The Naz in Artesia on Saturday night was packed with a crowd unlike any you’d see at your local multiplex on a standard opening weekend. Entire families of every age and both sexes–from ancient crones to young moms rocking infants in baby carriages in the aisles–turned out en masse to see Love Aaj Kal, the latest Bollywood musical starring sexy leading man Saif Ali Khan. He plays two characters, one a lovelorn man in 1965 trying to win a young beauty from her resistant family, the other a “modern” hipster seeking success and a laissez-faire attitude to marriage who finally sees the error of his ways. Willowy Deepika Padukone plays his love interest. Directed by Imtiaz Ali, the romance opened huge on 2800 screens last weekend all over the world, breaking Hindi-language boxoffice records in the U.S., Australia and the U.K..
Bollywood romances like this are hard to resist, even when a movie like Love Aaj Kal veers toward the cheesy and obvious. Broken up by a series of rollicking dance numbers, some contemporary, some period, the narrative plays out like a straightforward melodrama. Everyone knows where the story has to wind up, and roots for the young lovers to find their way. When the film’s pater familias, Bollywood veteran Rishi Kapoor (son of iconic Indian star Raj), turns up at movie’s end with his real-life wife, the crowd let out a huge “whoo!”
The heart of the movie’s appeal is its unabashed affection for the old romantic ways–not arranged marriages. But romance lives. At least in Bollywood.