It is just so refreshing to see a period film that is made with such glorious reverence and affection. Khoya Khoya Chand does its best to transport you to the golden era of Bollywood, among the archaic lights, melodramatic sets, divas and classic automobiles. The visual treatment of the story is stunning, and thanks to that a superbly chosen, we get the smell of the vintage greasepaint.
Perhaps, the in-jokes, at almost every step of the film, was lost to the audience. This is an unhesitatingly insider film, Bollywood reflecting on Bollywood, not marked by raw impressions or cynicism. This is a glossy, neatly crafted romance set against an era of cinema the director himself is clearly overwhelmed by. The tale is of a pretty young starlet Nikhat (Soha Ali Khan)--who has been more couched than cast, right from an abominably early age--and her compromise to break into the limelight by giving in to the reigning star Prem Kumar (Rajat Kapoor). Enter then Zafar (Shiney Ahuja)--the nascent screenwriter who tells it like it is, who Nikhat ends up falling for.
It is a fine tale of compulsions and choices, of free will and helplessness, of Filmfare Awards and fat financiers. This is one of Sudhir Mishra's most simplistic films, however, where the characters are clearly delineated but utterly lack subtext. It is a neat love story, conflicted yet obvious, dramatic and basic--not that there's anything wrong in that.
Soha Ali Khan has the meatiest role, an author-backed character that requires her to emote and over-emote, to go from merry to melancholy in a heartbeat, and she manages this rather strongly. Sure, she is given unreal lines, but there is a fiery-eyed conviction as she toils on them, visibly straining to stay in character. It is a solid performance, and--called on to act for probably the first time in her yet-budding filmography and yes, she delivers. The film rests on her shoulders, yet she manages to look like a pin-up.
More than that (but with much less to do) is Soniya Jehan, the Pakistani starlet--who is cast as a ravishing beauty in the role of a diva, and in the film's finest scene outdoes herself when she asks, equal parts coy and manipulative, why she should sign a certain film that doesn't have any scope for her. Classic. Rajat Kapoor is superb as a superstar, first debauched then desperate, Saurabh Shukla's as the chubby financier gets all the one-liners. Shiney Ahuja is occasionally all right with the intensity, but whenever he has to break the glare, when he has to grin and throw stones at a producer's house, the acting effort shows.
It is a nicely put together film--much credit to the cinematographer Sachin K Krishn--but is bogged down by a self-pitying protagonist. There is inconsistency in the plot since it starts off in an unreal fashion but is being narrated by Vinay Pathak as an assistant director, so you sit back and imagine these are romanticised flashbacks as told by a warmly nostalgic chunk, and that imparts an air of Bollywood to the proceedings. Yet, the character loses his omniscient voice, and we are now left on our own--but the staginess continues.
There is much to smile at and much to applaud fondly, and many a cameo. It is a lyrical film and the title song is magnificent--the music holds the story together perfectly. I just wish we didn't have the title cards at the end. Do watch the film. It is a sincere effort, a work born out of sheer love and for the medium, and I earnestly wish we could see more films like this. On the ratings scale, three out of five.