Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Aaja Nachle

Maybe my powers of suspending disbelief are just wiped out after my weekend viewing of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Gosh This Movie Was Such a Letdown (but Not Because of Harrison Ford, Let's Be Perfectly Clear about That) and Oh My God Could You Believe That Ridiculous Vine-Swinging Bit?, but most of Aaja Nachle just did not work for me. As Filmi Geek says, it shies away from taking a stance on some ideas that it teases us with - what it means to be a member of a community, what is the relationship between hometown and exile, what the role of art is in contemporary economic conditions - and I kept wanting it to do more with that kind of content than it did. Like in Indiana Jones, I kept saying "Really?" at the screen, not sarcastically à la Seth and Amy but with genuine disappointed surprise. We have to make the feisty, strong woman tone down her personality

and conventionalize her appearance and behavior

in order to get her man?

Really? He can't just love her for who and how she is? Sigh. We're going to ask the woman who really wants to be in the show to step aside so her bullying, dishrag husband can be in it instead? Really? Can't they just both be in the show? You panic about having only 30 days to put on the big show, but then the finished product has at least seven different elaborate sets, a zillion backup artists, and a last-minute actor substitution that goes flawlessly?



Really? Any group that can pull all this together clearly has the heart for art. So what were you all fretting about, exactly?

It delivers on the dance, I'll give it that, and doesn't even make us wait for it. I've seen only two other Madhuri movies, so I didn't have anything invested in her comeback, though I can easily see why people felt her absence. But as much as I love dancing in movies - and I was duly impressed by Madhuri and crew here - that's not all I wanted. Before you accuse me of being an unfeeling robot, know that the argument about people needing artistic expression and participation to be whole and happy resonates with me deeply, and I believe it to be utterly true. But as Akshaye's fabulous devil's advocate asks, what happens after the big show? Then what? And the movie never really tells us. Sure, people dance around the town as the credits roll, but what about the economic implications brought up before? The MP had said at the beginning that the day the town can make a living with cultural heritage, he'll be happy to to keep Ajanta; I guess by tearing up its demolition order, he is satisfied that the town's reality can/does include Ajanta, but we don't see it happen. It's a really interesting question that the movie raises and then lets drop. And no, I don't expect reality or practical answers from most movies, but the filmmakers raised my hopes by raising the questions. They started it!

Here's what I liked. The supporting cast was really fun, and I was warmed by the shy and overlooked people finding...their inner Madhuri, their guts, their joy.

They were all sweet and compelling, and I was so glad both the characters and actors got to shine. The title's invitation to dance is extended within the movie, which I thought was a really nice touch. The generosity of the spotlight on the supporting cast, particularly during the big show, is a delight. Much to its credit, the story is more well-rounded than I thought it would be.

Oh my gosh, wasn't he great?

Akshaye's MP is a small but rich character and he seems to have fun with it, filling it with spark but not going overboard. He gets a lot of the best lines and the most reasonable (if not entirely sympathetic) outlook, resisting corruption, giving people a chance, and emphasizing the role of the community in the issue at stake. Despite the juicy "I'm the bad guy" scene, he really isn't.

Last but not least, the big show is visually and emotionally fantastic. I loved every second of the unrealistically but satisfyingly slick production, and I teared up a little at the fate of Laila and Manju. The device of a play showcasing its participants' unknown but real selves hits all the right notes with me - who wouldn't want a rare chance to shine and to be rewarded with people loving you more? And dancing in the streets! Spoon, please! I have some heart-warming, glittery syrup to eat up! Oh geeze, now I'm all worked up. The end is great; the rest, not so much. Good thing the end is what it ends with, if you know what I mean.

31 comments:

Filmi Girl said...

Good review! I can see why audiences gave this one a big 'meh.' The songs are catchy and I've watched some of the dance numbers on youtube, but I don't feel compelled to watch the entire movie.

I hope Madhuri stays back in movies. She's not old enough to start playing Ma and Aunty-ji, but I would be happy if she even came back for item numbers.

Half-baked "meaning" in movies is something I expect more from Hollywood, which seems to specialize in that kind of nonsense. I prefer the head/frying pan of movies like Rang De Basanti.

Beth said...

"Head/fraying pan." Hee hee.

"Meh." Yeah. Sadly that sums it up - not every part, by any means, but that was the overall effect for me.

Anarchivist said...

You know, I didn't even finish this. I loved Madhuri's first dance number (mmmmm, that blue dress...), but at some point, I just started fast-forwarding to Irfan's scenes of blink-and-you'll-miss-it villainy.

veracious said...

I went in expecting utter crap and what I got was a surprisingly entertaining film! Filled with plot holes and unfulfilled opportunities to explore something interesting, sure, but overall, just very cute and fluffy. Several things annoyed me, but I enjoyed Madhuri greatly, LOVED Akshaye (BESTEST EVER), thought the cast of characters was cute and delightful (Vinay Pathak, Irfan Khan, Divya Dutta, Kunal & Konkona .. god so many good actors!), loved the songs..

