Saturday, November 5, 2016

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil—Of Unrequited Love

At an early point in Karan Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) brings a cactus plant for Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) and tells him about her severe dislike for flowers. She says flowers are overrated. "Pehle rang se impress karte hain, phir khushboo se; phir rang dhal jaata hai, khushboo udd jati hai, aur kya reh jaata hai." She, then, goes on to praise the thorns. "Maarte hai, marte nahi, aur unhe murjhaane ka khauff nahi hota." Thorns do not need to be afraid of wilting. Alizeh does not want to be a flower of a bouquet but prefers to be a thorn—raaste ka kaanta. The only other instance that I remember where a character does not like to be called a flower is the one from Agar Main Kahoon from Lakshya where Romi playfully chides Karan by singing, "Mujhe phool na kehna, woh murjhaate hain." When Ayan becomes a musical sensation, he is seen around a bunch of cacti. He collects those thorns, and keeps them with him as souvenirs. At a later point, Ayan compares love to a slap, and something as gut-wrenching as cancer. And, then, one wonders is it the same Karan who in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna told us, "Phoolon ki apni bhasha hoti hai, khamosh rehkar bhi kitna kuch keh dete hain." It is the same person who told us in Kal Ho Naa Ho that love means the songs of Yash Chopra, and that everything becomes beautiful in love, and life becomes so colorful. Even in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, the characters who indulged in infidelity got their love at the end. This film, on the other hand, seems to be made by someone who has evolved from a saccharine overdose to bitterness and pain.  
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is primarily the story of Ayan, an MBA student in London who wants to be a singer like Mohammad Rafi. He meets Alizeh, who has run away from her home in Lucknow to come to London. Ayan and Alizeh meet in a bar, and become friends but the problem is Ayan is attracted to Alizeh, while she wants to keep their relationship at the level of friendship. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai told us that love is friendship. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil tells us that friendship is a type of love. Alizeh loves Ayan but as friends and not as lovers. Pyaar mein junoon hai, dosti mein sukoon hai. Ayan struggles to find a name for this ek tarfa pyaar, and the film is the story of this unrequited love, and how he copes when this love is not reciprocated. This incomplete love is complete in itself. Adhoora hoke bhi hai ishq mera kaamil. It does not get divided between two people, and only he owns it.  Ek tarfa pyar ki taaqat hi kuch aur hoti hai, auron ke rishton ki tarah yeh do logon mein nahi batati, sirf mera haq hai ispe. Unrequited love, or one-sided love has always been a theme in many of Karan's films. In Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, after Rahul runs to Tina to say that he loves her, Anjali comes back crying to her hostel, and says, "Mera pehla pyaar adhoora reh gaya, Rifat Bi." In Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Naina talks about her adhoori prem kahani. In numerous interviews, Karan calls himself the brand ambassador of one-sided love, and heartbreak, and has said that this comes from his own personal life where his love was not reciprocated. I cannot help but think of Sanjay Leela Bhansali who has said the same thing many times. During the release of Bajirao Mastani, Sanjay Bhansali said all his films are about one-sided love and his characters will never get together in the end because he does not have love in his own life. His art completes his life. While it is not fair to compare two filmmakers whose sensibilities are like chalk and cheese, it must be said that for both of them, it comes from a deeply personal space. The art that they create is a way of expressing and completing their life. Perhaps, that is why Ayan becomes a better artist when he channelizes heartbreak into the art of music. 
Adhoora Ishq
There is an early point in the film when Ayan tells Alizeh that he cannot stay alone. He keeps on hugging Alizeh tightly as if he does not want to let go of her. There is a lovely moment in Channa Mereya where Ayan holds onto a pillar with his mehendi-filled hands. The object of his affection is getting married to someone else. All he can do is try to hold on to something because he can't be alone. Later, after the dinner scene, he runs to Alizeh's room and tells her he wants to let go. When he comes out of the building, he kneels down, starts crying, and is looking for some support. Since there is no one to do that, he again holds onto the pillar. On one side, Alizeh is hugging Ali, on the other side, Ayan is hugging a pillar. Pauline Phillips has written, "Loneliness is the ultimate poverty." Here is a man who flies in private jets, and has every possible thing in life, and he is let go by both the women in his life, and all he is left to do is to hold onto a pillar.
Ayan hugs the pillar
In a recent interview, Karan mentioned that his favorite scene of all his films is the dining table scene from Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna because of the powerful dynamics of the scene. In Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, too, there is a cracker of a dinner scene in the film, also a throwback to the dinner scene in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. Alizeh comes to have dinner with Ayan and Saba. Initially, they talk about beauty, and speak some poetic lines. And, then, Ayan says, "Cheese," and for a second, it made me think if he meant cheesy. Of course, they are the kind of people who have wine and cheese, but at an earlier moment in the film, they joked about a double entendre, I always stand up for you, and usually made fun of the poetic dialogues, which made me think like that. Alizeh tells Saba that she is as pretty as Noor Jahan, and then, a song by another Noor Jahan, with lyrics by Faiz, starts playing in the background. Mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang, aur bhi dukh hai zamaane mein mohabbat ke siwaa. It is a lovely song, and Alizeh repeats mujh se pehli si mohabbat, and Ayan completes by saying mere mehboob na maang. It is a charged scene, and then, seeing Ayan's reaction, she puts cheese in her mouth, as if her feelings are like the undefinable flavor of cheese—bitter, sweet, salty—whatever one prefers to call. Then, they move to dining table, and there is a lot of tension in the air. Their silence speaks volumes. The scene is also important for positional dynamics. Alizeh and Saba are seated opposite each other, and if Alizeh is dressed in white, then, Saba is dressed in black (with patches of white).
White and Black
Mujh se pehli si mohabbat, mere mehboob na maang
When Saba questions Alizeh as to how can she not fall in love with such a charming man like Ayan, she replies that he might be charming for her, but when she met, he was a child without a pram—bina pram ka bachcha. She had to console him when he cried like a baby whose toy is lost after his girlfriend cheated on him. This was the same question that almost everyone who watched Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna asked from Maya as to how can she not fall in love with someone like Rishi. To think about it, the story of Alizeh and Ayan has many similarities to Maya and Rishi. Maya used to always argue with Rishi that he was an immature kid. She was never attracted sexually to Rishi. The only reason she agreed to get married was that he was her childhood friend. Who knows if Ayan and Alizeh got married, their situation after a few years might become like Maya and Rishi. Sitting on a park bench before her wedding, Maya has her doubts, and she meets Dev who tells her that he also married his friend Rhea, but he does not know if he loves her. Alizeh is so sure about her feelings that she just does not feel attracted to Ayan. After Maya tells Rishi about her affair with Dev, he flies into a rage, and the first question he asks her is if she slept with Dev. The first question that Ayan asks Alizeh when she calls him from Lucknow is if she had sex with Ali. The reactions of both Rishi and Ayan are similar that they care a lot more about the physical aspect of the relationship, more than the platonic friendship. Tahir and Saba's relationship also had shades of Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, where Saba hinted at his infedility. Rishton ki geeli zameen par log aksar phisal jaate hain. People often slip in relationships. In fact, Saba is the only person in the film who does not cheat or thinks of cheating. 
Rishi and Ayan are compared to kids

