Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat
Writer-Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Alaya F, Karan Mehta, Vicky Kaushal
Released in cinemas.
Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat is a rare Anurag Kashyap film – it did not attract any controversy and the CBFC cleared it with a UA certificate. But it is also a rare Kashyap film that is not engaging. This is Kashyap’s take on modern-day relationships which feel like ‘almost love’. The lead characters in the film are his daughter Aaliyah Kashyap’s age. She is credited with ‘special thanks’ in the opening credits.
My Boss in an advertising agency used to say, “ALMOST is a risky word. If deliverables are almost complete, that means they’re incomplete.” It’s true. You can’t quantify ‘almost’. And when it’s about love, it’s all the more difficult to measure it or even label it. A filmmaker who has mastered telling stories of these undefinable or unlabelled relationships is Kashyap’s friend Imtiaz Ali.
Kashyap has tried to layer the narrative with politics of religion which in this case is ‘love jihad’ which you often see erupting on social media every once in a while. Sadly, the film has as much depth or gravitas as these Twitter debates and trolls.
There are four main characters in two parallel narratives – one in Dalhousie and the other in London. The blues and hues of both these places are used well in world-building. So, these four characters are two sets of ‘almost love interests’ played by Alaya F and Karan Mehta. The Dalhousie pair are named Amrita (inspired by Amrita Pritam) and Yakub. The London pair are named Ayesha and Harmeet. All four of these are fascinated by DJ Mohabbat (Vicky Kaushal) who is a love guru of sorts on his podcasts.
Yakub wants to impress Amrita by helping her meet DJ Mohabbat. Harmeet (a DJ himself) on the other hand wants to impress DJ Mohabbat in order to get a break in the music industry. Ayesha is… not sure whether she’s in love with Harmeet… she just wants to be with him. She doesn’t hesitate in getting closer to him after his gig at a pub, clicking photos with him, giving her number to him, still piling on even when he doesn’t show interest in having a beer/food with her, and later on, setting up his bachelor pad as ‘home’ without his permission. And when Harmeet asks her to leave him alone, she makes a speech about how much she wants to be with him.
When I see such female characters, I can’t help but think of the iconic line from As Good As It Gets (1997) when a receptionist asks Jack Nicholson’s character of an author, “How do you write women so well?” Nicholson replies, “I think of a man and take away reason and accountability.” Anyway.
In Dalhousie, the main issue is that the girl is Hindu belonging to a politician’s family and the guy is Muslim whose father runs a small shop. Amrita elopes with Yakub to return home on Holi after attending DJ Mohabbat’s concert. But it is not going to be easy as you’d know it. The Dalhousie track is predictable. The London track keeps you somewhat invested.
The film touches upon as many debate topics on Twitter as possible but not in a newer or thought-provoking way. In one of his podcasts, DJ Mohabbat recites Gulzar’s iconic line “Pyaar ko pyaar hee rehne do, ise rishtey ka naam mat do.” (Let love be love. Don’t label it with a relationship.) But we don’t see the writer-director showing us enough love or almost love between the characters in the film. The focus is more on the issues surrounding it. That would have been fine if he had made me care for or invest in the characters. The film never becomes a lived story. It remains a social commentary on love jihad. Something as illogical and senseless as ‘love-jihad’ trolls/hatred needs profound critique if you’re setting up your story around it.
Kashyap often ends up indulging in his films a little too much. The indulgence didn’t hurt much in his last love story Manmarziyaan because of the emotional roller coaster that it was. But I wished he had indulged a bit in Almost Pyaar…, showing us that love/connection or the lack of it. The film starts an interesting journey, knows what it wants to achieve, it reaches almost there, but doesn’t achieve it.
As for actors, Alaya who made a confident debut with Jawaani Jaaneman and was pretty convincing in Freddy continues to carry herself with ease. What’s impressive is that she hasn’t tried to make an impression with her acting. You can see many boys and girls of her generation of actors trying to do that. Karan Mehta is sincere in his debut – as both Yakub and Harmeet. Vicky Kaushal has fun in his cameo.
Music by Amit Trivedi and lyrics by Shellee could be what most Gen Z population would listen to. But frankly, it didn’t appeal to me. In the film, Amrita makes Tik Tok videos under the handle @Saloniammi_786 administered by Yakub. Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat is the name of a Spotify-like podcast hosted by DJ Mohabbat. Here, Tik Tok is Ting Tong, and Spotify is Notify. But Netflix remains Netflix in the ‘Netflix and Chill’ song because that’s where this movie will eventually stream.