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------------ United States of America
A DIVA showcased
Dec 01, 2007 05:04 PM 3951 Views





‘At times I wonder if I had come so far only to find that what I was really looking for, was something I left behind’

*. -Thomas West

With ‘Aaja Nachle’ debutant director Anil Mehta attempts to take a nostalgic look at the life of a woman and her passion and devotion for the field of performing arts. It is a heart-felt tribute to an era gone by when live musicals and theatre were more popular than commercial complexes and malls.

Within the first ten minutes, Anil transports us from the tall buildings of New York City (nice aerial shots) to a small town in India, named ‘Shamli’, immediately reminding us of a place ‘where time stops and nostalgia takes over’, so vividly described by Ruskin Bond. However, the major attraction of Anil Mehta’s ‘Shamli’ is “Ajanta Theatre” an open-air theatre that during its days of glory was a vibrant entertainment center for the locals.

Present Day, NYC– Dia (Madhuri Dixit) is a successful dancer/ choreographer living in New York with her 10 year old daughter. During one of her rehearsals she receives a phone call and takes the next flight out to India. On their way she tells her daughter abouther pastand the audience is informed of the same through a series of flash backs. It was in Shamli that Dia had grown up and spent her childhood and ‘youth’. She was devoted to her guru (Darshan Zariwala) who taught her how to dance and was an active member of his theatre group. But when she fell in love, with a photographer from National Geographic, circumstances forced her to elope to the US with him. Before leaving, there were two people whom she revealed her plans to – Her guru (whom she considered her friend, philosopher and guide) and her best friend Najma (Divya Dutta). Once in the US, she never went back to Shamli and her repeated phone calls to her ‘guru’, Najma or her family went unanswered.

Cut to present day, Shamli – She arrives after eleven years, only to find that her beloved ‘Ajanta theatre’ is in ruins and is on the verge of demolition, her guru is no more, and the locals are not exactly ‘welcoming’. Being the determined woman that she is –there is one goal that she wants to accomplish – Stop the demolition of ‘Ajanta Theatre’ and bring back its days of pride and glory. Her only option to do so – Choreograph a show’ using only the ‘locals’ as the participants. In this framework begins her up hill journey of dealing with prejudices, corrupt politicians, and training non-performers to perform. The rest of the film takes us through her journey and the climax unfolds as to whether or not her ‘troupe’ succeeds in stopping the demolition of the theatre.

My take: The main premise of the film seems ‘highly inspired’ from the award winning classic Italian film ‘Cinema Paradiso’. The projector scene has been copied almost frame to frame. However, where ‘Cinema Paradiso’ took us on an emotional journey, and connected with the audience at every level, ‘Aaja Nachle’ fails to do so. Granted, this is considered Madhuri Dixit’s come back film, but somewhere along the line, the director lost track and the movie becomes a show case for Madhuri Dixit – the Diva, while the story and screen play take a back seat. The film is a story about underdogs and it was imperative that the other characters in the film should have been better developed and produced some impact. Within the first hour, the movie becomes predictable and the audience knows exactly what is going to happen. The director seems to have followed a very linear approach and the pace of the film is also relatively slow. In the second half there is an attempt to build up some drama, but that lasts for a few minutes only.

Some questions for Jaideep and Anil:

1] When Dia performs her first show in an attempt to attract the locals for participating, she had just arrived from US a couple of days back and the town wasn’t exactly friendly to her. How could she have such elaborate ‘sets’, costumes and beautiful lighting within ‘Ajanta theatre’ (which was in ruins) and where did the dozen background dancers come from?

2] Why is the doctor never shown practicing? All he does is ride around in a cycle-rickshaw urging local ‘Shamlians’ to participate in their ‘show’? Are doctors considered good cycle-rickshaw drivers?

3] When Dia finds out that the house that she and her parents used to live in had been sold to the new occupants, she rents a room in the same house. However she never asks about the whereabouts of her parents from the present owners, why?

4] Why everyone else in the troupe had to audition for their roles in the skit except Imran ? Could she Dia tell just by looking that a local goon would make an amazingly romantic ‘Majnu’?

5] Even though Anokhi is completely a misfit for the role of ‘Laila’, she is picked because she ‘loves’ Imran for real and did not want anyone else to play Laila? Is this how ‘casting’ is done professionally?

Performances: Madhuri Dixit has done very well, and she still has that million dollar smile!! Among the supporting cast, Vinay Pathak as the government official, has come up with an excellent performance once again. Divya Dutta has a short but complex role and does well. This is perhaps the first film where I felt that Konkona Sen Sharma’s performance was not superlative but just about average. Kunal Kapoor as the local goon turned Romeo—er ‘Majnu’ seemed disinterested, and has a confused look for the most part. Akhilendra Mishra as the corrupt politician, Ranbir Shorey as the love-struck, vulnerable Mohan Sharma and Jugal Hansraj as the insurance agent are adequate. Irfan has a very short role and has done well as usual. Akshay Khanna has 3-4 scenes and was likeable in those scenes.

Cinematogrpahy (by Mohanan) and Art Direction (by Panigrahy): The scenes during the ‘climax show’ were superbly done. The lighting was perfect, and the sets were splendid. Quite a few scenes during the entire film had the round camera movements and zoom effects that were more common in older films. The crane shots during the climax ‘show’ were awesome. Costumes and use of color were near perfect.

Music: Except for the title track, Salim-Suleiman's music is forgettable.

Direction: It is often times said that a cinematographer becomes the eye of the director. But, unfortunately in the case of ace cinematographer Anil Mehta, the reverse is certainly not true. Miles to go before this ace cinematographer becomes an ace story-teller.

Screenplay by Jaideep Sahni was disappointing, considering the high expectations after ‘Chak De India’ and ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’.

A must watch only if 1) You are a hardcore Madhuri Dixit fan and nothing else about the film matters. (Don’t get me wrong, I like her a lot too)…

2)       In case you have forgotten the ‘Laila-Majnu’ story, this film will refresh your memory by providing you with a broadway show like musical for 20 minutes.

3)      You have time in your hands, there are no other films running in your town and you could sit through 2.25 hours of boredom.

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Aaja Nachle