I have never walked into a romantic comedy expecting more than what is conventional. Many films try to be contemporary or realistic with the end result ranging from mixed to farcical to downright disastrous (read: Love Aaj Kal). However, very rarely does one find a film that does not try any of these and yet, manages to be all of them. Break Ke Baad is one of those.
Meet Aliyah Khan (Deepika Padukone) and Abhay Gulati (Imran Khan), or Al and Gelato. They met when they were 5, started dating when they were 15 and have been dating ever since. They are both in love with each other, there’s no doubt about that. But Aliyah wants to be an actress, travel, see the world and be adventurous while Abhay does not know what he wants, works in a dead end job at his father’s office but is unconditionally in love with Al. She wants space, he wants her. The relationship is put to test when they decide to take a break with her leaving for Australia to learn acting. Things complicate, tough decisions are taken and they must find a way to love each other without losing their individual selves.
Break Ke Baad is, in my opinion, one of the most honest, natural and relatable films about today’s generation. It has seriously flawed but immensely likable characters that we care for within the first ten minutes. He is a caring, understanding and patient boyfriend who may be struggling to find himself but is sure about his commitment to her. She is lively, vivacious, funny but insensitive, self-centred and fiercely protective about her individualism. These characters are extremely well sketched; the themes are given thought and the emotions resonance. It had all the ingredients of a conventional rom com. What makes it more than one is that it confronts the conflicts between individualism and commitment and deals with them in a sensitive, intelligent and balanced manner without falling prey to either aggressive individualism (like Eat, Pray, Love) or worse, some form of chauvinistic hypocrisy.
The writing is impeccable here. Very rarely are lines clichéd or the jokes dull. The script is written well not only in the humorous moments but also in the dramatic ones. The elders have the required wisdom of age and the younger characters have the chutzpah and spunk. Thankfully, no one uses terms like “Mango People” here. One may instantly be able to identify with many aspects of the relationship, the good bits and the bad. The final half hour of the film may be too long and meandering for some but I think it is necessary to show the growth of the characters gradually (even if the sequence of events if circuitous) rather than abrupt changes of heart. Moreover, the lines here are written well enough to play along anyway. The only flaw in the film is the climax which has been seen one too many times in Hindi films. But by then, it doesn’t matter.
Danesh Aslam directs the film straight without unnecessary frills focusing on timing and performances instead. The running time is kept on a tight leash. The music is on a need to use basis and furthers the story rather than hampering it. The lyrics by Prasoon Joshi are refreshingly different and break several conventions. The production design is classy without being excessive. Any and all extravagance (like Al's house in Gold Coast) is sufficiently justified in the script.
The acting is good throughout. Imran Khan cements his position as the leading man for romantic comedies. He has never been more likable or emotionally expressive. Deepika Padukone is true to her character and pitches in a solid performance, a pleasant surprise. Yudi and Shahana Goswami do well as the sexed up brother and the bohemian and slighltly emo sister who are friends with Al and Gelato. Lilette Dubey gets away with some of the best lines in the film and Sharmila Tagore brings a distinct elegance and poise to her character that adds weight to her few words.
All in all, I have rarely given rave reviews to romantic comedies. Break Ke Baad qualifies as one of those rare occasions. It is not the most original film. It has its inspirations. But, it is at times brutally honest, often surprisingly deep and almost always intelligent. It cackles in wit and humour throughout. It is the film that Love Aaj Kal should have been. In Bollywood, it represents another entry in a growing group of storytellers who can tell contemporary stories with maturity, intelligence and youthful charm. I walked in expecting, at best, Jab we Met but instead received a film that has the classic romantic charm of When Harry Met Sally and the honesty and relatability of (500) Days of Summer. How often does that happen?
P.S.: Yes, I have now introduced a star rating. Saves time for those who can’t or don’t care for reading.