By Sunaina Kumar
YOU CAN’T SAY that the director did not warn you. ‘Aiyyaa’ in Marathi is an expression meant to convey surprise or regret and watching the movie leaves you torn between both. The regret is easier explained, if only the director had reined in his impulse for self-indulgence to the point of tediousness, this movie could have been more than an interesting experiment. The surprise is, despite all that, Aiyyaa is one enjoyable ride.
Never before have the lust-filled dreams of an ordinary middle-class girl been told with such zest. Meenaxi Deshpande (Rani Mukerji makes her come to life) is over-the-top, rambunctious, but entirely believable as the girl who falls for the strong, silent type (Malayalam actor Prithviraj does here what Sonakshi Sinha does in every film, embraces the role of sex object). The story is thin at best, Meenaxi’s parents want her to settle down with the traditional boy who answers their newspaper matrimonial ad, but she, like Penelope in The Odyssey,is too busy weaving fantasies every night, when she escapes into over-the-top dance sequences. This is where the movie hoodwinks viewers, who may have walked in expecting a homage to kitschy Hindi potboilers going by the promos, and end up in a world where Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s libidinous consciousness is transported to a small-town Maharashtrian girl.
“What was the director smoking?” asked an exasperated viewer at the screening. The provocation could have been any or every character in the movie, the grandmother with the teeth of gold and strange insights, the father who smokes four cigarettes at the same time, the brother who collects stray dogs or the colleague who could give style tips to Lady Gaga. Every character’s eccentricity is underlined for good measure.
The exasperated viewer could have also been referring to the long interludes, like the unexplained part where Meenaxi and her brother set off to trace a drug peddler, and the repetitive scenes that set your teeth on edge, like the umpteenth time Meenaxi follows in the trail of the hero, greedily sniffing him out.
Toward the end, Meenaxi’s father exclaims that he cannot tell, “Yeh sapna hai ya sachai hai, din hai ya raat hai.” It’s as if the director is finally letting us off the hook, telling us how to read the film. Here dreams merge into reality. Aiyyaa annoys and amuses, conforms and subverts in equal measure. Just give in to the madness a little.
Sunaina Kumar is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.