Cast:Rani Mukherji, Prithviraj
The Deshpandes are no ordinary brood. And Aiyyaa is no ordinary film. Wildly wakda (read twisted) in more ways than one, it is a film that defies definition.
It careens from the dreamy to the delirious, the realistic to the raucous, and the perfectly logical to the utterly nonsensical as it turns many a time-honoured convention of Hindi commercial cinema on its head.
Many might find its loud, outré storytelling style somewhat difficult to comprehend and digest, especially in the context of the film’s slice-of-life love story predicated on a willing suspension of disbelief.
Aiyyaa, Sachin Kundalkar’s first Hindi film on the back of three critically applauded Marathi-language features, revels in flying against expectations with complete abandon.
It falls back on principles of the theatre of the absurd as well as the norms of the tamasha folk form to comment on the skewed dynamics of arranged matrimony and the politics of gender equations viewed exclusively from the distaff side.
Despite mounting societal pressures on her, it is the mulgi who calls the shots. She follows her heart – and nose – all the way through to try and get the man she wants.
Aiyyaa blends a dash of magic realism, liberal dollops of wacky humour, broad burlesque sweeps, robust social satire and a mélange of elaborately staged coital dance routines, all brought together by a delightfully freewheeling imagination.
Not all of it works though. In fact, portions of the film go askew. That makes Aiyyaa a bit of a mixed bag. But Kundalkar gets enough of the madcap tropes right to ensure that his film stays on course for the most part.
The most striking aspect of Aiyyaa is that its focus is squarely on the female gaze. The hero is the object of desire and it is the girl who does most of the sniffing, drooling and panting.
Indeed, sniffing plays a key role in this love story. Meenaxi Deshpande (Rani Mukerji) is a plucky middle class Maharashtrian girl who seeks escape from her humdrum life by frequently retreating into a nebulous dreamscape inspired by her favourite Bollywood divas.
Madhuri, Sridevi, Juhi – everybody is fair game in Meenaxi’s liberating fantasies and she plays a fiercely lone hand in the often strangely desolate settings that she conjures up in her mind.
In real life, of course, she is hard pressed to get her point across to a family that is completely off its trolley: a chain-smoking dad (Satish Alekar), an overzealous mom (Nirmiti Sawant), a dog-loving bro (Ameya Wagh) who trusts canines more than humans and, last but not the least, a wheelchair-bound grandma (Jyoti Subhash) with a set of golden teeth, shrill vocal chords and a grey head on the ragged, rebellious edge.
Meenaxi is under constant pressure from her parents, particularly her mother, to find a suitable life partner.
Thwarting the steady stream of suitors that come and go talking of chaha and poha, she is attracted by the smell that emanates from the Tamil-speaking art student Surya (Prithviraj) she encounters every day in the college library.
Meenaxi’s love is a one-way street because the tall, dark, handsome and aloof Surya is unaware of her feelings, but she follows him around like a smitten stalker, drawn by the sweet fragrance that surrounds him.
Aiyyaa is an extension of the first episode of Kundalkar’s Gandha (2008), a cinematic triptych of evocative stories that were bound by the theme of smell.
Aiyyaa follows the same narrative trajectory. But it is interspersed with situations involving the fringe characters of the Gandha episode in question, Lagnachya Vayacha Mulgi (A Bride To Be).
Also factored into the Aiyyaa fold is the added layer of the language divide between the hero and the heroine. The latter strives to learn Tamil in order to communicate with the man she is in love with.
But words fail Meenaxi when they matter the most. Musical fantasies with no heaves and thrusts barred come to her aid at such moments.
Among those who get a larger play is Meenaxi’s maniacal colleague and confidante, Maina (Anita Date), a Lady Gaga wannabe referred to by one character as Gaga-bai.
Maina lusts for John Abraham and her desktop and living room walls are plastered with pictures of the actor in various stages of undress.
We also meet the overly decorous Madhav Rajadhyaksha (Subodh Bhave), the boy Meenaxi’s
family choses for her. His idea of romance is stuck in the discreet Farooque Shaikh-Deepti Naval era.
Madhav briefly transports Meenaxi from the aggressively erotic and miasmic universe of Dreamum wakeupum and Aga bai to the touch-me-not world of Tumko dekha toh yeh khayal aaya.
Amid the cacophonous and the crazy are moments of striking cinematic beauty that emphasize the power of colour, sound and, of course, smell to evoke human emotions.
Rani Mukerji plunges headlong into the character without the slightest hint of inhibition. Prithviraj, with his strong, silent screen presence, provides the perfect foil. Members of the supporting cast, notably Ameya Wagh and Anita Date, turn in performances that stay in line with the all-round air of zaniness.
Aiyyaa takes time to warm up, slips into dull patches at times and occasionally teeters on the edge of a certain dissonance. But the subversive spirit that drives the absurdist core of Aiyyaa is well worth embracing.