I really loved Salaam-e-Ishq when I first saw it some 4 years ago. And I kept meaning to rewatch it but... life got in the way. Especially when you have to make time for 3.5 hours. So I just kept rewatching the songs (yes, I will rave again about Saiyaan Re! You didn't think I'd skip that step, did you?) and postponing the movie for another time.
Well, that time has come. I rewatched it. And my biggest conclusion from this experience is that the deeper you get into a hobby, the more quirks and pet peeves you develop. As much as I try to stay as open minded as I was when I watched my first Indian film, it seems that learning about the industries and about the culture over the years has altered my perception of certain tropes, plots and situations. And so it was that Salaam-e-Ishq won me over this time more with its technical prowess than with its stories. The best part about this rewatch was following how the tracks flow into each other, how one person picking up the phone in one story leads to another hanging up the phone in a completely different story. Truly masterful and engaging, I didn't want to miss a single frame. And that's a huge compliment for a movie that's 3.5 hours long and has so many characters to follow.
1) Tehzeeb and Ashu, the sweet Muslim-Hindu couple who fight to cope with Tehzeeb's memory loss after a train accident. I found Ashu's love for Tehzeeb and his hopeless battle to restore his wife's memories so touching that I didn't even mind the windblowing machine gently caressing Ashu's hair every time he was in the frame.
2) Raju and Stephanie, the Indian cab driver who falls for the white memsaab in search of her two-timing Indian boyfriend. This was the first time I found Govinda cute with his undeclared love for Stephanie and their tender chemistry made this one of my favourite couples ever.
3) Kkamini and Raoool, the filmi couple: Kkamini an item queen looking to land a part in a Karan Johar movie (why, Kkamini, whyyyyy???) and Raool a man posing as her fiance for PR purposes. I found them deliciously over the top and they gave the movie that glitz and glitter that I love so much in Bollywood.
The fourth story, Gia and Shiven, a couple about to get married solving the groom-to-be's cold feet issues, was cute and I really enjoyed Akshaye Khanna in it, but at the time I didn't find it memorable. Except for Shiven's bachelor party song. Hehe! You knew it was coming!
Last but not least, the fifth couple: Vinay, a man going through a mid-life crisis and Seema, his dutiful wife, annoyed the heck out of me, mostly because I found Vinay's punishment for cheating on his wife too light. Yes, I am cruel like that.
This time around, the only constant from the previous viewing was my disdain for the Sohail and Isha story. Nothing changed there. But let me tell you how all the other stories changed for me.
Tehzeeb and Ashu
I think Jhoota Hi Sahi ruined John Abraham for me forever. Now that I know he can act... I simply cannot tolerate sub-par acting from him anymore. It's sad really, because he does a decent job most of the time here, but poor man seemed so fake after being tear-gassed for most of the movie that I could not get into it anymore.
That said, I still found their story to have a lot of potential and I still appreciated the ending for its realism. Everything from the moment when they land in Shiven's apartment defied Bollywood conventions and that makes this couple rock even now. If only that fabulous writing could have been matched by John's acting... If only!
Raju and Stephanie
This was the biggest disappointment for me because I never would have imagined seeing this story in a different way, but many love at first sight plots and too many goris in Bollywood later, I seem to have become very touchy to everything that uses either of the above. I know Raju was supposed to be so sweet with his dream of falling in love with a white tourist, but I simply failed to see the difference between his desire for Stephanie, and Stephanie's NRI fiance's decision to marry an Indian girl. Both were more preoccupied with the colour of the girl's skin than with who she really was. Don't get me wrong, I don't doubt that Raju's feelings were sincere in the end, as opposed to the NRIs, but a love story stemming out of camaraderie would have worked a lot better. As it was, Raju's obsession with meeting a gori memsaab made him seem shallow and yes, slightly creepy, despite Govinda's cuteness.
