Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Aaja Nachle, or, Just Let Me Grab My Anklets, Madz!

I'd heard nothing but opinions ranging from "meh" to "Worst. Movie. EVER" about Aaja Nachle (Let's Dance), the 2007 Madhuri Dixit vehicle that was supposed to be her comeback after her stellar Devdas turn. It tanked, and I thought deservedly so since everyone online seemed to detest the film; but then it ranked pretty high in a poll I started on "surprisingly good films." I rented it from Netflix and... I can't figure out why people didn't enjoy the movie more! There's nothing wrong with it, well, except for the fact that I like it, which is apparently the kiss of death for any Hindi film.

"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.

This movie is, seriously, so much fun. I love that Dia doesn't stop wearing Western clothes upon her return home, that she never wavers from her intent to go back to New York, that her character arc isn't about falling in love but about coming to terms with her past. The totally great actors who play the leads in the Laila-Majnun production make every minute worth watching. I so enjoyed the several minor relationship plots (totally masala! yay!) that had little to do with the main plot but were joyful and life-affirming all the way. Imran and Anokhi's romance in particular was well-done, except that I wish it hadn't had the whole "makeover" element to it. I also really liked Irrfan Khan as the ambitious industrialist and Divya Dutta (hey, Shabbo from Veer-Zaara! yay!) as his wife and Dia's best childhood friend.

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.


  1. I too liked the movie, and loved the soundtracks. I think reason of failure was thin storyline and not much twist in the film. Some people also commented on Indian mindset which doesn't permit woman to carry off a film alone without major male lead. This and "Laga Chunari Mein Daag" both failed miserably around same time.

  2. I liked Madhuri's dance in the film. The movie was ok-ok.

  3. I have yet to review this film, but honestly, I don't get what people were expecting with it. It's meant to showcase Madhuri's mad dancing skills, not her dramatic talents. We got that in Devdas; we know she can act; we're good now.

  4. Hi Ajnabi: I quite enjoyed Aaja Nachle, and am glad you did too! Please stop being so harsh on yourself for your tastes not aligning, in some cases, with what works at the box office. :)

    I agree with almost everything you've said of the film (e.g. the beginning, the music, the English accent). It's always refreshing to see Madhuri, because her screen presence is phenomenal, and she sure can act.

    I think the peak of her career was around the time of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994). My top three Madhuri favorites include that, Saajan (1991), and Dil (1990). She was great in Devdas too, but I think she stood out so clearly because her counterparts couldn't match her intensity, grace, and poise, basically her acting (forget the dance, none from the current actresses is close).

    a good actress stuck in the morass of 90's masala...

    My thoughts exactly on good actors still stuck in it too! :P


  5. I didnt like Aja Nachle- probably because it showcased Madhuri's dancing, and not much else. I do think she is a good actor, but she doesnt get much to act here, which was problematic for me.
    Also the only conflict seemed to be convincing the people of the village- I could never understnad how the logistics of an operatic production were such a non-issue. But I could definitely watch this again- to all the bits w/ Akshay in them- esp the end with the white shirt and jeans (double triple swoon).

  6. I adored this movie, it made me jump off the couch and wanna dance like Madhuri! I used to do some Bollywood dancing when i was a kid, but Mads completely is an inspiration here! I struggled hard with the logistics of her having such a expensive production of laila-majnu while battling money problems!

  7. It was a fun movie with some interesting bits. I loved all the small town characters and their interesting interplay. That said, I was a bit disappointed with Madhuri. Her dancing and acting seemed a bit stiffer than previously, or perhaps my memory built it up too much! Anyhow, the only problem I had was with the Laila-Majnu extravaganza. She takes pains to train all those dancers in various roles and then lands up hogging the limelight!

  8. Thank you all very much for your comments!

    Ashish: You're right, I think there are very few Hindi heroines who can "open" a film on their own. Actually there are very few American leading ladies who can pull it off too. ;-) I still haven't seen LCMD but the reviews I've seen make me want to at least check it out.

    Bollywood Lover: Definitely Madhuri's dancing is the main highlight for the film. Especially in "Yeh Ishq" I was just totally blown away.

    Nae: I don't know what people were expecting either; even if they wanted a good dramatic role for her I don't think anyone would've offered it to her. Now because of AN failing I doubt she'll get another chance, although I hope I'm wrong. :-(

    Hi Bollywood Fan! I'll try to be nicer to myself and my plebian tastes. ;-) Do you know I haven't seen HAHK? I really want to now that I know it's your favorite from her filmography. Off to Netflix!

    Shweta: I agree that the conflict was a bit lacking. I think they wanted to not be perceived as making a negative statement about any certain sections of society. Or they just suck as screenwriters. LOL And Akshaye is totally the hotness in his last outfit.

