Film: “Salaam-e-Ishq”; Cast: Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Salman Khan, Priyanka Chopra, John Abraham, Vidya Balan, Govinda, Shanon Eshrechowitz, Akshaye Khanna, Ayesha Takia, Sohail Khan, Isha Koppiker; Direction: Nikhil Advani; Rating: ***

“Yeh shaadi nahin ho sakti!” Never thought I’d ever hear Hindi cinema’s most clichéd line, and that too in a film that turns all the clichés of love, life, relationship, marriage and yes, cinema on its head… and in the bed.

Love is a many splendoured sting… It takes a creator of Advani’s insouciant romanticism to get a hang of the episodic Hollywood romance “Love Actually” and turn it into a full-on celebration of the Great Bollywood Drama.

“Salaam-e-Ishq” is both a hefty homage and a tongue-in-cheek spoof on Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Bollywood But Were Too Ashamed To Seek.

It’s all here… the frightful conflicts of the heart (Muslim girl Vidya Balan loses memory and is nurtured back to health by Hindu boy John); the delicious sensuous twists and turns of a midlife crisis (Anil Kapoor, a portrait of restraint, learns ballroom dancing from the trying-hard-to-be-sexy Anjana Sukhani in what’s a straight homage to Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez in “Shall We Dance”); the wonderful cultural divide that fuels immense chemical compatibility between two mismatched souls (played with enormous warmth by Govinda and Sharon in an episode that tilts its toupee to Aamir Khan and Karisma Kapoor in “Raja Hindustani”).

Then there is a Rajasthani couple in a joint family trying hard to make out (Sohail Khan and Isha Koppiker doing a version of Basu Chatterjee’s chawl-romance “Piya Ka Ghar”) a commitment-phobic yuppie and his exasperated fiancée (now why do Akshaye Khanna and Ayesha Takia remind you of their roles in the Subhash Ghai comedy “Shaadi Se Pehle”?)…

Yup, Nikhil Advani’s breathless romp just gets you so revved-up with its roomy rhythms of unfettered romance you want to bathe in the aroma of the lingering feelings as they permeate softly but strongly from characters who are largely under-written for optimum impact.

Yes, the Priyanka-Salman track (with a special voice-appearance by Karan Johar) is broadly spoofy… but nevertheless spiffy. As the item girl and wannabe ‘tragedy queen’ Priyanka pulls out all stops. Now you see her as the consummate item bomb, now you see her as this made over Dehradun girl who wants love instead of Karan Johar.

Why should those two be mutually exclusive options? Why can’t a girl have love and career? Vidya Balan’s character has both… in ample measure. Until tragedy strikes their paradise.

If the Salman-Priyanka track is broad burlesque, John-Vidya is delicate and sensitive… John expresses a childlike ecstasy in his love for his love. After Vidya’s accident, the director cuts into happy moments from their past like sumptuous bits of filling in a soft and carefully prepared sandwich.

Editor (Aarti Bajaj) uses the scissors gently but persuasively. Bits of songs, emotions, dialogues and locales float in and out of the episodic narration to create unity in the dynamics of the diversity.

Of course, the film isn’t as defiantly episodic as “Crash” or “Babel”. Often you feel Advani’s frantic search for a common ground among the various couples who inhabit his delectably vast kingdom of commitment in love and marriage.

There are moments of subdued drama and high cinema all through this lengthy parable on love which redefines the time space and pace of the Romantic Comedy with considerable humour and grace. Sure, you may not come to love and trust every couple equally. But that’s the beauty of the fragmented narrative. It creates an equality of opportunities for characterisation within unequal parameters of structure.

Acting-wise, the film is a storehouse of well-utilised opportunities for some of our biggest stars. John and Vidya look like the perfect made-for-each other couple. Juhi Chawla has little to do. And yet she brings so much empathetic grace opposite Anil. Akshaye Khanna is in full form, creating a volume of unexpected havoc within the emotions served up at the broadest pitch of the boudoire comedy. Govinda as the new-millennium Raju Hindustani is engaging in ways he never was in “Bhagam Bhag”.

But Sohail Khan as the horny bridegroom is the best of the lot. Delectably cartoonish he invests a kinetic animation into a unidimensional role.

It isn’t as though every component in this jig-that-we-saw fits in perfectly. Often, the narrative is seen straining for effect. The dance numbers are way too elaborate and over-punctuated. Piyush Shah’s camera and Piya Raghunath’s art work blend the colour and kitsch of Karan Johar, Yash Chopra and Dharmesh Darshan in what could be taken as the formulistic equivalent of a tribute to the potboiler.

But the pot boils at a sensuous simmer. You love John when he tells his amnesiac soul mate that it doesn’t matter if she’s forgotten their past together, they still have a future together.

Hindi cinema has a past and a future. “Salaam-e-Ishq” strides both worlds, and yet retains its balance.

— IANS

 

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