Of the many anticipated releases lined up for this year, Salaam-E-Ishq was quite possibly one of the films I was excited about the most. Nikhil Advani made his debut with a film that markedly put the 'comedy' back in romantic comedy, Kal Ho Na Ho
. Free from the template that bound him in his Karan Johar produced film, I expected him to come of his own with this one. The star cast in itself sounds like a great opportunity to announce that you have arrived. Too bad, then, that Advani misses the tremendous promise his work and the cast afford, and lets himself be carried away with his ambition.
And ambition is something that at least can be said that was not lacking in the vision for the film. The film tells an intercut and intertwined story of six different couples - actually, make that five. The story of a poor lusty Ram Dayal (Sohail Khan) trying to consummate his marriage desperately with Phoolwati (Isha Koppikar) is barely there. After an early string of Tom and Jerry like escapades (man flies through a wall leaving a man-shaped hole, car drives over a cliff to land on a newly reconstructed roof), the story is rudely ejected from the main events, only to make a silly comeback in the end credits.
The rest of the film tells mostly familiar love stories - a career-oriented Bollywood item queen who wants to be the next Karan Johar muse, meets a mysterious boy with an agenda (Salman and Priyanka in a very filmi love story about filmi people), a man going through a mid-life crisis and making a young dance instructor the object of his affection (Anil trying to balance Juhi and Anjana), and a confirmed bachelor trying to come to terms with being engaged (Akshaye trying to get rid of Ayesha for the second film is succession).
Meanwhile, a cab driver falls in love with a foreign memsaab
, and helps her find the one she loves (Govinda being the bhaiyya
cabbie helping Shannon find her boyfriend who has come to India to get married), and in the most serious of all love tracks - a husband is trying his best to get his post-accident-amnesia stricken wife to remember her recent past, and, most heartbreakingly, him (John in a controlled performance with Vidya).
Of course, every genre has its formulas, and just like any of them, romantic comedies can be fun even when formulaic. We all know that the guy will get the gal in the end. It's the how that matters. The destination is already predetermined in a feelgood romcom, is it not? It's the journey that matters. Unfortunately for us, this particular journey ends up being extremely long and fatally tedious. At close to 3 hours and 45 minutes spent inside the cinema, the wastefulness of the film is a concern.
It can be argued that a film with so many stories to tell needs a longer period to finish, but by the time it reaches its climax, you begin to feel that the overbearing star cast may have been a bit too much for the director to handle. Last time this happened, J P Dutta got carried away with a 4 hour LOC. Eeeps.
With a screenplay by the man who wrote this year's early turkey I See You
, and a first-time editor, this was probably to be expected, but no one can be blamed as squarely as Advani for squandering such a pool of talent. Other than the tiring length of an essentially non-serious film, the thing that bites the most is the disjointed way the stories are presented. The intercuts are sometimes out of place, and the thematic similarity between the lovers, forced.
Examples of wasted talent abound in this romantic comedy (more comedy than romantic, if you ask me). Salman is obviously the King of all Khan(na)s here. His entry, overall presence and his story's place at the center of the film clearly aims at positioning him as the main lead in the film. The camera, however, always seems intent on caressing Priyanka's expressions. It's her reactions to his charisma that become more important, which is a mistake because Salman has way more self-assurance and a far better comic timing. Then, John and Vidya's story needs an emotional gravitas, and certainly more depth than it has been afforded to really grow, and Anil's story needs more Juhi, simply.
On the other hand, these are but pitfalls on the road, and flawed as it may be, the film has its strong points. The emotional quotient between Anil and Juhi is exhibited by both seasoned actors with a grace far removed from anything in recent memory, and everyone else has serviced up a performance worthy of the hype. Salman, as much as he gets to do outside of the songs, tries his best to deliver silly dialog with a straight face. Akshaye is loud in the comedy bits, but gets his emotions right. Vidya Balan after her Munnabhai stint is a star, and kudos to her for not resting on her laurels and giving her job her best shot.
The initial hour or so breezes past with a guffaw here and a grin there, and suddenly you find yourself having an enjoyable - if not entirely sensible - time. The dialog is most certainly not the best in business, and the comedy tries hard to find its correct tone. It ranges from the Looney Tunes variety in Sohail-Isha's track, to the loud Satish Kaushik variety in the Akshaye-Ayesha tale, and to the plain bizarre humor in Salman-Priyanka's narrative. It tries hard to be Jaan-E-Mann
, and doesn't not quite fit in any slot, yet is enjoyable in its various shenanigans.
Soon after, the film ups the emotional conflicts and reduces the fun quotient. This is where the pacing sorely takes a hit, and the movie begins to drag. When it crosses the 3 hour 15 minute mark, and the end seems nowhere near, you begin to question your wisdom in walking in to the cinemas.
This is not a bad film, or even entirely formulaic. All it needs is a Karan Johar, stat. I don't quite agree with the emotive language of his films, but there is a certain production sensibility that would have kept the out of control manner in which this film just keeps piling on the minutes, in check.
Each of the actors in the lead roles is a dynamic force when used right, and the easygoing charm that permeates the frames is mostly due to them. It could have been a far better film if the flair for breezy humor that Advani has had did not mutate into melodrama and lengthy confessional soliloquys by half the leads in the end. The first hour or so is reminiscent of Advani's talent, the rest is a gifted individual getting burdened under the task of handling too many stories and too many stars.
Pity, for it could have been movie magic.