Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016), dir. Karan Johar: Cheese is Sunscreen of the Heart

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016), dir. Karan Johar: Cheese is Sunscreen of the Heart

Flowers are overrated. Happiness is over-sought. A removed line from Johar’s screenplay reads “[1]Khushi ka kya hai? Gham ke aas paas hi to bhatakti hai.” Alizeh’s gift to Ayan is a literal bed of thorns, capsizing any tincture of lust or leading attraction in their vessel of hugs, but Ayan, although subconsciously aware of the kinesis, is not ready for the its materiality. Thereby, denial and rebellion ignite the man-child envy. “[2]Tum meri nahi ho sakti toh kiski bhi nahi hosakti”, says Ayan, wishing fatalities on both Alizeh and her fiancé, hours before their wedding ceremony, looking past the establishment of him being the sole bolster from Alizeh’s side, and that, silence’s precedence over angst may have been better expression.

This is how Karan Johar chooses to introduce layers in his characters; introducing flaws betwixt the ante of an awaited antidote. The spontaneity shines through the leads’ prowess over their language of expression and then it is dissected in equally magical proportions by their intimate gestures. Note that Ayan is first a charming crybaby who learns of real connection and compatibility, and then takes (/transforms) it for (/to) love — possessive and demanding. Not the other way around, a far more interesting take but Johar hardly cues the Sang-Soo esque, when this is an already tremendous diversion from his comfort zone. When Ayan interrupts Alizeh’s wedding and walks away in rejection — as a viewer, I immediately fell back on his initial exchanges with Alizeh, “[3]Rona se better koi cheez bani hai kya?”

Karan says that the heart is not only enticed by the surreal image but also the moments that stretch between pursuit and attainment of the image make it bleed in hysteric ecstasy. When Ayan calls Alizeh, his first question is not, “[4]Tu kaisi hai?” but it is “[5]Tune sex kiya na?” One of the lines from Arijit Singh’s lyrics read, “[6]ye ek tarfa mera safar, safar khubsoorat hai manzil se bhi” and that is all, I think, one needs to know to compile Karan’s charts on obsessive-masculinity.

Labelling intimacy as love does not a relationship make. If depending on someone defines your relationship with them, does that love count as support or is it a weakness? Colossally structured concatenations of hearts shatter and fall in crossroads of an erratic existence; the whole puppetry is as superficial to a viewer without reflection as it is cathartic to someone consequential to its weight. Masks cast a disguise upon the face, schematic identifiers and skins of shallow proportions existing for numerous purposes — one that love adores, one that abhorrence dissolves, and one for social recognition. However, could you bisect one’s identity for a tantrum of the heart, when all it costs to break the act is a sincere glance of the eyes? Guess not, but it is a frequented habit nonetheless. Why? Why does love cry, why does love hurt? Acceptance is the only answer, and the one satisfying all equations of Karan Johar’s quasi-three hour explosion of unrequited love dressed in squares of chagrin and grief.

It starts with the beauty of the blu-ray menu where one first confronts Arijit Singh and his titillating vocal feasts on melancholy. You wonder if the bits heard would make it to the film and stay relevant through the runtime, and man, does it feel fresh!

Blu-ray menu

Ayan Sanger introduces himself as rich while Alizeh says she is wealthy. Ayan says he can sing in to the cues of Mohammad Rafi while Alizeh’s pragmatic worldview dissents self-praise. Ayan weeps when his relationship with Lisa Haydon (arousing “Vaatavaran”, by the way) defaults to a betrayal while Alizeh smiles coyly when confronted, holding within a heartbreak of greater degrees. The strife in their worldviews are eminent but uniting them is an unabashed love of vintage Bollywood. The reenactments, the cheese in the dialogue and catchy music cuddles the two in a frame that constitutes the major part of the film. The same is true for the film though, where most of the “self-masturbatory” malice directs. Some of it is true too when Johar chooses to be more referential towards his brand of films than paying a global homage, but, even then, I see it (especially after reading this interview) as a farewell to a younger Johar and a love letter of modern auteurism to its corny, vulgar and vintage counterpart.

