Sigh…oh, how she sways! One almost wishes that the entire film was one three-hour song with Madhuri dancing away. Now that would be a five-star film.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Aaja Nachle, touted as the official comeback of the undisputed queen of the nineties, the inimitable Madhuri Dixit. After much fanfare, it was decided that debut director Anil Mehta, a former ace cinematographer, would be the one to bring us this stalwart back on-screen with Yash Raj Films backing his every step. To the disappointment of many, the promotion of the film was extremely lacklustre and failed to ignite the spark a Madhuri Dixit film deserves. Instead, all hopes were pinned on her star power and little attention was given to the script, dialogues and story itself. Yes, it shows.
The backbone of the film is undoubtedly the flawless supporting cast comprising of Konkona Sen Sharma, Ranvir Shorey, Kunal Kapoor, Divya Dutta, Sushmita Mukherjee, Vinay Pathak, Jugal Hansraj, Raghuveer Yadav and Akhilendra Mishra. Even Akshaye Khanna pitches in with a special appearance! Leading the pack is naturally the Madhuri herself, who is absolutely the heart and soul of the film.
As unfair as it may sound, expectations are through the roof for this one, which promised to be a feel-good entertainer catering to Dixit fans entirely. To this day I have not come across one filmi fan that can utter a word against her, due to the fact that no matter how cold your heart is, Madhuri Dixit possesses the power to melt absolutely anyone. And no, she hasn’t lost that superpower even now.
Dance is her passion, dance is her life, dance is her entire world. Meet Dia (Madhuri Dixit)—a working choreographer in New York City. On the surface she seems happy with her little world, but a dark past of lost love, lost ties and a lost home burdens her each day as she tries to dance her way out of it. One day her past catches up with her as she receives a call from her hometown Shamli, notifying her that her dance guru (Darshan Jariwala) is on his deathbed. Visibly moved by the fact that the man who taught her everything she knows is dying, Dia flies back to India with her teenaged daughter in tow only to discover that Shamli is far from the way she left it. In fact, government officials plan to demolish the theatre she used to dance at and build a shopping mall. In order to fulfill her guru’s dying wish, she proposes a challenge that entails putting on a play. The catch is that all actors, technicians and participants must be from Shamli itself. Therein lays Dia’s biggest challenge—reviving art in a town that seems to have no place for it.
Even from the very onset, the plot is fairly conventional and has been done time and time again in world cinema. Essentially, it’s a film that attempts to convey the triumph of the human spirit, a theme that never seems to get old. Generic plots like these have the ability to become extremely moving, or incredibly boring depending on the way the writing unfolds. Aaja Nachle falls somewhere in-between. The dialogues and screenplay by Jaideep Sahni who mesmerized us with taut writing in Chak De India and even Bunty aur Babli, discovers his two left feet when forced to put on his dancing shoes. He stumbles incredibly and gives us a screenplay that rushes in parts (beginning) and drags unbelievably in others (pre-interval). Couple this with formulaic dialogues that rarely manage to touch your heart and you’ve got the choreography of disaster. Thankfully he manages to get the steps right in a few areas like the brilliant culmination of the film and some engaging portions with the supporting cast, namely between Konkona and Kunal who play the local tomboy and ruffian respectively. Ritesh Soni’s editing is really all over the place. Some scenes are cut at the wrong places, others run way too long. Even with a faulty screenplay and average dialogues, the editing could have made the film so much better. Alas, it doesn’t.
Another risky proposition is the fact that Salim-Suleiman have composed the music for this film which was expected to be a musical extravaganza. With a theme like dance, brilliant music is expected. Though it’s not really earth-shattering, the duo manage to come up with appropriate tunes throughout with a rocking title track. Vaibhavi Merchant on the other hand impresses entirely with her enchanting choreography. With a dancer like Madhuri, it’s hard to go wrong, but Vaibhavi manages to do justice to the actress which is an incredible feat. The problem is that there’s not enough ‘dhin-chak’ going on!
With all its flaws, Aaja Nachle is still extremely engaging even if it is only for the fact that it’s a Madhuri Dixit film. Yes, I am admitting that watching her on screen even in an average movie is worth my money. There are some scenes in the film that are wonderfully put together. Anokhi’s (Konkona Sen Sharma) introduction is a laugh riot and such a pleasure to watch. The scene between Mohan (Ranvir Shorey) and Dia is cute as well and puts a smile on your face. But by far and large, the most captivating part of the entire film is the concluding reels. The nautanki is an effort that ties together music, direction, choreography, cinematography, art direction and all other aspects that go into making a film. Thankfully, even if it is a bit unrealistic, the tale of Laila-Majnu keeps you glued to your seats and turned out beautifully.
Without a doubt, the performances from the entire cast are the best part of the film. Where to begin with the cinematic legend Madhuri Dixit? She’s so incredibly charming that you forget about the rest of the movie and your eyes become fixated on her each time she’s on-screen. However, to accurately examine her performance you have got to look beyond her looming aura. Though I’m being extremely picky here, her dialogue delivery could have been slightly better at times. But there’s no question that her screen presence cannot be duplicated and when she flashes that megawatt smile you find yourself freakishly smiling along like a goof. The problem is that her role was largely bland and the various facets of the character weren’t exploited to the maximum potential. I must also add that it was nice to see a decent role for a middle-aged character which is extremely rare in this industry. Though her role doesn’t demand great histrionics, she does a fine job with it. In fact, you almost feel like the role was too easy for her!
The supporting cast is brilliant beyond words—each and everyone of them! Konkona Sen Sharma embodies her role to the very tee and is engaging, humorous and delightful all at the same time. Kunal Kapoor is in full form after a while, with a role that seems perfect for him. Ranvir Shorey follows with a lovable role. Vinay Pathak is equally as exciting and infuses life into a boring character. Raghuvir Yadav surprises with a fantastic role and performance rolled into one. Divya Dutta is great as well but I still wish she got bigger and better roles considering what an awesome actress she is. Irrfan Khan’s special appearance is hardly worthy of his talent. Even Akshaye Khanna breezes through his role with great ease. The rest of the supporting cast are all adequate and there are no complaints from that angle.
At the end of the day, you watch a film to be entertained and that’s precisely what Aaja Nachle does. Yes, it may require some patience, but if taken with a pinch of salt and an even larger pinch of sugar it turns out to be largely enjoyable. When watching, try not to think of it as “Madhuri Dixit’s comeback” because you may end up disappointed. View it like you’d view an average film, and you might just find yourself tapping those feet.