Director: Sunny Deol

Cast: Karan Deol, Sahher Bambba

The unfortunate aspect about most Bollywood launch vehicles is that choice-strapped viewers must pay to watch expensive family-heirloom ceremonies masquerading as movie productions. Sunny Deol directs his son Karan in Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas, an atrocious love story that undoes all the mainstream filmmaking prowess the veteran had displayed with his previous outing, Ghayal: Once Again. Maybe it’s the surgeons-cannot-operate-on-their-own-blood syndrome, but there is absolutely no reason for a film to look consistently pointless for almost 160 minutes. If nothing, it does wonders for Manali/Himalayan tourism, given that the entire first half unfurls amidst steep cliffs and icy valleys, where confused snow leopards (likely related to the one Sean Penn photographed in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) and camping apparatus outperform the two protagonists.

The first hour is spent proving that Karan Deol knows the ropes…but only literally. He looks at ease suspended in mid-air; Karan is a professional rock-climber and adventure-resort owner (Camp “Ujhi Dhaar”) who charges INR 5 lakhs for a special five-day trekking expedition. He is always grinning, even when he’s not. In walks Seher Sethi (Bambba, who is a spitting image of Tanushree Dutta), India’s Vlogger of the year, with the intention of proving that Ujhi Dhaar is a scam. Talk about these young reviewers and their preconceived notions. Maybe there’s something to be said, then, about Seher – who is essentially a professional critic – being made to look like a complete fool during the dangerous hike. Like an unfit film critic being forced to assist a skilled director on set for an entire schedule, Seher huffs and puffs and screams and rants and even succumbs to altitude sickness before being won over by the sincerity of Karan’s vision. I see what you’re doing, Mr. Deol. I see it. 70 per cent of Karan’s lines here are “Calm down, Miss Sethi”. In short, the wilderness brings them closer.

Maybe there’s something to also be said about the great outdoors being a recurring narrative theme used to dispel the rawness of teething industry kids. We’ve seen it before: the Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai island, the Refugee borders, the Himachali Highway, the muggy Kedarnath pilgrimage, the Dhadak chawls. It’s probably a psychological trial-by-fire thing – hoping to see your children come of age by testing them in conditions most alien to them. It often works – the more uncomfortable they are, the more we see what they are actually capable of.

But this doesn’t quite work as much for the Deols, because it’s generally hard to imagine them indoors without smashing doors and breaking bones. The screenplay then goes about finding a villain depraved enough to merit Karan’s hidden trademark-Deol temper. It settles on Seher’s evil ex, a rich boy who acts evil (slut-shames, harasses etc) solely so that he can be beaten to a pulp by them ‘Dhai kilo ke haath’. Things become unexpectedly dark. Someone goes into a coma – perhaps because tragedy requires more of a performance.

There is however a perceptive moment early on when Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas chances upon an underrated mental trait. Karan and Seher are exchanging sob stories. For instance, she stopped singing because her boyfriend laughed at her. Karan then mentions that he doesn’t have a girlfriend because he has a job in which people enter his life for only a week at a time. He is left with what-if memories and attachment issues: a crippling state of mind that rings true for anyone in the service and hospitality industry whose job profile features fleeting human connections and temporary clients. This is a nice piece of character-building; it even inadvertently explains his curious facial inertia. And the next morning, they pet a snow leopard.

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