If Farah’s Om Shanti Om was an ode to people behind the scenes of Indian cinema, with Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Rajkumar Santoshi pays tribute to the spirited, zany characters that inhabit those scenes in Indian cinema.

Specifically, the Great Indian Slacker Hero whose only superpower, as his name suggests, is simply: Prem. Not the new age Pyaar or Love or Serial Kissing. But the old-fashioned charming Prem, last seen in our cinema of the early Nineties. Our happy-go-lucky epitome of innocent love. The man who would stop at nothing to woo the girl he loves because whether he has a job or not, this is something he does best. His parents may not approve of his ways, but they can’t help loving him because Woh Toh Hai Albela (Remember Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa?)

His equally lukhkha friends are his unconditional support system and they go around singing like they own the place believing Yahan Ke Hum Sikander ( Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander). And, are street smart, boss! They can con their way into getting what they want (‘ Aap Mahaan Hai… Aap Purush hi nahin, Maha Purush hai’ from Andaaz Apna Apna is now ‘ Aap Thope Ho, Aap Tho Pope Ho’)

Prems are great at friendship (‘ Dosti Ka Usool Hai: No Sorry, No Thank You’ from Maine Pyaar Kiya is updated to ‘No complaints, No demands’). When it comes to expressing love, however Rangeela his personality and charm, our hero develops cold feet ( Kya Karen Kya Na Karen?). Also, to complicate things, he sometimes has to deal with competition — like a boyfriend from Pardes.

If you know your Nineties’ cinema, you will have a blast laughing out loud with all that referencing and more. And, most of the gags work more effectively as inside jokes. Watch out for that priceless cameo.

Though Farah and Santoshi love and celebrate melodrama with considerable irreverence, Farah sometimes takes her drama too seriously trying to get you to cry, Santoshi is far less ambitious, way too cheeky and more effective. Santoshi employs drama as an over-the-top farce for laughs but mutes it considerably for effect — such as the interval portion where our pipe-climbing expert Romeo slips and falls from the balcony when he learns she has a boyfriend. When Jenny (Katrina Kaif) asks him if he’s okay, Prem, with great restraint, gives her the thumbs up.

It’s that sort of honesty of intention that makes Ajab Prem… an immensely likeable film. Our hero hasn’t grown up yet, and that’s precisely what we love about him. Even if he’s going all the way to help his girl elope with her boyfriend, he will at least try to sabotage their relationship once. It makes him relatable and human, no matter how comic-book-ish the film feels with its zany alienation devices — be it the talking statue of Lord Wellington asking someone to wipe the crow shit off his back at the beginning of the film or the Good Shepherd Himself showing the hero the way back home.

These comic effects are employed consistently throughout the film to not just make you suspend disbelief, but make you want to send it on a long vacation, and hope it never comes back. We haven’t seen so much fun packed into a film in recent times ( Om Shanti Om being a rare exception), and, though it’s no Andaz Apna Apna, it’s a genuine fan-boy tribute to the quintessential Bollywood hero.

Ranbir Kapoor oozes charm, rocks this role, and this boy proves beyond doubt he’s got what it takes to replace Shah Rukh Khan as the Loverboy Superstar of Indian cinema with an infallible Rocket Singh (come on, neither Shimit Amin or Jaideep Sahni have made a bad film all their lives) waiting to drop in next month. And man, he can act.

I will resist from drooling and not say a word about the angelic Katrina Kaif. What the film misses sorely is the nineties Jatin-Lalit score and Farah Khan-ish choreography. Something Santoshi took care of, while recreating the Sixties feel, when Aamir and Salman Khan were last seen having a blast together.

And as for Andaz Apna Apna… No, they don’t make films like that any more.

Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani

Genre: Comedy

Director: Rajkumar Santoshi

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Upen Patel, Darshan Jariwala

Storyline: The leader of a bunch of happy-go-lucky slackers falls in love with a beautiful girl. But she has a boyfriend she wants to marry

Bottomline: Aila! Kabhi Andaaz Apna Apna, Kabhi Rangeela…