It’s difficult to resist a hero in uniform. Make him a fighter pilot and his charisma will multifold to dynamite. Memory throws a thought back to Flight Lieutenant Arun Varma (1969) in Aradhana, a film that etched 27-year old Rajesh Khanna’s tilt of the head as his trademark. The uniform reminds one of Squadron Leader Veer Pratap Singh – Shah Rukh Khan – as an icon imprinted in romantic memory. And can one ever forget Squadron Leader Shekhar Malhotra (Shashi Kapoor), the man with the killer smile, whose air crash in Silsila (1981) took the heart sinking with it? Take any fighter pilot from the history of cinema and you’ll be left with a swoon and a smile.
That is what must have motivated Pankaj Kapur to cast his son as one in his directorial debut film, Mausam. But while the adequately good – looking Shahid Kapur may cut a pleasant figure in the film, he doesn’t look old enough to be in uniform. His character seems to be in fancy dress, lacking the romantic ability or maturity to do his role justice.
Cute is what describes Shahid Kapur best, which is why Harry (Harinder Singh) is endearing in the first half of Mausam where he is simply a young village mischief-maker. Song, dance and cutesiness are his USP. Mallukot is your usual Punjabi village, speckled with interesting (albeit stereotypical) characters that add value to the plot initially. Unfortunately Pankaj Kapur loses this very plot when he tries to add gravity to the situation. What starts as a romantic comedy very quickly transforms into a tragedy (not a romantic one). And then it becomes painful to follow, impossible to keep up with.
Mausam uses landmarks from Indian history as timelines: the demolition of Babri Mosque (1992), Bombay stock exchange bombings (1993), Kargill (1999) and Gujurat violence (2002) are all woven into the picture. Harry is summoned away from the comfort of his home to serve in the Indian army when things go from bad to worse in Kashmir (1992). Suddenly the story jumps seven years to 1999 when he is sent in an exchange program to Scotland.
You’re probably wondering where Sonam Kapoor comes in. A Kashmiri girl who has lost her home to unrest in the region, Ayat comes to Harry’s village to live with her aunt. Romantic interludes during this part of the film would have you thinking it was 1892 instead of 1992; consequently there is no chemistry between them. You are given no reason to believe why they fall head over heels with each other and why she suddenly leaves without even saying goodbye.
This is where the story begins to plummet like a fighter plane going down…and it goes up in flames thanks to the flaws that perforate it. Harry and Ayat meet in Scotland (where she now lives with her father and uncle) in 1999. They rekindle their love and are about to formalize it with the parents when Harry is suddenly called back – thanks to Kargill – to India. He leaves without saying goodbye and for the next three years they endlessly wait around for news that may as well be coming from Mars.
You wonder why two individuals with cell phones cannot manage to get in touch with each other. Facebook may not have existed a decade ago but cell-phones, emails, directories and answering machines certainly did. It’s inexplicable why these two people fail to contact one another and wallow their days away writing love letters that end up accumulating in a dusty village courtyard in Mallukot. Another archaic cliché.
This tedious wild goose chase between Harry and Ayat finally ends after a good two hour run when they meet in Ahmadabad as the city is being held hostage to riots. The ending delivers both miracles and music.
Sonam Kapoor is beautiful, as is the cinematography of this film. But it could just as well be porcelain for the lack of emotion or passion it ignites. Pankaj Kapur is a brilliant and well-acclaimed actor but in his attempt to pull a Rakesh Roshan, he fails in directing his debut film to success. Ironically one can’t help but think of Shahid Kapur as much more of a man and actor in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey than he is in the heroic avatar of Squadron Leader Harinder Singh.
Post script: It’s good to know that the love for a good old romance jammed the Pakistani censor board’s radar for picking up propaganda. While there are evident cuts in the film, several “dushan humari chhati par betha hai” (the enemy is imposing himself on us) and “humein barbaad kar kay Kashmir azaad karein gaye” (they will ruin us before they free Kashmir) offensive dialogues have been allowed to slip in. If only the film had been worth this display of maturity!