The boy and girl first meet in the back-alleys of their Punjab village, where love finds seed instantly, aided by ink and mehndi cue cards that the twosome exchanges in silent conversation. Alas, they are destined to separate, only to reunite in the lushness of Scotland. The boy is now an Indian Air Force pilot while the girl is learning the ballet. Though they're older and wiser, perhaps, the romance is still quite fresh and enticing enough to watch. You hope they'll stick together this time, but fate intervenes again, to draw the boy away into war. The romance hits pause and you begin to lose interest, it fading away as the post-war hero runs into his girl once again in the iciness of Switzerland's Euro rail, only to part again. It is at this point that you give up on the film, so much so that when the couple is finally reunited in the most random of ways in Ahmedabad a few years later, you find you simply can't care about this pair anymore, content to just be rid of this dragging affair. That's a good thing, perhaps, for it is towards its very end that Pankaj Kapur's Mausam gets quite ridiculous.
Great actors don't make great directors, one supposes. That disappointment held true a few years ago, when Naseeruddin Shah turned to film-making with Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota, and with the great Pankaj Kapur turning director here, it still seems to hold true, though only in parts. Aiming to tell an epic love story, Kapur certainly has his heart in the right place with Mausam. However, it is in the way that he gets indulgent at a few too many places, that the first time director seems to be lose his way more than a bit.
Kapur's story deals with the romance between Harry (Shahid Kapoor) and Aayat (Sonam Kapoor), a decade-spanning love story which blossoms all over the globe through trials and tragedies. Clearly, this must count as one of the unluckiest couples in the world, uncannily managing to find their way into the midst of virtually every tragedy to befall India between the early nineties and noughties. Still, when the two first meet in the lanes of Mallukot, the chemistry between Harry and Aayat is undeniable, the two dancing away their cares at the former's sister's wedding. While Harry is the handsome Punjabi son of a Mallukot professor, the graceful Aayat is the only daughter of a Kashmiri Muslim who is fleeing the valley with his Kashmiri Pandit best friend, while his daughter is safe at her Fatema bua's (Supriya Pathak Kapur) place in Mallukot.
Tragedy strikes though, just when the two are ready to confess their love, as the Babri masjid is torn down, and Aayat's family flees to safer havens. By the time they meet seven years later, Harry has turned into IAF Sqn.Ldr. Harinder Singh while Aayat is a ballet dancer living and running an Indian store in Scotland with her dad and his best friend, who she affectionately calls Machu (Anupam Kher), diminutive for Maharaj Chachu. Love takes root again, this time over a dinner table where the two seem to have a literal heart-to-heart. Just when the two are ready to make it official, however, Harinder is called away from his Scottish exchange program to Kargil, where he goes down in battle, coming back handicapped and losing touch with Aayat again, who has abandoned Scotland looking for him. Searching for her everywhere, he does encounter her again, though she doesn't know, as he finds her in a Swiss train, sleeping on the shoulder of a man he doesn't know, with a child in her lap.
Ultimately, by the time Harry and Aayat reunite in Ahmedabad in the midst of the riots, they've taken so long to get to the point that you're hard-pressed to pay attention. Perhaps Pankaj Kapur realises this too, injecting a rather ill-fitted 'last-action-hero' sequence in the climax, and turning the affair into a bit of a farce.
Kapur scores with Mausam when his core love story is still fresh. Appropriately, then, the most enjoyable moments of the film come in the first half, when the action is still settled in Mallukot. While the romance between Harry and Aayat is charming here, the comic scenes between Harry and his dadajee are hilarious. The film bursts with effervescence here, Shahid Kapoor in his element as Harry, infusing the film with the energy of his performance, jumping to songs like sajh dhaj ke. However, as soon as things take a sombre turn, the film proceeds downhill. In the second half, Shahid and Sonam as their own older versions are a bit too grave and serious to hold one's interest. Still, in his initial moments as the dashing pilot, Shahid shows that he can rock an IAF uniform, while Sonam manages to look charming even while sporting a powdered wig.