Aaja Nachle certainly proves that marriage agrees exceedingly well with Bollywood's leading ladies. Maybe it is the Indian womanhood thing - marriage being the pinnacle of fulfillment for the Bharatiya naari and everything - but Madhuri Dixit looks confident and exuberant like never before.
A friend of mine wanted to clarify when I told him that Madhuri looked hotter than ever in this movie. He asked if she looked hot for her age or just hot on the whole - and I have to say she looks hot on an absolute scale. Her lifestyle in Denver seems to have burnt away all the unsightly flab on her hips that gave her that model pear shaped body. Instead she looks lithe and streamlined, strong and forceful - a beautiful, Amazonian, whip-wielding lion-tamer. Anybody care for the look?
Moreover, her role has filled out rather than her figure. Instead of playing a delicate dandelion in the winds, she is now a fierce matriarch - out to protect, nurture and grow. She is assertive, even aggressive - goading, consoling, encouraging and inspiring her pupils until they are zealots for her cause. She is the charismatic leader.
Even her dance moves now are not to tempt and entice - instead, they seem a joyous celebration of her own being. Sensuality for the inherent pleasure of it. Diya, Madhuri's character in the movie, completely mirrors the saga of Madhuri Dixit - the superstar and her resounding comeback.
That's how the movie begins. With Diya returning to the town of her youth, one she was ostracized from for having performed the unthinkable - running away with who she thought was her true love. About a decade later, she returns with a daughter from the failed marriage to pay her last respects to her dying dance teacher and father figure Makarand (Darshan Zariwala), and reaches too late.
On finding her way to her old hangout, an amphitheater where she attended her dance lessons, she discovers ruins and a rather tackily shot video of her dying teacher talking to her. He tells her how the dance school died out when she left. And how it is now upon her to reclaim it from destruction and bring it back to life.
Diya goes through the motions - apprehension and doubt on how she will win back the dance theater, Ajanta, and revive the tradition of 'nritya, kala aur sanskriti' that have been superseded for commercial gains. The plan is now to demolish Ajanta and build a mall.
But all characters in this movie lend themselves especially well to epiphany, makeovers and radical overhauls. Diya too finds her inspiration and sets out to recruit actors for a groundbreaking Laila-Majnu dance drama she plans to stage at Ajanta, to prove to a rather polished and cynical Rajaji of the town that Ajanta can regain its status as the treasured heritage of Shamilee.
Rajaji is Akshaye Khanna, and suave, smooth-tongued roles suit him exceptionally well as he sets about convincing Diya that it can't be done, and moreover, it shouldn't be done. But Diya persists, and Rajaji folds his hands and flashes his dimpled 'Try and see' smile of scorn, which, like I said, suits him oh-so-well.
Konkona Sen's role, Anokhi, is the meatiest in the movie after that of Madhuri's matriarch, as she plays something of her protégée. A blowsy, ill-mannered tomboy with windblown hair, she is madly in love with Imran (the ravishing Kunal Kapoor) and wants to play Laila to his Majnu character in Diya's play. Diya takes her under her wing and transforms her into a bonafide Laila, complete with flowing tresses, silk-chiffon gowns and the regulation hint of cleavage. Anokhi's dialogues are thigh-slapping funny, which brings us to one of the most crucial elements in the movie that just might make it a hit. And that is humor.
Just when you are despairing that this is another sentimental drama - what with Madhuri's crusade against the art- and culture-shunning philistines, and village bumpkins getting transformed by the second into Broadway superstars (the epiphany business really is a bit much) - the movie thankfully switches mood to mirth and levity. Diya and the late Makarand's sidekick, Doctor (Raghubir Yadav), begin auditions for the play and pick a motley assortment of characters including Mohan Sharma (Ranvir Shorey), Chojar (Vinay Pathak), Imran and Chaudhary Om Singh (Akhilendra Mishra), who bring color and comic relief to the movie landscape.
After an Indian Idol style initial audition round with outrageously untalented wannabes goofing around, the perfect actors are discovered and their rigorous training begins. A few more transformations as Madhuri moulds them, singing and dancing along gaily like a fairy godmother tapping raggedy maids into Cinderellas, and we are all set for the grand comeback act. All too easy you say, but when did Yash Raj ever allow cynicism to dampen a sunny fairy-tale?
The music is average, but the lyrics by Jaideep Sahni and Piyush Mishra, especially for the Laila-Majnu musical, are in perfect cadence, tight and evocative. The dialogues of the movie are highlight, with a lot of English creeping in the initial part of the movie with Diya and Rajaji jousting each other in their New York returned accents.
But Aaja Nachle is, without doubt, the comeback movie of Madhuri, and that is what it will be remembered as. Even if the myriad other characters of the Laila-Majnu play have their moments in the spotlight, Madhuri is the MC here, and she certainly holds her audience in a trance with her dazzling gowns, resplendent looks and faultless acting. Hit or miss, you've got to hand it to her for playing it just right. Seems like Bollywood actresses are finally breaking the glass ceiling of age, and that can't be a bad thing.