Why so serious, dear?
Few Bollywood comebacks are going to match up to Sridevi’s English Vinglish, so it’s foolish to arrive at a cinema hall with high expectations. I had zero expectations. In the posters and promos of Ishkq in Paris, Preity Zinta wears short dresses that seem a tad desperate. And the film’s title is encased in a gloominess that accompanies stories that have been done to death.
It suggested the standard meet cute in foreign land, followed by a romp around a city that would include eating, drinking and dancing, some mild flirtation followed by swapping life’s sad stories before parting, ostensibly forever. In our films, of course, hero and heroine part only to sort out their heads and stuff. As soon as that’s done, something triggers that urgent feeling that makes them rush to the love of their life with pounding hearts and tears.
Hum Tum, Anjaana Anjaani, London, New York, Paris, Ek Main Aur Ek Tu and Preity Zinta’s own, Salaam Namaste, are all birds with the same feathers, if slightly different beaks and tails.
Ishkq in Paris is set in, well, Paris. We arrive there on a train, from Rome. It’s on the train, while it’s zipping through the Swiss Alps, that boy, Akash (Rhehan Malliek), hits on girl, Ishkq (Preity Zinta), who hits back with her dimples and sarcasm. They smile, connect and go grab some wine which girl gulps down and tells boy to buck up.
Ishkq is a photographer with a French Mommy, played by Isabelle Adjani. He’s an agent, “like Jerry Maguire”. He lives in London and she lives in Paris. Her Indian father is lapata, while his Indian parents are divorced. She doesn’t believe in relationships; he has mild commitment issues.
When Akash and Ishkq land in Paris, he makes a proposition: Till my train to London departs, you take me around Paris and then we’ll part, never to meet again — no surnames, no strings, no commitment. Sounds like a plan, she says and they begin their journey, with the aid of a dice that has, on each square, a suggestion: dinner, drinks, sex, coffee... Slowly, the wheels begin to churn. Ishkq confesses that she has a thing for Italian waiters and that she doesn’t believe in marriage. She also tells him that her former sapera type of boyfriend cursed her before leaving her.
All this bonding happens a little sluggishly but with some cute dialogue. For a good part of the film, which Ms Zinta has produced and written with writer-director Prem Raj, Ishkq’s character is contemporary and refreshing. But it’s also suitable shallow and morally healthy — aside from skipping about in small skirts and waiting for an Italian waiter to smooch her, Ishkq is a good desi girl rooted in good desi values. She sleeps with a man only after she’s shared her deepest, darkest fears and feelings.
Anyway, Akash leaves and life goes on till they meet again. He drags her to a wedding where Salman Khan arrives for an item number that is tacky and desultory.
Ishkq in Paris, which till now was modish, preferring romance and buddygiri to marriage, suddenly goes from promising to pathetic. Akash goes back on their deal and utters the M word. Woah! Where did that come from, Ishkq asks? And is immediately subjected to Bollywood lashing — Akash says rude things to her and heavens weep.
Because Ishkq turns him down, it’s she who must run after him so that a shaadi ka joda can be ordered, and a happy family snapshot can be taken. Smile please!
Remember Main Aurr Mrs Khanna, the Kareena Kapoor-Salman Khan starrer? There’s a misplaced solemness to romantic proceedings when Prem Raj is at the helm of affairs. As in the Khanna story, here too there are long spells of nothingness that are neither meaningful nor interesting. They are just there, doing nothing apart from adding to the reel time and giving you and me pause to whisper, “Thodi slow hai na?” Nothing much happens here, till all the wrong things happen.
Ishkq in Paris is short, just 96 minutes. I like that. I also like the fact that Preity Zinta has put her hard-earned money on herself. Most actresses ride back to Bollywood on benevolent producers or boyfriends/husbands.
But, for a film that’s built around a long conversation, and is Zinta’s comeback film, her character is a single-line sketch set in a wispy thin story. Ishkq in Paris is to Before Sunrise/Before Sunset what McAloo Tikki is to McDonald’s — desified for lesser effect.
Zinta, nipped and tucked, looks good and is as charming as she is always is. Now that she’s paraded around in chic clothes and struck cover-photo poses, she can put away her portfolio and get back to real work.
Rhehan Malliek is sweet but has no personality. He’s just a prop for Ms Zinta to lean against.
Isabelle Adjani is a big deal, but we seem to have got her wax model from Madame Tussauds. Ms Adjani, who’s been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress twice and has dated Warren Beatty and Daniel Day Lewis, is here because her pout matches Preity’s. To say that she’s wasted would be the understatement of the year.
Bollywood ventures out a lot, especially in search of love and locales. But we hardly ever get to see real cities. Here too, apart from the iron lattice tower, the rest of Paris is oddly empty, serving as a one-dimensional, airbrushed backdrop. Why can’t we get to see real cities with real people for once?