When I saw Jai and Meera break-up with each other in Love Aaj Kal and still be involved in each other’s lives with the intensity of a married couple, I was convinced that every break-up deserved a break-up party. Today, I know that the biggest sham that Imtiaz Ali sold us was the idea that we should remain friends with our exes.
The year is 2009. Imtiaz Ali is fresh off the success of Jab We Met and possibly telling himself “main apni favourite hoon”. Saif Ali Khan is Bollywood’s premiere metrosexual hero and Deepika Padukone is a relatively fresh face doing only her third film. Their coming together makes a movie called Love Aaj Kal, whose chart-topping soundtrack has Pritam’s trademark earworm genius all over it. I’m all of 17 – it’s a couple of months after our Std 12th board exams and a Cheese popcorn and Pepsi combo costs only ₹100 at a PVR. It was a magical time to be young. My college friends and I are experiencing our first brush with love and heartbreak and it’s at this exact period in time that we decide to walk into PVR Juhu to catch this very film.
In Love Aaj Kal, Ali flitted around with two love stories set in different timelines: One is set in present day and revolves around flaky millennial couple Jai (Saif Ali Khan) and Meera (Deepika Padukone) who are on the verge of a break-up. And the other is set in the past, that tells the love story – replete with montages of silent pining – of Veer (Rishi Kapoor, but because this is a Bollywood film, his younger version is also played by Saif Ali Khan) and Harleen (Giselle Monteiro).
When my friends and I watched the film, our understanding of love and relationship was limited, at best, shaped up by the romantic myths that Bollywood routinely sold us. It was a time when we genuinely believed that true love trumped over every obstacle and that it excused any and every inappropriate behaviour. So naturally, we laughed along when old-school Saif and his Sardar version of the Stranger Things bike gang followed Harleen around the lanes of old Dilli. And we kept guffawing, when current-day Saif’s friends encouraged him to be a “Khulla Saand”, denoting that it’s the duty of every young man to be aggressively sowing his wild oats.
Riding high on Jai and Meera’s love story, many of us ditched newer romantic prospects and actively jumped back into trysts with our exes.
But despite its cinematic clichés, Love Aaj Kal was also slightly different from your run-off-the-mill Bollywood romance dramas, in the sense that it made break-ups seem aspirational. Up until then, my teenage mind was conditioned to believe that break-ups are messy affairs that lead to the kind of shouting matches that Ross and Rachel had. And the idea of a mutual separation seemed alien because if it’s love, how can you be okay with letting go? The Mango People scene, in which the protagonists gleefully end their two-year-long relationship, changed that for me. When I saw Jai and Meera break-up with each other and still be involved in each other’s lives with the intensity of a married couple, I was convinced that every break-up deserved a break-up party.
And that’s the biggest lie that Love Aaj Kal peddled to us. That being friends with your ex is a great idea, and that you should definitely let them be your occasional wingman. For most of the film, Jai and Meera fall in and out of love over the span of a few years while casually wrecking the lives of their partners. Saif toys with random white girls’ feelings while Meera leads on poor Rahul Khanna. In fact, at one point in the film, Jai even kisses Meera immediately after she’s been proposed to. In their stubbornness to not cut off with each other, Jai and Meera wreak havoc on each other’s mental health. Meera internalises her feelings and retreats into her shell and Jai transforms into a millennial sadboi when it dawns on him that he can’t be happy with his dream job if it means being away from Meera. In the climax, Jai shows up at the doorstep of Meera’s marital home only to find out from her husband that she loved Jai all along, leading to the two having a passionate reunion. Great for Jai and Meera but not so great as a lesson for impressionable 17-year-olds.
The idea of a mutual separation seemed alien because if it’s love, how can you be okay with letting go?
For us adolescents back then, watching Jai and Meera reunite despite having broken up, getting married to someone else, and moving away from each other, felt liberating. It fuelled our dumb belief that even after a break-up, our exes could still be the ones we are meant to end up with. Riding high on Jai and Meera’s love story, many of us ditched newer romantic prospects and actively jumped back into trysts with our exes. What followed was a series of unnecessary backslides, sloppy “Let’s stay friends with benefits” pacts and an overall incestious group dynamic that is still the reason why most of us can’t see eye to eye at our college reunions. And I even know some people who use Jai and Meera’s happily-ever-after as justification for stalking their exes on social media. Imagine being told all your life that there is someone out there for you. But then, a movie comes in and reminds you that in all probability, that person could just be your ex. Thanks but no thanks Imtiaz Ali.
It’s been a decade since Love Aaj Kal released and Imtiaz Ali much-awaited sequel, featuring Sara Ali Khan and Kartik Aryan is out. Today, I’m 27 and understand that we musn’t always yearn to win back our Jais and Meeras.
Sometimes, knowing that your time with someone is coming to an end is reason enough to let them go. That, after all, defines Love Aaj Kal.
Jackie Thakkar masks anxiety with humour. Living with his dog, cat, and mediocrity. Creating content aur life se kaafi discontent. Tweeting as @juvenile_jack.