First things first. A romantic comedy about two attractive strangers falling in love overnight in a romantic setting is a fairytale. So let's not take the romance out of it by dissecting it for logic and realism.
After all, we bought it in Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Aditya Chopra's reworking of it in the first half of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.
Anu Menon's debut film London Paris New York begins as a Before Sunrise spin-off with the feminist heroine and the charming hero walking and talking around the picturesque city with just the conversation driving the film ahead. While Dilwale Dulhaniya took help from a whole bunch of support characters to keep the narrative alive, this has just these two leads talking and very little else. The last time Bollywood tried to do a conversation film with two strangers (remember Jhoom Barabar Jhoom? Never mind), it was a disaster.
The banter here is more free-flowing and funny, the writers (Anu Menon and Ritu Bhatia) saving the best retorts for the guy (Ali Zafar). A lot of the writing sounds funnier when you translate it back into English but it's the decision to have these actors speak Hindi that seems to have taken out the fizz. Sample: When the guy leans forward for a kiss, why have the girl say “Main tumhe kiss nahin kar sakti” (I cannot kiss you) when she could simply and softly say: No.
The fact that there's a break for an interval at an awkward point in the film does hurt the Paris story too. But London Paris New York soon finds its own story to tell and builds on the characters established through the first half.
Very rarely in Hindi films have women used sex to mess with the man's head. This is where the film bears its feminist fangs by letting its heroine use sex as a weapon. It's interesting to see women characters from the South (that's considered conservative by a majority of India) in a lead role and all the more daring to see her do something like that, even if she actually went with the moment. The fact that she only half-meant it as revenge, again something we find out much later, makes the character of Lalitha Krishnan (Aditi Rao) all the more fascinating.
Aditi is beautiful, in control of the character, but it does take her some effort to convince us as the older woman in the New York portions with nothing much except Preity Zinta glasses from Kal Ho Na Ho and the same child-voice we heard in the London chapter.
But Ali Zafar more than compensates with his charm and earnestness, perfect as Nikhil Chopra, the cocky, charming rich boy who joins film school, makes a pretentious film, sports a fake French beard and finds himself hopelessly in love with an equally lost and messed-up girl. Watch him pour his angst out in that scene towards the end by the Hudson. It's his arrival as an actor.
It can be argued that London Paris New York really didn't need seven years to unfold but the fact that it did take them that long is what explains how much they had changed and resolved internally with time.
Of course, Linklater would've liked to leave it to your imagination of what happens to these characters after all that conversation and a deadline looming large, but Anu… she settles for the fairytale. Bollywood style, with song and dance (music by Ali Zafar). Like the filmmaker in the film, she didn't want to make an art film and invoke Tarkovsky. Maybe she just wanted to make a film that was more true to who she was. A romantic.
London Paris New York makes for a great date as you get a quick walking tour of the cities (cinematography by Sameer Arya), all for the price of a movie ticket and you'll be back in less than 100 minutes.
London Paris New York
Director: Anu Menon
Cast: Ali Zafar, Aditi Rao Hydari, Dalip Tahil
Storyline: Two strangers fall in and out of love in three days in the titular cities across seven years.
Bottomline: Starts off as Before Sunrise in London before finding its own story to tell in Paris and New York.