Movie review: Aiyyaa-m in pain

I am a huge Rani Mukerji fan. And I had to repeat that line to myself a hundred times after watching Aiyyaa. Rani is definitely one of the most talented female actors in Bollywood in this generation, which is why I wondered what came over her that she chose to do this film!

Directed by Marathi film-maker Sachin Kundalkar, who was trying his hand at Bollywood for the first time, Aiyyaa is a painful experience to say the least. Meenakshi Deshpande (Rani) is shown to be the only normal person in the ridiculous world where the film is set. She’s a dreamer who wants to make some money so that she can move out of her parents’ madhouse.

She gets a job as a librarian at an art college, where she meets Tamil artist Surya (played by Malayalam actor Prithviraj), and immediately falls in love — with his scent. I kid you not. That’s when I realised that, as some kind of a mental defence system against the atrocity I was putting myself through, I may have been forcing myself to believe that Meenakshi was a normal character.

Kundalkar then tries an assortment of remedies to salvage the film, all of which fall flat on their face. He creates a love triangle as Meenakshi’s mother hooks her up with “ideal husband material” Madhav, which sort of helps the film’s cause for a few minutes. Music by Amit Trivedi (known for his fantastic work in Aisha and Ishaqzaade) also offers brief moments of entertainment.

However, the only real saving grace of the film is not surprisingly Rani Mukerji herself. Subodh Bhave as Madhav is the only character that is enjoyable. Prithviraj barely has any dialogues until the last 30 minutes of the film and every other character is simply trying too hard to bring some humour into an essentially plot-less film. Particularly insufferable is Meenakshi’s best friend Maina, whose character appears to be inspired by Rooh Afza from Pakistani drama serial “Quddusi Sahib Ki Bewa”. Maina is Meenakshi’s raunchy fellow librarian, who is perpetually drunk on vodka. That would be entertaining if it wasn’t so pathetic.

Sadly, there is nothing good that can be said about this film. The script is weak, the acting is mostly bad and while Bollywood audiences appear to be accepting some South Indian film-making influence, Aiyyaa is just too influenced for their taste.

So save yourself the hours of torture and give me the ticket money instead. Believe me, I’m seriously looking for a reimbursement for my cinema ticket.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 28th, 2012.

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Student of the Year: A trip down memory lane

If you’ve missed the quintessential KJo/Yashraj films style, you will definitely walk out happy after watching STOY. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

It is the mash up of the year but still somehow manages to be its own film.

 Karan Johar’s Student of the Year (SOTY) will remind you of at least four films: Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, Main Hoon Na and Aisha. There’s also a bit of Rang De Basanti somewhere (rich father constantly putting down his eccentric son) and Dostana (gay principal; gay editor).

However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing when a film is as entertaining as SOTY and has the vintage KJo feel to it without being a tear-jerker.

Contrary to popular perception before the film’s release, SOTY is not a souped-up version of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. In fact, it did not remind me of KKHH at all, probably because the short-skirt-wearing, bag-toting girl from KKHH (played by Rani Mukerji) had a lot more brains than the equivalent character in SOTY (played by Alia Bhatt). It may be a traditional love triangle like KKHH but it carries a message and herein lays the difference: there is a point to SOTY.

The film is set in a high school in Dehradun, known for its cold climate – a fact you can only tell by the clothes worn by the men but, in memory of Yash Chopra who started the trend of heroines dressing up in summer clothes regardless, I shall let that go. Every year, the school organises a competition titled Student of the Year, instituted by its principal (the super-talented Rishi Kapoor), which earns the winner an admission to an Ivy League college with a full scholarship awarded by the school. Although, in the 25th year of its institution, the competition ends up taking a life of its own and that is what the film is about.

The central characters are Rohan Nanda (Varun Dhawan, son of film-maker David Dhawan who is known for his ‘No.1’ film series) and Abhimanyu Singh (Siddharth Malhotra). Rohan is the son of business tycoon Ashok Nanda (played very well by Ram Kapoor) and tries to appear shallow in an effort to hide his pain over the fact that his father considers his dreams of becoming a rock star absurd. Abhimanyu is a hardworking, middle-class guy who earns a sports scholarship to an elite school, where he meets Rohan and Shanaya (Alia Bhatt, daughter of veteran film-maker Mahesh Bhatt) who are the school’s most popular couple.

I was always a fan of KJo’s business acumen and after SOTY and his selection of these three new, completely fresh faces, I have become a believer. Siddharth is hot, hot, hot, but also really, really talented. Varun I found to be even better than Siddharth, given his superior dancing skills and earthier feel that should open him up to a variety of roles. Alia has also not done a bad job at all. Given the fact that her character is quite reminiscent of Kareena Kapoor Khan’s from K3G and Sonam Kapoor’s from Aisha, Alia comes off as effortlessly classy although, she still has to develop the oomph that Kareena had even back then.

Rishi Kapoor is absolutely fantastic, and in this latter part of his career, he is shown how versatile he really is. The last film that I saw of him was Agneepath in which he played the character of a despicable drug-peddler Rauf Lala. In SOTY, he goes all the way back to his usual adorable and cuddly self.

The production value, as expected, is high and makes the viewers’ experience pleasant. Most jokes are actually funny, the chemistry between the two male leads is great and the film does not drag at any point. Without being preachy, SOTY has a clear message which is relevant to whatever point you are in life.

It is also obvious that the production team has paid a lot of attention to characterisation as each supporting character behaves in a way that can be expected of it at any given situation. Even the female characters, despite completely useless personalities, are useful in the context of the film.

One of the things that I found particularly annoying is the fact that none of the good songs are original. From Nazia Hasan’s “Disco Deewane” to Indian classic “Gulabi aankhein jo teri dekheen”, songs that are the most enjoyable are “inspired” from somewhere else. I wish Vishal-Shekhar had gone ahead and performed their magic like they did in Dostana, Anjaana Anjaani and Kurbaan. However credit should be given where it is due, the songs are very well designed and choreographed.

Do go watch SOTY and if you’ve missed the quintessential KJo/Yashraj films style, you will definitely walk out happy. If you take my advice to go see it, then do leave a comment in the section below and tell me which film it reminded you of!