Karan also borrows Ali’s standpoint from Rockstar (“[7]Tumhare awaaz main dard aur mohabbat ka naamo nishan hi nahi tha”) which says that the expression of true art is limited to a personal stature of pain and love. The authenticity of the statement is debatable but the manner of carriage through Ranbir’s performance is splendid; particularly Ayan’s tone change in Alizeh’s wedding, a banal trope in Hindi cinema, salvaged and highlighted as a fresh resource by the director’s choice of theatrics. If it were not for those mediocre pop songs that Arijit Singh forces me to forgive, this would have been a greater product.

“Pyaar mai junoon hai aur dosti mai sukoon hai” [Love has passion but friendship has peace]

As Ayan progresses through the breakup, he meets Saba, a low-key poet funded by her husband’s (Tahir) divorce and her poetry. Soon lust fuels their relationship and Saba, unlike Alizeh, lacks the spontaneous impulsiveness, and accepts the state Ayan is in — broken and yearning. Intriguing, as the surrogate to a critique of superficiality seems to be superficiality itself. Ayan asks Tahir (first Shah Rukh Khan Cameo when he looks old) if loving someone with neither condition nor return is easy. Tahir replies by insisting that his unrequited love for Saba is stronger than a mutual relationship would be because the one-sided love bends only at his command and the authority to feel it does not extend to anyone else. This explanation of the Ek-Tarfa pyaar angle says so much about how volatile and susceptible men are to the whirlpool of feelings. Maybe it is how a broken heart works — realizing value during regret and following reminiscence ignited by polarity.

The disconnection between Alizeh and Saba is intentional and is rather reflective of Ayan’s psychological state than it is a sidetrack. While the camera rested for long shots on Alizeh, Saba’s lust is short-lived and fugitive; further indicating how fleeting Ayan’s time is with Saba and how disconnected a forced reflection can feel. In one of the shots, Saba and Ayan are walking in opposite directions; again a frequented trope in the Johar sphere. Having spent enough time with Ayan, Saba looks back in anticipation of a reciprocal gaze but Ayan simply walks away, smiling in reminiscence. This is not to weigh merits of both the characters but simply to explore their connection to Ayan, who even with Saba thinks of Alizeh so much so that he invites Alizeh for dinner. However, this dinner’s purpose is again a showcase of Ayan’s possessive-manipulation — an act of envy to invoke Alizeh’s feelings for him, which were never there.

Ayan finally hits the jackpot. His self-praise comes true. He can indeed sing to the tunes of Rafi now but hardly at the master’s level; just an internet sensation who rose in the dark of room and shines through uplifting tweets and boosts of YouTube subscribers. This is how Johar portrays failure in ADHM. Ayan’s personal life dragged to a standstill after repeated trials and his dreamed self, a Rafi reality, ends up at a stalemate of popularity and respect; all of which is transitory.

Finally, at the endpoints of ADHM, Ayan finally finds Alizeh. He has all of her to himself (“[8]tum mere khandan ho”) but Alizeh is dying. He then resorts to sacrifice; shaves his head; takes care of her in every turn. The third act works like a pale image of the first, only in its intention, of course; quality will come later. They reunite and rejoice but death keeps lingering past an outburst of emotion. Everything seems to be well until Ayan throws a tantrum again. He falls back on his obtuse attempts of evocation and goes on to say that men and women can never be friends. This is how obsessed men are, in the world of ADHM. They lose every fight of the psyche that might help them change and still expect empathy in celebration of their failure.

Rarely have seen such a sober humanist who does not only hide rich subtext in his tropes but also go as far to invent a new angle for a hated cliché. We have here one of the greatest personal confessions in cinema, shaped to a romantic comedy. Humans love to contradict themselves. Lovers are liars. We say one thing and we mean another. We cry when we are filled in joy and we smile when surrounded by grief. It is this unnecessary complexity we fancy, and garner to be a kin to circumstance. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil mocks time in its final moments, and goes to believe how one song is only a corollary to what came before. The flower enervates, the happiness tires, and what remains is a fleeting recollection of all moments shared in animation.

“Main ek gaana gaun?” [Can I sing a song?]

Key:

  1. What is happiness? Something that keeps floating around grief.
  2. If I can’t have you. No one can.
  3. What’s better than crying?
  4. How are you?
  5. Did you have sex with him?
  6. Pursuit is more beautiful than the destination.
  7. Your voice has neither the pain nor the longing.
  8. You are my family.
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