Forty minutes into the film, it is very clear that director Pankaj Kapoor has very obviously committed to a certain storytelling method. He, most certainly, will not compromise on the scale or length of his work at any cost. He is keen to capture the atmospherics and mood of the tiny fictional village called Mallukot on the outskirts of Punjab, even if it means delving into the mundane lives of every colorful character, mostly Sikhs, that reside in the village. The length of the film, you feel, will cease to matter simply because he wants to immerse you into the idle fields, rustic environment, the rural simplicity and the families around which his epic story revolves. Well and good, we say. Harry is a likeable dude (as most protagonists in villages nowadays seem to be with song, dance and charm included in the fixed package), his gang of four friends symbolize the surroundings that look more inspired from the 1940s than 1991, and a gang of amusing old folk make their world worth knowing. Aayat, the troubled young teenager from Kashmir, enters his life and attraction begins the old-fashioned way (roses meeting, leaves rustling - that kind of thing). Nothing looks out of place... Yet.
As soon as the story enters foreign locales, all hell breaks loose. Pankaj Kapoor loses direction, pun intended. The screenplay turns schizophrenic and the coincidences that befit the tagline of the film (A love story beyond romance) seem tedious after a while. Harry is a squadron leader in the Indian Air Force, but the only indication of that is his smart uniform, his upright posture, the beginning of a moustache and lack of facial expressions. When he is supposed to be on a crucial mission during the Kargil War, he is only shown walking stylishly from one'bird' (plane) to another and making sure that the parts fit correctly, you know, like if the wings are in place. His colleagues do the same thing, of course, and are granted a couple of 'Kaante' group shots - walking nowhere in particular. All this while, miracles continue to take place in our story, which covers every major man-made calamity from 1991 to 2002. Sonam Kapoor, as shy Muslim girl Aayat, continues to play to her strengths. She doesn't speak much. She blushes. She cries. She mourns. She waits. She stares. She smiles. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, thankfully. For some unfathomable reason, once they fall out of touch due to Harry being called to'lead' an air-borne attack in the Kargil War, they fall OUT of touch. Horror of Horrors. This is 1999. The phones are always conveniently out of order. They get through to everyone else by phone. This, after they were neighbours in the village, and have a lot of relatives in common. Or so it seems. Because by the end, we were still wondering out aloud how Anupam Kher was related to Sonam Kapoor in the film.
They must pine and reunite, as much as possible, according to Pankaj Kapoor's epic story. It is a journey, after all, of two lovers and a story of how destiny continuously screws them over. So, they keep bumping into each other at the most unlikely of locales - a Mozart concert in Scotland, or the snowy hills of Switzerland, to the riot-infested streets of Ahmedabad. Never mind, though and even if we forgive these miraculous happenings, nothing can make us forgive the utter tackiness of the (in)famous 'Top Gun' mid-air scene where Harry leads his comrades to bomb a certain hill at Kargil. His plane malfunctions. He begins to nosedrive to the ground after the screen reads 'system failure'. But he refuses to eject. He maneuvers the plane from the hills back to the runway down South in less than thirty seconds - in classic Video game style - where the editing tries its best to take our attention off the horrendous CGI. He crashes while landing, but that is not shown simply because the crew may not have had the resources to back up such a technical scene. Mr. Sham Kaushal, with all due respect, don't show us a plastic dinosaur and pass it off as Godzilla attacking Japan. That era has passed. B-movies still do it, but if you're going to back your film with such a massive budget, then a bit of technical prowess surely does no harm.
Moving on. After the lovers meet yet again in a 'few' years, depending on which calamity India was headed for, logic and storytelling becomes a mere footnote. Let me just say that when you end a film with a shot of Shahid, Sonam, a newly-orphaned kid and a white horse walking amongst the rubble of riot-infested Ahmedabad into the sunrise, this love story is truly beyond romance and corn. You have then entered a new level of metaphorical oblivion, where nobody but the filmmakers may understand the significance of the happenings on screen.
I am not concerned with the doomed production that was Mausam and the rumours that floated around during filming about the frequent father-son 'creative differences'. The end result is anything but creative and Binod Pradhan, cinematographer par excellence, deserved a far better story to work with. Every frame is a masterpiece of a painting, and once we were done getting our breath back, minor things like the screenplay and dialogue take over. He excels far above a director's vision, and one feels that he made the film look a lot better than it was supposed to. The shots of ink dissolving in a glass of water and Shahid running through the hills of Austria stand out, and will remain etched in the memory of scarred season-viewers.
Shahid is breezy for the first 40 minutes, much like his father's direction but then tightens up and tries a bit too hard to symbolize the leader he was meant to be. Sonam is passable, until the last ten minutes where her performance made me want to swear off ham sandwiches for good. Supriya Pathak is so downcast that consuming a dozen pills was just a single step away. The music is nothing to write home about (you will get this pun if you watch the film), and the production design is lavish.
All in all, at 2 hours and 47 minutes, to call Mausam a tale of two halves is very generous. It is more of a tail, without a body attached to it and Pankaj Kapoor will do well to learn that the most exciting part of the screening was the trailer of his next acting venture, Happi, where Kapoor, the stunning actor, plays a common man inspired by Charlie Chaplin on the streets of Mumbai. How cool is that?
- Reel Reptile