Dinner Scenes
The first time we see Saba, she is at the airport, reading a book by Toni Michelle. Ayan offers her a bunch of grapes, and asks her if he can sit with her because he does not like to sit alone. She tells him that she is a shayra, and reads his eyes. Jo aankhein keh deti hai, unke aage lafzon ka darja kya. Bade wafaadar hai aapke aansun, aapki ijaazat ke bagair bahar bhi nahi nikalte. They talk to each other during their flight, and she hands him her book Shab-E-Firaq with her poetry, and her number. Ayan and Saba develop a sexual relationship. It is interesting that the film does not make any moral issue out of Ayan having sex with Saba even though he is still in love with Alizeh. He tries to make Alizeh jealous, and carries a lot of emotional baggage. Notice how Ayan is always with a backpack. At the airport, the only thing he carries from Alizeh's wedding with him is a small bag (with no suitcases). Back in London, at their sukoon ghar, he has a small bag. His emotional baggage does not make him a celibate. He distinguishes this by saying when heart breaks, it is time to listen to the mind. Jab dil toot jata hai, usse behtar advice toh dimaag deta hai. At one point, Ayan says that there are two characters—love, the hero, and friendship, the heroine. Ayan was the love, the hero, and Alizeh was friendship, the heroine. Saba could be called the third character—sex—played by someone who is one of the most beautiful people in the world. Ayan calls her a painting and she is truly a painting. When Ayan tells her that he needs her, she says she does not want to be any one's need. She calls herself khwaaish (fantasy) instead of zaroorat (need), while Alizeh calls her love Ali as zaroorat
Both Saba and Alizeh can read Ayan's emotions, much better than he knows himself. They both can read his eyes. Like Alizeh instantly recognized Ayan's emotions in Channa Mereya. Or, when Saba tells him that she saw love for Alizeh in Ayan's eyes after the dinner. Interestingly, the meaning of both Saba and Alizeh are related. Saba means soft breeze, while Alizeh means wind. Both of them also are very clear about their own feelings. Ayan's scenes with Alizeh reflect a certain kind of childish frivolity. The very fact that both of them live their childhood fantasy with each other reflects this. Saba, on the other hand, was mature, and helps bring a maturity to Ayan about life. She takes him to meet Tahir who talks about one-sided love and after speaking to him, he gets the courage to call Alizeh. She is the one who tells Ayan that she is walking away from him. Mohabbat se door chale jaana, woh humare bas mein hai. It is after this, he runs to Alizeh to tell her that he wants to go away. Saba tries to make him a man from the bina pram ka bachcha. She has no regrets in life. She knows that she is not a well-respected poet, and she says that beauty fades (kind of ironic given she is so pretty herself), but it is one's personality that remains eternal. She is clear that she is not looking for a serious relationship, and walks away when she realizes that someone she has started loving does not love her back. I really wish there was more of her in the film.
Childhood and Maturity
On being asked by Ayan as who Ali is, she replies, he is "meri tabahi." I am not sure if that too was a signal of her death. She always wanted his love. She does get that love. During their Paris tip, she tells Ayan that she loves hotels. She even got that. As after being married to Ali, she says, "Hotel ko ghar bana liya hai." But she still did not feel happy. She was suspicious about Ali's philandering. Given that none of the five characters in the film were happy when they were together at some point, it fits the film's theme of one-sided love being complete in itself, and that it does not need to be divided. Maybe, also some kind of realization that people are happier when they love someone by themselves.
Meri Tabahi
When Ayan and Alizeh travel to Paris, Ayan says he is getting the same feeling of being satisfied like when he has bhurji ka paratha. It is as if his heart's stomach is satisfied. One of my most favorite pieces of writing in recent times is a post on The Lunchbox where the author underscores the point that one of the motifs in that film was that food was a symbol of nourishment. We all crave for physical and emotional nourishment, and every character in that film wanted nourishment. Hence, Ila's mom asks for parathe when her husband dies. This is a similar emotional nourishment that Ayan craves. Dil ka pet bhar gaya. If Ayan talks about nourishment of the heart, Alizeh gives pyaar ka pani to everyone in the party. She craves the pyaar of DJ Ali. When Ayan is going to Alizeh's wedding, he drinks the same pyaar ka pani before he reaches her place. 
Dil ka pet bhar gaya
There is a moment in the film when Ayan says that he was not a popular student in the film, and every body used to call him a weirdo, ajeeb, introverted, but none of this mattered to him. He preserved his personality, and some day he hoped that he will find someone who will understand his madness, after all love is someone who you can be silly with. He meets Alizeh in whom he finds this shared love of being madly in love with films. Their talk is going to be all filmy; they make promises by saying Sholay ki kasam. Even the hotel that they stay in Paris is called 'We Are All Mad Here' and their room has hero written on the wall.This is an autobiographical moment where Karan has said numerous times, that he was called names in school, and he used to secretly dance on Hindi film songs, completely different from the ethos of the society he grew up in. The entire first half is sort of his tribute to his filmy love. 
