By Rohini Mohan
Aaja Nachle – another consummate entertainer for the entire family by Yash Chopra. That’s the thought that crossed my mind when the movie was over. It was endorsed by a bunch of teenagers in the seat behind me. ‘Good Movie, tabhi to flop hui’ was the comment.
Let me start at the beginning, with the storyline. Dia, (Madhuri) is an NRI divorcee mom of a pre-teen daughter in New York (of course) who teaches dance. One day she gets a call from her native village, a one-horse town named Shamli, that the open air theater, Ajanta, which she is sentimentally attached to and is currently in ruins, is to be torn down by the government so a mall can be built in its stead. Ms David sets out to face Goliath, represented by the self proclaimed bad guy, Akshaye Khanna. He is a young, foreign educated, suave, impartial MP. She begs him to reconsider the mall decision. He laughs at her for wanting to save the world but allows her the option of staging a show in 60 days with talent picked entirely from hicktown, Shamli. If it is a success, he says, Ajanta will be saved from destruction. Can Dia perform this insurmountable task? Is Akshaye really the bad guy? Rhetorical questions, both, we are talking Bollywood.
Madhuri looks good. Her age shows (crow’s feet and laugh lines clearly visible), but come on, 41 is absolutely not over the hill these days. But for a tiny tummy, she’s trim in a Jennifer Aniston kind of way. She always was an above average actress and has maintained that standard. Point is, she can still wow you with her amazing screen presence and mind blowing dance moves. She is a legend for a reason.
Akashye and Irfaan deliver the awesome performances now expected of them. Konkona and Kunal Kapoor are natural and effortless, though Konkona seems to be selling herself short these days. It was a bit disconcerting for me to see Akshaye paired with Madhuri, but then, I have too much baggage, I am still in tune with the whole Dayavaan Kissa (pun intended).
Now let’s examine the movie. Flimsy, frivolous and predictable plot? Very. Melodrama ? Certainly. Entertaining? Absolutely. All the ingredients for a good, clean, live it up masala fillum are there in dollops. Lots of music – if you felt the score was not as great as you would have liked, give it time, it will grow on you. The Aaja Nachle and Show Me Your Jalva numbers are catchy enough. Post intermission was dominated by the whole Laila Majnu theme with lots of dramatization, loud singing and much dancing, but frankly it was not too over the top. Quite palatable, actually. The comedy was dealt with well. There was even some refreshing realism. Madhuri does not play Laila just because she is Madhuri, she acts her age. The little girl who plays her daughter is as American as they come and does not spout chaste Hindi miraculously the minute she touches Indian shores. Divorce is not a dirty word and the absence of a full time ‘hero’ is not felt. What I loved (and I felt this in Laaga Chunri Mein Daag also) is the fact that we can now accept husky voiced divas such as Sunidhi Chauhan singing for the leading lady instead of just the utterly feminine, high pitched and sometimes squeaky female playback singers we have been so used to up until now.
Any publicity is good publicity, so all that controversy about the racial undertone in the title track can only favor the cause. I can’t help thinking Mayawati wanted the movie banned for another reason- the whole mall building theme hit too close to home, maybe?
As Bollywood fare goes, what’s not to like, people? Let's face it, we are not some highly discerning, low-threshold-for-garbage, arty audience. If Om Shanti Om could gross what it did, if we were ok with swallowing the nonsense doled out to us in Fanaa, if Saawariya could even make it to the box office, we should have no problems watching and objectively enjoying Aaja Nachle. It’s no work of art, but hey, there’s dancing and there’s Madhuri. Ergo, Paisa Vasool. Take your kids, they’ll enjoy it.