More is merry. Excess is fun. But the key to it all is balance. Alas, director Nikhil Advani is no juggler. He manages to throw half a dozen balls in the air. But by the end of it, most of them find their way to the floor.
That's too bad, considering Salaam-E-Ishq could have really stood out. Not to say that the star-studded movie doesn't entertain. It does, but only in parts.
There are six storylines (scripted by Advani and Saurabh Shukla), parallel -- not interwoven. Eventually some of them become loosely connected to each other. Every story, however, has its own motive and mood. The switch from one track to another is simultaneous. This jump of sequences from Agra to Delhi to London to Mumbai is at times stylish, at others bumpy.
The movie opens with the most romantic pair of the ensemble -- John Abraham and Vidya Balan. They play Ashutosh and Tehzeeb --a happily married Hindu-Muslim couple working in the same news channel. They share an incredible chemistry and enormous love for each other. But a tragedy proves to be a dent on their blissful existence.
Then there's Raju (Govinda), the quintessential Bollywood cabbie -- eloquent, lyrical, golden-hearted dreamer. His lifelong fantasy involves a gori mem (white woman) walking into his taxi and them living happily ever after. One such fair female (Shannon Esra as Stephanie) does land in Delhi, but only in search of her pampered Indian boyfriend.
Meanwhile, London suburbanite Vinay Malhotra (Anil Kapoor) finds himself lusting after a pretty young thing (Anjana Sukhani), who conducts Bollywood dance classes. Obviously, dutiful wife Seema (Juhi Chawla) is not too glad about her hubby's naughty-at-forty ways.
Neither are we. Imagine AK, sans his moustache, in camouflage jackets and cargo pants, breakdancing in a nightclub.
High society young 'uns Shiven (Akshaye Khanna) and Gia (Ayesha Takia) are just engaged. Already their wedding seems in jeopardy thanks to Shiven's acute commitment-phobia. He tries every trick in the book, to hilarious effect, to push Gia towards a break-up. He succeeds, but is that what he really wants?
We all know the answer to that one.
What we don't know is why Rahul or Raoul (as Salman Khan pronounces his name in the movie) beats around the bush so much. He courts ambitious item girl Kamini (Priyanka Chopra) for her popularity. After she falls for him, he asks her to choose between him and a Karan Johar (making a telephonic guest appearance) film. As if!
Also, there's some lame mystery angle to his character's past which doesn't really make any difference to the plot. Except making Salaam-E-Ishq three-and-half hours long.
In this lengthy scheme of things, Advani incorporates a track featuring Sohail Khan and Isha Koppikar (at their over-the-top best), playing a newlywed perpetually in the mood couple from Haryana. The consistent mishaps foiling their attempts to be alone together are supposed to evoke laughs. But they leave you cringing. Humour at its worst.
Strange, considering Advani's debut flick Kal Ho Naa Ho was pretty amusing and chilled out in that sense.
This one makes silly gay jokes and contradicts itself by showing the television press as sensitive romantics and merciless hounds at the same time. Not to forget the relentless advertising of a jewellery brand, a movie magazine, a news channel and Karan Johar.
That's the problem with Salaam-E-Ishq. It's like a patchily stitched quilt; elegant in few places and tattered in others. It starts off slowly, picks up post-interval and then goes ballistic in the climax.
Even if Advani's execution is a letdown, most of the cast its job really well. Akshaye, John and Vidya emerge as the clear winners in this star-studded fare. Akshaye is mind-blowing. He plays a boyish, confused brat with a Calvin-esque (of Hobbes fame) flavour that is both endearing and entertaining. With Akshaye around, there isn't much scope for reel sweetheart Ayesha Takia. Yet the cute-faced actress infuses perky enthusiasm to an otherwise run-of-the-mill part.
John Abraham's body language is amazingly thoughtful and sensitive. He makes a wonderful romantic and bowls you with his uninhibited charm and compassionate aura. Also, he gets to say the best lines-- his chapter having shades of Fifty First Dates. Vidya Balan romances him back with equal fervour. Her transformation from a self-assured working woman to a helpless, vulnerable person is superb. They look lovely together and ought to team up more frequently.
With not too much to rely on in terms of characterisation, Anil Kapoor and Juhi Chawla rely on their own sensibilities and experience as actors to deliver touching performances. Their subtle gestures render layers to otherwise one-dimensional roles.
Priyanka Chopra showcases her flair for comedy, especially when she does take-offs on legendary tragedy queens -- Meena Kumari, Nargis and Madhubala. Plus, Priyanka looks like a million bucks in her chic designer wear and shiny make up. There's an interesting pub scene between her and Anil Kapoor towards the end -- quite confidently tackled by the young actress, holding her own against the veteran.
Her co-star Salman Khan's services are surprisingly underused. He plays the kind of lover-boy that made stars out of Biswajeet and Joy Mukherjee. Besides pronouncing his name with a funny twang and parading in fancy blazers, Sallu doesn't get to do anything substantial. Though he does a terrific job in an equally terrific song, Tainu leke (Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy), strutting the streets of London with his trademark swagger and orange sherwani.
Govinda gets a good deal of footage and does an adequate job. Except his Raju is super-corny and gets overbearing after a while. His co-star Shannon Esra has an attractive screen presence, but cannot act.
Technically, Salaam-E-Ishq boasts of impressive camera angles (Piyush Shah) replete with Advani's penchant for the multiple-screen effect. On the flipside, Priya Raghunath's art design seems shoddy, discordant and Aarti Bajaj's editing could really do with a lot of help.
Did I mention the film is too long? Trust me, it is.
Finally, while it borrows the theme, format and even three plots (the ones featuring Alan Rickman, Colin Firth and Martin Freeman) from Richard Curtis's Love Actually, Salaam-E-Ishq never really celebrates the madness or magnitude of love. It merely skims the surface of the vagaries of its characters.
As a result, you feel neither involved nor sympathetic.
If only Salaam-E-Ishq had got its priority right. It is an ode to mediocrity, not love or cinema.