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.