To say that Mohabbatein has been the most eagerly awaited film of the year is an understatement. Aditya Chopra's second film following Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge (DDLJ), easily the best mainstream Hindi film of the last 5 years, has much hype and expectation surrounding it. The big question is, does the film live up to it? The answer sadly is, no, not quite. An inconsistent screenplay, thin characterisations, plot implausibilities and lack of depth and substance mar an otherwise luscious looking film with strong lead performances by Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan.
Aditya Chopra said he has had the idea of Mohabbatein for more than 10 years and originally wanted it to be his debut film instead of DDLJ. After DDLJ's stupendous critical and commercial success, he initially worked on a thriller since he didn't want to do a love story again. But he kept drifting back to Mohabbatein. Originally, it was a film about three friends and their love stories but Chopra says he didn't want a film with just love scenes. He wanted a strong dramatic confrontation between two strong characters. And then he got it - a conflict between a man who did not believe in love and one who did and the three young love stories..
Much of the problems in the film lie with Narayan Shankar's character. Consequently, the scenes with him suffer from implausibilities and contradictions. The conflict between Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan had great dramatic potential and while there are several clashes between the two, none really rise to any high levels. Amitabh, who keeps spouting the dialogue about how much he abhors change, seems to agree readily with Shah Rukh's requests much too easily. And for a man who at the beginning of the film had said that if anyone is caught breaking the rules of Gurukul even once, he would be expelled, he tells Shah Rukh he knows the boys have been breaking the rules regularly and going out to meet the girls yet does nothing about it. Why? Bachchan stresses in his opening speech how students for Gurukul are specially selected from all over the country so how is it he never saw Shah Rukh as a student? And more so when he expels him. Surely he would have interviewed each student personally before selecting him. And why is he so opposed to love? He seems to have a perfect father-daughter relationship with Aishwarya and even when he does speak to her about her being even more beautiful than her mother, there is nothing in his tone to suggest that he had anything but a happy married life with his wife till she died. When Bachchan speaks about Gurukul being the best education centre in the country and producing many eminent successful people, surely you want to know what is it in the method of education that makes Gurukul unique; but apart from one shot in the montage not a single scene takes place in the classroom in the entire 3 1/2 hours of the film! Further, when Bachchan finally admits defeat in the end, he mentions that ex-students from Gurukul had a bit of himself in them and now he hopes that the present students would have a bit of Raj Aryan in them. This takes away from the very fact that he was proud to be a part of the success of his ex-students from Gurukul thanks to his education policies. And what about those ex-students now and their achievements? Does this suddenly make them losers then?
Perhaps the empathy with Shah Rukh's character of Raj Aryan would have been far greater had we actually seen his romance with Aishwarya and then felt his loss. And nothing in Shah Rukh's actions actually justify his dialogue at the end of the film to Amitabh that he came back to Gurukul for him - to join him in getting over his grief for his daughter. He just seems to be a teacher with freewheeling beliefs and the clashes between him on Amitabh are purley on those points which go on to be more confrontational when he reveals his identity as Aishwarya's lover. Also, asking his students to pursue love over everything else and that too in their college days seems a bit trivial especially when you compare it say with the character of the unorthodox teacher of Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society
The three love stories not only take away from the central conflict but unfortunately unlike DDLJ where the process of falling in love was so beautifully handled, none really develop satisfactorily. Also among the three boys, really only Uday Chopra's character is different and 'cool' while Jugal and Jimmy are almost similar. Unfortunately the backgrounds of all the youngsters are quite sketchy and you never really know where they are from. It is mentioned that Uday's dad works in a bank and Jugal's father is dead but what did he do? And what about Jimmy? You don't know anything about him.The first meetings with the three girls are too pat and in Uday's case even hackneyed and the developing romances are surprisingly short of good moments which was actually DDLJ's biggest strength. Perhaps having too many characters and too many stories to tell takes its toll. Also like most Hindi films women are not really allowed to have a mind of their own. Kim's boyfriend has been made a twit so it is easy for her to jump into Jugal's arms. But what if he was a really nice guy? And even if Jugal loved her, couldn't she actually love someone else especially as she hasn't seen Jugal in the last 6 years in the all-important ages of 14 - 20? Preeti too goes to Jimmy only when Amrish Puri, her father-in-law, finally relents.
The comedy track unfortunately with Anupam Kher and Archan Puran Singh was uncalled for and doesn't really work. And even the biggest strength of Yashraj Films - its music while hummable is nowhere near the high standards set by DDLJ and Dil to Paagal Hai.
However, it has to be said that in aesthethics, sensibilities and its look Mohabbatein is yards ahead of the standard Hindi films. The costumes by Manish Malhotra and Karan Johar are smart and hip, the cinematography by Manmohan Singh is efficient though the camera moves a bit too often throughout the film, the choreography by Farah Khan, energetic and the art direction by Sharmista Roy particularly in the interiors stands out. (One can't however say the same about the market exterior which looks extremely fake and set-like)
What really holds the film together are the two central performances by Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. Bachchan, particularly, is superb riding over the flaws in his character effortlessly. It is his best performance since his comeback to films and a lovely restrained nuanced performance. Shah Rukh is the perfect foil to him and handles his emotional and light-hearted scenes with ease. The use of Aishwarya Rai as the living embodiment of Shah Rukh's memories is interesting though as mentioned one would have liked to see more of her romance with Shah Rukh. Aishwarya handles her part more than competently and as usual looks as beautiful as ever. While the youngsters are enthusiastic and give it their best shot, they are handicapped by their sketchy roles and still have a long way to go before they can rise above the script. Though it is nice to see Helen do a boogie to the strains of O Haseena Zulfonwali one cannot help but feel a sense of deja vu as Yash Chopra had earlier attempted the same with Waheeda Rehman and the Aaj Phir Jeene ki Tamana Hai number from Guide in Lamhe.
This not to say that Mohabbattein is a bad film. It is still better than most films made in the country but an Aditya Chopra film carries expectations of a far more quality and flawless product and Mohabbatein, unfortunately, fails on that count.