So, a fun movie for me, but with definite undeniable flaws.

celluloidrant said...

Aaja Nachle reminded me of those old Andy Hardy backyard musicals -- not too big on realism, but a fun ride if you don't think too much about it.

Akshaye's "I'm the bad guy" (complete with a little guitar riff in the background) was simply FANTASTIC! He was definitely the most interesting character of the lot. What he said made mucho sense, and you're right, they didn't really answer his question in the end.

For me, the most touching moment was when Ranvir Shorey has a quiet little heart to heart with Kunal Kapoor late in the movie. You see him drunk and dejected, you see him mooning over her, and it almost makes you cringe in sympathy for a moment. (Although given how Madhuri looks in the movie, I can't really blame him for not moving on.) But for that one moment when he gives Kunal some much needed advice, he seems to just... straighten up.

~ramsu

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Dude- there is that 1 scene where HE wears a white shirt and jeans- omg- I think I lost speech for a few seconds back there :)

Madhuri is just so average here- I didnt see histrionics coming on at all. She can dance, sure, but she can act too, and I dont see any of the latter in the movie at all.

Beth said...

Anarchivist - unless you also skipped the final big show, FFing would have cost you very little. Irfan is indeed awesome, as usual. He expresses his character's jerk-face-iness in such a contained way!

veracious - Expectation management is the way to go. Akshaye is definitely bestest ever.

Ramsu - Glad you loved Akshaye's character and performance too! I'm hoping he'll be offered (and take) more juicy little roles like this - I'd trade his co-starring turn in the mess that was Race for this kind of thing, despite its short screen time, any day.

Good call on the scene with Ranvir and Kunal!

Shweta - YES. I have screen caps, of course. The man wears jeans and white shirt very well. I don't think Madhuri's character was given a ton to do - and hers is not the most interesting character, not even in the top three, I'd say. Sounds like that was a waste.

Pessimisissimo said...

Beth, Madhuri is generally much better than the films she's in, if that makes any sense. But if you're willing to make large allowances for the contexts, you might enjoy her song and dance numbers in the delirious Khal Nayak (1993); her feisty, strong-willed characters in Beta (1992) and Dil (1990); and her too-short cameo in the otherwise deeply confused Lajja (2001).

She really is a wonderfully expressive actress and a superb dancer; apart from Devdas (2002), though, none of the nine films we've seen her in are really worthy of her talents. From your review it sounds like Aaja Nachle falls short, too, but we'll still watch it when we have the chance just to see her.

Bollyviewer said...

Thought Aaja Nachle was a decent time-pass movie but that was more because of the assorted characters in there rather than la Dixit. She was a bit stiff in both her dancing and her dialogue delivery - or maybe just seemed like that in comparison to Konkona (for dialogue delivery and expressions, not dancing)! Agree with pessimisissimo that Madhuri is usually a lot better than the movies she is in - couldnt have endured Devdas without her! Hope she will get to play more leading characters and not degenerate into a mother figure like most married actresses in Bollywood.

Beth said...

Pessimissimo - Sadly, I think that applies to several female stars. I've watched some of the songs from Khal Nayak a few times and I figure some day I'll get to the movie. The early 90s make me want to run away screaming, generally, so I'm not sure how much else I'll do.

Oh! I just realized I've seen four of her movies other than this - I forgot about Devdas and HAHK, the latter of which I didn't like, but which I am planning to rewatch sometime soon. I won't tell you to avoid Aaja Nachle but I won't tell you it's great, either. She doesn't get the long end of the stick character-wise, be warned.

Bollyviewer - The side characters are key, agreed. Good point about Konkana - it's hard to outdo her!

CanadianKen said...

Your comments about AAJA NACHLE teasing us with ideas that it fails to develop were certainly valid. But I loved the way your enthusiasm for the film seemed to build toward the end of the piece. I know I enjoyed the picture. And the soundtrack's my favorite CD of 2007. Tastes - and standards - have changed dramatically in the last 10-15 years. In spite of its relative failure at the box-office (and with most critics) AAJA NACHLE's an infinitely better film than many of Madhuri's megahits from the early 90's. I guess I'll never be a Konkana fan. She's good at what she does. I just don't happen to care for what she does. But everyone else (including Madhuri) I liked. And, though I'm a huge Akshaye fan - and he was excellent in the film - I'd have to say that Ranvir Shorey's was the performance that really stood out. Charismatic and touching. I think I read that he's scheduled for some leads now. Hope the future brings him much success.

akshayefan said...

Hey, there was something about Akshaye in this movie. I can't lay my finger on it but he simply sizzled.