Also, after so many movies where the white girl just falls for the Indian guy because... uh... because he's Indian and people enjoy seeing such plots for whatever reason, I've come to be annoyed whenever this happens in a movie. Not to mention that it's really just a twist on the old stalking plot device: if you love her long enough and selflessly enough, she'll fall in love with you. No, Stephanie honey, no. You don't love him back after three days just because he's Indian and because he loves you more than your d00che-bag boyfriend. You might like him, you might be friends with him forever, and over time it may even grow into love, but you don't "unse pyaar karti ho". Or if you do, requesting permission to roll my eyes.
Kkamini and Rahoul
I still totally enjoyed these two characters. Though something about Salman Khan's facial expressions irritates the crap out of me. He reminds me of Cher whose high cheek bones and puckered lips are somehow mistaken for expression by whoever is still giving her acting roles. I've warmed up to Salman in his action roles only because they require minimal histrionics, but the serious scenes in a film like Salaam-e-Ishq really bring out his inability to project emotion. But all good, most of his role was calling for over the top antics, so it almost worked out for him. Besides, how cool is it to see a dude coming to propose riding a white horse? In London. Wearing aviator sunglasses. Classic!
I was once again bugged by the fact that Kkamini has to give up either love or her career, but this time around, because I feel that the industry has progressed somewhat since the times when this film was made, I can still hope that even if Karan Johar doesn't make her his heroine, other directors will. So this time around I didn't see her choice as a career-ending move anymore which made me happy. Amazing what 5 years can do to my perception of the industry, no?
Gia and Shiven
I don't think I used to like Akshaye Khanna as much as I like him now, so he really was a treat this time around. Despite the fact that his character was an idiot, he managed to make Shiven relatable, if not understandable. Yes, he's immature, shallow and disrespectful, but when he does get it, his change of heart is genuine and he does it while remaining the person that Gia fell in love with the first time around. I really enjoyed his scene at the wedding because everything he said and did was very much consistent with his goofball character. He continues to be immature and shallow, but he's now realized he wants to spend the rest of his days with Gia. Too many movies confuse falling in love (or realizing that one is in love) with a complete change of character and it's refreshing to see one that doesn't. Ullu da patha he started and ullu da patha he remains.
That said I was still confused about Gia's motivations, she really seemed keen on getting married, and I wasn't exactly sure why. Presumably the parents? Not sure... But I probably would have been freaked out about it too had I been in Shiven's shoes. Just sayin...
Vinay and Seema (and Anjali)
It's perhaps a good time to admit that I skipped through most of the scenes involving Vinay's younger love interest, including her song. That whole bit seemed heavy handed to me the first time around and I didn't think time would have made it better. But what caught my attention this time was the colour palette used with this couple. Or rather the non-colour palette, as everything is some shade or other of grey. Vinay's house, his office, his wardrobe, Seema's wardrobe, everything is blatantly lifeless, which is a stark contrast with Anjali's image: the highlights in her hair, the glitter on her diary, the excitement of her life as a dancer. Now I realize that this contrast could have been handled in a more subtle way, but I actually kind of liked the way it worked out visually and well... Salaam-e-Ishq is not a movie to take home any awards for finesse.
Also I found myself in a more forgiving mood this time. I wasn't as outraged by Seema's final decision because it did feel that Vinay had learned his lesson. And I suppose over the years I have come to appreciate that about people more than I used to. Funny how that is...
Overall Salaam-e-Ishq is still a winner in my book and I am still in awe at how effortlessly it sucked me in all over again, but I think some of that wide-eyed innocence I used to have when watching glittery Indian movies is gone for good now. Classic case of "it's not you, it's MEEEE!!", huh?
Salaam-e-Ishq (Hindi, 2007)
Starring: Salman Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Akshaye Khanna, Ayesha Takia, John Abraham, Vidya Balan, Govinda, Shannon Esra, Sohail Khan, Isha Koppikar
Directed by: Nikhil Advani
Choreography: Bosco Caesar
18 hours ago