Dancing Back to Glory: Aaja Nachle

Aaja nachleMadhuri Dixit’s ‘comeback’ film “Aaja Nachle” has not exactly swept the box-office off its feet. Incidentally, Kajol’s Fanaa, which apparently was her ‘comeback’, failed to impress audiences as much as expected. Of course, there’s no stopping the Madhuri fans and to say the least, Madhuri’s dancing was, as usual, impeccable. Yet the film fails to offer that endearing quality which sets apart all of Madhuri’s films. To describe “Aaja Nachle” as merely a ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘average’ would be stereotyping it. The film definitely (contrary to what most reviews seem to suggest) had some good points and is worth a one-time watch.

The story begins with Diya, a divorced N.R.I. in New York whose daily dance routine at her dance school is rudely interrupted by a phone call from India which informs her that her old dance teacher is ill and dying and requests one last visit from her. The film then traces Diya’s return to her country, with her young daughter, after 11 years to the town of Shamli, the same village where she had met her former husband, Steve, and eloped with him creating a huge scandal amongst her conservative neighbours. This brings about her estrangement from her parents and they move away from Shamli to avoid humiliation. Diya returns to find out that her teacher is dead, and the Ajanta Theatre, where she and her friends had first learnt their dance steps, was to be broken down. According to her teacher’s last wishes she resolves to save Ajanta, and has only two months to put up a show there with the people of Shamli, to prove that they still love their theatre. Then, of course, the story predictably follows Diya, as she tries to convince the very town which had once disowned her to dance and save Ajanta. She finally manages to do so by putting up a huge ‘Laila-Majnoo’ dance drama there.

On the bright side the director, Anil Mehta cashes in on the image of Madhuri Dixit as an N.R.I., as a dancer, as making a comeback and also as a mother. The very fact that a heroine can and is being portrayed as a single mother from the very beginning of the film definitely marks a huge deviation from the conventional clichés of Bollywood. Madhuri looks beautiful at forty-plus and still dances exceptionally well. Akshaye Khanna, in his cameo as the suave and smooth, young ‘rajasaheb’, gives perhaps the best performance in the film. Divya Dutta and Konkona are good; Vinay Pathak is exceptional, as usual. The hint of the subtle romance between Akshaye and Madhuri is also a welcome change from the shouting-from-rooftop kind of Bollywood romances that we’re so used to. The last ‘Laila-Majnoo’ opera is well organized, complete with brilliant cinematography and wonderful music from Salim-Sulaiman.

On the flip side, the story is oh-so-predictable. The time leap doesn’t really bring about significant changes in Madhuri’s appearance or maturity; and that she’s still the headstrong, impish girl she was at twenty after a divorce and motherhood is hard to digest. Kunal Kapoor (though he’s a gorgeous eye-candy) fails to make a mark with his performance and Irrfan Khan is completely wasted.

The characters are a tad bit unconvincing; they are not multi-faceted characters and seem too flat. The conflict too and it’s subsequent resolution seems too smooth. Everything falls into place like a well-rehearsed play, and the characters therefore fail to evoke that sense of helplessness or struggle which should be the essence of such a film. Diya is so perfect that she’s unreal and Konkona’s makeover is too abruptly done.

Yet as I said, to classify this film with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ tags is difficult. So, anyone who doesn’t want re-incarnations and six-pack abs or poetic rhapsodies in blues and greens to spoil their afternoon, might want to check out this film by himself…

Sohini Pal