"Dear Bollywood Producers: My name is ajnabi. I'm writing to offer my services as a script reader and financing advisor; basically if I enjoy a story proposal you must immediately yank all funding from said project lest you lose your shirt in the ensuing box-office debacle. Also as I am 31 years of age I am in the perfect age group to play Shah Rukh Khan's suspiciously gori-looking maa in his next project. Sincerely, moi.")
All nonsense aside, Aaja Nachle is a perfectly enjoyable film. I mean, people did know this was Madhuri Dixit, right? The really good actress stuck in the morass of 90's masala films for the majority of her onscreen time? It's not like she had Mother India in her resume somewhere. Let's face it, if someone's career high point is Dil To Pagal Hai then probably their comeback vehicle's gonna be light-hearted fun heavy on the dancing (but, thankfully, lacking an "aur paas" scene--one of the most overrated moments ever according to the court of my own opinion). Also, if you didn't know who Laila and Majnun were before you watched this film, you will definitely have a comprehensive education by the time the end credits roll.
Aaja Nachle opens in a New York dance studio with Dia (Madz) leading a group of dancers to "Dance With Me," an adult contemporary total miss of a song that thankfully is the weakest track in the film. She is in a black workout outfit! She drinks water purposefully! She bosses the other dancers around! (Hey, there's the long-haired dude from Jhoom Barabar Jhoom!) She flaunts her skinny-dancer-body (in your face, Devdas weight police!) while dancing Western-style! She lip-syncs badly! And she sassily tells her assistant to instruct a caller that "If it's an emergency, hang up and call 911!"
Um. Actually the opening scene is all quite "movie of the week" or maybe "fall TV pilot that you know is so not going to get picked up but the network will still show so it can recover some of its losses." It gets better fast though.
That phone call was from Dia's old dance teacher, back home in India. He's the one to whom she owes her current good life, and it's his dying wish that she return to her hometown and save the Ajanta Theatre--where she used to dance--from becoming a shopping mall. Back Dia flies, along with her daughter (played by the adorable Dalai, who unfortunately has quite the unlikely accent for a New York native). When she arrives back in the town that reviles her memory for running away from her parents' arranged marriage to a good Indian guy (Ranvir Shorey, heart-rendingly sweet), Dia finds herself up against an ambitious MP (Akshaye Khanna) determined to better the lives of his constituents through a shopping mall, not such a nebulous concept as naach-gaana.
Dia, however, remains convinced that song and dance are a necessity for the Shimla, and the movie's message is incapsulated in her struggle: modern advancement and betterment for the citizens of India must not result from the destruction of their heritage. Dia decides to put on a production of Laila-Majnun using solely inhabitants of the town. Before long, she's assembled a motley crew, I mean, cast, including the sulky hotness known as Kunal Kapoor playing Imran Pathan, Konkona Sen Sharma playing the tomboyish Anokhi, her landlord, and some other awesome characters who have no clue about how to dance or sing.
Now that's not to say the movie's perfect. The plot is shaky-thin and seems to hope you're so distracted by all the pretty colors and dancing that you won't notice its fragility. Not to mention the resolution is way too hasty. And I suppose some might wish the entire production of Laila-Majnun weren't shown. (I, for one, adored watching it and would've been seriously pissed if they'd done cuts.)
Oh, and the music! Well, except for the stupid opening song that sounds like it belongs on a "Greatest Hits of 1992" album, it's wonderful. I particularly could replay "Yeh Ishq" all day long...except why isn't it on the freakin' soundtrack? WTF, Yash Raj? Also the subtitles say "This ishq" which is bound to confuse anyone as dependent on them as I was a few months back. Anyway, "Ishq Hua" and "Is Pal" were bound to be favorites too since they feature my two favorite playback singers.
So, Aaja Nachle. Maybe it's not worth every penny, but I sure liked it! It's definitely worth a rental to see if it works for you too. Me, I'm running to Nehaflix to see how much it costs.