Salim on Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

**May contain spoilers**
What if Tina hasn’t died at the start of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai? What if Anjali hadn’t grown her hair and started wearing sarees? And what if one day Rahul had to assess which ultimately meant more to him, his friendship with Anjali or his love for Tina? Two decades after his directorial debut, Karan Johar’s cinema has finally come of age. The gloss and glamour remain in copious amounts but we now have a film about the adult world (if not entirely populated by “adults”). John is unlikely to ever produce great cinema, and the sentiments of this movie far outweigh its cinematic qualities…but that’s not always a bad thing.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is about unrequited love. The original Rahul, now a middle-aged divorcee looking with regret at his still stunning ex-wife, delivers the best line of the film: unrequited love is the most complete as it is not divided between two people and thus remains entirely uncorrupted and under the sole control of its proprietor. Alizeh too learns this lesson her experience with Ali; ostensibly she states that she has no non-platonic feelings for Ali and there is no reason to disbelieve her. But should one hypothesise that she was consciously or otherwise holding back from allowing friendship to develop into love, it may be the impact of this lesson having been learned that is the preventer.

But this film is not about Rahul. He is there only to remind us of where Karan started. Something we repeatedly given nudges at through multiple references to his earlier films. But these work as our lead pair are film buffs for whom Hindi cinema (even its most awful period of the 80s) is the baseline from which all life moments are assessed. Karan deserves special mention for reviving the word “vaatavaran”.

The premise is a quadrangle of unrequited love. Ali (Fawad) is loved by Alizeh (Anushka) who is loved by Ayan (Ranbir) who is loved by Saba (Aishwariya). These “loves” are each different, but there is another “love” that this film is really about. The platonic love that Alizeh feels for Ayan, but which he is never able to see as a worthy reciprocation for the very non-platonic love he feels for her.

Ayan wants to know why Alizeh cannot or does not give him the kind of love he wants from her. She tells him that her relationship with him is the most important of her life. She tells him she wants their friendship to last forever. But she cannot (or will not, should one consider it to be in her control), reciprocate the kind of love he has for her. He wants to know why but she has no answers. There is no compromise, no melting in her part; Ayan’s unrequited love remains eternally incomplete.

Saba asks Alizeh the same question: how could you not fall in love with this man? But Saba perhaps knows more than she lets on for she has now developed an unrequited love of her own. And Ayan, who does not reciprocate, knows only too well that one cannot love someone back simply because it would be in your own best interests.

Karan’s movies are often populated by a host of doting family members but here our characters are all alone, consumed entirely by their respective unrequited loves. Ayan is a self-confessed weirdo, going through an awkward adolescence waiting for that one person who ‘gets me’ but alas when she arrives she recognises him as her soulmate, her best friend, but not her lover. Ranbir expresses angst, anger and self-pity, but above these it is his magnificent disinhibition that is a joy to watch. Be it in paying small tributes to his father in Chandni or his uncle in An Evening in Paris, he looks every bit the goofy movie fanatic. But he is matched and absolutely outmatched by Anushka in what is easily the performance of her career thus far. Her eyes convey everything as she watches Ranbir sing Channa Mereya. But much is left unsaid and therein lies the beauty of her performance. We are left with so many questions about how she really felt about the two men in her life and how much self-understanding she ultimately has. But she’s the grown up and she contains her emotions magnificently until they ultimately spill out. Anushka’s vivacity lights up the screen but we’ve seen her do that before. Here she moves beyond her earlier performances and grasps and conveys emotions that one might agonise over even defining let alone portraying honestly.

Fawad has a special appearance and leaves the audience wanting to see more of him. Perhaps even more so given that this may well be his final Indian film performance for some time. Unfortunately the weakest portions of the movie are the start of the second half where Aishwariya enters the screen. Karan Johar is clearly not Mani Ratnam, the director who has extracted the finest performances from India’s most famous face. So we are left with about twenty unconvincing minutes where Aish struggles to deliver Urdu couplets. (Tabu, in her Haider/Fitoor form, could have done wonders with this role). Fortunately, her ex-husband turns up in a excellent cameo and Alizeh arrives shortly after, leading to a painful plot twist and two of the film’s finest scenes.

