Sunny Deol. A name that sends hearts aflutter and strikes fear into the minds of his fans in equal measures. His award-winning performance in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha is often lauded, where he played a humble truck driver with stoic restraint – his internal rage would manifest itself when taking down an endless number of goondas (the Bollywood term for villains) when called upon. It’s this behavioral idiosyncrasy which defines most of his characters, and for which he is most known (Sunny Deol x 3 = Yamla Pagla Deewana…). When I saw a film poster adorned on the walls of my local cinema advertising his latest release, I discovered that not only was he to once again assume the director’s seat, but also that his son was to make his Bollywood bow in Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas.
A few minutes of the movie’s pivotal scenes, and a lackluster trailer was enough for me to brand the movie a flop. Indeed, critics agreed, with one stating “The film is a one-time watch only if you really want to enjoy the breath-taking visuals of Himachal Pradesh.”
Another critic remarked “The movie is a visually stunning film with some good tunes but the movie somehow misses the mark due to its overlong length and a mediocre screenplay. Sahher Bambba impresses.” So, it was with much trepidation I fired up the old film box to watch it seven months after its initial release.
The film begins with a flashback of a young boy who yearns to join his parents out on the harsh snowy plains of Himachal Pradesh – a tragic accident befalling them which the young man (in the present day) still feels. The song “Aadha Bhi Zyaada” introduces us to his familial occupation – the owner of a mountaineering adventure camp, which he runs alongside his childhood friend. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the movie was filmed and set in Manali, and not in Nepal…
“Camp Ujhi Dhaar”, soon to be graced by Saher Sethi (Sahher Bamba), the number one vlogger in India (I presume). Her name is spoke of disparagingly by a disgruntled hotel owner, who blames her bad reviews for his business failing (coronavirus has nothing on Miss Sethi…). The hotel owner doesn’t realise the verbal tongue-lashing he’s in for, as an amusing exchange of dialogue shows that the vlogger’s bark is as vicious as her bite (“… Mr Kukreja, please finish your juice. We serve them fresh here.”)
To avoid her annual Sethi family get-together, Saher takes over her colleague’s assignment, which takes her to the aforementioned camp, which offers the country’s best trekking experience. I paused the film when Saher opens the camp’s leaflet and was amused to find that “Camp Nirvana” was written instead of Camp Ujhi Dhaar. With the fictional camp being an actual camp in real life, I thought Deol Sr. could’ve plugged the retreat during the film’s credits.
Saher opts for the “exclusive solo trip package” which has garnered excellent customer reviews, but which charges exorbitant fees. This begins the running theme of Saher’s constant gripe concerning the cost of the experience (our friend’s frugality clearly doesn’t extend over to her choice of clothes…), reminding the camp’s leader, Karan (Karan Deol), about it every chance she is in peril (even getting him to denounce his own camp on the pair’s first interaction).
Sahher plays her namesake brilliantly, on the right side of annoying, making the viewer think she is just playing to type (what I’d do be 21 again!). She is clearly not a morning person (nor an appropriately dressed or quiet person for that matter), realizing the harsh realities of Karan’s daily routine.
And so, the duo fly off on their private excursion, passing snow-capped mountains as Karan’s hard-to-impress passenger continuously moans. Her altitude sickness means Karan reduces her weighty, unessential load (bar a teddy bear) to her despair (why he continued on with the trek despite her ailing health beats me).
Just like his father, Karan Deol played his role with quiet restraint, smiling and laughing at Saher’s misfortunes, but also coming across as a consummate professional during the film’s action scenes. The film’s making of (find it on YouTube) showed Karan Deol was taught by a professional, and that his dad insisted on it for realism’s sake. I must say it reminded me of many a Hollywood action scene (Tom Cruise would be proud!).
With Saher’s fear slowly subsiding (her constant threat of her followers marking down Camp Ujhi Dhaar is amusing) in favour of the pure unadulterated joy mountaineering can bring, the pair begin to grow closer. During an intimate night time cave scene, Karan reveals he’s never had a girlfriend, and that he is the way he is because of the death of his parents.
In exchange, Saher tells Karan she loves singing (her dulcet tones playing beautifully in the ears of the hotel owner I’m sure…). But the biggest reveal of all is left for a character of the feline variety – let’s just say I found it quite refreshing to see the movie’s drive and purpose led by photographing the animal in person (it was strange how it just appeared on cue – maybe the animal kingdom use TripAdvisor as well as us humans…).
The second half of the movie is a dramatic departure from the first. Saher’s experience on Karan’s home turf complete, the remaining minutes focus on Karan’s life in Saher’s world, their budding romance taking place over text messages and facing obstacles in the form of her on-off boyfriend Viren (Aakash Ahuja; the snooty, self-entitled embodiment of many a Bollywood actor!).
The vlogger of the year’s change of mind regarding Camp Ujhi Dhaar coincides with the movie’s sombre, political change of tone. Once we’re past the film’s title song (they come in a number of versions – I love them all!), Viren’s harassment of his now ex-girlfriend comes to the fore.
Karan’s growing resentment of the political party leader’s (played menacingly by Meghna Malik) son leads to tension between the movie’s two leading men (after Viren and Karan’s not-so thrilling car chase). Viren is in cahoots with Saher’s father (Sachin Khedekar), the manipulative ex-boyfriend planting seeds of doubt in the vlogger’s father’s prudish mind.
The epic showdown is Sunny Deol at his best – channeled through his son, but not over-done like any number of Salman Khan films (how does a goonda magically flip through the air at the slightest of touches?).
The whole of Viren’s political family protect him, and during these moments of Karan-against-the-world I was visibly angry, feeling Viren’s brother (Akash Dhar) was in more need of a beating (it just goes to show you the aggression people in power can yield; how Karan goes from a physical beating one minute to rushing to Saher’s side the next I don’t know – the power of love I guess…).
I had to constantly remind myself I was watching the same movie that I started watching, as after Karan drags Viren by the throat to gain an apology from Saher for her hospitalized condition (which I won’t spoil), we enter a social-media unrest phase, in which a certain turncoat (she didn’t just say that, did she?!?), political opposition and a broken living room table come into play (goodbye Viren’s brother?).
It was quite an on-screen debut for Karan Deol – living in the shadows of his famous father must have always been a burden. Now that he has had his chance in the spotlight, let’s hope he doesn’t fade away like other young stars of previous generations (Imran Khan choosing to go behind the camera still counts…). His youthful exuberance was refreshing, especially paired against Sahher Bambba – her age belies her in the songs she’s picturized in.
Yes, there have been many Bollywood films that have used scenic, snow-capped landscapes to wow audiences (just go up Mount Titlis in Switzerland to see pictures of Amisha Patel; one of many screen sirens that have filmed there), and yes the romance could be deemed formulaic.
But scratch underneath the terrible trailer (it doesn’t do the movie any justice!), and you’ll find a somewhat intelligent romance (a lot like my previous review of Jhootha Hi Sahi), from the snow leopard (darn, I spoiled it! I couldn’t hold back any longer!), to the playful interaction of our two lead actors (“Call the chopper, boss!”), or the expectancy of an impending plot-hole (which didn’t arrive).
Having acclimatized to Saher Sehgal’s cosmopolitan lifestyle in Delhi, what’s next for Karan, or Karan Deol for that matter? For his next project, maybe he’d consider flying alone, to emphasis this movie’s best scenes, in a daring, rock-climbing escapade remake…
By The Bolly Hood