Love Aaj Kal

WASHINGTON DIARY: Love, past and present

by: Dr. Manzur Ejaz

Courtesy:, August 26th, 2009

Like many others, this film distorts the historical perspective of the great mythical love stories when it misrepresents them by saying that their characters were striving for some metaphysical goal while the present generation is only looking for worldly relations.

As the societies change, the concept of love is redefined. Love being the binding force between basic units of human society, man and woman, changes its forms and modalities; however, the essence remains constant. At least this is what has been portrayed in a new Bollywood’s movie, Love Aaj Kal. The reception and acceptance of the film’s mature and adult theme shows that the transition of Indian society is entering a decisive phase with implications for its neighbours and economic partners.

Most of the time, the old generation in the subcontinent and many other feudal societies believes that there is no binding love in western societies because physical relations come too soon or occur before a deeper relationship. For this generation, only platonic love is authentic, and only the platonic beginning leading up to marriage is genuine love. This view is baseless because there are all kind of love relations between individuals in the industrial societies of the West. This is why plagiarism of western movies by Bollywood is so pervasive: if love was so different in the West, hundreds of Bollywood love movies would not be ditto copies of Hollywood films.

Love Aaj Kal explores this civilisational/generational clash and the ultimate fusion of past and present. The film revolves around a young Indian in London, Jay (Saif Ali Khan), who is a happy go lucky kind of guy, obsessed with building bridges and dreaming of being hired by a San Francisco Bridge Company. He is in a serious relationship with a young Indian woman, Meera, who is interested in going back to India to rehabilitate old castles and other historical buildings.

They mutually decide that a long distance relationship is not sustainable and throw a unique break-up party for their friends. The owner of the coffee house, a middle-aged Sikh immigrant, Veer Singh, confronts the young man for letting go of the girl he loved.

The rest of the film is a recreation of Veer Singh’s love affair in 1950s India and Jay’s present and evolving story. Saif Ali Khan plays a double role, his own and the younger Veer Singh as a lover. Thus the same character is, in the past and the present, exploring the old and new versions of love. One finds out that in essence, different generations do similar things in different forms. Jay, the new version, ends up as a reincarnation of Veer Singh.

Jay defends his generation’s pragmatic and materialistic approach by severely criticising the folk and mythical love stories like Heer Ranjha or Laila Majnoon. He believes that the characters of these great love stories were striving for something superhuman, which the modern person cannot achieve.

This is crude simplification of classical love stories by the filmmaker/scriptwriter. In fact, Heer and Ranjha wanted the same thing Jay desires, i.e. to have the freedom to live with each other. They also had physical relations, if one reads Waris Shah’s version of Heer Ranjha. It is the middle class’ inherently conservative worldview that perceives these great stories as platonic love affairs.

Actually, the concept of love articulated by the middle class urban intellectual has never matched the reality of the lower classes and the rural population, which constitute a majority of the population. Being closer to natural world, where mating is an everyday affair, physical relations are a part of love affairs. Therefore, Veer Singh’s view of traditional love only represents the urban middle class.

Like many others, this film distorts the historical perspective of the great mythical love stories when it misrepresents them by saying that their characters were striving for some metaphysical goal while the present generation is only looking for worldly relations. The fact is that the characters of classical love affairs were also looking for worldly relations but they happened to be from different classes, regions and tribes. They had to overcome the impossible barriers of class, tribe and region.

Their task seemed metaphysical, but it was not. They were early dreamers of the freedom to choose their partners. They lost their lives in this struggle because time was not on their side. Now these barriers are being taken down because of the breakdown of the feudal order. Nonetheless, love between people of the same class is not the same as was portrayed in classical stories.

The film very aptly portrays the old and new generations’ concept of love but the most important thing is the way Indian filmgoers greeted it. There was apprehension about the scenes involving physical relations between unmarried lovers and how audiences would react to them. However, the reception of the film, accepting this new depiction of love, shows that shows that in this respect, Indian society has entered an industrial era. This societal transformation in India would in turn have a serious impact on societies across its borders, including Pakistan.

The writer can be reached at

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