At 3 hours 36 minutes and with two intervals for much-needed respite, Mohabbatein is a slog. There is no other way to describe this overblown exhausting and pointless campus confectionary .
Set in an imaginary boarding school named Gurukul(how kul is that!) Mohabbatein had Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan crossing swords over Aishwarya Rai who was so fatigued by the blistering bickering between the two men in her life, that she simply jumped down from the nearest balcony, only to return as a ghost singing Lataji’s melody Humko humeen se chura lo, the only USP in a film suffused with PSPs(Pathetic Selling Points).
Oh yes, Mohabbatein also introduced us to six debutant actors, all but one unremarkable in their own right: Uday Chopra, Shamita Shetty, Jugal Hansraj, Kim Sharma, Jimmy Shergill, and Preeti Jhangiani. Barring Jimmy, who went on to make a career as a solid dependable supporting actor, none of the other debutants showed any exceptional or even minimal talent. Their careers ended where it belonged.
Weirdly,the flat-footed film continues to be regarded as a some kind of a modern classic. This is nothing but an effort to rewrite history according to the Yashraj Films’ narrative, anointing the heir apparent Aditya Chopra’s post-debut film as a formidable follow-up to his milestone debut Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
Mohabbatein is nothing of the sort. It is unwieldy and bombastic. The verbal exchanges between Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan sound like trolls long before trolls were invented . The female newcomers are locked in a pitched battle to prove who can show more cleavage. Even Preeti Jhangania who plays a widow joins the trip down mammary lane.
Interestingly,after Kajol said no, Aditya Chopra had second thoughts about casting Shah Rukh and Aishwarya as a romantic couple since they were playing siblings in Josh simultaneously. It was Aishwarya who convinced him that the audience is open to actors moving away from their comfort zone. She pointed out to Aditya that her mother-in-law the great Jaya Bhaduri played daughter and wife to Sanjeev Kumar in Parichay and Koshish during the same year(1972)
That said, the kul school in Aditya Chopra with its seven-star classrooms and combative cleavages aggravating the ambience of subverted academia, seemed to belong to another planet. Shah Rukh Khan was the romantic violinist teaching his students Uday Chopra, Jimmy Shergill and Jugal Hansraj a thing or two about love. It was a wildly improbable romp into the realm of the untenable given strength and conviction by the confrontational rhetorics between the Big B and Shah Rukh representing the conservative and liberal aspects of education.
For me Mohabbatein is a monumental letdown.I preferred Aditya Chopra’s third film Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. An outlandish premise of a boring husband who turns into a cheesy loverboy to win over his wife, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi showed Aditya’s love for Satyajit Ray . In beginning of the film Shah Rukh steps in to marry bride Anushka Sharma whose bridegroom has died suddenly. This prelude owes its allegiance to Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar.
Not many know this. But Aditya Chopra is an avid movie buff. He watches films from all over the world.Until recently , pre-pandemic, he watched every Hindi film in the theatre on the Friday of its opening. Sometimes keen fellow-spectators would recognize him.Adi would pretend to be someone else. Just like Shah Rukh in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.
We haven’t seen him direct a truly outstanding film since…well since forever. Mohabbatein had come five years after DDLJ .And Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi came eight years after Mohabbatein. Aditya Chopra’s last directorial was the execrable Befikre in 2016.He needs to come out of his shell, meet people other than those who work with him. Maybe he can’t be as gregarious as his wife Rani Mukerji. But at least he should stop fleeing from company and get to know real people apart from Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar.