London Paris New York fiftyfiftyme category: Major
"Almost, but not quite". That would be my summary of this movie. I was really looking forward to it for a number of reasons. First, I like Ali Zafar. His winning combination of charm, good looks, and humour were major factors in my enjoyment of both Tere Bin Laden, and Mere Brother Ki Dulhan. The other reason I was really looking for to this movie was to see how it compared with Linklater's iconic Before Sunrise/Before Sunset diptych. Those two movies are classics, two of my favourites, and for me, Before Sunset is "The. Best. Sequel. Ever." So London Paris New York had a lot to prove.
In addition to the comparisons with the Sunrise/Sunset movies, I'd also seen several references to LPNY's similarity to Hum Tum. My memory of that film is patchy, it's been several years since I've seen it, and I recall it basically as when Harry Met Sally, with animated segues. In contrast, I re-watched the Linklater movies just a couple of months ago, and enjoyed them as much as ever. That's why it was those movies that I was comparing LPNY to.
I was not put off by the idea that LPNY might be a Hindi version of those iconic films, because some Hindi remakes have been very good, often adding something to the original in the process of adapting them to an Indian setting. The best example of this is Salaam-e-Ishq. I saw Love Actually first, but prefer S-e-I, it's a very good adaptation/remake. Similarly, Malamaal Weekly is at least as good as Waking Ned Devine, and has elements I prefer. So, I was not predisposed to be negative toward LPNY simply because it was said to be a remake or adaptation of the Sunrise/Sunset films. Instead, I was interested to see how well the adaptation was done. That's where the "almost but not quite" comes in.
The movie starts off with real promise, and the London section felt like an almost perfect Bollywood adaptation of Linklater's films. So much so that my wife, who is much less fond of them than I am, got a bit bored, muttering, "this is definitely a remake". For me though, that first segment captured the tone I was hoping to see, something that clearly referenced the Linklater films, but added a Bollywood sensibility. After that, I felt the film lost its way a little. There were a couple of factors that contributed to this, and each of the last two segments showed the effects of one or more of them.
One problem facing a film attempting to recreate TWO films is the simple matter of quantity. The Linklater films are unique for many reasons, but primarily for their "real-time" nature, with the same cast and crew making the films in a near perfect real-time match with the elapsed time between the two films' stories. In LPNY, I got the impression that Anu Menon had liked those films then fell into the trap of trying to stuff too much into her film.
This is a common problem in Bollywood cinema - it seems that Ashutosh Gowariker has never heard of the concept of editing, and Pankaj Kapur apparently decided that Mausam had to feature every faux arty cliché he'd ever seen in any film ever. Menon came nowhere near those extremes, and overall the pacing of her film is pretty good. But she did overload it a bit. The whole "reveal" at the end of the Paris segment felt a bit forced, a reversion to an old Bollywood trope. In so doing, she did a disservice to both characters, but especially to Lalitha, burdened with a Jekyll & Hyde style personality remake. The "twist in the tail" of the Paris segment was jarring, superfluous and disappointing.
After that slight let-down, I wondered how the finale would play out. It started well, and I enjoyed it right up until they woke up the next morning. Nikhil's rant was bizarre, even though not entirely without merit in context. What followed though, was a stretch too far for the credibility of the film. Much of the film did show the characters as realistic and recognisable types, albeit filmi versions. That's the strength of the Linklater films, that the characters seem like they're just big-screen versions of real people. Perhaps in that context, Nikhil's explosive rant could make some sense, but what follows did not. Menon retreated to the safety of cliché, and this time it was Nikhil's character who underwent a lightning change of personality, from nearly psychotic rage to classic filmi Raj-Rahul.
Many of the films I've liked from the last few years have been let down by this rushed, forced "need" to have a filmi-style happy ending, and LPNY joins Band Baaja Baarat, Tanu Weds Manu and, to a lesser extent Ladies vs Ricky Bahl (which had other issues) in this club. In the Paris segment, Menon overloaded the film with a "dramatic" interlude that betrayed her characters' growth arcs and thus seemed jarring. In the New York finale, it felt to me like she did the same in a slightly different way. Much was made of their being older and wiser, but little of that was seen from either of them. If she was really older and wiser, why didn't she tell him what tomorrow was when he first turned up? If he had grown, why did he turn psycho in the morning then go all DDLJ in the end? If Menon had been bold enough to wrap it with a Before Sunrise style ambiguous open ending, or even a "sad" one, that would have redeemed the New York segment, and the film almost entirely.
I can't finish this review without stressing that I liked the film. The music was good, a great debut for Ali Zafar here too, writing both music and lyrics, and the two leads worked really well together. Ali Zafar is as swoony as ever, especially in the Paris segment for me where I kept thinking of Zoolander - really ridiculously good-looking - and Aditi Rao Hydari was a delight, easy on the eyes (my wife commented on that several times) and very believable when the material let her be. I am very excited to see her opposite Irrfan Khan soon.
I think that if I hadn't seen Linklater's unique classics, I would have enjoyed this film more than I did. Apparently it's generated a lot of very negative reviews, which I don't think it merits. There is a lot to like about it, and it was a promising debut for Menon and for Aditi as lead. I will almost certainly watch it again, and will definitely be looking out for the future work of all the principals. It's just a shame that what could have been a great example of adapting an Anglo classic to Bollywood tripped up in a couple of key places and ultimately came up short. Almost, but not quite.