Weirdo Ayan saves himself for Alizeh
In the first few minutes of the film, there are explicit references to Karan's own films, including Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and Kal Ho Naa Ho. Ayan and Alizeh bond over their shared love of films. They discuss tacky cinema of the eighties, such as Maqsad and Himmatwala. Their playlists are called Cheap Thrills and Jolly Good Bollywood. They go to Paris and live their filmy dream of dancing on snow-clad mountains. The song that they play is Mitwa from Chandni. Ayan wants to be a singer like Mohammad Rafi, so, there are some of his songs from An Evening In Paris.  He also sings Ruk Ja O Dil Deewane from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. There is a lot more dialogue-baazi from other films. The only non-Hindi film that is mentioned is French film Priceless, and is actually the story of a gold digger. In a parallel world, Joey from Friends must be feeling happy that his way of writing help as pleh is used here by writing love as evol in the sukoon ghar. Love tedha hai. Should not it be love ulta hai?
Yellow in Karan's films
There are implicit references to some other films (including his own) as well. Ayan helps Alizeh in wearing a yellow saree. At one moment, he puts his hand on her waist, quite reminiscent of the way Rahul took off the pallu from Anjali's waist during the basketball game in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. The private jet flying Ayan is doing MBA, like Rahul comes from his helicopter in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. At one point, Saba tells Ayan, "Tumhari khamoshi sab kuch keh gayi," like Tina's letter to her daughter Anjali said, "Anjali ki khamoshi mujhe sab kuch keh gayi." In one scene, Alizeh says that cognac is not sharab, a throwback to the scene in Chandni. When Alizeh and Ayan talk at the terrace, the scene is like Ayesha and Sid talking on the terrace in Wake Up Sid. Alizeh wants to keep their relationship at friendship, but Ayan wants more, quidte similar to Riana and Rahul in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. "Yahi to problem hai, maine dost se pyaar kya, aur tumne pyaar se dosti."At another point in Channa Mereya, Ayan is walking back and crying while Alizeh is seen behind him. A similar scene was seen during Kabira in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, where Bunny walks back crying, unable to decide what his heart wants, while Naina stays behind.
Wake Up Sid and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
At some later point, Saba tells Ayan, "Mohabbat karna humare bas mein nahi hai, us mohabbat se door chale jaana, woh humare bas mein hai." When Anjali finds out that Rahul loves Tina in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, she packs her stuff, and walks away from his life. When Naina finds out Rahul is in love with Anjali in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, she chooses to go away from his life. When Aman gets to know that Naina loves him in Kal Ho Naa Ho, but he cannot have her as he is dying, he lies to keep her away from him. In Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Dev and Maya walk away from each other's life even though they are in love with each other. In Student of The Year, Abhimanyu and Shanaya's relationship had themes of the same one-sided love.
Ayan and Bunny going away from Alizeh and Naina
As the film relies a lot on Hindi film references, the subtitles provided another level of fun. Bewaafai ki brand ambassador becomes Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn must be happy. Aashiqui becomes Casablanca. Shakaal becomes Captain Picard. Madhuri Dixit becomes Wonder Woman. Pankaj Udhas becomes Charlie Brown, and my favorite one is when Lata Mangeshkar becomes Celine Dion. There is a lot to see as well. When Alizeh collects her stuff to go back to London, she carries the bag that has Shakespeare and Company written on it. At Saba's place, her bookshelf has Vanity Fair Portraits, something that does not seem very surprising. 
Alizeh's Ali (Alizeh contains Ali)
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil also reminds one about the messy and the complex Imtiaz Ali's films. Ranbir plays singer in both the films. In Rockstar, Khatana Bhai says to Janardhan Jhakar, "Toote hue dil se hi sangeet nikalta hai, jab dil ki lagti hai na, tukde tukde hote hain, tab aati hai jhankaar." In a similar moment here, when Alizeh hears Ayan singing Gaata Rahe Mera Dil, she says, "Tumhari awaaz me dard aur mohabbat ka naam aur nishaan hi nahi tha." When his heart gets broken, he will be able to sing with emotions. In Love Aaj Kal, when Meera and Jai separate, they decide to have a break up party. Here, Alizeh and Ayan dance and celebrate on The Breakup Song. In Tamasha, Ved has this hidden personality, which he does not share with anyone. He pretends to be someone who he is not, and he meets Tara who helps him embrace his true self. Tumhare saath hoti hun, toh main special ho jaati hun yaar, to socho tum kya hoge. Here, Ayan says he preserved his personality to be with someone who will understand him, and he finds Alizeh. In Tamasha, in the very final scene, Ved and Tara are dancing with their headphones on, and are enjoying every moment. We don't get to hear the music they are listening. Here, in the final moments, Alizeh and Ayan are also doing a ballroom dance with their headphones on, but the film tells us that they are listening to Lag Jaa Gale, Karan's favorite song. This is the same song that soothed the emotional turbulence of Dev in Bombay Talkies. While Imtiaz leaves it to the audience to develop their connection with the film, Karan tells his state of mind.
