Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Aiyyaa: Theatre of the absurd
Director Sachin Kundalkar’s “Aiyyaa” is based on one of three stories in his earlier Marathi film called “Gandha”. The story, about a girl who falls in love with a man because of the way he smells, is 30 minutes long, simply and honestly told. There are are no frills, no side characters and certainly no sign of any of the absurdity that Kundalkar brings to “Aiyyaa”.
It is very difficult to slot Aiyyaa into a genre. There are strains of comedy, drama, romance and the absurd in the film. There is also over-the-top risqué humour and some raunchy song sequences that will remind you of late night music shows on Tamil channels.
What it doesn’t have is something that binds all of this together. Kundalkar makes a bizarre mash-up of several genres and ends up with a film that doesn’t do justice to any.
Rani Mukerji plays Meenakshi Deshpande, a middle-class Maharashtrian girl who lives with her madcap family in Pune and dreams of escaping from her dreary existence. In her dreams, she is Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi and Juhi Chawla, chasing her knight in shining armour, but in reality she has to deal with a blind grandmother in a wheelchair, who flashes her gold teeth, a younger brother who roams the streets at night looking for stray dogs to bring home, and Maina, her colleague who has to be the funniest and weirdest character in the film by far.
Maina (Anita Date) wears bizarre clothes (in one scene she wears a police tape with “crime scene – do not enter” written on it strapped around her torso, with silk shorts and fishnet stockings) and guzzles vodka from a monkey-shaped rubber water bottle. A scene between Maina and Meenakshi’s brother towards the end of the film will make you want to turn your eyes away (Or not, depending on what you like to watch on screen).
Meenakshi has a crush on mystery man Surya Iyer (Prithviraj Sukumaran) who, according to Maina, is an alcoholic and has squandered away his father’s vast wealth over his addiction. Meenakshi lusts openly after Surya, a pleasant change in Indian cinema, where it is usually the other way round. But she does nothing to actually tell him about her feelings until the very last minute.
Meanwhile, her parents fix her up with a “good Maharashtrian boy” Madhav (Subodh Bhave). Torn between her desire for Surya and her desire to please her parents, Meenakshi isn’t sure which way to go.
Kundalkar has a tough task extending a half hour-long story into a two-and-a-half hour film and he fills the space with lots of unnecessary gags and over-the-top characters. Over-the-top isn’t necessarily bad, but it has to be good enough for the viewer to submit to it completely and this film doesn’t achieve that. So instead of laughing with the characters, you are laughing at them.
Some scenes involving Meenakshi’s crazy grandmother and Maina will make you grind your teeth. Kundalkar makes Prithviraj the object of desire, keeping him at a distance from the protagonist and the audience, so we never get a sense of his character.
Rani Mukerji is the saving grace in what is otherwise a lost cause. She tries hard to make sense of the film for you and at times, succeeds. If only her romance track with Prithivraj had more than just her sniffing his clothes, this film could have gone somewhere. If you have to, watch it for her.