The first involves our three lead characters having a cosy dinner party, listening to Noorjahan reciting Faiz: Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat Mere Mehboob Na Maang (We later have an inspired use of Madan Mohan’s eternal composition of parting love: Lag Ja Gale Se Phir Yeh Haseen Raat Ho Na Ho). Alizeh and Saba are beautiful, mature and sensitive, but Ayan remains a boy. The film isn’t about the difference between men women but this scene gives us a glimpse.

The finest scene of the Ae Dil Hai Mushkil however is just before the climax. Ayan and Alizeh appear to have finally come to terms with the terms of their relationship. But is that ever possible if the feelings on each part are unequal or of a different nature. Ranbir conveys his frustrations that are now running out of time, but it is Anushka who is mesmerising here, telling him and us the lasting message of the movie: there is no suitable answer to unrequited love.


26 Responses to “Salim on Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”

  1. Loved the review. I think this is the first time you reviewed a film in such detail instead of a mini one.


  2. Great review Salim. Very good and you should more often. I have the same feelings as you but I can’t write as good as you! Good job!


  3. This is a very fine review, Salim. If this film made you, a man of few words, write a long review, it must have meant something to you.

    Now I am more inclined to watch this film, minus the usual apprehensions that I have with Johar.


    • Thanks Saket – I don’t know how to write reviews but just put together my thoughts so your words are much appreciated. I did genuinely enjoy the film, but like I said it was the sentiments that it triggered that made me write so much rather than the qualities of the film itself. Johar is still Johar and having read your recent comments (none of which I particularly disagree with) I doubt you’ll feel any differently about this one. So hold onto your apprehensions but do watch it and come back with your views 😉


  4. I knew I was going to love this review the moment I saw we shared the opinion of what the most powerful line of the film was. Great review. Would love to see more from you.


    • Dil! Welcome to Satyamshot (my equivalent of Halo) and thank you for the kind words. If it brings you here more often then yes I will endeavour to keep writing!


  5. “There was a time when I would enjoy Karan Johar movies. I would accept the conventions of the world, as I do dragons in Game of Thrones and spells in Harry Potter, and go along with the ride, and some of it would be enjoyable, funny, and sometimes even mildly poignant.

    “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” though is none of the above.

    It’s deadly boring. And irredeemably muddled.

    There is a lot of love, of course, but most of it is of Karan Johar’s ek-tarfa love for his own work, and the works of those of KJo-wannabes like Imtiaz Ali and Ayan Mukherji. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is a pastiche of other movies, as if Mr. Johar is doing plastic surgery, cutting off a scrap off flesh from the butt of his world and putting it on the chest, and what comes out at the end is a derivative re-assembly of everything you have seen before.

    Only when your heart is broken, can you produce true music. Friendship subsumes love. There is someone for you. You can have sex with many but make love to only person. Love is madness. Friendship is peace. You only feel possessive about the one you love. Live every moment as if its your last.

    Like little refrigerator magnets, these little maxims are arranged together and re-arranged again, to make three hours of “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”, and if that sounds horrible, it is.

    Now make no mistake. I like Ranbir Kapoor. I like him as Rocket Singh, he has screen presence and star-quality, but there is only so much replaying of the character from “Rockstar” that one can take. Anoushka Sharma is out-performed by Aishwarya Rai, and if that sounds like sufficient reason for the UN to step in on the grounds of a humanitarian crisis, it very well is. And yes, for the ultra-nationalists and the MNSs, you should be thanking Karan Johar for casting Fawad Khan in ADHM. By giving Fawad Khan, an actor of undeniable ability, a role that even Rahul Roy would refuse to do, in terms of its irrelevance and general monochromaticity, Karan Johar has launched a savage surgical strike on our neighbor’s pool of talent, one that neither the Pakistani establishment nor their friends in the Indian media, can deny, caught as it is on film.

    Summing up, there is nothing here you haven’t seen before.

    And what’s worse, everything you have seen before, you have seen it better.”

    Read full review at:


    • Bit harsh to call Imtiaz Ali a Kjo wannabe! Sounds like the reviewer wanted a ‘real’ Kjo movie but got Imtiaz Ali instead.

      Tough trade.


    • Thank god for your review aj..thoda urdu sher-shayari kya dal diya…people think it is classy or classic movie coming from KJo.


