There is a moment in Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat where you notice the story taking a turn it probably won’t come back from. This is typical of Anurag Kashyap’s films, a director known for his expertise of noir and twists and turns.
Shifting between London and Dalhousie, the film tells the story of two pairs (both played by Alaya F and Karan Mehta in double roles).
In Dalhousie, Amrita (Alaya) and Yakub (Mehta) are on a mission to watch their favourite musician DJ Mohabbat who is performing at a secret location. In this effort, they agitate Amrita’s patriarchal and stifling family (not counting her seemingly progressive grandmother).
An innocent trip in the hills soon turns into an exploration about how the language of hate permeates our idea of ‘love’. Questions like, ‘Who is love allowed to?’ and ‘What is the price of love?’ are posed, if not directly asked.
As we watch Amrita and Yakub on their journey, both physical and transformative, terms like ‘love jihad’ and ‘WhatsApp university’ enter the film’s grammar. The viewer sees how hate and resentment, when coupled with sensationalism, can often paint a picture that perhaps never existed in the first place.
In London, Ayesha and Harmeet grapple with their version of ‘love’. I use the single quotes because their relationship isn’t built on love and instead rises from a toxic mix of obsession and insecurities. Ayesha’s methods of ‘attaining’ her love are straight from the 90s Bollywood rulebook – stalking, manipulation, you name it.
Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat doesn’t pretend that it is love though. Vicky Kaushal as the, almost prophetic, DJ Mohabbat, breaks the narration to talk about what true ishq should be like, often relying on the likes of Ghalib.
When it comes to performances, the leads lack a stark tonal difference in their characters. To her credit, Alaya F succeeds in capturing the intricacies and immaturities of both her characters (in their own different ways).
Karan Mehta, in his debut feature, isn’t memorable right off the bat but is endearing. The actor does his best work in scenes that require a high emotional core.
This lack of tonal difference, though, translates to the setting having to do most of the heavy lifting. For a while, it became difficult (at least to me) to understand if what was being witnessed on screen were double roles or flashbacks.
DOP Sylvester Fonseca, who has previously worked on Manmarziyaan and Choked, does his best to elevate the film’s setting with his camerawork. He has an ability to create suffocation through close frames and intrigue through wider shots that he brings to Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat too.
Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat is all about love and yet love stops being the driving force in the film after the first half.
The second half, though predictable, drives home the point that patriarchy and public discourse often use women to forward their bigotry, ironically stripping them of agency.
The film’s greatest flaw, however, is its music. Like a typical Bollywood film, Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat, is chock full with musical tracks, which makes sense since it is a film that uses music as an integral character. Music forms the thread that connects the pairs and their two stories and in Harmeet’s case, forms the entire basis of self-expression.
Alas, the film’s music is nothing to write home about. The duo, Anurag Kashyap and Amit Trivedi, have earlier created unusual and exceptional soundtracks before but fail to make a mark this time.
Unlike DevD and Manmarziyaan’s unforgettable soundtracks, the songs in Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat don’t stand out in the narrative, which is a pity.
That is, however, not true for the track ‘Mohabbat Se Kranti’ which carries the typical Trivedi-Kashyap magic.
Anurag Kashyap’s Almost Pyaar With DJ Mohabbat might not be his best work but the film’s subliminal and astute messaging is enough to keep the story running, flaws kept aside.
The film hit theatres on 3 February.