Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
3 & 1/2 stars out of 5 (Between 'Good' & 'Excellent') 
Director : Karan Johar 
Hindi (English subtitles available), Release 28/10/16
The K is gone, the L towers eternal. Well, the K actually hangs on, being exiled to get lost somewhere in the title's last word. The L stands for 'Love' , without which a gent like Karan Johar is like a man without ambition. 
NRIs, in general, have busy hard-working lives but Johar's young pairs quietly admit their super-rich status , one step shy of Laxmi Mittal's. They don't waste their time earning money, instead they concentrate on serious matters of the 'Dil'. 
'Ae Dil Hai Mushkil' is the kind of title that Ram Gopal Varma would skewer and barbecue by the side as an appetizer-joke in his mafia movies. But once we're done with bullets and skulduggery , a desi heart's innate hunger for a balanced intake calls for the designer universe and aching hearts that Johar Logistics specializes in delivering. 
Even Auckland's theatres know this well - very rarely does one witness a single cinema in the city allocating two separate screens to a Hindi movie on the very first day. 
The story , once you excise the elaborate faff, is of the 'keep it simple, stupid' type that Johar carefully selects to safeguard the blockbuster appeal of his multi-crore films.
Boy and Girl meet in one of post-colonial India's habitually haute back-yards : London's choice locales in this case. Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) and Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) know that they are eighteen years removed from 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' , so without dithering they go at each other's lips instantly like wisened-up lovers. The many-splendoured fluff of their frolic, in which they paint the town red and wax dialogues purple with all kinds of witticisms and filmi references, clocks close to an hour.
Then suddenly Alizeh glimpses an ex-flame (Fawad Khan as a Virat-Kohli look-alike 'Ali' in an impressively restrained cameo) that she's unable to forget. A split looms and rankles, but the twain shall eventually meet, no matter the tragedies and conspiracies of fate that befall them.
The crowd did not audibly react when Aiswarya Rai (as poetess Saba) was introduced post-interval, but there were delighted 'ooh's and 'aah's when Shah Rukh Khan glides into the frame. There's bad news for both of them. Johar makes Aishwarya Rai as visually stunning as ever , but she was supposed to come across as a temptress seductively oozing lines of killer dialogue - what we get instead is a doll spouting fancy Urdu. Shah Rukh's eyes are a tad too red to escape notice, and regrettably the super-star sleep-walks through his guest appearance. His joust with ex-partner Saba, designed on paper as a tantalizing battle of verbal barbs, appears onscreen as a school-drama exchange of overwrought lines.
 In the first half I was getting tired of the comedic flippancy, but a lampoon atop a snowy mountain ruptured my boredom hilariously. Many film-makers lose their chutzpah in the second-half but Johar manages a dazzling tightrope walk between laughs and romance and seriousness from start to finish. 
Witness the loonily triumphant way he channels Lisa Haydon in her terrific role as a ditzy dame, all the way to the weirdly wonderful meeting of two unusual heads at a restaurant table in the movie's last stage.
But Johar, for all his general polish in dramatics and crores-worth of lavishly flowing production design, reveals his specific weaknesses. The script-writing is juvenile in how facile a way it makes Saba cozy up to stranger Ayan. The missed opportunity of the afore-mentioned superstar cameos aside, the moment when Alizeh has her first emotional break-down after glimpsing her past, is a seemingly convincing but ultimately forced scene of catharsis. Johar makes up somewhat when Alizeh superbly bares her beleaguered soul in her London flat at the very end, but overall Johar still shows a fondness for the cutesy type of subtly artificial dramatics popularized by the sitcom 'Friends'. 
And there's no originality at all in this film's plot and structure. The storyline of a star-singer besotted by an unattainable love is borrowed from 'Rockstar', the first half's light-hearted novelty was preceded by last year's 'Tamasha' and the finale's tragedy is reprised from 'Kal Ho Na Ho'.
Genuine merit flows, however, from the beautiful light and high-clarity takes of Anil Mehta's dependably superior cinematography. Pritam's songs are slow to take off but 'Channa Mereya' then soars to a Rahmanesque Sufi depth, and the title song is a stylish soulful chartbuster. 
I will mention the absolutely dazzling Anushka before Ranbir because her smile, spunk, pathos and poignancy shine the brightest of all in this picture. The verve-'n'-brilliance of her naughty smile and the vibrant personality beneath it, are matched note for note by the dramatic fireworks and pain that flow ever so convincing from her face. If she continues at this rate, she will be counted alongside Madhuri Dixit and Karishma Kapoor as one among modern Hindi cinema's finest female superstars. 
Once every twenty years or so, Mumbai lets through a cine hero whose charm is the stuff of legend. This current decade will be remembered as Ranbir Kapoor's. Ranbir is brilliant even with the comedic straitjacket but when that bridle is removed, witness the scene where the smile gently freezes on Ayan's face as he reminds the bride Alizeh where the laughs stop.
Karan Johar proves again that he's a born film-maker, not in the bravura traditon, but in the way he repeatedly replenishes the industry's coffers, in his technically smooth emotional sagas tinged with cheeky humour, and their designer sentiments that leave you somewhere between stone-coldness and genuine tears. In 'Ae Dil Ae Mushkil' , he showcases how he has improved and expanded on his trademark oeuvre, but he refuses to lay bare the guts in making an entire feature-length movie on the lines of his fearlessly superb 'Ajeeb Dataan Hai Yeh' short. That's the kind of 'Bombay Talkies' he hasn't yet dared to be conversant with.
First published in 'Indian Weekender' in October 2016 
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