‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ Review: Bollywood’s Karan Johar Struggles to Tell a Good Love Story

Karan Johar’s unsubtle romance isn’t a total wash, but it’s just good enough to make you wish it were better.

If you walk into a Karan Johar film expecting subtlety, the joke is on you. The director has made a successful, nearly 20-year career out of using his films as vehicles to showcase stunning places, gorgeous people, and grand emotions. His unabashed preference of style (often over substance) and lavishness over logic has come to define his brand of cinema, so much so that audiences not only let him get away with it, but even look forward to his inflated-in-every-way productions by now.

But even being adequately prepared isn’t enough to keep us from feeling drained from his latest release, “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.” A film that Johar has admitted has been heavily inspired by his own experiences with love and rejection, its story follows Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor), an aspiring singer who hasn’t yet experienced the heartache required to give his voice much gravitas—until he falls hard for the sassy and spirited Alizeh (Anushka Sharma). Still reeling from a past breakup, Alizeh has little interest in making Ayan anything more than a close friend. Ayan’s disappointment turns to full-on heartbreak when Alizeh returns to her first love, Ali (Fawad Khan), as he realizes that while his attachment to her is unwavering, it may never be reciprocated.

But even while watching Ayan’s steadfast pining for Alizeh, it’s difficult to amass enough feelings of our own towards their relationship, thanks in large part to the fact that their interactions are based on little more than a mutual affinity for spouting off lines from Hindi movies. Ayan and Alizeh bond over bantering that borrows heavily from movie scripts, dancing to Bollywood playlists, and recreating famous scenes from 80s hits. It’s as though the Johar, along with co-writer Niranjan Iyengar, molded the screenplay around how many cinematic quotes (many, cheekily, borrowed from Johar’s own previous films) could be crammed in, regardless of whether they truly propel the narrative forward.

As a result, the connection between the two leads seems affable, but nowhere close to capable of spawning Ayan’s deep dive into lifelong devotion. While the entire first half balances on a rickety foundation of recycled dialogue, the film swerves to a different sort of superficiality in the second act, as Ayan finds temporary solace in the arms of poetess Saba (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), whose ornate Urdu even compels Ayan to ask, at one point, whether she rehearses her conversations in advance. The non-illusion is complete with a preposterous twist in the third act, thrust in as a convenient but highly unsatisfying way for Johar to rush the 155 minute running time to a conclusion.

While “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” is a disappointing platform for the much-anticipated reunion of Kapoor and Sharma, who last starred together in the colossal belly flop that was last year’s “Bombay Velvet,” it’s their presence, incidentally, that keeps the film from entirely falling apart. Whether they’re volleying quips or sharing tears, there’s a natural, easygoing chemistry between them that makes up for—even elevates—some of the contrived comedy and melodrama; after an unsatisfying string of performances in recent films, Kapoor, in particular, stands out for delivering expressions that capture the pain of a broken heart in a way that the film’s dialogues fail to do. Though most supporting cast members (and a few celebrity cameos, typical in a Johar production) feel like wasted talent—Khan has a total of maybe 10 minutes of screen time at best—Bachchan is resplendent in a performance that’s both understated and scene-stealing, lending a welcome air of maturity to a story that at times feels like the visual representation of a diary Johar may have kept in his angst-filled twenties.

In the capable hands of actors who can siphon the nuances from a screenplay soaked in cliches, “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” has many shining instances that reveal the poignant story Johar intended to tell. But those few genuinely heart-wrenching and chuckle-worthy moments aside, inconsistent tonality, uneven pacing, and far too many self-referential winks dilute this tale of unrequited love before it even has a chance to fully develop.

Grade: B-

Karan Johar’s ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ to get Release After Political Compromise

MUMBAI — The release of Karan Johar’s “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” will go ahead this week (Oct. 28,) during the Diwali holiday, following a high-level political compromise. The film is co-produced by Johar’s Dharma Productions with Fox Star Studios India. Starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Anushka Sharma and Ranbir Kapoor, the film’s release was opposed by… Read more »

MUMBAI — The release of Karan Johar’s “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” will go ahead this week (Oct. 28,) during the Diwali holiday, following a high-level political compromise. The film is co-produced by Johar’s Dharma Productions with Fox Star Studios India. Starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Anushka Sharma and Ranbir Kapoor, the film’s release was opposed by... Read more »

Indian Government Promises To Counter Violent Threats Over Upcoming Film Release

The release of Karan Johar’s new film “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil,” starring Pakistani actor Fawad Khan, has been swept up in nationalist fervor.

Last month, an Indian army base was attacked by militants who are potentially from Pakistan, and as a result, Indian-Pakistan relations have been especially strained over the past month. This has affected many aspects of each country’s cultural infrastructure, especially the Bollywood film industry in India.

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On September 28, the India Motion Picture Producers’ Association announced a ban on employing Pakistanis in Bollywood, which sparked waves of proclamations and threats on both sides. Now this week, according to the New York Times, one of India’s biggest cinema groups, the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India, has promised not to screen any films featuring Pakistani actors or technicians. This action threatens the upcoming release of Karan Johar’s new film, “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil,” starring famous Pakistani actor Fawad Khan.

Johar recently released a video promising to no longer employ Pakistani actors in his films and pleaded for support for his new film, but that hasn’t stopped the film’s release from being swept up in nationalist fervor, especially after far-right Indian political party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena issued a warning to all Pakistani performers to leave India or risk violent attack.

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Today, Indian minister of home affairs Rajnath Singh promised that steps would be taken to ensure Johar’s film would not be plagued with violence. Mukesh Bhatt, the president of Film & Television Producers Guild of India, said that Singh gave “his assurance, his 100 percent assurance, that he will speak to every single chief minister, of every state, to see that law and order is maintained.”

“Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” will be released in Indian theaters on October 28.

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Bollywood’s Karan Johar Appeals For Peaceful ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ Release Amid Growing India-Pakistan Tensions

As tensions mount between Pakistan and India, Bollywood director and producer Karan Johar has broken his silence over jabs that he has been anti-national by employing a Pakistani actor in his upcoming film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Scheduled for release next Friday in India, the U.S., Australia and elsewhere to coincide with the Diwali holiday, the romance film stars Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Fawad Khan (with a cameo by Shah Rukh Khan). Fawad…

As tensions mount between Pakistan and India, Bollywood director and producer Karan Johar has broken his silence over jabs that he has been anti-national by employing a Pakistani actor in his upcoming film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Scheduled for release next Friday in India, the U.S., Australia and elsewhere to coincide with the Diwali holiday, the romance film stars Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Fawad Khan (with a cameo by Shah Rukh Khan). Fawad…