IHLS is neither romantic enough nor cynical in sufficient measures about romantic cinema. Neither mushy nor tongue-in-cheek, the relationship between a dreamy-eyed romantic art-director Simran (Sonam, looking suitably dreamy-eyed and romantic) and a sardonic sneering cynical assistant-director Jay (Imran Khan) hovers uneasily between romance and its rejection. We never know which of the two is the guiding factor in the plot.
So take a look. We have this goofy messy guy named Jay who hates his surname 'Dhingra' because it isn't 'cool.' Making fun of mushy films is. Even if your helping one to be made. The cool quotient in Punit Malhotra's screenplay spills out in unchecked amounts. Characters roll their eyes and chuckle loudly at the mention of romance. Their aggressive denial of all things lovey-dovey should have been backed up by oodles of basic common sense, warmth and witticism.
The writing lacks all three qualities. The screenplay is uneven and the lines that the characters mouth are intentionally designed to be cool .They end up being unintentionally awkward.
Urban cool, like glamour and chutzpah only works when it's done unselfconsciously. Most moments that take the narration towards the inevitable embrace of the diehard romantic and the laugh-hard cynic are strung together like one-line SMS jokes stretched into a love saga from here to New Zealand.
Much of the mushy mismatch happens on the sets of a moody director (Samir Soni)'s film. The director's passion spills onto sets and characters who lampoon Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Hum…l De Chuke Sanam, Devdas and Saawariya. But a trueblue spoof is as tough to undertake as a true homage. Bhansali gets neither treatment.
Samir Soni plays the mercurial director with warmth that you miss in the other characters. The film-within-film format creates a clutter in the screenplay that doesn't warrant or tolerate complexities. If the two protagonists fall in love on the sets of a romantic film, that's their look-out. The characters don't generate any empathy in us. What's worse, they seem to enjoy their self-absorbed definition of romance and commitment much more than we do.
There are tongue-in-cheek references to the romantic cinema of Bhansali, Aditya Chopra and, ahem ahem. Karan Johar. We don't really know when that tongue goes out of the cheek. Nothing in the pacing of the plot suggests a well thought-out kismet for the proceedings or a graph for the characters.
Shockingly, for the first time in a Karan Johar film the presentation is patchy. The colour schemes jump across various sequences unmatched. The haphazard chaos on a film set never seems unreal enough to be real. Even the chaos in the plot seems much too self-conscious.
Imran Khan is charming when he isn't busy making faces and throwing lines into the air that we hardly find worth catching. His character's growth from a man who finds love a joke to a neo-Devdas who chokes on his angst is a direct descendent of Maamu Aamir Khan's splendidly-evolved character in Dil Chahta Hai.
I bring up the 'Maamu' factor because Imran cheekily does so himself in some part of the crowded saturated soundtrack.
While Sammir Dattani as the proper fiance hardly gets a chance to have a say, Sonam Kapoor looks lovely and is apt at expressing the romantic yearnings of a girl who probably read all the Mills & Boon books before she turned 13. Her character suffers from a serious absence of motivation. One minute she's devoted to the nice sweet Gujarati boy (Sammir Dattani). The next minute she's confessing her love to the roguish Jay in a coffee shop.
And then you go, 'Huh, when did that happen?' When did love turn into a string of sitcom jokes told without canned laughter? Love, we grew up believing to be blind. But not bland, for Cupid's sake! Does anyone really care why Simran chooses the Prem Rogue instead of the Prim Beau when in today's day and age every clear-thinking girl looks at her prospective husband's bank balance and mental equilibrium with equal dispassion?
But then who said anything about dispassion and equilibrium over here? I Hate Luv Storys is filled with possibilities that don't even begin to crystallize; the protagonists are too busy trying not to be what they have set out to scoff at, rather than being true to character.
The film's uneven pace and an absence of space for the lovers to get cosy for the camera let alone with one another, make this a big disappointment.
Hate love stories? Not quite the entire genre, though this one tries hard.