- The initial state of equilibrium is achieved when an aspiring playback singer Rohit Kumar (Aamir Khan) meets Kiran (Manisha Koirala), a student of classical music. They face and overcome parental opposition to marry.
- The disruption of equilibrium is achieved in good time. Rohit is selfish and unwilling to afford his wife the freedom to pursue her career ambitions. She leaves him and their son Sonu (Master Adil), and succeeds in her quest for stardom. Meanwhile, Rohit's unwillingness to compromise artistic quality for popularity results in his downfall. He returns to singing at a restaurant to make ends meet. Through this process, he transforms to a loving and caring father. Kiran, on the other hand, is possessive and lures their son through her wealth and status.
- There might not be a restoration of the equilibrium, but attempts at that restoration are presented through a legal dispute between Kiran and Rohit, involving the custody of their child. Will the court side with the transformed Rohit, or will the powerful and resourceful Kiran have her way? And will Sonu's wishes matter?
The second big strength is clearly the presence of Aamir Khan, in what I think is easily among his best performances of all time. The disruption of equilibrium mentioned above is almost always accompanied by a character transformation of some sort. For Rohit to undergo that transformation in the film is one thing, and for the audience to feel him undergo it quite another. Watch him as he goes from joyful, single, and loving to an aggressive and unaccommodating (almost abusive) husband, and a father who cares for little else but his son. Then there is a scene involving confrontation with a music director, in which he is superb. It is the relentless injection of emotion in each stage that is easy to relate to, and it works.
The narrative is hardly restricted to Rohit, though. We see the events unfold from around the space occupied by Kiran and Sonu as well (although there are very few visuals that create a sense of character possession, as with Ishaan Awasthi in Taare Zameen Par (2007), for instance). Consequently, while there is no mystery, a fairly strong element of suspense is retained through the second half, and especially through fantastic courtroom sequences leading to the climax.
The pace of the film complements these factors. The initial love story and its tribulations last for not more than 30 minutes at most, which is enough for us to see the fantastic chemistry Aamir and Manisha share. She has a role atypical of women in Hindi film in the 1990s. She's bold, confident, and not afraid to go against the norm. The question is, at what price?
The focus almost immediately shifts to a turbulent marriage, an empowered woman who is justified in only seeking her right, a careless mother, and a father who struggles to raise his child on his own. I am no psychology expert, but the parent-child relationships portrayed are easy to relate to and only add more realism (hence emotion) within the scope of the film. I wonder why we didn't see much of child artist Adil, he is excellent here.
A discussion on Akele Hum would be incomplete without mention of its supporting cast, who are brilliant, save for Kiran's friend Sunita (Navneet Nishant; remember her from the TV show circuit?). Paresh Rawal and Mushtaq Khan are fantastic as the lawyers for the prosecution and defense respectively. So is Neeraj Vora as Moolchand the grocer. There is Farida (Tanvi Azmi, sister-in-law of Shabana Azmi), a neighbor of the Kumars, friend to Kiran, and a confidant of Rohit. If I were to change one thing in the film, the outcome of this discussion would be it.
Kiran's parents Mr. and Mrs. Dayal are Anjan Srivastav and Rohini Hatangadi. One would think lovers of classical music would be more considerate, but NO.
We do remember Deven Verma from Andaz Apna Apna (1994)!
Rakesh Roshan in a guest appearance. Given the framework to this film involved the film industry and music, there's naturally room for related commentary. It's not exploited much, though, because that would have taken the focus away from the central theme. Besides, there's Rangeela (1995) from the same year for that. :)
A big part of the struggle the parents face has to do with (surprise, surprise) ego. Lessons learned include the fundamental requirement of discussing roles before tying the knot. This exchange in particular had me thinking of the great Amitabh Bachchan's entry to film, not the great Abhimaan (1973). (It's also what you do once you get the opportunity, Rohit!)
This angle is a complement to narrative, because the couple's decision to wed was always impulsive. There's also a scene which you must discover on your own, in which the poet in Rohit reminds of another favorite, Guru Dutt in Pyaasa (1957).
The music (Anu Malik) is fairly good. The background score is powerful, and the songs work more on the strength of the accompanying lyrics (Majrooh Sultanpuri), which make the pehli mulaaqaat (first meeting) song what it is in Aisa Zakhm Diya Hai ((The heart's) Been injured such), sung by the voice of Aamir, Udit Narayan. The interludes could surely have been better, but it's good nevertheless.
There's a fantastic (and gut-wrenching) tribute picturized on Aamir to the classic song Chalte Chalte...Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna from Chalte Chalte (1976), also by Udit Narayan. Narayan and his son Aditya team for a heartwarming title song. Dil Kehta Hai (The Heart says) by Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik is another beautiful tune.
By far the most popular (and rightfully so) is the beautifully worded Raja Ko Rani Se Pyaar Ho Gaya (The King Fell in Love with the Queen), by Narayan and Alka Yagnik. Here is its introduction (Manisha gets a lot better and fast, trust me), and here it is in its entirety (there's also a version by Yagnik and Sanu):
I'd definitely recommend Akele Hum Akele Tum if you're up for real cinema that addresses relationships at multiple levels and from multiple angles. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay to it is a confession that I found it more testing (read: tear-inducing) to sit through than Taare Zameen Par. If you liked TZP, check this out, and compare teacher and student there to father and son here. Four stars for a job well done -- it's manipulative, emotional cinema at its core, and deserves to be appreciated for the many tangible issues it addresses without ever getting preachy.
Movie rating: 4/5 (Excellent!)
I am aware it is partly adapted from an English film, which is why this must stop at 4. It's all effectively done, and the product speaks for itself.
Music rating: 3.5/5 (Good!)
It's Anu Malik, and of course there's a 'remake' somewhere in his soundtrack. Haven't included the track above, but it's adapted from a really good Christmas classic, and carries a similar theme (but not over Christmas). And please don't ask me how I know this ;)
My classification: PG
Look no further to appreciate commitment to art and diversity. Aamir's other 1995 projects: 1) Baazi; 2) Aatank Hi Aatank (a Godfather remake); and 3) Rangeela.