  6. I know due to my one track narrative here you will not acknowledge this comment Anjo, but man this seems like an authentic and a well written review of this movie. Within these short, limited words you have appropriately revealed what is ailing kjo cinema in year 2016.
    Prior to this film’s release and taking into consideration KJo’s bootlicking Pritam to give all the chartbusters to him and with a cast like that and associations with Kashyap’s of the world, I thought he may have ‘graduated’ to gift Ranbir something truly out of the box, but alas it seems that is not the case here and through this outing he has truly exposed himself to be a sham and may be a ‘wannabe’ & his shortcomings more out in the open.

    He was lucky to run into srk and adi chopra early on otherwise his track would have been completely different in bollywood.


  7. What is horrible to note is the continuous media exhilarations over Ranbir’s acting prowess even after repeating himself with the same damn conflicts in so many of his past movie in the last few years. Just reading the plotline initially, I had thought doesn’t this seems like Tamasha albeit in celebratory,viagra mode.

    Now I am inclined to think Ranveer may have the last laugh and come up with something truly original in Befikre. He really surprised all of us with one of the best historic character portrayal as Bajirao Singham and he with Anushka were the best thing in Dil Dhakdne Do


  8. I don’t really like Ranveer but if Ranbir restricts himself to the coming-of-age/ lover-boy genre, he is going to find it tough and risks getting stale quickly. Ranveer at least was convincing in BM- a genre and a kind of portryal Ranbir has never gone for. Varun Dhawan seems more versatile as well.

    I do think that while Ranbir excels in the coming-of-age kind of deals and in love stories, he is pretty limited to that genre. I found him poor in BV, Besharam and he was a bit of a misfit in Rajneeti.

    YJHD remains his career high and while he may get there again in something similar, I can’t see him achieving it in a genre outside of his comfort zone.


  9. “He wants to know why but she has no answers. There is no compromise, no melting in her part; Ayan’s unrequited love remains eternally incomplete.”

    Completely agree, and this is why it may not do too well. All the majors characters lose someone dear and never really recover. The lack of resolution and permanency of the loss is what I found very ambitious about this film. KANK tried to do something similar but was bogged down by too many horrible comedy scenes.

    Perhaps Karan was inspired by the famous Tennyson quote: ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Quoting from memory here so this may not be exactly right 🙂


    • Thanks Henry – it sounds like you saw the film the same way I did. Karan may never be a great director but I think this one came from the heart (he’s said it’s autobiographical) and I think that may be why, inspite of its flaws, the film is so relatable and at times quite moving.

      I remember hating KANK, and rolling my eyes every time people indicated that the audience wasn’t grown-up enough for such a ‘bold’ movie. It was just plain bad, regardless of its intentions. But this time I think Johar has hit the spot, realising the potential he showed in his Bombay Talkies segment.

      Great quote! Actually when Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat was playing I was thinking of the later line ‘aur bhi dukh hain zamaane mein mohabbat ke siva’ – I don’t think Karan (or any of his characters!) would agree 😉


  10. Beautifully written,Salim.
    Obviously I didn’t like it as much but there is much to agree with.


    • I initially just wrote this to send to a couple of friends and was hesitant to post it here (kinda like playing a forehand in the presence of Nadal) so your words mean a lot. Thanks 🙂


  11. Happy to read a longer review, well written for sure!


  12. Its beautifully summarised and well written. I like the word “unrequited”


  13. Cancer reminds me of Anand and Rajesh Khanna. Rajesh Khanna was as chirpy as a happy bird till the end. Ironically he died of cancer after playing cancer patient in some films like Safar and Anand.
    Feroze Khan was the best looking Khan and he looked suave too.
    His love was unrequitted in Safar and he committed suicide.


  14. Don’t think anyone noticed, but Kajol and Karan continue to take jibes at each other on Twitter. Of course, the Devgan duo are completely to be blamed for taking a vicious and combative stand, even while Johar has been very restrained.

    Take a look at these tweets. Instead of just wishing both films well, here’s what Kajol says:

    Karan is subtle, but he clearly uses “construction” for a reason


  15. Sorry. here’s Kajol’s tweet:


  16. Dost dost na raha


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