There is an absolutely devastating moment of pure drama in this eagerly-awaited far-from-disappointing romance where Shahid Kapoor, playing one of the most deliciously challenging roles of his career, espies from a train the lost love of his life, Sonam Kapoor, standing forlorn in the snow with luggage, like Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman or Manisha Koirala in Dil Se, waiting for ...God knows what! The next train? Love? Death? Or the next life?
It's a moment that defines Mausam, a film that has some serious flaws, but finally holds together as a work of renaissance art, more remarkable, in parts outstanding, for what it attempts rather than what it finally achieves.
Pankaj Kapoor takes the Muslim-Hindu love story between a Kashmiri refugee girl and a Punjabi boy, through an arching sweep of history. Every historical trauma that has defined and defiled India and Indians in the last 30 years props up as a vital image to underline the love story.
And what Mausam finally says is, love becomes impossible in a civilization that chooses to define itself by violence rather than peace. Gandhi? He could be just a spectre that never existed in a world where two young people cannot come together in a clasp of love for the fear of falling into a terror trap. Or better still a Gandhi is an Oscar-winning performance by Ben Kingsley.
We have one of those award-worthy performances in Mausam too. By the hero who happens to be the director's son. But that is just a karmic coincidence, like much of what transpires between the lovers in Mausam.
The film goes from one phase in the couple's life to another, not quite smoothly but not strenuously either. The transitions in their estrangement are mapped out in some finely-written scenes where the couple's smothered affections for one another are manifested in moments of sublime beauty.
The ever-brilliant cinematographer Binod Pradhan captures the couple against breathtaking backdrops in rural Punjab and Scotland. Mausam is one of the best-looking films in recent times. The transitions in time and topography are brought about with a fair degree of inner conviction and outer resplendence. The synthesis of the lovers' inner and outer world is not always stress-free. The couple's inability to come together through various tragic and traumatic historical conflicts is depicted in scenes that range from the riveting to the mundane.
Visually the film is a feast of irraditant images.
The film's strong sense of purpose and its love-defining affiliation to socio-cultural incidents leave little space for the incidental characters (of whom there are many) to grow in the plot. That, in a way, is the need of the plot. But you do crave to see more of the lives around the couple and how these lives and the relationships qualify the love story at the film's centre. You want to see the long-lasting friendship between Aayaat's Muslim father (Kamalnain Chopra) and the Kashmir Pundit (Anupam Kher).
Still-and there's plenty of that quality of sublime stillness in the storytelling-the film's extraneous correctness hides much of the film's intrinsic inconsistencies. Then there is Shahid Kapoor, standing tall with a performance that puts him right up there among the finest contemporary actors. Shahid takes us through the film's and his character's romantic odyssey, inconsistencies and all. Forget Tom Cruise... in the air force garb, he reminds us of Rajesh Khanna in Aradhana. And that's the highest compliment any contemporary star can be paid.
The director tries hard to merge Sonam Kapoor in the resplendent ambience. Her performance has enchanting echoes of Kareena Kapoor in Refugee. The camera gives her no room to complain. But in the intensely romantic moments she looks lost rather than lovelorn. It's the other girl, the spirited Punjabi kudi Rajjo, in Shahid's life played by Aditi Sharma, who fills up the small space provided to her character.
Mausam is about the thwarted love between Harry and Aayaat. When they finally meet during the Gujarat riots (do we see Mr Modi applauding the screenplay?) they seem to discover not love but its aftermath. Which is a far greater thing than love.
Where the film seems to lag behind is in creating emotional pockets for the couple's mutual feelings to develop. Shahid playing Harry the Punjabi wastrel turned air-force officer and Sonam playing Aayaat the refugee from Kashmir, have several shared tender moments. The stand-out ones all come towards the second-half when loves grows impossible between the couple.
The climactic reconciliation during the Gujarat riots (enacted with supreme passion but Shahid) stands out for its stark dialogues that intercut between the couple's long pent-up feeling of separation and the socio-political forces that have kept them from each other.
The climax on a Ferris wheel appears a trifle manufactured. Editor Sreekar Prasad's smooth flow in the narration is suddenly stymied in the search for a jolting finale.
But you have to hand it to Pankaj Kapoor. In his directorial debut he tells an old-fashioned story of love, separation and reunion with flourishes and flashes of Great Cinema igniting what would in lesser hands, appear to be a trite tale of love gone frightfully cliched.
And yes, Pritam's music is apt. But the best tunes 'Abhi Na Jao Chod Kar' and 'Ajeeb Dastaan Hain Yeh', are not his.