And yes, the chemistry between Akshaye and Madhuri was superb too which was unexpected for me. When at the end of titles, Akshaye hands her a coffee, I was so excited. I wanted a sequel to know what happens to these two although it's best not to know but keep on dreaming. His cunning to her fiestiness. I wonder how that'd work out.

Beth said...

CanadianKen - You're so right about the affection building throughout the film (and review)! The ending is the best part for sure. I didn't love the soundtrack, to be honest, and only really liked the big staged numbers. (And not the weird 80s thing when she's in NYC at the beginning! Ugh!) Ranvir Shorey was great, no question.

akshayefan - Yeah! Agreed all around :)

ajit said...

Aaja Nachle begins really well, with the director attempting to raise questions about the human spirit, but fizzles out later on.
You expect to come out with a positive frame of mind towards life's difficulties but that inspiration was clearly missing.

Loved the musical piece in the end though, and while the songs weren't something I would include in my favourites, I thought they really did a good job of taking the story forward.

Akshaye excels in his small role, but Konkona (one of my favs) didn't really excite with her performance.

Jasmine said...

Hi Beth

I am glad to know that everybody has liked Akshay Khanna's role and performance in this movie just like I did!

Konkana Sen is a real good actress and I have been impressed with her in all the movies I have seen so far - Mr & Mrs Iyer, Life in a Metro, Amu, Laaga Chunri Mein Daag, 15 Park Avenue and this movie too

cheers

Meera

Jasmine said...

Hi Beth

Forgot to mention that you should add "Trishul" to your list of shashi movies coz he is paired with Hema in this movie. I was watching a hema-sashi song from this movie last night and remembered you.

This is a multi star movie ie with AB, Rakhee, Sanjeev Kumar, Sashi and Hema.

cheers

Meera

Beth said...

Ajit - Oooh! I hadn't thought of that. I'd have to agree that that idea fizzles, especially because of the relatively detached ending, with Diya going back to NYC (as was predicted by Raja), thus not showing any real connection to her hometown or to their embracing of arts. And while she seems encouraged to seek out her parents, and presumably try to rectify that relationship, we don't get to find out what happened. So the effect is: DANCE YOUR HEART OUT and then leave quickly?

Agreed about the songs taking the story forward. Serviceable, but uninteresting, for me.

I liked Konkana, as always, but I was so angry at her character's arc - oh yay, let's glossify the tomboy and kill her spirit in the name of hooking a man - who is hardly presented as worth sacrificing for anyway, in this case; he's a total arse. Great.

Meera - I've only seen Konkana in a few things, but I love her too :)

As for Trishul, I've seen it, and I'm sad to say the subtitles on the disc I had were so bad that I couldn't really follow the movie. If I can find a better version I'll certainly try it again. But I'm glad you thought to let me know about it - I am always glad to get suggestions, especially Shashi-ful ones!

akshayefan said...

BTW, they cut a fantastic scene between Akshaye and Madhuri where he confesses that he loves her! It's in the dvd as an extra. There' also some other scenes with other characters that made the movie more sensible. wonder they cut all of those though.

Anyway, I confess I fast forwarded most of the movie and watched only Akshaye scenes. I still felt i got my money back.

Beth said...

That is sad! My local Indian grocery store never includes the extras DVD when you rent, so I didn't see that. I'll check youtube. :)

As for your watching strategy, I wholly support it.

Ash said...

Hey Beth,

Madhuri's older films have her cast and choreographed better... she is a superb dancer, the dance in Pukar with Prabhudeva (My fav)though not much of a MD fan.

Watch the film for the supporting cast, I say! now that I am beginning to see every Vinay Pathak and Irfan Khan movie (superb actors)

It is a feel good movie... one time fast forwarded is ok! I thought Madhuri lacks the depth in voice for the storytelling part she dubbed in the last song and dance.

:)
Ash

Emily said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily said...

I was sort of underwhelmed by the very beginning of the movie but ended up loving it to bits by the end. Konkona's tomboy's makeover didn't bother me at all; she was just making herself look nice and toning down the "I love you and I'll beat up any girl who looks at you" act and giving him a chance to notice her for a change. What's so awful about that?

My one real complaint was that Dia's marriage didn't work out -- much as I love Akshaye and would have liked to see Uday Singh and Dia get together, I'd have liked it more if she wasn't portrayed as just another girl who ran off with an American and then found she'd made a mistake. Also I thought Madhuri was a bit wasted in the role she was given. All she had to do was look pretty, be determined to win over the village and beat the guys who wanted to build a mall, and dance. She deserved a comeback at least as good as Kajol's in Fanaa. But other than those two little quibbles, I loved it.

Well, that and the first song was incredibly awful. :-P

Beth said...

Emily - Ha, that first song WAS incredibly awful.

