Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat Review: Anurag Kashyap’s Gen-Z romance deserves a shrug emoji 

Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat Review: Anurag Kashyap’s Gen-Z romance deserves a shrug emoji 

Barring some sharply observed political commentary, the film offers nothing new or revelatory 
Rating:(2.5 / 5)

A lot is conveyed by how Anurag Kashyap directs the two chase sequences in Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat. They feel brisk but truncated: a character tries to escape, succeeds. Much later in the film, he tries again but fails, tragically. As simple as that. No complicated tracking shots through rows of buzzing traffic. Anurag is denying his fans the protracted comic pursuits of Black Friday and Gangs of Wasseypur Part II. It’s like he knows there is no point delaying a losing game. 

Cast: Karan Mehta, Alaya F, Vicky Kaushal, Mallika Prasad Sinha 

Director: Anurag Kashyap

The runner, and loser, is Yakub (debutant Karan Mehta). He’s a Muslim lad in love with a Hindu girl, Amrita (Alaya F), a schoolgirl he tails on her morning route and later catches up with to make goofy videos. Naturally, a few of these go viral. Amrita’s folks — who hold some power over their small-town of Dalhousie — aren’t pleased with their friendship. They learn of Yakub’s plans of taking Amrita to a music concert near Manali. “You’re grounded,” declares her stern, ape-like brother. But Yakub shows up, steals said brother’s bike and wallet, and, heedless of the consequences, runs off with Amrita.

One of Anurag’s oldest contemporaries is director Imtiaz Ali. They’ve been friends for years — though now, finally, the cross-influences are starting to show. Almost Pyaar often feels like Imtiaz Ali hooch in an Anurag Kashyap bottle. The Dalhousie storyline is juxtaposed with a similarly youthful one in London. The main characters all look like each other (a very Imtiaz Ali thing to do). Harmeet (also played by Karan Mehta) is a shy, taciturn DJ at an uptown club. Ayesha (also Alaya F) is a pushy Pakistani heiress. “I’m 18, you know,” she tells him assertively — a mix of urgency, directness and guile characteristic of both the directors’ heroines. 

Is Harmeet the titular DJ of the title? Negative. That would be Vicky Kaushal, cameo-ing as a podcaster and itinerant pop idol. His musings on love — he cites Gulzar at one point — help us unpick the knots our protagonists tie themselves in emotionally. Anurag has said the film was inspired by conversations with his 22-year-old daughter. More than saying anything truly revelatory about the Gen-Z, the film reveals how the writer-director views his target audience. The young lovers of Almost Pyaar are seen as rudderless and entitled, cloistered beings obsessed with music and content creation. Yakub is the poorest – and most disenfranchised — yet it takes him a while to see the raw mathematics of his decisions. Ayesha is the other extreme, a rich girl so driven and impulsive she can’t take a hint. 

The Yakub-Amrita story is the most resonant. The hopefulness of the characters is at sharp, incriminating odds with their socio-political milieu. Anurag is in fine form here; no director maps the spread of communalism and bigotry in contemporary India with more deftness and insight. Acting on a complaint, early on, the cops pick up Yakub and impound his scooter. His father is threatened and harassed. There are allegations of ‘Love Jihad’—the word ‘Mohabbat’, at one point, is confused for ‘Mohammad’. Amrita’s grandmother sweetly tells Yakub that she is a Hindu since birth. “What a coincidence,” he responds. “I’m a Muslim since birth too!” The benign grandma cliché is subverted later on, when an elderly woman turns them out after discovering he is Muslim. 

This cynicism of context is not shared by the filmmaking. Dev D (2009) was smart and sardonic and oozing with style. Almost Pyaar, by contrast, proceeds with the tentativeness of an 18-year-old. Sylvester Fonseca’s frames are patient and reserved; even in the nightclub scenes, he doesn’t try anything fancy. Amit Trivedi — who shot to fame with Dev D — can’t weave the same magic here, though I enjoyed the heavily Punjabi beats of ‘Tabah Tabah’. The hardest gig, however, belongs to lyricist Shellee, who has the unenviable task of matching ‘Connection’, ‘Kardashian’ and ‘Constitution’. 

Like the song ‘Netflix & Chill’, Almost Pyaar is driven by a need to speak the language of today. Airpods, VR headsets, blue ticks, Instagram — almost everything gets a nod. Ayesha’s parents are feuding and unfaithful; much of her neediness is defined by this pain. Harmeet, meanwhile, is like those millions of NRIs who grow up obsessed with desi culture and wish to visit India someday. Anurag clearly views Gen Zers as a global tribe, even as his own influences are strikingly Indian. By the time Yukub and Amrita are bunking down in the woods, I wasn’t thinking of Euphoria. I was thinking of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988).

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