Banner: Salman Khan Films
Producer: Salma Khan
Director: Abhiraj K Minawala
Cast: Aayush Sharma, Warina Hussain, Ronit Roy, Ram Kapoor, Manoj Joshi, Pratik Gandhi, Sajeel Parakh, Arbaaz Khan, Sohail Khan
Writer: Niren Bhatt
Music: Tanishk Bagchi
Boy meets girl. Sparks fly. They fall in love. The strict father intervenes. Girl leaves. Boy follows and woos her. The two finally unite and live happily ever after. This is the hackneyed template used for love stories in Bollywood for generations. Abhiraj K Minawala’s debut film, LoveYatri is just that, albeit with a new and novel backdrop.
Sushrut, fondly known as Susu by his family and friends, is a young college boy who teaches garba to children every night at 8 o’clock at his home and aspires to have a garba academy of his own some day. Along with his friends - Nagendra aka Negative and Rakesh aka Rocket - he attends the Navratri special garba night only to be smitten by Michelle. Originally Manisha, rechristened Michelle by her father, she is a Gujarati girl who lives in London and studies there. She aspires to come back to her own country and fulfil her mother’s incomplete dream of opening a NGO to support underprivileged women. Over the course of nine days and nine nights, Susu and Manisha fall in love. When her father Sam aka Sameer finds out about them, he confronts Susu and orders him to stay away from his ambitious and enterprising daughter. How Susu overcomes every hurdle that comes his way and persuades Manisha to come back to him forms the rest of the film.
There was a time when most movies were set in the metropolitan milieu of Delhi or Mumbai. Some filmmakers followed a slightly different path and based their stories in Punjab, among its mustard fields. Over the years, a paradigm shift has occurred and stories are now often rooted in the heartland of the India that we are. LoveYatri is based in Gujarat during the festival of Navratri. This is what sets this otherwise clichéd love story apart from the crowd.
The film opens with a panoramic view of the city of Vadodara. The dawn that casts a sepia tint across the city, the narrow lanes, the crowded bazaars, the modern structures of the city, Susu’s middle-class home and Mama’s terrace are captured and portrayed in their truest essence. Cinematographer Jishnu Bhattacharjee’s frames that project the light-studded and gorgeous city during Navratri are praiseworthy. Thanks to his lens, the songs - Dholida, Rangtaari, Akh lad jaave and Chogada - brilliantly choreographed by Vaibhavi Merchant look even more beautiful on the big screen. He also captures the stark contrast of London, its skyscrapers and its awe-inspiring architecture with aplomb.
Music is one of the biggest highlights of the film. The garba numbers steal the show. Though they are separate dance sequences, it does not appear that they are superfluously squeezed into the narrative. Special mentions to production designers Amit Ray and Subrata Chakraborty for creating opulent and stunning sets that make the songs appear grander and even more gorgeous.
LoveYatri has nostalgia smeared all over it. It takes us back to the days of larger-than-life romances of the late 1990s and the early 2000s that graced celluloid dreams. The weak link in the film is the lack of crisp editing. The narrative is not gripping enough and there are quite a few loose ends. Not much time is spent in establishing the love story between the lead characters. That is one of the reasons why Susu’s efforts at winning Manisha back seem unreasonable. While events unfold quickly in the first half, the rest is a little heavy with too many twists and turns and overdone drama. There is a scene where Susu’s mama has a lengthy monologue on Indians not believing in hook-ups but rather in ‘saat janmon ka pyaar’, which is a complete deviation from the plot. The action fails to emotionally engage viewers and the resolution of the plot happens very abruptly.
Niren Bhatt’s dialogue adds substance to the film. It is packed with humour, most of which invokes genuine laughter. Though the characters mouth many clichéd lines, the way in which they are delivered is entertaining.
LoveYatri is the quintessential commercial Bollywood romance that true-blue Hindi film lovers might have missed watching. Here, the formulaic elements are firmly in place. Despite being a tried-and-tested prototype of a love story, LoveYatri clicks. It is not saccharine-coated or an overly sentimental affair.
Performance-wise, Aayush Sharma as Susu and Warina Hussain as Michelle/Manisha deliver impressive acts in their first film. While Hussain is good in the lighter scenes of the first half, she falters with the emotionally loaded scenes in the second half. Sharma handles his scenes well. Ram Kapoor as Susu’s amicable maternal uncle Rasik Desai has impeccable comic timing and is convincing. Ronit Roy as Manisha’s stern father, Sameer Patel, does his part well. Pratik Gandhi’s Negative, Susu’s practical and pessimistic friend, and Sajeel Parakh’s Rocket, his innocent friend, are the dark horses of this one. They are earnest and deliver most of the punch lines and humour. Manoj Joshi as Natu kaka is wasted. Arbaaz Khan and Sohail Khan’s Jignesh and Bhavesh as police persons in London are quirky and a delight to watch.
Verdict: Worth a dekho!