Let's face it: there's no such thing as a realistic romantic comedy. Even the movies that rule the genre and have legions of fans who can recite all the dialogues and dance all the parts (Jab We Met, Hum Tum, Band Baaja Baaraat, etc) don't exactly make you exclaim: "this could happen in real life!". Relationships work differently in real life and most of them don't do a full 180 when someone bursts out saying "I love you" (if anyone does a full 180, it's usually to run away). And that's fine. Because whether we're watching a traditional love story or a modern day rom-com, the whole point is not to think that it could happen to you, but that it would be so dreamy if it happened to you. And yes, there is a distinction there.
Most romantic comedies take a core idea: opposites attract, long distance relationships, love at first sight, take your pick, and they build around it in a way that should at least ring true. Then the most important part is finding the characters that will fit in this story. Once that's done, the rest of the details are "window-dressing". If you bought the premise and if the protagonists make it come alive for you, you'll overlook a few details here and there that move the plot forward in an artificial way. But as long as the premise makes sense and none of the plot-turning events are too ridiculous, you're likely to enjoy it.
Personally I find myself more susceptible to buy core ideas that I know exist in real life. That's why, for example, you'll see me scoff at the "love at first sight" variety, and embrace the "long distance relationship" angle. I'll find "stalk her until she admits she loves you" creepy, but I will go completely gaga for "friendship turning into love" plots. To each their own. The idea that London Paris New York is based on is among the select few that work for me: I believe there are people you meet sometimes who leave such a strong impression that you will make life-altering decisions because of them long after they stopped being a part of your life. And I believe that you can have such amazing chemistry with someone that no matter what point you're at in your life, they can show up and turn your world upside down. Does it happen with someone you've only known for 12 hours? Probably not, but this is where you have to close your eyes a little bit and accept that for cinematic purposes time can be compressed. Then again, motivational speakers claim they can change your whole outlook on life in a an hour, so who be I to doubt it?
My rom-com logic is perfectly satisfied by London Paris New York: do I buy the premise? Sure, I've seen it happen countless times. Is there enough scorching chemistry between the two leads to make it believable? Hell yes! Is ALI FLIPPIN' ZAFAR!!! (sorry, I promise this is the last time I am being a fangirl in this post, but seriously, how fabulous is this man?) believable as the guy who could turn your life upside down? Oh, I think I already answered that.
And that's not even all of it! Beyond the lovely performances from both leads, the movie is also worth watching for the way it integrates Bollywoodness in three foreign locations without taking you out of the story (the two versions of Voh Dekhnay Main and Ting Rang are a perfect example of this), and for the cute dialogues that ensure there's never a dull moment despite the movie only having two characters for almost its entire length. And this, folks, should really be the end of my review with only one more thing to add: for full-on Ali Zafar deliciousness... just go see the movie! Words do not do him justice. (Oops, I forgot I promised!)
But... BUT. We're in the middle of Adam's Rib, so what better opportunity to focus a little bit more on the female character of this film and while we're at it, on its female director/writer.
What I loved the most about London Paris New York (ok, this will be a lie, we all know what I loved the most was Ali Zafar, but pretend you believe me) is that it takes the stock character that we see in every other Hindi film/rom-com, uses it, and dismisses it when it no longer makes sense. In the first phase of the movie, London, Lalitha is somewhere close to 20 years of age, and she does everything we would expect from a teenage-type girl: she refuses to kiss because it would make things complicated, she doesn't want to write letters because it would trivialize the relationship, she goes on and on about how she will change the world, she thinks she's got it all figured out. She's your typical idealistic 20 year old (slightly less bubbly than the stock character, but definitely with that air of innocence about her) who thinks the future is hers to shape and it's all within her control. Her decisions make sense as such.
In the second segment Lalitha has grown up a bit. She's still not mature, but she doesn't believe in fairytale endings anymore. She's been through a few disappointments and she knows to take what she wants when it's there rather than relying on a future that is as fickle as the weather in London. And most importantly she's grown up physically. She's not afraid to be touched by a man anymore, she's not afraid of her sexuality anymore. I should mention that my seat-mates objected to her walking around in Paris with a long sweater that barely covered her behind, but I took it as a sign of someone who is comfortable with her own sex-appeal (and more importantly someone who wants to SHOW a man that) and for once I didn't think it was just a gratuitous skin-show - which by the way, doesn't bother me, but I do recognize it when it's inserted there. (Ahem... as in the example below.)
