‘Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat’: A Compelling Set-up Struck by the Second Half Curse

Anurag Kashyap's latest offering is a ‘romantic drama’ that, like many modern relationships, shuns labels.

Anurag Kashyap’s Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat opens with two stories: one in Dalhousie, the other in London. The Dalhousie portion features a schoolgirl, Amrita (Alaya F), falling for a young directionless man, Yaqub (Karan Mehta). In London, a rich girl of Pakistani origin, Ayesha (Alaya F), is smitten with an upcoming DJ, Harmeet (Mehta), who rebuffs her. These segments, running parallelly, don’t have an immediate connection, except for one: DJ Mohabbat (Vicky Kaushal). Both Amrita and Harmeet are huge fans of the DJ who also runs a popular podcast on love. This fascinating conceit complicates the film’s genre and elicits several questions, as if transferring the curiosities of these lovers onto the audiences themselves. A ‘romantic drama’ that, like many modern relationships, shuns labels.

The movie surprises with its micro designs, too. Devoid of initial backstories, the characters seem intriguing. Harmeet for instance, a straight-laced man, speaks shudh Hindi in London, replete with copious amounts of “ji”. Ayesha’s friend calls him a “pindi”. Amrita, on the other hand, appears remarkably carefree, slipping out of her house with Yaqub to attend a DJ Mohabbat concert in a different town. Yaqub remains as unbothered, even when Amrita’s family accuses him of perpetrating “love jihad” on news channels.

The film sporadically cuts to DJ Mohabbat who reels off deep aphorisms, linking masculinity and vulnerability, love and obsession and self-validation. The other surprises pop up at formal levels. An unexpected song or a background score contradicts a scene’s tenor. The two segments’ tone and energy complement each other: vibrant London nights, cold Dalhousie afternoons; sexual candour, parental resistance; the need to discover yourself, the want to know your partner. Nearly nothing feels laboured in the first hour: breezy dialogues, charming scenes, calibrated pace, rooted performances (Alaya infuses her role with impressive range and verve – especially in the Dalhousie segment).

I’m fond of playful movies that almost carry their lightness like a badge of honour – the ones that don’t strain for ‘profundity’, that just tell their stories and get out of the way. Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat has such qualities aplenty. Even when it turns deep it doesn’t impose its world on us but shares it. When Harmeet makes DJ Mohabbat listen to his music, he appreciates it but asks, “Where is Harmeet here?” The Ayesha-Harmeet track then almost unfolds like a love triangle: a man, a woman, and a hidden self. The Amrita-Yaqub story hints at the limits of teenage innocence and naïveté. She finds in Yaqub a man very different from her: someone who relies on WhatsApp for insights, hasn’t heard of Amrita Pritam or Ghalib, and lives for online validation. Yet their relationship doesn’t lack warmth, making you wonder how it’ll last amid several roadblocks.

The set-up is so compelling and ‘float-ey’ that it makes you worry about the post-interval portion. And then, indeed, strikes the curse of the second half. Ayesha decorates Harmeet’s house, then breaks down in front of him and, just like that, he falls for her. The movie introduces an old couple in the Dalhousie portion – whose house Amrita and Yaqub had sneaked into – who are again, quite conveniently, related to Harmeet. Is such a coincidence impossible? Absolutely not, but it just feels too neat, too structured, in an unfettered film like this.

But the bigger problems revolve around the love stories and characters. The movie expends considerable energy cutting across the two tracks. It does heighten intrigue but also reduces the time we spend with them, as couples and individuals, leaving us wanting more. I craved specificities here — at levels both personal and political. Amrita’s brothers and father, opposed to Yaqub because he’s a Muslim, don’t go beyond the generic Islamophobia. The film slips in a great nugget about Amrita’s upbringing when she tells Yaqub that “everything changed” after she turned 10 – her family became much more inward, shunning their earlier inclusive attitude towards art – which, considering she must be around 17 in the movie, harks back to a post-2014 India. This is a good specific example that stays in the micro and depicts the macro, but such instances are rare.

The big plot swings continue. Harmeet gets jailed due to a false allegation, which makes the drama much darker. Again, the parallel parental opposition – despite different countries – is a compelling echo, but it appears and vanishes with a discordant tone. The Amrita-Yaqub plot culminates in an even more dramatic flourish – which, without enough information, looks more shocking than earned. And towards the end, as the film continues to lose its focus and cohesion, even Mehta’s acting cracks under pressure.

Kashyap takes an unexpected but pleasant detour with this movie: confronting hate not with anger but… music and love. It ends with a song doubling up as hope and theme: “Mohabbat se hi toh kranti aayegi [love will bring revolution].” I’m sure there are many in this country who cling on to such a roseate worldview (including me). But an idealist piece hits even deeper when, like idealism itself, it feels complete – a world unto itself.