You all know I am rather fond of Kunal Kohli's work, so it breaks my heart to say that his latest, Teri Meri Kahani, just doesn't quite work. It's got all the filmi traits we know Kohli by; the improbable romance, the poetic love confessions, the tributes to films of the past. And yet, the film is actually among his very worst, all-in-all messy and almost annoyingly mediocre.
Teri Meri Kahani tells three love stories; the first one begins in Puna, 1960, and as it winds up we go to England, 2012. The final story, from Lahore in 1910, is one that the film spends the most time with and deservedly so. The 60's romance between a film star (Priyanka Chopra) and a struggling musician (Shahid Kapoor) takes place in a strange, blatantly phony and filmi milieu. With studio sets and computer effects, Kohli seeks to create a true period setting, but it just doesn't work, so much so it jerked me right out of the story.
Not that the story was all that engaging. The first two stories, we're watching Priyanka and Shahid doing their damnest to sell characters with flimsy characterizations falling in love and making googly eyes at one another. There's a strange discrepancy between the stories; while the first tale of love and loss feels inauthentic and self-aware of its filminess, the second tale is supposed to be hip, modern and grounded in our current reality. Only it doesn't quite work, and I didn't care for the characters in the least. Even the song they have is painfully bad.
Thankfully, these stories wind down and we finally get to the third story, in 1910 Lahore, where the village casanova Javed finally meets his match in Anuradha. I strongly suspect this is the story Kohli had the strongest connection to personally. It's full of Urdu shyaari and each couplet is more romantic than the previous - just these little touches bring an extra something that the other tales fail to have. There's a joy to this story; it feels like an actual setting, actual characters, actual passion. It's still filmi and melodramatic in true Kunal Kohli style, but it's his essence, rather than some vague imitation of it.
It also contains the film's best songs and picturizations.
I'm not a fan of Priyanka Chopra, so if I'm not won over by her in this film, it's hardly surprising. However, I wouldn't say a word against Shahid in this; his charm just about carried my interest, and without it (and him looking spectacularly adorable, as usual), I would've turned this film off before the second half. He's great, simply put - now I just wish he was in better films.
Where does my man Kunal go from here? I'd tell him to stick to his strengths; the poetry-filled romance and strong melodrama is clearly what good Kunal Kohli films are made of, and with the strong cast to perfect them (think Aamir-Kajol, think Saif-Rani), they make for compelling watches. Over-complicating things with three parallel stories, where only one is actually interesting, is not the way to go about these things.
And for god's sake, always have an antakshari scene in there somewhere!