My heart goes mmm is one of the eminently hummable tracks in Salaam Namaste that sings of urban relationships. It may well be the anthem for debutant Siddharth Anand's film. In the urban setting of mouth-watering Melbourne, Salaam Namaste bends the rules of mainstream Hindi cinema.
But the contemporary feel of the presentation isn't in-your-face. Never do you feel the characters, even the minor ones, being with-it just for the heck of it. A glorious spirit of ebullience takes over the film even when, in the second half, things get grim between the love pair Nick (Saif Ali Khan) and Ambar (Preity Zinta).
It isn't easy to film a story where the characters grow through events that define their lives without over-dramatisation. The rhythms of a routine courtship in a far-off city are marvelously mellow in tone. You never feel the weight of the Nick-Ambar love story.
And yet, Salaam Namaste doesn't take love lightly. Beneath the vibrant veneer, the film makes a very telling and serious comment on commitment-phobia especially among the ambitious urban males who would rather have their cake and sleep with it too.
Saif's consummate skills as the modern yuppie with an attitude that screams a scoffing rejection of sentimental attachments to long-lasting relationships, has gradually brought into focus a new kind of Hindi film hero who's hip and smirky and yet not impolite about homespun values.
The constant search for answers about quirks and whims of the female species was also a presiding theme in Saif's earlier romantic comedy Hum Tum.
Salaam Namaste goes further in terms exploring the ever-expanding parameters of the man-woman relationship. Ambar's obstinate decision to have Nick's baby after sharing a live-in relationship with him might seem like a saucy repudiation of traditional values. But the director never aims to shock. He takes the opposite route by generating a sense of bonhomie within the messy conflicts in the couple's life.
The scenes are intelligently written to accentuate the lead pair's individual charm and collective charisma. While we watch Saif and Preity we also see Nicky and Ambar emerge from the two actors' personalities.
Then there's the ever-dependable Arshad Warsi playing Saif's best friend. Warsi's daunting marital subjugation gives the film a revealing sub-plot while providing a broader canvas for the director to insinuate his ideas on the way a man sees a woman, and vice versa.
There are some truly magical moments in the film. The interlude from the time a pregnant Ambar craves for a particular brand of ice cream to the time Nicky finally finds a place that serves up her desired delight, is done in an enchanting way. You just have to see Preity pigging on ice cream and Saif's expressions of alarm, amusement and pleasure as he watches her gorge, to know what effortless screen chemistry is all about.
But Salaam Namaste is more than a triumph of the together spirit. It also gets high points for creating scenes that spotlight the urban sensibility in words which flow naturally and yet make you stop to listen. Abbas Tyrewallah's skills as a dialogue writer are on full display. You can't but chuckle at the way Saif says his dialogues, as though he just thought of them.
The rippling reapartees and the exceedingly enchanting mood of romantic banter keep the narrative's spirits up till the jolting climax where Abhishek Bachchan, playing a goofy, forgetful doctor, delivers twins for Nick and Ambar, with one more bawling baby thrown in for Nick's pal and his wife (are the twins supposed to tokenise the hero's virility in the script?).
The film scores high marks in two major departments -- the look and the mood. The debutant director cuts across the clamourous streets of Melbourne without a glamorous anxiety accompanying his storytelling.
Treatment is all in Salaam Namaste. The plot, on its own, amounts to nothing much. But watch Saif and Preity, with some help from Arshad Warsi and Javed Jaffrey (the latter playing a Bihari cowboy in Melbourne saying the most outrageous lines like 'wife works husband jerks'), and you have what could safely be termed a romantic comedy with plenty of whoops and wows.