Love Aaj Kal 2020 Character Post: Raj/Raghu

Randeep Hooda’s character! Who is just fascinating, a bit of a throwback to the old charming type of wise older mentor (picture Ashok Kumar), only in this film he is mentoring a young woman instead of a young man.

We meet Raj as a cool successful older man. He hangs around at the super hip coffee shop and workspace he owns, makes cool hang over cures for the young people, is hip enough to hang with them but secure enough in his own self to not try hard to be part of their group. He seems too perfect, unbelievably perfect.

And then we get the background for him. He is rich, far richer than he appears at first glance. So successful that there is nothing left for him to do, his days are empty. He is at the point in life where most people stop working and enjoy other parts of life. Only, he has no other parts of life. He keeps coming in to work for no reason, just because it is better than being home. What appears to be cool relaxed casualness, is actually just spinning out his days, trying to get from sunrise to sunset as fast as he can.

Randeep Hooda White Shirt and Blue Jeans look, Rahogi Meri style ...

The same is true of his sex/romantic life. He isn’t bothering to hit on a young woman like Zoe, or anyone around her, because he is so extremely successful that he has no need. What he needs is the human connection, what he desires is just to talk with someone, anyone. Sex and money, the two things most men spend their lives searching for, have somehow dropped right into his lap. It’s everything else that is missing.

Raj’s relationship with Zoe is unique in his life. It starts out like many other passing connections, he jokes with her as a regular costumer, has that brief human bond that helps him get through his day. And then he sees Veer pursuing her, and it sparks something to life inside of him, something beyond the superficial, so he briefly reaches out and reveals something real. Somehow that one real thing leads to more. What was a casual meaningless passing of the time connection turns into the sort of real connection he has not enjoyed in years.

At the start, I felt something slightly sexual between them. Appropriately so, he was the hot older guy who ran the cafe and she enjoyed looking at him. She was the very young pretty woman and he enjoyed her youth. But that quickly went away, their connection turned into seeing each other in the other, to fall in love would be like falling in love with yourself.

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In fact, that is what happened. As they talked, Zoe learned to value her feelings and forgive her mistakes by being able to understand Raj’s story and forgive his mistakes. And Raj learned to fully understand the price he had paid and that he did not deserve it, not really. That in his youth, he punished himself too much for a first mistake and that lead to more and more mistakes.

A standard hero of any romance is the “rake who is saved”. He is charming and enjoys sex and is good at it, but has never really felt love. Until the heroine saves him. It is a female fantasy, an experienced lover who is good at sex, but whose heart is 100% yours. It’s a male fantasy too, in a slightly different way, having as much sex as you want whenever you want and also having the woman who loves you unconditionally and gives you the happy ending you dream about.

But this film deals with the nightmare, what if your years as a rake never end? What if you tire of sex and no woman appears to “save” you? It confronts both sides of this fantasy, the woman who sees the sexual man as merely sexual, putting her in the place of Zoe who wants Raj to be sexy and older and cool but not tormented, not lonely, not guilt ridden. And the young man like Raj was, who wants to believe sex and work and achievements will always be enough, love will come easily when he wants it.

I was irritated at first that Raj’s true love was so mysterious to him and the audience. He follows her around without really speaking to her back in their hometown, once they are in the city and can see each other a lot, he doesn’t tell us what her job is, what her life is, what they talk about. And finally she walks away from him without fully saying why she decided to leave (was it because she found out he was cheating? Or just realized he would never marry her?). In the end, he finds her years later and she is pregnant. Is she married? Did she find happiness?

But that’s the point, she is not just a person in Raj’s life, she is her own person. He assumed she would always be there waiting, his guaranteed happy ending. Nothing in life is guaranteed. Sometimes you lose your chance and there is no second chance. He didn’t put in the work to really know her and that is his tragedy. If Raj, telling this story, had been able to say “she did this job, she dreamed of this thing, her parents arranged for her to meet this family friend for marriage, she opened her own cafe with a lot of struggle, she painted her nursery pink and hoped for a girl”, he wouldn’t have lost her in the first place. He simply didn’t try, again and again, he took her for granted. The usual ending is that this perfect woman is waiting for him to find her again, happy happy. We see that usual story with the usual beautiful mysterious woman, and instead a realistic ending. She isn’t going to wait, she is going to live her life and move on, and he was a fool not to see that.

