Directed by Anil Mehta, Story by Aditya Chopra
It is clear that this film is solely a Madhuri Dixit vehicle, and by vehicle I mean advertising bicycle cart that she rides while shouting through a megaphone, twirling her so-2008 neck scarf and shaking her Calvin Klein-jeaned bootie. I understand that in real life, Madhuri lives in Denver now, so she can’t just pop over to Mumbai to play the mum or do a wink-wink cameo, but Aaja Nachle is not the right answer to “how do we throw fans a bone/gain new US fans?” She’s talented enough she could be cast in Hollywood movies, but that’s a doubtful possibility, since Hollywood’s not exactly known for pursuing older foreign ladies unless they have a British accent, spiderweb tats, and laudable bosoms or unless they have a British accent and don’t mind playing a grumpy witch.
The plot of the movie centers on a girl, Diya, from a medium-sized village; she is in a popular dance troupe but ends up running away with a National Geographic photographer on the night of her arranged marriage to a sad puppy-dog of a restaurateur. Once in America, the marriage ends, but not before a daughter is produced. Diya makes her living as a dance instructor until she learns her troupe leader back home is dying and the dance troupe is defunct. Diya returns to her village to bring the troupe back to life and win everyone she wronged back to her side–and in the one surprise of the movie, she wins them back not by repentance but by persistent good spirits. Everything is predictable in this movie, but I have to give it props for hiring unknowns to play the role of the villagers who want to become the stars of the dance troupe. These actors looked and danced like regular people. Unfortunately, that bit of realism doesn’t make the film any more enjoyable, since–let’s be honest–we watch Bollywood for the beauty of the actors and the dance, not its realistic charm.
The film contains several infuriating bits (which are in no way related to naughty bits). It is no surprise that Bollywood would have annoying sidekicks or inexplicable changes of mind, but Aaja Nachle tests the limits of audience’s patience. First, the annoying sidekick is Diya’s 12-year-old daughter—a frumpy, bespectacled, Hindi-accented cynic. The daughter grew up in New York, was isolated from Hindi friends and family, and can only speak Hindi poorly–yet she speaks with a heavy Hindi accent. Her whining, criticial nature may be meant to make up for the “Americanness” lacking in the rest of her–and for this I could cut them some slack, since movies everywhere can too easily cross the line when attempting cute precociousness. The other main infuriating bit is that right before the main character elopes with the photographer, she tells him, “I’m an Indian girl. We only do this [marriage] once.” Yet bam–she marries and divorces him within a couple seconds of narration. She must have meant, “We only do this once to Indians, but to everyone else we can do it as much as we want!”
Source: Yash Raj’s YouTube account.
Aside from Madhuri’s presence, the songs save the movie. The title song, performed with what must be assumed is a crack team of expert dancers flown in to the village for a demo show, is energetic and slick, if meaningless. “Show Me Your Jalwa” showcases an interesting bit of Indian society, the advertising wagon with megaphone (this could be rare, but there’s no way for me to know). It also shows the dominance of reality competition shows and most people’s fascination with bad auditions, as the plot moving forward in the song is of the auditions for the dance troupe. I do enjoy the lyrics for this song, especially the line “It makes the world go crazy about you” to describe that quality special just to yourself that could make you a star. “Dance with Me” opens the film and seems like a lost Debbie Gibson track. The choreography is fun but not at all Bollywood. I have always thought it a shame that Madhuri has had to do so much modern hip-hoppy choreography, since her excellence lies in the slower, smoother expressive movements of classical dance. Of the other songs, which are not bad, a standout is “Yeh Ishq”—part of the narration for the big dance performance at the end of the movie. It, too, is not so much Bollywood that I am used to, but is still affecting in a way that is similar to “Dastaan-E-Om Shanti Om” in Om Shanti Om (which itself is more than a shade of Phantom of the Opera).
Tidbits: This was Madhuri’s first film after 6 years of leave from Bollywood and she has also not made a film since. The story writer (Aditya Chopra) is responsible for two of the biggest Bollywood hits of the 90’s, DDLJ and DTPH.
Library Collection: If you are gunning for the big Bollywood blockbusters, this isn’t it. However, if you already have a well-rounded collection, or your patron base is 30-50-year-old Indian women, this is a good choice for something extra.