Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Salaam-e-Ishq, or, "First Comes Love, Then Comes..."

I should've known. Salaam-e-Ishq (A Salute to Love) was a flop at the box-office last year, so of course I would love it. Really, Hindi film companies should hire me to look over scripts. If I hate them, they can green-light the project with assurance that it'll do well. I already had an inkling that I would enjoy the movie: it stars Vidya Balan, who's definitely one of my favorites, along with Juhi Chawla and Akshaye Khanna--also favorites. On the "hmmm, dunno" side it has Anil Kapoor, Sohail Khan, Ayesha Takia, John Abraham, Anjana Sukhani, Ishaa Koppikar, and Priyanka Chopra, who did okay in Don but didn't overly impress me.

And then on the "Oh, God, why," side it has SAL. MAN. Khan, Govinda, and Shannon Esra, who I was nervous about solely because of the gora name since white people in Bollywood tend to deliver lines like, "Is this place still open?" with an astounding lack of conviction coupled with an Australian accent. It was an interesting case of reverse racial profiling. Anyway, it's directed by Nikhil Advani, who did a stellar job with a so-so script in Kal Ho Naa Ho; if I'd known he was at the wheel I would have approached the TV with a lot less trepidation.

Salaam-e-Ishq, in case you're one of the few Bollywood fans as out-of-touch as I, follows six couples in a sort of merry-go-round storytelling style familiar to those who saw Love, Actually, which I Hated, Actually, and was in fact another big reason for me to wonder why I rented this movie. The first couple is Tehzeeb (Vidya) and Ashutosh (John), who at the beginning of the movie celebrate their second wedding anniversary with a diamond pendant, lots of Bollywood-style love, and a cute song.

The second is Raju Taxi-wallah, who waits at the gates of the Indira Gandhi International Airport for his dream girl, a blond who, he just knows, will come through those doors. He's been waiting for fifteen years but hasn't lost faith, and one day Stephanie (Shannon) does indeed come out of the airport and into his cab--in search of her Indian boyfriend who's come back home from Canada to find a bride.

The third is Vinay (Anil) and Seema (Juhi) Malhotra, an NRI couple living in London with their two children. Though Vinay has a seemingly perfect life and a good career, he's hit that middle-age-crisis stage just in time to meet Anjali (Anjana) a bold desi girl in search of a good time and a good man, single status optional.

The fourth couple is Gia (Ayesha) and Shiven (Akshaye), who are engaged, about to be married. Except, Shiven doesn't want to get married. He's incoherent and terrible at accessing his feelings verbally, so rather than just telling Gia he wants to change the date on the invites, he instead engages in some ridiculous ploys to try to get her to call the wedding off.

The fifth couple, and my personal favorite, consists of Kkamini (Priyanka) and Rahul (Salman). Kkamini is a diva who talks about herself in the third person and longs to be the heroine in the next Karan Johar film, although currently she's known as a scandal-riddled item number girl. She hatches up an ingenious scheme to gain respectability, telling the media that she's in a stable relationship with a man named Rahul. Little does she expect a guy named Rahul to actually appear, claiming to be the childhood sweetheart she referred to before the press.

The sixth couple, and the one with the least screentime (really, their storyline could've been cut altogether, especially considering the length of the film--but then it'd be a Hollywood movie, not Bollywood) is Ramdayal (Sohail) and Phoolwati (Ishaa), two lower-middle-class newlyweds desperate to consummate their relationship but stymied by their own clumsiness and bad luck.

Through a series of plot twists and turns, eventually their lives become interconnected, although only glancingly. Tehzeeb is injured in a train crash and loses all memory of Ashutosh; Raju and Stephanie hare all over India in search of her boyfriend; Vinay tries to make up his mind about what he wants; Shiven sort of succeeds and sort of doesn't; Kkamini slowly falls for the impostor until the line between act and reality loses all substance; and Ramdayal and Phoolwati continue to fail to Git 'R' Done. It's all handled masterfully, with the exception of a few times in "Ya Rabba" when the split-screen effect would overwhelm even the most dedicated "24" watcher.

As far as the performances go, dude. They rock. I hadn't seen much of John Abraham before this, except for his stills, and it would have been easy to consider him a pretty face without substance. That would have been totally unfair, though, because he is fantastic in his role of not-quite-bereaved husband. Ashutosh and Tehzeeb's storyline has more tears than the final scenes of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and KHNH combined, but they're all totally justified. Since their story is interspersed with the lighter tales it doesn't get too heavy. Vidya of course is wonderful, but that's no surprise.

Akshaye plays a great flaky bachelor, and Ayesha does well with what she's given, which isn't much really. She's mainly a straight man to Akshaye's loveable Peter-Pan-Syndrome-posterboy. Juhi also doesn't have a great deal of screentime, but I really respected her choices as an actor in the scenes where her character has some decisions to make. Sohail and Ishaa are funny but their storyline is mostly unspoken.

Raju and Stephanie are the big squishy heart of the movie, as far as I'm concerned. Before this, I hadn't heard much about Govinda except negativity, and Hindi comedy tends to totally miss my funnybone, heading directly toward my eyeroll-reflex instead. But even though he is funny in this movie, he doesn't ham his way through by any means. He's so sweet as Raju! I would have fallen for him too. Shannon Esra does a great American accent for a South African chickie and is totally believable.

