When Brooke mentioned she might like to see a Bollywood movie during her visit, I was delighted. I hadn’t seen one of those Hindi-language musical extravaganzas since a binge back in grad school, but I knew one of the theaters in Times Square nearly always features a single Bollywood film on its roster, so we went there—not knowing anything about the movie in question—to check it out.
As Bollywood roulette goes, we could have done far worse. I Hate Luv Storys [sic] is a harmless little modern-day romance—not half as clever as it thinks it is, but sweet, with its heart in the right place. Much of the humor involves tweaking Bollywood conventions, so Brooke and I would have gotten more out of that if we were better acquainted with the genre (it took me ages to place the several references to Devdas), yet the meta-ness of it all wasn’t as much of an obstacle as I feared. A climactic dash to the airport, for example, is a rom-com cliché in any language.
The hero of Luv Storys (which I can’t type without cringing—ugh) is Jay (Imran Khan), who works as an assistant to a Bollywood film director, despite the fact that he can’t stand the lush romances that made his boss famous. Far more enamored with those movies is Simran (Sonam Kapoor), a dreamy-eyed art director thrilled to be hired to work on the famed director’s latest. Predictably, Jay and Simran get off to a rocky start—professionally and personally—but even more predictably, that doesn’t last. The two get to know each other better, and soon Jay has grown disenchanted with his bed-hopping ways, and Simran can’t understand why her relationship with her “perfect” boyfriend, Raj (Sammir Dattani), suddenly seems so shallow and unfulfilling. Destiny awaits!
So I’m being flip, probably because I’m a bit suspicious of “luv storys” myself and the satire here is toothless, smarmily teasing romantic clichés even as it embraces them. Ironically, I Hate Luv Storys works a bit better as, well, a love story. Once the overdone initial bluster passes, Khan and Kapoor develop a cute rapport—they have chemistry—and writer-director Punil Malhotra clearly wants to develop a fleshed-out, true-to-life romance underneath the cinematic shenanigans. He doesn’t have the chops for it—the storytelling is a mess—but the intentions are good, and he manages a few genuinely affecting little moments.
But even if I can’t muster much respect for Luv (and I can’t, what with the facile characterizations and undisciplined, sprawling narrative), I can’t dislike it either. I find it virtually impossible to be too hateful toward open-hearted earnestness, which, to my mind, is what Bollywood does best, and Luv, for all its pretensions, is very Bollywood. It lacks polish, and it shows little insight, but it still feels sincere and sweet. Plus, the musical numbers are fun. When I think too hard about the unrealized potential in Malhotra’s screenplay, I get sort of depressed, but when Khan and Kapoor are dancing around a gorgeous scenic landscape to the strains of poppy filmi music, I can’t help but grin. In that, I’m a bit like Jay: My hatred for luv storys only runs so deep.