While talking about this segment of the film, I read an infuriating review about the movie today whose author (a male film critic, not that it should matter) faults Lalitha's character for sleeping with Nikhil in Paris. Which ties in perfectly with my rant the other week about virginal girls in Bollywood: it's what people expect and when they don't get it, they protest. Why is it uncharacteristic for her to sleep with him, I ask? Is it so hard to believe that a woman can also give in to her hormones? Or that she would want to know what she missed? Why does the episode that precedes their meeting in Paris cancel out physical desire? Is it because we're assuming that as a well-raised tam-brahm she's still a virgin? Or is it because the Indian audiences are STILL (and yes, I totally meant to shout that) not able to accept that a bona fide heroine would do something as outrageous as giving in to sexual desire? Not sure how many women would NOT do exactly what Lalitha did, and some would do it ESPECIALLY because of the history between them, so based on that, I see Mr. Nahta's objection and I raise it a middle finger. And because I'm a woman and he's not, I win by default. Ha!
Oh, and while we're at it, how droll is it that in the above mentioned review there's no objection to the fact that Nikhil complains about Lalitha not giving him any satisfaction on the first night in London? By the way I found that scene hilarious and brilliant, so nothing against the scene, but you know, if we're going to ban sexual desire, can we be fair and ban it both ways? No, of course we can't.
I've never been one to praise women over men in a particular department just because they're women. If anything I have a hard time for example reading female authors for a variety of reasons that I won't touch on right now. But give some credit to the fact that a woman wrote this script. Give her at the very least the benefit of the doubt when it comes to knowing what a woman might or might not do in a certain situation. And in this particular venture I found the female character quite well-written. Yes, there is such a thing as women wanting to sleep with a man they're attracted to regardless of the consequences and yes, there is such a thing as physical attraction trumping all the rules and all the barriers you had set up in your head. And thank you, Anu Menon for acknowledging that!
We now get to the last stage of the journey, when the characters are close to their 30s (if not right at that age). They're done figuring things out, they're done dreaming about changing the world, they're done being unreasonable. And this section pleased me the most because it does something that Rockstar surprised me with as well, and while some may knock it, I think there should be more of it: the film trusts you as an audience to understand why the two characters are where they are right now. It doesn't spoon-feed you back-story, it doesn't show you a montage of how they got there, it doesn't tell you what they've been up to. It simply tells you that another 6-7 years have gone by and it's up to YOU, the audience to understand why both protagonists are now adults and why they behave as such. Were there regrets in these seven years? Was there doubt? Were there times when the two completely forgot about each other? Did they move on with their lives? Were there times when they were one step away from calling each other? Just let your imagination fly, Anu Menon trusts you to figure it out. She trusts you to know that people evolve and grow and learn from their experiences. And if you're not able to figure that out, or if you don't buy it... then I'm very sad for you, but here's the good news: Bollywood is still full of stock bubbly girls who never grow up, tailor made just for you! There we go! Now everyone's happy!
THREE LOVE STORIES.
Most rom-coms are hard to take for me, my tolerance being zero for weepy melodrama and almost zero for contrived set-ups. When I fall in love with a movie that has either of those elements I put it down to the main couple just working for me. The idea that two people can click every time they meet each other despite being at various stages in their lives is what I would normally call a contrived set-up. And yes, I admit to being smitten by Ali Zafar and to loving Aditi Rao Hydari, but in this one I give all the credit to Anu Menon: I bought into London Paris New York because her characters are not static, they're different people from one segment of the movie to the next. Hence the way they click every time, the way they interact and relate to each other also changes from the time before. London Paris New York is not about the endurance of one love story (like in the unbearable Mausam), it's about two people falling in love with each other all over again every time. And that makes it a gem of a movie and a rarity in today's Bollywood!
(Oh, and don't forget: ALI FLIPPIN' ZAFAR!!!!!)
4 days ago