My impression of the movie improved as it went along as well - the big show is definitely the best part, I thought. I see what you mean about the portrayal of Dia's marriage, and they did that with so little explanation too.

After you posted your comment, I asked a friend about her thoughts on the makeover. She too was not as bothered as I was, and I think she saw it more as general self-improvement rather than done for the purpose of having a boy notice you. But I can't shake that she changed her behavior and appearance because Dia told her to do so as a way to get Kunal's character to notice her. If she'd made those same changes for herself only, I wouldn't be annoyed (or at least not so annoyed). To me it seems like just one more example of the movies telling what kind of physical appearance is "worth noticing and loving." My thoughts are complicated by how it seemed that Kunal's character was most moved by her when she came to his defense physically, trying to shield him from attack and herself returning the blows - which is exactly what she would have done when we first met her, before she tried to "prettify" herself.

It's complicated, definitely. I just hate that the movies (and not just Indian ones, of course - American films are just as guilty) seem to tell us that only women who look and act a certain way merit romantic love, and that really pisses me off.

ajnabi said...

Hmmm. I loved Madhuri in Devdas so I was thinking about getting this, but the whole "makeover" motif is getting increasingly offensive to me as I age. ;-) I'm surprised Konkona accepted the role if that's a main part of her character's arc.

Kim T. said...

I just finished watching this and loved it...then I came to check out your review and you made me acknowledge all of the lost opportunities in the thematic development. One negative thought I did have after finishing was why did an NRI have to come back to the town to save it's "art". Seemed a little patronizing, no?

So this was my first Madhuri Dixit film, so the whole comeback thing was lost on me. I can see how she's an amazing dancer (and confirmed everything that I've read about her), but her acting was just OK...I agree that she really was treated like a special guest star instead of the lead though.

This is the second film I've seen with Akshaye (after Salaam-E-Ishq) and I'm sorry, BLB, I just don't see it!? I didn't think there was any spark with him and Madhuri...

however, I have a new favorite filmi couple in Kunal and Konkona! I loved her in Luck By Chance and I was just honestly awestruck by Kunal Kapoor's beauty:) Wouldn't it be interesting to see them in more films as a couple.

Overall, this is a movie I want to won...solely based on the sweet romance, the final set piece and the catchy title tune.

Beth said...

Kim - I'm not sure how much I would have noticed if I hadn't read Filmi Geek's post before watching. Agreed that it could be a little rude to imply that locals don't recognize their own treasures - though at least Madhuri's character _was_ a local and has just had a chance to see the town with fresh eyes (and, as I think is pointed out to her by other characters, not as much personal investment in the mall and other more pragmatic concerns).

As for Akshaye, well, what can I say? :) I thought he was a hoot in this one, but I'm biased.

Konkana is great in everything I've seen her in. I'd love to see her with Kunal again!

Gauri Radha said...

I'm a dancer so I think I just was going to like a Bollywood movie called "Aaja Nachle" no matter what. I liked the song picturization of the title song a lot. I also liked the Laila Mujnu picturization at the end (I found myself suddenly crying during that.) So for me, those things were awesome and the other stuff I didn't really mind. I always care about the dance numbers more than anything else in BW movies I think.

Siham said...

It was one of my first BW movies. And my second Madhuri-movie (I was beginning to love her.) Well, I did not expect much from it, and I think I was right, because it was SO entertaining and fun. And I think that is what sums up this movie. One shouldn't put too much thinking in it, IMO. I liked it so much. Sure, the story is not perfect, there are some plotholes, it is far from being perfect but I don't know why, I loved it. One of the main reasons of it is without doubt Madhuri. She carried it off perfectly on her shoulders. But I understand the reasons of your disappointment. :)

Beth said...

Gauri Radha - That makes sense! The number at the end is certainly amazing!

Siham - The rather big question of "to think or not to think" in a movie is a big one (and one that I love thinking about, if you can excuse the meta). I very rarely enjoy, or feel inspired to, turn my brain off BUT that doesn't mean I think everyone needs to watch every film the way I do. This did have some great elements. And sometimes a film just grabs you despite its not-wonderful moments, and that is a great thing indeed :) I also do not have the Madhuri Appreciation Gene, so I can understand that I am missing this film's most significant appeal.

Siham said...

Beth - yes, indeed it is a big question. And just like you, I disliked some movies because of that. But I don't know if it's because AN was one of my first BW movies, it did not really raise in that case. Like your comment about Konkona's character going through change just to please a man is something I never really saw. (I call myself a big feminist though) and some other of your points, concerning the story, are perfectly valid too. I shall re-watch the movie soon to see if this has influenced me or not.

I also think that if you like Madhuri or not plays a big part to like this movie too. Because this is a movie whose goal is to be a Madhuri-show obviously.

imustseemovie said...

Good Movie after five years Maduri is Back