    Rum: My whole family actually did jump off the couch and dance along (I checked to make sure the blinds were closed before joining in LOL). Did she say they had money problems? I guess I assumed that if she could afford her own dance troupe and raising a child in New York then she must be rolling in the dough. In any case, we are talking about a film genre in which people start dancing and singing in perfect sync, so the logistics of the production didn't bother me. ;-)

    Bollyviewer: I think she did fine, and her screen presence is luminous. But I agree that it was pretty funny for her to have the narrator's part: very true to her role as a diva! :-D

  9. Good one. Especially, Laila Majnu thing. You are right. I have heard a lot about them. But after watching this flick, i came to know about their detailed story. That part, the musical, is concieved beautifully.
    Sets are also brilliant. In the title song, everything was looking lavish.
    Likable movie. Good music. 'O Re Piya' was brilliant.

  10. Madz made the movie. Kunal and Koko were great too. For me, I did enjoy the movie but didn't love it. After watching the film, I just didn't say wow! But I did like it a lot. It wouldn't rank on my fave films of 2007 at all.

  11. Hmmm... You've made me reconsider not watching this! I might have to get it from Netflix after all...

    I did like the songs when they were all over the place. :)

    I wonder if the hype of Madhuri's big comeback did more to hurt the film than help it - if it raised expectations for GENIUS, when what we were in store for was LIGHT-HEARTED FUN.

  12. The plot wasn't really thought through - I guess people are starting to not let that fly anymore unless the film is very honest about its stupidity. Still, a bit harsh considering it's just trying to be fluffy fun. I loved the songs and the village scenes and Akshaye Khanna and oh-so-many things about this movie.

  13. Darshit: I loved getting more details about Laila-Majnu's mythology--I didn't know when he got hurt she did too, very cool.

    Nicki: I'm with you, I didn't say "wow" either. :-) But I did say, "Hey! That totally didn't suck!" LOL

    Filmi Girl: It's worth a viewing just to see if it does work for you. I think you're probably right in that raised expectations hurt the cash flow. They should've downplayed it a little.

    Veracious: You're right, the plot is celluloid-thin; still, so was the plot of...um, a lot of Madz movies. LOL I really enjoyed lots of stuff about the film. It's good for me that it flopped, though, cuz that usually makes it cheap at the store. LOL

  14. I so agree! I put off watching this for several months since no one seemed to like it much, but when I finally did watch it I loved it. (Well, except for the hideous first song. And the pointless getting-rid-of of Dia's husband...why couldn't they stay together? Having them get divorced seemed so cliche, and there was no real reason for it except to give Madhuri and Akshaye a chance to flirt with each other.)

  15. Hi, Emily! Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I thought it was pretty cliche for them to get divorced, but the flirting was fun, and I also liked that she was still painted so sympathetically in spite of being clearly Westernized. But oh my gosh, the first song *was* so hideous I almost turned the movie off right then. Glad I didn't!

  16. Ajnabi,

    Oops, I forgot to review this film. Lol. I saw this sometime last month.

    "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"

    Wow, I've been feeling this way for awhile now! I mean, I've seen, oh, maybe 5 Mads films and didn't love any of them...but managed to still love her. Well said! But I'm going to check out Bollywood Fan's recos too.

    I loved,loved, loved Madhuri's dance to the title song. She looked amazing, the dancing was hot, and the song was really, really catchy.

    This movie, for me, is another "Laaga Chunari Mein Daag"...less than the sum of its parts with a poor script. Yet with "Aaja Nachle" we get enough things to make it memorable--the music, dancing and charcters!

  17. Hi Nida! Since you liked Vivah I'm guessing you'll probably like HAHK. The "Aaja Nachle" dance was *awesome*, I especially liked the close-ups on her face, but the "Yeh Ishq" dances were my personal favorites. I just love the Layla/Majnu story anyway, it's so blatantly passionate.

  18. Woot, more people who thought this movie didn't suck! I don't think it was awesome, and the plot didn't even sound to be awesome so I don't know why people were expecting something mind-blowingly AWESOME. But it was a good film. Enjoyable, likable, fun.

    I also love how Dia and Akshaye Khanna's characters didn't hate each other at the end-- so refreshing!

  19. That *was* fun. And Aaja Nachle is a great conversion movie--people love to watch "Laila Majnu" and it gets them interested in more Hindi films.

  20. Ajnabi

    There was a movie entirely on the Laila Majnu legend with some awesome songs and music by Jaidev. I think it was a late 70s movie with Rishi Kapoor and Ranjeetha. Do checkt it out. You will like it



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