We love you, Madhuri.
We love you so, so much.
Madhuri is DA BEST, DA BOMB, DAAAAA BEARS. She is our shining heroine, the one the PPCC aspires to be like. We want to glow like Madhuri! Dance like Madhuri! Kick ass like Madhuri!
In Aaja Nachle (Come dance), Madhuri's wonderful comeback vehicle, the whole film is about - as Beth would say - finding your inner Madhuri. And while Carla and Beth rightly note that Aaja Nachle skirts away from the controversial issues it brings up (and Roswitha and Amrita note that it's controversial anyway), it is nonetheless (or perhaps because of this) a light, fluffy and intoxicatingly free Madhuri-style entertainer. Back in November, when we started watching Anil Kapoor movies like it was going out of style, we quickly came up against the bombest pair of the 90s: Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit. And while we've already talked about how much we love these two, and how much we love Anil, we've never really talked about what makes Madhuri so great. So we'll do that here: if every performer has a brand, then her brand is freedom. Often playing strong women who get things done, she was glamorous yet approachable, confident, daring and fun. In a type of cinema whose female roles were often populated by wet lettuces, self-sacrificing martyrs and idiots, Madhuri brought back the strong woman. Suddenly heroines were cool again! Gosh, we hadn't identified with anyone like that since the days of Nargis - another strong, beautiful, fun heroine.
Aaja Nachle is based firmly on the Madhuri brand: the mythos of her dancing, her gutsiness, her sparkle, even her flight to America. With obvious meta implications (Madhuri married an American NRI and abandoned her filmi career in the early 2000s, much to the woe of Anil Kapoor), the story tells of Madhuri's rapprochement with small town, India. It also tackles the obvious tension which any successful heroine faces: that old school, conservative notion that purity and performance are incompatible, that marriage and a successful acting career cannot coexist. It uses the ever-lovable trope of bringing a ragtag ensemble together to achieve unexpected greatness, and it aims (but doesn't always shoot) at issues like NRI-versus-Indian, future-versus-past, global-versus-local, Westernized-versus-traditional and man-versus-woman. Sure, it leaves a lot of these significant issues unexplored or just blandly acknowledged, but, well, how - HOW!? - can you expect the PPCC NOT to love a film stuffed full with incredibly hot guys, incredibly fun dancing, an incredibly pretty setting, all led by an incredibly strong, lovable heroine?! It was too much! Aaja Nachle captured our dil big time - we loved it!
The story: Back in the day, Dia (Madhuri Dixit!) was the star of her local dance company. Independent and charismatic, one day she fell in love with a handsome Westerner (Felix D'Alviella) and - defying small town Indian conventions - eloped with him to America. There, they divorced and she became the single mother of their daughter. After eleven years of living in Manhattan and managing her dance studio there, she receives word that her beloved childhood dance instructor is terminally ill. She makes a hasty return to India only to find that he has passed away. Once back in town, however, she learns that her legacy shamed her family and her dance company into destitution. Now the dance stage is threatened to be bulldozed to make way for a new mall and it's up to Dia to save it! Yet the smarmy (and unexpectedly super-hot) local MP, Raja Uday Singh (Akshaye Khanna), gives her an ultimatum: she has to successfully mount a performance using only local amateurs in TWO MONTHS and everyone in the town must LOVE IT in order for the Anjana stage to be saved. OMG can Madhuri do it?!!?!!
The PPCC's reaction here was approximately: "Squeeeee!! Goooo, Madhureeeeee!"
Dia quickly attacks her problem head-on: she decides to stage the classic Laila-Majnu and, after auditions yield little promise, she just starts hand-picking town residents to be her cast. In the role of Majnu, she picks the monosyllabic goon, Imran (Kunal Kapoor, who is apparently like ten feet tall). Laila's role is quickly taken by Anokhi (Konkona Sen Sharma), the goofy, brash tomboy who harbors an intense secret crush on Imran. Meanwhile, Dia's spurned ex-fiancee, Mohan the chaiwallah (Ranvir Shorey), agrees to help and ends up playing the evil king. The cast begins to fill out - a goon leader (Akhilendra Mishra) here, a clumsy husband (Vinay Pathak) there - and eventually even 1980s child actor Jugal Hansraj and his cute Pinocchio nose show up as the straight-laced stockbroker who ends up playing Laila's brother. He even gives odds of success throughout the film ("Twenty percent today, guys") - how adorably nerdy! This film is clearly at 110% awesome now.
Now it's just a matter of tackling the various obstacles - a surly crowd, conservative gender norms, and a smoking hot evil businessman, Farooque (Irrfan Khan) - for Dia to mount the most gloriously glorious spectacle of Laila-Majnu you done ever saw. As the PPCC's viewing companions commented, "That was better than the film!" It was like the perfect icing to a highly satisfying cake - it was that extra 10% of fun.
We weren't wearing our thinking cap during this, nor did we focus too hard on the issues or the logic or anything. But that wasn't the film's aim: it wanted to be mainstream, and therefore non-provocative, but also liberated, so, much like Dostana, it made some compromises. Anyway, its set-up was open-minded enough: NRI Dia ends up showing that you can be divorced, Westernized, happy and in tune with your Hindustani dil! In a nice ironic twist, it's also NRI Dia who cares about the town's traditional dance stage, and it's NRI Dia who saves the town from the onslaught of a Westernized shopping mall.
There was also a nice theme of moving outside of your comfort zone and falling in love (charmingly captured in the song, Ishq Hua - "Love Happened"). For example, Imran is a brutish, macho goonda who is embarrassed by the idea of playing the classic softie, Majnu. Meanwhile, Anokhi is clumsy and blunt in expressing her feelings and she doesn't do herself any favors either: wiping her nose on her hands, picking fights in the dirt and so on. Neither of them make particularly good potential mates for each other, and both are initially resistant to the idea that they should change. Yet thanks to Dia's advice, the two meet in the middle and fall in love: Anokhi, well, grooming a bit and learning how to attract his interest (via the tried-and-tested "hard to get"/"watch out or these boots are gonna walk all over you" routine), Imran embracing his inner theater geek and allowing himself to appear vulnerable and sensitive (and thus EVEN MORE HOT). Other examples of this theme are Dia, of course, and her initial romance with the videshi, and the straight-laced, middle-aged Mr. Chojar (Vinay Pathak) joining the theater troupe in a roundabout way to woo his wife and inject some pizazz into their marriage.
The cutest Laila and Majnu.
When these people weren't all falling in love with each other, the PPCC was falling in love with all the other fine studs in the house. We will now just list them and their most sizzling qualities because we really are only thirteen years old in spirit.
- 1. Mohan the grieving, sensitive chaiwallah.
And that is all. Watch this movie! Whoo!
P.S. Can a nice reader tell the PPCC what happens in the very end? Our last five minutes were missing! Spoilers bedamned, just tell us that Mohan and Dia finally get together.