Break up party
Tamasha and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
Alizeh's final death scene did not come as a surprise. It was kind of visible in the film's trailer that something is going to happen to her. Think of it, there is not a single film of Karan Johar (excluding the short stint in Bombay Talkies) that does not have a character who dies or is dying. Tina (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai), Rahul's grandmother (Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham), Aman (Kal Ho Naa Ho), Samarjeet (Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna), Sam (My Name Is Khan), Abhimanyu's grandmother and Dean Vashishth (Student Of The Year)—all these characters died in his films. Alizeh's cancer, therefore, was kind of expected. At an earlier moment in the film, she said she always takes the middle path that is 'Zindagi'. So, it is kind of expected that Alizeh who preferred to take the path of life, and who chooses thorns that never die, will be one who died first. Though the last thirty minutes went into something I did not feel much about due to some conflicting signals. When Ayan gets to know that Alizeh is dying, he cries in the toilet, and Ayan's reaction gave it a feeling that we are supposed to laugh at it; or, perhaps, that was the very point, but I did not get it. The focus on the background score of Kal Ho Naa Ho at that point felt somewhat forced that we are supposed to cry. The last twenty minutes could have been treated better even if death was the eventual outcome.
Death in Karan Johar's films
The film's best moments are actually conveyed through the silences. Like the scene where Ayan struggles to come up for a name for his one-sided love, and his eyes speak. Or, the dinner scene where there is so much tension in the air. Or, the scene with Tahir, Saba, and Ayan, where there is so much to think about. A special word about music. It is beautiful, and I really like all the songs. Channa Mereya is fabulous. Tere rukh se apna raasta. Mod ke chalaa. Chandan hoon main. Apni khushboo chhod ke chala. A really thoughtful line. He is like sandalwood, spreading his fragrance everywhere whereever he goes. There are some words that are repeated in the songs and the films. Rooh and shiddat being some of them. There are at least three instances of shiddat that I recall. They should release the really beautiful Aaj Jaane Ki Zidd Na Karo. It is exotic, if I may use the word. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil must be one of the rare films where two songs play in the narrative back to back. As soon as Cutepie ends, Channa Mereya begins without any intervening sequence.
Chandan Hun Main
There is something sad about Ranbir's eyes and he uses them to his best. Like the scene where he hits himself with a pot, and then starts crying. He conveys pain beautifully. There is remarkable scene when Alizeh calls him for her wedding, and he says, "Of course, aaunga main." It felt so personal, and I love that scene. Watch him in Channa Mereya where he dances like a dervish. Anushka as Alizeh was superb throughout, though there was some understated consciousness in a few scenes. Aishwarya Rai is lovely, and I wish there was more of her. Fawad Khan deserved a little better treatment, but even in the small role, he looks great. It seems the song Cutepie was shot on him, but the political problems made the film shoot another version with Ranbir, though the new one was not present in the film. And, no one is going to say vatavaran without thinking about Lisa Haydon. Yes, Shah Rukh Khan. In one scene, he manages to convey the film's theme beautifully, one of the best scenes in the film. More of such in another film, please. 
Saba and Ayan 
It is kind of ironic to see some protests from the patrons of Mohammad Rafi who claim that the film insults him. The film is actually named after a line from one of Rafi's popular songs Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan from CID. The last time Karan got into trouble with the paper tigers of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) was because of the use of the word Bombay in Wake Up Sid. Funnily enough, even this time there is a Bombay connection. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil Jeena Yahan, Zara Hat Ke, Zara Bach Ke, Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan. How fitting for a film that shares its title with this song.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is fabulous, and frustrating at times, much like the feeling of love itself. Here's hoping for more of madness and messiness.