Then there's Salman and Priyanka. I actually found Rahul likeable, which surprised me. I loved how he didn't try to change her, just her priorities--he liked her precisely as she was, overdramatics and all. And Priyanka? Well, there's this scene between Anil's character and hers, at 2 a.m. in a diner or pub or something. They both absolutely blew me away during that scene. But I can't go into details without getting seriously spoiler-y. Suffice it to say that they surprised me in the best way.

The music is fantastic from start to finish. I can't say this about most soundtracks, but I love every song, from the cute "Mera Dil" to the toe-tapping title track and "Tenu Leke," to the achingly sad "Ya Rabba." I never get tired of listening to them, and that's the truth.

Y'all, seriously. This movie is SO great; it totally reminded me of why I lurve popular Hindi cinema. Yes, it's huge, long, and unwieldy, but since when did that become a legitimate objection to a Bollywood film? That seems to be the biggest complaint others lodge against it, and I can't understand the reasoning behind it. I mean, if you want a boom-Boom-BOOM cut-and-dried storyline, watch anything that came out of Hollywood in the last ten years or so. Except for The New World. Which I also love. Salaam-e-Ishq is worth every single penny.


  1. I loved SEI too. I know it's a flop but that doesn't mean a movie isn't good. What's great about SeI is that Govinda haters actually started liking him. I plan to review the first Govinda movie I've ever seen (hopefully tomorrow) and made me a fan of his.

    PS - My John is sooo hot too, hahaha. I think he's good in emotional roles

  2. Nice review, Ajnabi. Agree about SEI, I rather liked it too. Vidya Balan was fantastic!

    Agree with Nicki about Govinda. Have you seen Partner? This really led to Govinda's great comeback in that film.

    PS: The songs made for great winter listening. It's one of my favorite December albums :)


  3. John Abraham can act??!! This I have to see. After Water and Dhoom I was convinced that he was more than a pretty face - more like a pretty wooden face!

    From your review this one sounds similar to Love Actually (cant believe you didnt like a movie that has Hugh Grant and Colin Firth!) with a line-up of all my least favorite stars! But for Juhi, Vidya Balan and an interesting story I think I can even endure Govinda in small doses! :-)

  4. Nicki--can't wait to read your review. And I agree, John rocked the emotion in this role. I'm looking forward to catching his next film.

    bollywoodfan--Vidya *was* fantastic, ITA! I haven't seen Partner yet, just clips. I think I might have to check it out.

    bollyviewer--yes, he can! I swear it's true.

    It is slightly similar to Love, Actually but it's really a salaam-e-shaadi; it's definitely not a remake, more like "inspired by." I thought it was much more sentimental and sweet, and more in line with my own interests, which is just the way I like it.

  5. I love love love this mov ie- cos it has both Akshay and Salman (love) :D they are both so adorable here...heeh. I honestly think I can happily watch this one over and over again.

  6. Shweta, I'm with you. I could definitely watch this one over and over again; it's so fun!

  7. Ooops! Had to rephrase something, sorry!:)


    I'm glad you liked this one! To tell you the truth, I kind of bounce around on this one after repeat viewings. I didn't like it very much the first time, but I didn't hate it, either.

    So why keep watching it? Well, I think its a great intro to some pretty big names in Bollywood. This was my first John Abraham movie, and I, too, thought he and Vidya(and their storyline)was the highlight of the film. Imagine my surprise when I saw John's stiff expressions in Water!

    I own this movie, and have watched it about 3 times. As much as I think I don't like it, I still coming back for more. I guess that's because its one of the first Hindi films I've seen and some of the songs still give me goosebumps(like the title song).

    By the way, I loved The New World! We watched it in one of my history classes and nobody else really liked it much, except me!

  8. Nida--do you know, I've never seen any Deepa Mehta film? Does that make me a poseur? ;-) I watched the first half of S-e-I on YouTube and then added it to my queue (yes, I know. Bad ajnabi) so I pretty much knew I was in for some serious time on the couch. I agree with you, the title song is fantastic, so perfectly everything Bollywood.

    And, OMG! I seriously thought I was the only other person on earth who liked The New World. LOL I love Terrence Mallick (I know I just totally misspelled his name, sorry) and his storytelling style. So dreamy!

  9. I liked this one too, although perhaps not as much. But I definitely didn't hate it like the Indian audiences seemed to. I think there is some sort of gene in white people which causes a sort of opposite effect in film appreciation (see KMG, below) :-)

    But I didn't love it. Govinda though was much better than in the other 6 or 7 movies I've tolerated him in.

  10. Memsaab--if I could name my blog again I think I'd switch it to "The Gora Effect." It would be of absolutely no use except for as reverse market research for Indian film producers. ;-)

    You know what surprised me most about Govinda? He's a really great dancer!

  11. oh yes, he's always been a great dancer. I fast-forward through the rest of his onscreen time, but do stop for the songs.

  12. Hmmm, I'll have to keep your technique in mind for future Govinda viewing. :-)

  13. I loved it but haven't bought the DVD since my first watch because Eros went and released the version with scenes cut and I haven't been able to track down the full uncut version. Then again, maybe even the cut version is long enough and has the best enjoyable scenes. Nevertheless, still slightly sad they cut Mera Dil picturization from the movie..

  14. Oh my gosh, they cut Mera Dil? That was the whole establishment of John & Vidya's relationship! How weird. Eros just sucks on the DVD front, period. Netflix has the uncut version, and I saw the uncut first half on YouTube, so it's out there somewhere!


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