Two people bump into each other in the lift. Neither of them notice the other. A month later, they bump into each other again at a pub. Conversations – read typical openers or pick-up lines – ensue, and a chapter begins.

Imtiaz Ali in 2009 managed to weave a tale about modern relationships, in all its frivolous glory, with just the right amount of frivolity and seriousness required to tell it. Saif Ali Khan was the bratty Jai, a perfect foil to the calm Meera, played by Deepika Padukone. They met, they dated, they sort of fell in love. And then they broke up.

When Ali showed a ‘break-up party’ in 2009, it caused quite a stir. What on Earth was a break-up party after all? Well, if two people have decided to mutually part ways, and the emphasis here is on the word mutual, what’s the harm in clinking glasses to each other’s bright futures, even if it is with someone else? Except break-ups are never really mutual, are they?

Meera moved to India to pursue a career she always wanted, Jai stayed in London chasing the career he always wanted, and they kept in touch over long-distance calls. It’s not a long-distance relationship at least, they told each other, and us, the audience. Their chapter ended there, as it were, and their story began.

Love Aaj Kal 2009 was ahead of its time. It isn’t Imtiaz Ali’s best but the film had more character and depth than Love Aaj Kal 2020 can ever hope to achieve. In this week’s Monday Masala, we tell you why.

CAREER BEFORE LOVE

Bollywood has forever indoctrinated us into believing that when love happens, everything else stops. Or at least goes slo-mo. Career, for the most part, never even featured in Bollywood’s list of acceptable factors consequential to human life. Therefore, it didn’t take much time to throw it out of the window when love poured like cats and dogs around. In 2009, both the man and the woman chose their careers over that fleeting feeling that may or may not have been love. Smart? Brave? Umm… more like practical.

In Love Aaj Kal 2020, when Kartik Aaryan tells Sara Ali Khan, “Aana hai toh poori tarha aana”, and then goes on to say, “Mujhe poori Zoe chahiye, andarwali, baharwali, career wali…”, we cannot help but wonder if he realises it’s not up to him to pick and choose parts of Zoe he likes. Or that he accepting her in totality doesn’t call for applause.

MEERA, NOT A DAMSEL, NEITHER IN DISTRESS

Meera is calm, but she is confident. She’s no Naina of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Meera doesn’t need Kabir like Naina did to help her realise her worth; Meera is self-aware. She knows her smile is gorgeous and she also knows to use it judiciously because it’s not for everyone. She doesn’t like Jai’s sister but she’s not brash about it. “Ab hamara break-up ho gaya hai toh tumse keh sakti hoon, I never liked your sister,” Meera tells Jai over the phone. Honest, but not a pain in the wrong place, won’t you agree?

In Love Aaj Kal 2020, when Sara cries “tum mujhe tang karne lage ho”, we wonder if she subliminally wants him to change for her, so she doesn’t have to pull the plug. Pull the plug Zoe; be Meera, not Naina.

JAI, NO KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOUR

If Bollywood heroes didn’t require being heroes, opening metaphorical jars or holding doors for their womenfolk, they’d lose purpose in the narrative. So what happens to the Jais when the Meeras stop needing them? They get to – perhaps for the first time – get out of the patriarchal routine of ‘being a man’ and be their own being. They, perhaps, now have mental space to think deeply enough, like Jai did, and realise that Meera wasn’t really going away from him, but only getting closer instead. Can we please let the men be humans first, men later?

In Love Aaj Kal 2020, Kartik is not a knight, yes. But he is clingy, though. How is that ever okay? In whatever era you want to set a film in.

Unfortunately, both these films are products of Imtiaz Ali’s very mind. Is he lazy to serve old wine in a new bottle? Or has he given up? Or is it a show of some superlative form of genius where he throws us a substandard version of one his own films, with substandard actors, knowing it will still be a hit, just to prove how Indian cinema and its audience is in the pits?

If that were true, we salute Imtiaz Ali for pulling a Banksy on us.

(Writer tweets as @NotThatNairita)

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