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Kartik Aaryan, left, and Sara Ali Khan star in Imtiaz Ali's remake of his own 2009 film, Love Aaj Kal.

Aarjav Jain/Jio Studios

  • Love Aaj Kal
  • Directed by Imtiaz Ali
  • Written by Imtiaz Ali
  • Starring Kartik Aaryan, Sara Ali Khan, Randeep Hooda, Arushi Sharma, Simone Singh
  • Classification PG
  • 141 mins

rating

1 out of 4 stars

Once upon a time, there was a director called Imtiaz Ali who made pretty good Hindi films about young Indians finding their roundabout way to love.

It’s a testament to Ali’s reputation that six couples of varying ages showed up to a 10:30 a.m. show in Vaughan, Ont., on Valentine’s Day, braving the extreme-cold-weather alert. If they thought they would get something better than Ali’s last bomb of a film, Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017), featuring a script so banal that even lead stars Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma couldn’t save it, they were sadly mistaken.

You wish there was some sort of irony in Ali, who has been accused of telling the same story again and again, wanting to revisit his previous film Love Aaj Kal (2009) with an updated star cast and a slight twist. But judging by his convoluted script and terrible casting, it seems like an act of hubris. Or sheer laziness. Or both.

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“Love Aaj Kal” literally means Love These Days, and Ali is literally looking at how love these days differs from back in his days – or how it doesn’t. As with his previous film of the same title, the story features two love stories, one set in 1990 and another in 2020. Now try to keep track, because this is about to get really confusing.

The film opens in Delhi in the age of hookup culture, when Zoe (Sara Ali Khan) locks eyes with Veer (Kartik Aaryan) in a dimly lit nightclub. She’s looking for a quickie. But Veer tells her that she’s special and that “this situation is not being optimized.” (Yup, that’s the dialogue. Many more clunkers follow.)

Zoe isn’t interested in ridiculous notions of love, thanks to her mom (Simone Singh) regularly ranting about men who leave you cooking chapatis in the kitchen. Come on, she’s just 22. She wants to build her career as an event planner and have some fun. She’ll be ready for a real relationship when, ya know, she’s like, I don’t know, 25?

Zoe works out of a coffee shop/bar/co-working space called Mazi. (It means “past” in Urdu – so deep, amiright?!) The owner, Raj (Randeep Hooda), sees the young couple and starts recounting his own love story to Zoe, so she can take some lessons from it.

Thirty years ago, in the smaller city of Udaipur, he was Raghu (Aaryan, in a double role). He was a high-school student in love with Leena (Arushi Sharma), but just as unable to express his love as Veer. In those pre-cellphone days, he moped about to the soundtrack of 1989 Bollywood hit Maine Pyar Kiya. But one day, he expresses his love and gets himself and Leena in trouble. Nevertheless, the two young lovers follow their heart. But then life gets in the way.

Turns out that Raj/Raghu’s love story for Leena doesn’t help Zoe much at all. She’s just as muddled as the script. She concludes that her work is her boyfriend. It keeps her busy and pays the bills. So when she feels lonely, she hugs it. (Another bit of dialogue.) Until she realizes that maybe there’s such a thing as work-life balance.

Where to begin with all the problems with Love Aaj Kal? Ali has been frequently criticized for writing female leads who simply serve as muses to man-child male protagonists. Zoe seems to be his answer to that analysis, except Ali ends up writing a shrewish character who is in serious need of a therapist – or at least a mindfulness app.

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At one point, Ali has Zoe open the top button of her blouse while heading into a job interview. When she says why she did it, you can only gawp in amazement at the explanation. It’s an illustration of how a self-proclaimed “woke” man ends up mansplaining feminist ideas to others. Afterward, Zoe sighs about being “unable to rein in the bitch in me” (yup, exact dialogue). But she gets the job later – natch. You will again shake your head at the CEO’s explanation as to why Zoe landed the gig.

Ali also doesn’t understand the millennials he’s trying to cater to, even though the film is suffused with an Instagram aesthetic. Plus, he’s horribly miscast Gen-Z actors Khan and Aaryan, who have to mouth lines that are trying too hard to be Sorkin-like. Aaryan, in particular, who is good at giving face and occasionally acting as part of an ensemble cast, is unable to bring any depth to either of the central characters he plays.

The only good thing out of this Love Aaj Kal reboot is Sharma, who brings Leena to life, even though the character is given short shrift. One hopes to see more of her in other films.

Love Aaj Kal opened at selected cinemas across Canada on Feb. 14

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