Opening this week

Film review: ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ is about the difficulty of moving away from the Bollywood formula

Ranbir Kapoor shines in Karan Johar’s love quadrangle in which A is in love with B, B and C with each other, and D with A.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is Bollywood bricolage by one of the cinema’s most proficient builders. Karan Johar’s latest film is a best hits compilation of characters and moments from his older productions as well as a tribute to the Bollywood idiom of romance. Some things have changed since Johar made his debut in 1998 with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. The characters in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil are less loud and cloying, the acting is refreshingly naturalistic, the songs are woven more dextrously into the narrative, and the overall tone is more sombre and, in fleeting moments, even despairing. The movie has the flavour of Yash Chopra, but also of Imtiaz Ali.

Nearly everything else stays the same. Friendship, one of the cornerstones of Johar’s cinema, is still incompatible with romance. Sex remains a minefield, and monogamy the ideal. The first love is the only real one and can never be replicated. Ardour leads to an effusion of poetic feeling, and it is declared that heartbreak is mandatory in order to be a truly effective singer. The characters declare their desi loyalty despite being citizens of a foreign country (the United Kingdom in this case), and disdain electronic dance music and other such popular forms of Western culture for bhangra beats and Bollywood dancing. The characters are played by screen gods trying to pass themselves off as mortals, the costumes are gorgeous in a chic fashion catalogue way, the hair and make-up are perfect, and the homes look like seven-star suites.

The 158-minute movie is set is a familiar world of non-resident Indians who have slipped off the chains of caste, family, community and religion, but have retained their class affiliations. Cocooned from identity politics and financial worries in Brexit-immune London, these post-feudal and transnational lovelies have the luxury of pursing lives dedicated to romance, poetry, Urdu and Hindi film nostalgia. Love is depicted as an end in itself, as high-minded as efforts for world peace, and just as difficult.

Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) is a billionaire’s scion with an airplane at his disposal and dreams of being a singer. Ayan is pretending to take a business administration course when he meets Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) at a nightclub. They click instantly, but Alizeh is still pining for her one true love, Ali (Fawad Khan in a minor role). Alizeh wants a friend without benefits, and Ayan is happy to play along. Together, they revisit their shared love for Hindi cinema and its music, attempt to recreate the song Mitwa from Yash Chopra’s Chandni on a hilltop, and behave exactly like a normal young couple except for that one thing.

‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’.

However, even private jets experience turbulence. After Alizeh reunites with Ali, a heartbroken Ayan tumbles into bed with Saba (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), an older poet whose dimestore verse masks maturity and insights into the human condition. Ayan has something of an adult relationship with Saba, but he has not forgotten Alizeh. In one of the movie’s best scenes, three pegs of the love quadrangle meet for dinner and realise that for all the Bohemian posturing, the heart is truly Bollywood. It can throb only once and has no room for complexity, a change of direction, and second chances.

Despite its banal subject matter and often trite dialogue (by Johar and longtime collaborator Niranjan Iyengar), the movie is held together by its performances. Ranbir Kapoor is back in the saddle as a diehard romantic who suffers for love, and even though he has been on this ride before in Rockstar and Tamasha, he delivers a superbly judged performance that is equal parts charming and moving. Anushka Sharma brings her customary clinical efficiency to her role, but some of her thunder is stolen by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, she of the flaming red lipstick, wardrobe that would be the envy of any poetry circle, and ability to depict heartache in a single look. Of all the estimable songs by Pritam, including the title track, the one that lingers in memory is a remixed version of Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo, which plays in the background as Ayan and Saba silently and gracefully move from the nightclub to the bedroom.

The movie’s self-conscious and almost apologetic sober approach, muted shades (the cinematography is by Anil Mehta), and grown-up acting persists all the way till the ridiculous pre-climax twist. Alizeh declares soon after meeting Ayan that some boyfriends are like films – either time passers or blockbusters. Johar’s latest movie is somewhere in between. He is trying to move away from the large-canvas romances on which he has built his career, but his foundation remains the popular Hindi film idiom, especially Yash Chopra’s cinema. At times, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil feels less like a Karan Johar production and more like a tortured Imtiaz Ali drama, almost as if to show that even Johar, the king of the clotheshorses-with-feelings production, is ready to tackle the untidiness of love. And yet, like Ali, Johar too is limited by the conventional boy-meets-girl dynamic. Ayan and Alizeh frequently fall back on the alleged wisdom of Hindi film dialogue and song lyrics to solve the world’s problems, and their inability to treat each other as adults with libidos restricts the scope of their relationship.

Would the movie have been more effective if it had been released as intended? The characters of Alizeh, Saba and Ali were meant to be Pakistani, until protests by right-wing nationalists against the presence of Fawad Khan in the cast forced Johar to redub the dialogue. The Muslim characters in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil are now Lucknowi rather than Lahori. The original story seems to have been about Indians and Pakistanis meeting in the capital of their former coloniser, only to find that in this post-nationalist space, the heart is the real adversary. It might not have been enough to save the movie from its limitations, but the original attempt to convey the challenges of internal border crossings would have made Ae Dil Hai Mushkil less pat and more genuinely difficult.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.