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How 2020's 'Love Aaj Kal', 'Taj Mahal 1989' Gave Us Two Different Ideas of Love on Valentine's Day

By: Raunaq Saraswat

Last Updated: February 16, 2021, 14:15 IST

Love Aaj Kal / Taj Mahal 1989.

Love Aaj Kal / Taj Mahal 1989.

There cannot be a more fitting occasion to talk of the two disparate works on the notions of love from the forgetful 2020, 'Love Aaj Kal' & 'Taj Mahal 1989', both peculiar in their treatment of the subject, both turning a year old on Valentine's Day 2021.

We do not think of 2020 with affection. We cannot. It was a bad dream no one wants to see again, the monstrous ocean that jittered us with its waves, crashing into our heads and hearts.

The year now rests in the lap of our memories, etched woefully in our quarantine schedules and precautionary tendencies, traces of which will continue to persist in the time to come.

It is then, perhaps, antithetical to the idea of 2020 to write about the love stories it gave us, but a reversal to normal presupposes nostalgia, and love in all its forms is vital, more so in the polarized era we live in.

There cannot be a more fitting occasion too, to talk of the two disparate works on the notions of love, Love Aaj Kal 2020 & Taj Mahal 1989, both peculiar in their treatment of the subject, both turning a year old on the coming Valentine’s.

Taj Mahal 1989 & Love Aaj Kal 2020 (left & right respectively)

Mazi stands for past. Mazi is also the name of the workspace-cum-cafe where the story of Love Aaj Kal unfurls, where the character arcs from different epochs come to life and interact with each other. Taj Mahal 1989 goes further back, to yesteryears, to the times when letters were in vogue, and poetry adorned the pursuit of love.

It reeks of an archaicness we don’t see around us anymore, except for the rusty government offices and tombs, and for a show that is premised in the past most of its younger audience hasn’t lived through, the landscape is definitive. It is telling of the most specific quality of 1989 vis a vis 2020: a closed economy, autarky, lack of choices.

Come to Love Aaj Kal in 2020 and you have Hauz Khas and Champa Gali as the breeding grounds of love, graffiti on walls screaming of an artsy rebellion, fairy lights, and aestheticised streets teeming with vibrancy. Individualism is at its zenith, and the people are far more carefree, careless, basking in the choices that are available to them, both material and human. Between 1989 & 2020, letters have been replaced by emoticons and slangs, reticence to express is now the reticence to swipe right. Love, as before, is a tough road to tread.

Love Aaj Kal 2020

Imtiaz Ali can be professorial in his movies. He can initiate you on the philosophy of life that hasn’t caught your eye yet, or trigger the suppressed desires that have been waiting for their cue. Love Aaj Kal 2020 does it in parts. The first: it makes the lover-boy of 2020 a staunch idealist, wanting to drown and not merely swim in the sea of love. Veer (Kartik Aaryan) speaks of a full companionship, not knowing what it entails, not telling us either.

He doesn’t want to be a part of a fling, intimacies that are devoid of meaning, or half-hearted relationships. It is still abstract as to what it is that Veer is in quest of, except that his version of love is not commonplace anymore and stands against the zeitgeist of the Tinder populace, or what Ali described as the driving thought of the movie, that “the process of love has completely reversed itself with time.”

Taj Mahal 1989 doesn’t keep it as obscure; instead, it sheds light on the philosopher’s perception of love, and life in total. Sudha (Danish Hussain) is the could-be-anything tailor with a distinguished academic record in philosophy. Unlike the Twitter warriors of today, ‘he knows that he doesn’t know’, and thrives in his contended state of being. Sudha epitomizes the sacrificial and selfless flavour of love, patiently waiting for Mumtaz until she becomes a part of his life. Patience though, is a virtue of the bygone era. Sudha’s life story then is a remarkable exhibition in itself, giving the viewer a chance to admire the deep-rooted firmness of a slow and steady life – a life that is not spent sprinting but walking.

Love Aaj Kal 2020

One of the songs (Yeh Dooriyan) in Love Aaj Kal 2020 succinctly elucidates its second and the pivotal tension of the movie. When Mohit Chauhan croons ‘Tujhse hai Mohabbat, Hai Mohabbat Kaam se bhi’, he very melodiously reminds us of the dichotomy between the personal and professional, exacerbated more than ever in the dire times of today. It is amusing, really, that even when the virus blended the professional into personal and brought work to homes in the previous year, the outcome was more muddled and chaotic.

It was not a respite that you were stuck with your loved one inside your home in the lockdown, and it was not a relief either when you were away from them before, toiling for hours and hours. Imtiaz Ali and Irshad Kamil know this paradox well, and they speak to your heart when they say that “zyaada paas aana hai asal main door jaana.” How does one love in this age then? In fact, when does one find the time to love?

Ali injects philosophy in his subtle tonalities, as opposed to the release partner Taj Mahal 1989, which keeps on giving the viewer a lesson in living from time to time. It makes another significant statement though: interspersing politics of its time with the love in the air. Angad & Rashmi befriend each other over communism in their university corridors, waging debates and discussions on the common man and his plight.

And if anything, we’ve carried this trait to the love stories of our time, precisely to the time around 2020, when politics of the hinterland drew clear lines in the spectrum. More and more people today ostensibly embed their political tilts in their profiles on the dating apps they use. Even if we try not to live in our bubble, we inevitably find love in there. This mandate perhaps begs a singular question: is it possible otherwise today?

Taj Mahal 1989

The origin of Valentines, purportedly, was fraught with patriarchal violence in the ancient Roman empire. While Shakspeare and his like contributed immensely in morphing it into a poetic dream, cards and gift that cater to the day, and those surrounding it, commercialised the underlying romantic sentiment. Love Aaj Kal 2020 or Taj Mahal 1989 are popular culture’s addition to the bandwagon, but they cannot be termed as love stories, no. Akin to the character of Ghalib’s ghazals, these works of celluloid are ‘about love’.

We can argue on their cinematic merit on some other day, but for now, take them as antidotes to the hate you see around you and as emphatic reminders of the need to see the world with an affable lens. If Neeraj Kabi (Taj Mahal 1989) is correct in his inference that ‘love is a mutating virus’, then we can certainly let this virus be, without fretting for any vaccines. Happy Valentines!

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