‘Sara and Kartik didn’t meet’

Actors Sara Ali Khan and Kartik Aaryan on discovering their characters Zoe and Veer for Love Aaj Kal


Actor Sara Ali Khan briskly entered the room, running on a late schedule, before polite greetings signalled the beginning of her poised chat. Her co-star Kartik Aaryan’s chat flowed differently. He excused himself to take a break between his interviews, asked for his second coffee to be replaced after it also turned cold, and wound down by teaching the dance steps in the actors’ Haan Main Galat music video to the others in the Window Seat Films office near Four Bungalows. The two are being paired for the first time in Imtiaz Ali’s upcoming Love Aaj Kal, though fans have been “shipping” the actors for long now.

Palpable chemistry

While the two have faced invasive scrutiny about the status of their relationship, Khan stressed that during the shoot, “Sara and Kartik didn’t meet. It was Zoe and Veer everyday on-set,” said the actor, explaining that while working on the film, the two were Imtiaz Ali’s characters, “an idealistic boy and a pragmatic girl – their chemistry was so exciting.”

The film is a spiritual successor to Ali’s 2009 film – starring Deepika Padukone and Sara’s father, Saif Ali Khan – and will also unpack the ways in which romance has changed over the decades. The two timelines of this 2020 iteration revolve around the present-day relationship between career-focussed Zoe and romantic Veer in 2020, and Leena’s (Arushi Sharma) blossoming small-town love with Raghu – again played by Kartik Aaryan – in 1990.

Contemporary interpretation

Khan saw a lot of herself in Zoe – whether being brought up by a single parent or their focus on their careers – but noted that Zoe was a lot more aggressive and reactive than her. “Zoe is not your archetypal heroine,” she stressed, “she runs to the male protagonist and says ‘fuck you’ [in a scene included in the trailer] – you don’t see that very often. It’s representative of what women are today – they are more outspoken, louder, more financially independent, [and] more career-driven. There’s [also] more equality in relationships – desires and expectations have all changed so much over the years.” For Aaryan, the challenge rested in creating unique characters out of Veer – honest, smart, and idealistic and in Aaryan’s words “he might come across as creepy” – and of Raghu – the confident and filmy lover. “I had to specifically work on the body language,” shared the actor, explaining that while Veer kept to himself, Raghu would behave like he owned the place. Aaryan would find his Veer in the notes scribbled onto the walls of the character’s Delhi house or in the pots and pans littered around the house from which Veer would directly have his meals.

And for Raghu, Aaryan shared, “I would keep Salman [Khan] sir’s songs playing on the sets to create that vibe.” He also kept watching a stream of ’80s and ’90s films from Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), Salman Khan’s first lead role, to the 1988 take on Romeo and JulietQayamat Se Qayamat Tak.

Career confidence

In his nine-year-old career, Aaryan has often faced criticism for portraying similar, misogynistic characters that are variations of ordinary men who blame the women in their lives for their unhappiness. He admitted that he doesn’t pay too much attention to the opprobrium because he sees that his films, whether the two Pyaar Ka Punchnamas (2011 and 2015), Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety (2018) or Pati Patni Aur Woh (2019) are successful at the box office. “Consecutive films are working and being loved. There’s a reason that filmmakers are collaborating with me, so I must be doing something right,” he said simply, adding that he’s enjoying the more recent stream of offers after the few tough years that followed his successful debut.

Khan, on the other hand, is only two films old. But with a noteworthy debut in Kedarnath (2018) and as the face of brands like Puma India and Garnier India, she is often called a youth icon and has lent her voice to events like the Under 25 Summit and Barkha Dutt’s We the Women summit. Her comments on colourism – “If you want to be tan, just put on some bronzer. If you want to be fair, put on some powder” – received backlash at Dutt’s event. During our chat, she said “Maybe I sounded a little rash when I said that. I’m an independent and confident girl, so it’s easier for me to say things sometimes than it [probably] would be for the average Indian woman to take it. But I still don’t believe in victimising yourself.” Khan reiterated that people should have confidence in themselves, but when asked about the systemic discrimination people face on the basis of their skin tone, she repeated, “You can urge people to change, but I think that is a longer shot than just growing thicker skin and just saying forget it.”

Outside films

While Aaryan never considered a life outside of being an actor, Khan, a Columbia University graduate in history and political science, still believes being a lawyer or joining politics is on the cards for her. When asked about how they are dealing with the news of the anti-CAA and NRC protests around the country, Aaryan offered a vague statement about getting involved when needed, and Khan softly said she did not want to talk about it before waiting for the next question.

But the two actors got chattier when discussing what’s next on their plate. Aaryan will be part of Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Dostana 2 and Om Raut’s next – an action film. Khan will be seen opposite Varun Dhawan in the Coolie No. 1 remake and Aanand L. Rai’s Atrangi Re.