As romantic comedies go "Break Ke Baad", starring Imran Khan and Deepika Padukone, is arguably more engaging than recent films of this genre – "Aisha", "Anjaana Anjaani" and "Jhootha Hi Sahi". Yet this film suffers from one key problem that plagued all those movies – clumsy writing.

Imran and Deepika play Abhay and Aaliya, movie-besotted childhood friends who’ve been seeing each other for some ten-odd years. He’s thoughtful and romantic, she’s rebellious and attention-seeking. Their relationship hits a snag when she takes off to Australia to enroll at university, and he follows after her obsessively until she breaks up with him.

The film’s first half coasts along breezily, drawing its strength from the sheer charm of its leads. So even though the dialogue occasionally has a labored feel to it, and struggles to strum up a coolness that the script doesn’t inherently possess, you’re willing to overlook these lapses because you’re distracted by the stars’ pleasant chemistry.

The real problems surface when co-writer/director Danish Aslam resorts to using tired clichés as key conflicts between the film’s characters. In a regressive subplot, Aaliya wants to be an actress, but her fading-star mum (played by Sharmila Tagore) doesn’t want her daughter to repeat her mistakes. Mummy, you see, blames her acting career for her husband’s infidelity, and for the failure of her marriage!

Deepika Padukone plays Aaliya with a confidence you haven’t seen in her performances before, and creates a solid, believable character that’s somewhat misguided but endearing nonetheless. "Break Ke Baad" is essentially Aaliya’s story, with Abhay playing a supporting part in it, and the film works best when she’s at the forefront.

Post-intermission, however, the film loses momentum as the focus shifts abruptly to Abhay’s journey. He stays on in Australia after Aaliya has dumped him, gets a job, starts a business, and continues to pine for her. His is a considerably less interesting character that lacks much spark, and his only distinguishable feature is the fact that he’s a lovesick puppy. To be fair, Abhay only works in context to Aaliya, and yet it is to Imran Khan’s credit that he invests Abhay with an earnestness that makes such a dull character lovable.

The film itself goes off the rails about ten minutes into the second half, when it is clear that the script has run out of ideas. Much time and footage is wasted on secondary characters like Aaliya’s landlords, the brother-sister duo who run a beach shack, and who end up playing cupid to the estranged leads. By the time Abhay and Aaliya realize the error of their ways and get back together in the end, you’re completely exhausted.

"Break Ke Baad" doesn’t finish with the same promise you glimpsed early on in the film, but it has several moments that are enjoyable. There’s a crackling scene on a building terrace in the film’s first half, that opens on a comical note – with Aaliya giving them new names: Shahrukh for her, Sunita for him – but turns poignant when Abhay asks why he must always be the sensible, practical one. Many laughs are provided by Lillette Dubey, who plays Abhay’s quick-witted aunt, who repeatedly refers to Aaliya as a chudail, and compares today’s young lovers to Devdas!

In the end, Director Danish Aslam makes a respectable debut with a reasonably engaging film that is watchable largely for the performance of its leading lady. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for "Break Ke Baad". You won’t be entirely bored!

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