Other Reading:
On Kabhi Alvida Naa KehnaLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Dard dard ko dhoond hi leta hai."
—Saba, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

P.S.—I wanted to write this one better, but it actually came out worse.


  1. I saw the movie too and had been waiting for your post on this :)

    Once again, beautifully written..

    To add to your point about the music - I think it is magnificent. Stunning music with even better lyrics. My favorite line is also from Channa Mereya:

    Kitni dafaa, subah ko meri
    Tere aangan me baithe
    Maine shaam kiya

    ... its beautiful heartfelt song..

    1. Yes, it is a beautiful song :)
      And, thanks :)

    2. what is the meaning of dafaa in this context?

  2. Very interesting . . . I just bounced over from a similar analysis at dontcallitbollywood
    ( )

    1. Thank you for sharing it; it is wonderful :)

  3. Brilliant as always. Why prople always underestimate their own work. It was awesome. So much references man. Karan developed very much himself .. The death. Imtiaz reference and khamoshi. The beg pack .. and many more. How do u remember so much..

    1. Thank you, Ravi :) Just by practise, remember it :)

  4. you're amazing at this, even before watching the movie, i opened up this post. after so much of heartbreak and tears, i needed to sober up and read something positive. i love this post.

    1. Thanks so much and cheer up :) Everything will be fine :)

  5. where can we get that book saba is handing over to ayan ! ? shab e firaaq book

    1. Hi Najah,
      That is not a real book. It is only fiction, made for the movie...

  6. Hello PANKAJ, I really love your blogs.

    Please write something on movie Tum Mile, song Dil Ibadat & song Channa Mereya. :)

    1. Thank you for reading :) I have seen Tum Mile, will try to watch some time :)

  7. Well done pankaj... I feel ki mere dil ka bhi ab pet bhar gaya ..After reading ur posts.... Thank u for helping us understand such classic movie.... Plz can u write on all time favorite movie "guide"? Plz

    1. Thank you for reading :) I will try sometime to write on Guide :)

  8. I really wanted to buy that book 'Shab-E-Firaaq' which Saba hands over to ayan.


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