The year was 2018 when Manmarziyaan hit the screens. From the look of it, nobody could guess that the romantic drama that hinged on one of Bollywood’s favourite tropes - a love triangle - was helmed by the unconventional and avant-garde Anurag Kashyap. For many, it marked the birth of Anurag Kashyap 2.0. The filmmaker, who started his directorial career with Paanch, a film that was never released, became synonymous with dark, noir, experimental and psychedelic motifs. But with Manmarziyaan, he turned over a new chapter and with his latest release, Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat, he carries the epithet forward.
While continuing to be off-beat, it is not entirely divorced from the quintessence of Bollywood. It is packed with eight songs and is themed on a kind of love that can make you, break you and bears the power to bring about a ‘Kranti’. It intends to explore the nuances of modern relationships while bringing up Ghalib and Amrita Pritam. It talks about the heartfelt and frenzied intensity of ishq, pyaar and mohabbat using the phrase ghanghor connection. And with these paradoxes crammed into the narrative, it might all seem pretty chaotic on the surface and in some parts, it is.
Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat has two stories running parallel to each other. The first story is set in Dalhousie where a young school-going Amrita has recently stepped into adolescence. Like most of Anurag’s women characters, she is feisty and waiting to explore what lies on the other side of the norms set by her family consisting of traditional parents, two austere brothers and a seemingly liberal grandmother. She secretly makes video for Ting Tong under the garb of Saloni ammi (probably inspired from content creator and comic Saloni Gaur’s famous avatar of Nazma aapi) and is obsessed with DJ Mohabbat’s music. With Yakub, a local shop owner’s son, who helps her make Ting Tong videos, she runs off to catch DJ Mohabbat live at a concert near Manali, which leaves her family distraught and furious.
The second story revolves around Ayesha and Harmeet and is set in London. Ayesha falls in love with Harmeet, a small-time DJ at a club in London, and relentlessly tries to pursue him. A dedicated, driven and aspiring musician, he pays no heed to her. But as fate would have it, he warms up to her. Here, the villain in the story is again her family – her father in particular – who goes to the worst possible extent to protect his rich and pampered daughter from the middle-class Harmeet.
Anurag tries to overfill the story with a lot of prevalent themes. It touches upon issues such as predatory behaviour, status differences and homophobia, and there’s a mention of Love Jihad too. In what was being billed as his ode to modern love, he has aimed to present the intricacies and complexities of new-age relationships in all their glory. The problems today’s youngsters face and the ideological and emotional clash that they have with their family members are interlaced in the narrative. But what makes the plot go slightly awry is that none of them really leave a very profound mark. The pace of the film is another deterrent and it is only in the last thirty minutes or so that Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat finally picks up and makes you intrigued about the fates of the four characters.
Touted to be a romantic musical drama, the film marks the fourth collaboration between Anurag and music composer Amit Trivedi after Dev D (2009), Bombay Talkies (2013) and Manmarziyaan. But sadly, none of the songs stay back with you apart from Mohabbat Se Kranti. To make the tracks resonate with the millennial and the Gen Z audience, the lyrics are packed with Hindi and English words, which could have been done away it. Music should have formed the heart of the film but sadly, it doesn’t add much to the story.
Through the film, we are also made to understand and recognise that no matter how different the language, syntax and grammar (quite literally) of love has become today, its core essence still reverberates with the ballads, poems and couplets written by Sufi poets many moons ago. And to connect and converge these timelines seamlessly comes DJ Mohabbat, played by Vicky Kaushal. He is your regular maverick and idealistic lover of music and poetry, who has a lot of advice to give to the younger generation. His character takes up the role of a narrator as he gives the audience an insight of what true love really stands for and how would ishq behave if aashiq ends up at her door. That might have seemed like a brilliant idea on paper but in the film, it only creates chasms and jerks in the flow of the narrative.
But all said and done, the film is written and treated with a rare tenderness and a whole lot of love. The light work is remarkable. Do notice the change in the lights as the story keeps vacillating between Dalhousie and London. That almost becomes like a character in the film as it perfectly symbolises the mood of the protagonists and the locales where the story currently stands at, almost causing a shift in your own disposition.
Alaya F as Amrita and Ayesha is the heart and soul of Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat. She commands your attention with her compelling presence and projects the complexities in both of her characters with aplomb. There is a seasoned actor that lies within this starlet and this film is another interesting addition to her oeuvre which boasts of Jawaani Jaaneman (2020) and Freddy (2022). She completely surrenders herself to her director and lets him mould her into two women, who are strong and uninhibited but also extremely fragile and vulnerable.
Speaking of vulnerability, the film begins with the narrator talking about men and them being emotionally brittle. It sets the tone for debutant actor Karan Mehta’s characters – Yakub and Harmeet. He shines, rather quietly. The emotional graph he plays with makes his characters interesting, and Karan delivers an impressive act.
Vicky as DJ Mohabbat has been credited as the third protagonist in the film. Apart from mouthing poetry and helping Karan’s Harmeet realise his true potential, he doesn’t have much to do. But it’s sheer delight watching the actor in a never-seen-before avatar grace the big screen nearly after three years!
Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat isn’t one of Anurag’s better works, but it surely has a heart. It might not be as intense or kranti-kari as it had promised, but it has a sublime quality to it. It might not be the answer to trim out the noise, the hate and the prejudice but it hits home. After all, who isn’t hungry for love and passionately looking and fighting for it?
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