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When Veer and Zoe break up, Raj panics. He wants to fix it, wants the perfect magical romantic ending more than the young people do. Only Veer is braver and wiser than he was, and the Veer-Zoe relationship is more honest than what he had with his love. Veer is not afraid to lose Zoe because he knows he tried his best, he had her fully and completely, their love was pure. He will not be an old man with an empty life of regrets.

There are two years that fly by while Zoe and Veer are separated. During that time, Zoe moves on with her life and Raj is no longer a daily thing for her. That is right, she is young and should move on. But this time, Raj does not forget or step back. He is still there for her, he is willing to reveal the greatest sadness of his life if it can help her when she needs help. He never gets back romantic love, but he gets a second chance to see a young woman as a person, to try to understand her, to make an effort with her.

So this is the same story of the rake as usual, just with a twist. He has sex and empty relationships and his life is progressively dreary and lost. But then Zoe comes into his life. She isn’t his romantic love, but she is still the woman who saves him a little bit. Gives him a chance to know what it is to be in love, to care for another person, to let his heart be alive again.

Raj ends the film crying, so he is the character I most want to bring forward to a happier place. I think he is getting there, his conversation with Zoe is a breakthrough in many ways, finally confronting and telling someone else about the tragedy of his life and the pain he feels, trusting another person that much, making a sacrifice of his own pain to bring happiness to someone he loves. But I want to see what happens when he sees Zoe again, the daughter of his heart. I want Zoe to invite him to be the only witness at their registrar marriage, giving him the honor of being the one person in her life who really cared about her happiness. I want to see Zoe (once she is in a better place herself) worry about him, take him to doctor’s appointments, nag him to come over to their house, make him actually retire so he can spend more time with her children, fuss at him to give up these one night stand relationships that leave him feeling empty (whether he does or not, the point is her fussing about it tells him that someone cares). I think the film establishes that his connection with Zoe isn’t one way, he cares for her and she cares for him. He saves her, now she will turn around and save him.

8 thoughts on “Love Aaj Kal 2020 Character Post: Raj/Raghu

  1. Wonderfully put. I remember him saying that “we were the Romeo and Juliet of Udaipur” in a way foreshadowing that they will have a tragic end because as much as R and J is a love story (among other things) it is also about a couple who end up in an unhappy situation and there is a lot of speculation that if Romeo’s love for Juliet was just lust and Juliet’s was just puppy love and if it would have been expected or speculations if the love would have fizzled out in Mantua, should they have survived and the plan would have worked. We will never know, but this movie does give it another perspective.

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    • Yes! All those young tragic lovers who never grow up, they also never face their love fading, becoming less perfect. That’s why it is perfect, because it is always in that wonderful space.

      On Sat, May 2, 2020 at 12:58 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • And it would explain those balcony scenes seen in this film in the past section, there is a lot fo them and even the other day when we watched JHMS I commented how Sejal looking at Harry from her balcony was reminiscent of that Romeo and Juliet scene, and in a sense is, since she is engaged and he is a womanizer slowly falling in love with her. Except in that scene, there is no dialogue, the balcony in itself should tell the similarity of the situation in a way!!

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        • There’s also the “terrace” tradition in Indian film romances. I was just watching Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan and they make a joke in there about how girls with first floor terraces are always the first to have romances. You can go outside to take in the wash or put it out, or dry food, or just sit and study, and the boys can see you.

          On Sun, May 3, 2020 at 6:02 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Also, I feel Raj’s character is someway very similar to Imtiaz himself. Even in JHMS, there was Harry who used to see himself as worthy and confident by the number of women he sleeps with, I remember a scene where Sejal and Harry are about to have Sex and Harry refuses and Sejal makes him realize that you are not a womanizer as you see yourself to be! I have seen many interviews of Imtiaz where he deliberately calls himself ” morally corrupt ” just like Harry used to & just like Harry, I don’t think Imtiaz is a bad person but he seems to carry a lot of guilt for I don’t know what, maybe his own personal life had been like Harry, got separated from wife and now regrets it.

    In this film, Raj is Imtiaz, Sara is the audience and his fans who have grown up watching Jab we met and Love Aaj Kal, Raj being Sara’s storyteller, telling her ‘ fairy tale’ and suddenly telling her reality of that ‘fairytale’. In a scene I noticed, Raj was reading Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry which Imtiaz himself is a big admirer of and is seen quoting him on many occasions. What do you think?

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    • Yes! I can definitely see that! Especially with his turn towards young female characters in recent years. Imtiaz has the same understanding and care for his female characters that we see Raj show to Sara in the film.

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