October 12, 2012
Rani Mukerji, Prithviraj, Subodh Bhave, Anita Date
Hindi with a few Tamil and Marathi dialogues
Rani Mukerji’s firecracker of a screen presence, a disturbingly good looking Prithviraj, a wonderfully uninhibited cast, and a quirky storytelling style that has been executed with the melodrama and eccentricities we’re more used to seeing in stage performances ... that’s what Aiyyaa has going for it. It’s an unusual, experimental project that requires a wacko viewer, a suspension of disbelief and (unfortunately) patience in the second half.
Aiyyaa revolves around young Meenakshi Deshpande (Rani Mukerji) who is sick of her mundane existence and bored with the demands imposed on a girl her age by middle-class Maharashtrian society. Meenakshi wants to earn enough from her job to get away from her tiresome family and read, while waiting for Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet. Her mother wants her to quit working so that she can get facials to impress prospective grooms. At the fine arts school where she is a librarian, Meenakshi is drawn to Surya Iyer, a hot-looking Tamilian student whose dishevelled appearance and alluring smell lead her to assume that he is a drug addict because someone has told her that high-priced drugs emit a similar perfume.
In terms of casting, Team Aiyyaa couldn’t have done a better job. Yes everyone over-acts, but that’s because they’re all meant to. The nicest part of Aiyyaa is watching just how much Rani seems to be enjoying herself. This is an actress who has so much more to give to the film industry, but is on shaky ground because of the choices she has made in recent years. The success of No One Killed Jessica last year turned the tide marginally in her favour, and though Aiyyaa does not follow through on the promise of the first half, it certainly once again showcases Rani’s sparkling prettiness and ability to throw herself into a character with zest.
Making his Bollywood debut, Malayalam actor Prithviraj sizzles in what is for the most part a dialogue-less role. Though the part does not offer him much scope for his histrionic skills, it certainly underlines his brooding handsomeness … he’s the sort of guy that you could well imagine a giggly girl fantasising about endlessly without working up the courage to approach the object of her desire. It’s clear too that the actor is a thorough sport, blithely allowing himself to be objectified throughout the film in a society where we’re more willing to accept women being objectified. Marathi actor Subodh Bhave brings alive the dullness and simplicity of Meenakshi’s most persistent suitor, the only one who cares enough to ask the girl what she wants. And newcomer Anita Date as Meenakshi’s maniacal, over-the-top friend Maina is downright hilarious spoofing Lady Gaga, until the repetitiveness of her role begins to cloy.
That this film gives women the right to fantasise is in itself an uncommon turn of events considering the general Indian penchant to view human females as hormone-less creatures who men lust after but who never do any lusting themselves. Frankly, in this regard, Bollywood is many miles ahead of social diktats, with the industry’s shirtless male brigade unabashedly acknowledging the female gaze. Aiyyaa goes many steps further, with Rani’s Meenakshi ogling Surya and sniffing his scent every time he is near. But it is Maina who takes gawking to a different level altogether as she discusses John Abraham in anatomical detail with a prospective boyfriend who is not in the least bit disconcerted by her lack of coyness.
Sadly though, it doesn’t all add up. First, because Sachin Kundalkar – who is the director as well as scriptwriter – seems not to have known how to take an unusual premise forward beyond a point. Second, because a clever trick loses its sheen when it’s over-used without any additional layers … like Meenakshi’s crazy, wheelchair-bound grandmother who is diverting at first but remains precisely the same from start to finish, contributing nothing more after those early laughs; or Meenakshi’s action of sniffing Surya that is unusual for a Hindi film and therefore initially amusing, but loses its charm because of its predictability in the second half. Third, because timing is everything in a farce of this nature but the editing post interval is just not taut enough. Fourth, at 145 minutes the film is just too too long. Fifth, the pleasure of watching Aiyyaa came from the build-up of expectations (how well would it all be tied up?) but the revelations about Surya in the end are quite an anti-climax even though, when he has his first conversation with Meenakshi, it’s nice to hear that the voice matches the sexy persona and no effort has been made to camouflage that hint of a Malayalam accent.
Much of Aiyyaa is devoted to Meenakshi’s obsessive fantasies about Surya and her tendency to picture herself in all sorts of filmi scenarios while in real life she is being paraded before potential husbands. This is social satire presented to us in a form we’re not used to seeing in Bollywood – with intentionally weird people, bizarre scenarios and loud set pieces. Watching Rani and Prithviraj together in the delightful Dreamum wakeupum critical conditionum that pays tribute to kitschy south Indian cinema, is like reliving Ooh la la from The Dirty Picture. The songs of Aiyyaa are hugely entertaining. And Rani looks to-die-for in Aga bai in which fun music and lyrics meet excellent art direction, costumes and choreography. If the story and characters had not been stretched so much, Aiyyaa could have been special. Even with its flaws, it is path-breaking in its attitude towards gender roles, deserves kudos for steering clear of Bollywood’s irritating aiyyaiyyo ‘Madrasi’ stereotype, and is interesting for the most part. Here’s calling on fellow wackos among you … The rest, beware!
Rating (out of five): **3/4
CBFC Rating (India):
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aiyyaa