Ten years ago today, on 31 July, Imtiaz Ali's coming-of-age (literally) romantic comedy Love Aaj Kal released. The film introduced to us a cinematic tool that is widely used across Hindi cinema today: parallel, non-linear narratives. Thematically, Love Aaj Kal was the ideal film to use the parallel narrative format through clever editing by Aarti Bajaj. Since the plot compared contemporary love with nostalgic 'love in those days', the juxtaposition of the past and present tracks was included beautifully into the narrative.
Saif Ali Khan played the protagonist, Veer/Jai in both the tracks, visualising himself as the man in love, when Rishi Kapoor narrates to him the latter's story. While Brazilian model Giselle Monteiro made her Bollywood debut as Harleen Kaur, Saif's love interest from the past, Deepika Padukone played Meera Pandit, Saif's girlfriend in the present (her character was also named Mira in the breakthrough film Cocktail by Imtiaz, who penned the script).
The parallel track is introduced somewhere in the first half when Jai breaks up with Meera for "practical reasons" (she is returning to India from London, where the film is set). They even host a "breakup party" at Rishi Kapoor's restaurant to celebrate the 'mutual' nature of their break-up and the new chapters of their lives. However, Rishi (who isn't given a name for the most part of the film, lest the twist gets spoilt) eggs Jai on to do 'typical romantic' stuff, like dropping her to the airport or gifting her a bouquet of flowers. Confused on why he is not being himself, Meera is initially surprised but ensures he knows she loves all the gestures he has taken to, though a tad bit late (remember, they broke up?).
Rishi narrates his love story to Jai, explaining how he even went to Kolkata when Harleen's family moved there back then. After she told him she is being married off, Veer (aka Rishi in his jawani days, played by Saif) objected to it, getting beaten up mercilessly at the railway station. However, he convinced her mother (when she was dressing her up for her wedding), and she allowed them to run away to an undisclosed location. This is the classic tale of love the Indian audience is familiar with. The last time the Indian audience was fed the trope of a submissive mother encouraging her silently rebellious daughter to flee with the respectful yet resolute man she loved was Aditya Chopra's 1995 blockbuster Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, that released at a time when Indian society was letting go of its esteemed values post the tempting liberalisation a couple of years before.
Liberalisation in 1991 had great impact in shaping love in the new millennium. This finds a passing mention in the film as well, when Rishi tells Jai that Harleen was not a choice for him. Unlike in the 2000s, the aashiq of the yore enjoyed little choice in terms of love. The one woman he fell in love with for the first time and consequently set his eyes on was the one 'meant' for him. However, through the contemporary track, Imtiaz shows how one's soulmate can be found in the present era, albeit with great difficulty. While the definition of 'love' has changed over the years, the core remains the same.
For him to bring out the love between Jai and Meera in current times, it was crucial for him to establish love between the old couple as well.
Meanwhile, a large part of the track involving the nostalgic love story sees Veer stalking Harleen, and following her around everywhere. The film could have potentially invited the ire of the critics, who bashed a film as recent as Sandeep Reddy Vanga's Kabir Singh for glorifying problematic love. But Imtiaz brought in a dew-like freshness to the genre, through the nuances of Saif and Deepika's relationship, with dialogues such as: "Tu hamesha sahi baat kar deti hai jaaneman" and "Hum aam janta hain. Mango people". These lines instantly hit off with the new generation.
Love Aaj Kal also pioneered the archetypal Imtiaz Ali hero through Saif's Jai, leading the way for the "thinking out loud" actor in Imtiaz Ali films, and setting the tone for Ranbir Kapoor's Ved in the 2015 film Tamasha.
Apart from the parallel narrative technique, it was a masterstroke on Imtiaz's part to convince Neetu Kapoor for a cameo as the older Harleen. She and Rishi were the most sought-after jodi of the 1970s and the duo worked in more than a dozen romantic films back then. It was thus poetic to have Neetu star opposite Rishi, as she appeared on screen after 26 years. Saif and Deepika brought just what was needed with their first-time pairing " the freshness of newfound love that sustained itself even as their relationship progressed over the course of the narrative.
A special mention to music composer Pritam (yes, there used to be only one back then) for an album replete with old and new classics. While tracks like 'Aj Din Chadheya' looked back at love fondly, 'Yeh Dooriyan' reflected the void of infamous long-distance relationships. The promotional 'Ahun Ahun' was a song where two generations converged, and 'Twist' explored the way love of the older times presents itself with a 'twist' in the present era. My personal favourite is 'Chor Bazari' which has been choreographed smartly at Purani Dilli, where the two worlds meet.
Ten years on, the definition of love may have changed. But the core of this film, just like that of love, is bound to stand the test of time.