khan who set soaring expectations post-Taare Zameen Par from any future wannabe actor/director. Except for one thing...

Comparing TZP with U, Me Aur Hum would be like comparing Gandhi: My Father with Race. Two completely different films geared at entirely alag audiences. So while critics galore are beginning their reviews of U, Me Aur Hum by placing Ajay alongside Aamir in a "whose debut is better" contest, I simply begin by warning you that there is nothing at hand that merits such a comparison.

Instead, what you can compare Ajay's work to is those breezy-turned-dramatic romances of the 90's that are now a rare sight. Rather than going into the story, which is by now widely known via the wonder known as the Internet, I will simply say that Ajay's film is a bit of The Notebook blended with a little of Mann (Aamir Khan, Manisha Koirala) and even a touch of A Beautiful Mind.

And so the audience is initially introduced to the lead characters on a cruise ship, sadly a flashback that is so torturous that you wonder if Ajay's film will sink faster than the Titanic. Essentially through 45 minutes of 90's antics and overacting (one wonders what the selection criteria was when casting Ajay's dimwit sidekicks), you sit there in shock, wondering how this can possibly be an accomplished actor's directorial debut.

Cut to the post-ship portions, and suddenly you have a whole new film on your hands. The story chooses to pick up where most other films leave off...what about those people who don't get their happy endings? For once, we see a take on marriage from the perspective of something so common and yet rarely talked about - disease.

"In sickness and in health" go the vows, regardless of anyone's religion or race. Ajay's film becomes a testament to the true meaning of those words and how far most couples will go to live up to the promise they made.

His film spans about 2 hours 30 minutes, and it really is a shame that he wasted nearly 45 minutes on that dreadful ship. While there are some clever details inserted into those introductory moments - little nuances to Kajol's character Pia that the attentive viewer may recall later on - the whole meeting on a cruise/falling in love/parting ways has been done to death. Not to mention the fact that Ajay's humor is silly, to say the least, and he himself is a far cry from being the 'suave' individual he wishes to portray.

What does work is the electrifying chemistry between husband/wife, ever apparent in every frame the two share. Every look, every embrace, every tear seems heartfelt, thus making this one of the most endearing on-screen romances in a long time, as well as saving the film entirely.

And so you have Ajay's unfaltering love for his wife, most convincing when the actor resorts to his tragic best in the second half, and you have Kajol's sheer brilliance. The likes of Preity Zinta, Kareena Kapoor, etc. would do well to watch and study her performance, as it more or less defines the art of natural acting. People may say she's married, finished, retired or whatever you will, but if there is one thing Kajol does prove, it is that almost no modern-day actress has an inch on her.

Sadly, the supporting cast is no more than a pack of buffoons. They all go entirely over the top, save for Sumeet Raghavan as Ajay's best friend, who improves significantly in the latter portions. Isha Sharvani is around to show some skin and flex her body, while Karan Khanna, as her boyfriend, suffers from a serious Zayed Khan hangover. Which, in turn, begs the question: Who actually wants to be like Zayed Khan?

The music, too, leaves a lot to be desired. Those insipid English lyrics that are now commonplace in Hindi songs ruin the proceedings, although Jee Le manages to register somewhat of an impact. Mercifully they are all shot very well, saving some of the headache.

Speaking of which, as a director, Ajay has an eye for interesting shot techniques. His cinematographer does not let him down in the slightest bit, even if some of the hatke angles do verge on overkill. What Ajay also has is the gift of how to weave together scenes from past to present. We can forgive him (ok, we can almost forgive him) the cruise sequences for the incredible manner in which he narrates incidents during Kajol's disease. They are disturbing and poignant, never resorting to the melodrama often associated with showing mental illness in Hindi films.

Overall? While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, nor is it anything path-breaking by any means, U, Me Aur Hum is a nice film. It's a film about hope, it's a film about love, and above all it's a film about commitment. If you can get through the lengthy and mostly unnecessary first half, a pleasant surprise awaits in the second.