Dir. Pramod Chakravorty
It's tough for a movie set in an “exotic” locale to convey a sense of place without resorting to stereotypes, and Love in Tokyo doesn't even really try. Its stars do a little bit of frolicking in front of recognizable Tokyo landmarks, but they do even more prancing about in broad simulacra of Japanese types. Leading up to the song “Sayonara Sayonara” our heroine Asha (Asha Parekh) minces around in a kimono and sandals, waving a fan about, in an exaggerated performance of stereotypical Japanese maidenhood, complete with a put-on accent. Elsewhere in the movie, the hero's buddy Mahesh (Mehmood) finds himself hiding in a geisha house where he, of course, dons full geisha regalia (including porcelain make-up) and distracts the hapless and stupid father (Dhumal) of the girl Mahesh wants to marry. This is just about as broad and unappealing as it sounds.
Mehmood is not the only actor who gets to do some cross-dressing in Love in Tokyo. Early in the movie, Asha flees from Pran (Pran), who is scheming with Asha's uncle Madan (Madan Puri; writer Sachin Bhowmick didn't work too hard at character names) to marry her and make off with her presumed inheritance. Pran puts a price on Asha's return, and to evade capture, she dresses as a Sardar. Portrayals of women in drag are usually of more interest to me than men in drag; they are rarer, and implicate a subtler and more subsersive set of power dynamics. This one, though, is played only for comedy, and is mostly played down; Asha Parekh's performance of Punjabi masculinity is less affected, less physical and thorough, than her performance of stereotyped Japanese femininity. Asha may emit the occasional “Oi!” but she does not alter her presentation much beyond the costume itself. Her voice remains unaltered; she puts no swagger in her walk. There isn't much more here than a girl looking cute in a boy costume.
Still, if you're capable of just rolling your eyes at the substitution of stereotype for comedy, rather than becoming indignant and turning off the film in disgust (which would be a perfectly legitimate response, I must acknowledge), Love in Tokyo has its charms. There are some very entertaining songs(*). In “Koi matwala aaya mere dware,” Asha performs a sparkly and lovely, if more or less inexplicable, classical Indian dance on Japanese television, and the romantic songs are very sweet too. Even Mehmood's comic side plot is fairly developed and has some fun moments, as he wheedles and schemes to marry the girl he loves over her father's objections. This culminates in a Mission: Impossible-style impersonation of the father's choice of son-in-law (Asit Sen), accomplished via a super-accurate mask and wig that just happen to be lying around. And as our hero Ashok, Joy Mukherjee is serviceable; he's a good-looking fellow, and if he's a little bland and serious, he makes so much the better straight man for Mehmood's broad, loud comedy and Asha Parekh's own excellent comic skills.
Indeed, Love in Tokyo is at its best when Asha Parekh is being funny, whether in her Sardar avatar, or sparring with Ashok's bratty little nephew Chikoo (the plot device that brings Ashok to Tokyo in the first place). When she is on screen showing off the same physicality that made her performance in Caravan so delightful, Love in Tokyo flies by and is great fun to watch (even in that questionable “Sayonara” song). But when her storyline turns dramatic, she retreats into a sort of generic innocent-heroine avatar that is a lot less engaging.
It's not Asha Parekh's fault, but they way her character shrinks in presence is of a piece with the general bumping off the rails in Love in Tokyo's second half, in which, like many a masala movie, it gets a little dull and draggy. Lalita Pawar gives her trademark haughty rich maa performance in an unnecessary plot derail in which Asha proves her worth as a potential daughter-in-law by volunteering to sacrifice her own eyes to save Ashok's sight. (Fortunately, a medical miracle occurs and the transplant is not needed – forcing this poor girl to give up an organ for love is a bridge too far, for a movie that is mostly romantic comedy.) But at that point, it feels like you're checking boxes on your bingo card – Lalita Pawar spouts some pious, pompous, and blatantly unjust lines? Check. One of the villains (Madan, in this case) has a dramatic last-second change of heart and is promptly murdered by Pran? Check. Hero and villain have exciting mid-air melee in which helicopter flies itself when both are too busy fighting?(**) Check. None of this is bad; it's the stuff of a decent rainy-day timepass. What sticks with me most is the inane yet tenacious earworm of the title song: Mohammed Rafi belting “Jaaapaaaaaaan, Love in Tokyooooooo!”
(*) Love in Tokyo is packed full of musical references to other movies. I caught three of them; there may be more. During a ridiculous sequence in which Mehmood has stepped into some chemical goo that gives him the ability to fly (seriously) the background score picks up Gumnaam's “Hum kaale hain to kya hua.” At another point the background score dips into the melody of “Dheere se jaana khatiyan mein,” from Chhupa Rustam (a movie that came after Love in Tokyo; is it a traditional melody or what?). And there is another sequence in which Mehmood breaks into “Bol Radha Bol” from Sangam.
(**) Free advice for filmmakers: Slicing off Pran's hand in the helicopter blades and showing us the bloody stump isn't strictly necessary.