The much-awaited comeback vehicle of the dhak-dhak girl of Hindi films, Madhuri Dixit, Aaja Nachle is here at last. The smile has that same magic, and the dance is as bewitching as ever. In all, Madhuri is still as riveting as she was before, if not more. Her presence is enough to make you want to forget the fact that the script is slight predictable and that the last 15 odd minutes of the film could have done with some editing. But Madhuri proves that at age 41, she can still give her younger rivals a run for their money.
Aaja Nachle's biggest weakness is its script. That's where the problem begins. You know the end even before the second scene and can also predict the expected obstacles in the path of the protagonist. The turn of events too is as expected. There are few surprises in store in Aaja Nachle. However, what works for the film is Madhuri and the performances of some of the ensemble cast. That's what lends freshness to this film and makes it a delightful experience. What is truly amazing about Madhuri's performance is that it has a certain zing, which seems to have just sharpened with age. She towers above the rest, even the likes of Konkona Sen Sharma, no mean actress herself.
Aaja Nachle, like Chak De India before it, uses the same formula of the underdog fighting back against all odds and finally emerging the winner. Without trying to dissect the success of Chak De India, one can safely say that the obstacles in Aaja Nachle are not strong enough. Hence the climax, when the show does finally take place, does not seem an achievement enough. The show in itself is great in parts, just a trifle too long, fails to rouse the same kind of passion that a Chak De did. Heroes are not made so easily, they have a long arduous journey before they can be called heroes. The coach in Chak De was a true hero as was the girls' hockey team, because they rose from the ashes and resurrected themselves. Seen in that context, Aaja Nachle is very tepid. It does not have much drama as there is hardly any ‘conflict' here, absolutely no soul searching, no looking inwards, no actual human revolution happening. One is not really sure at the end of the film if the people of Shamli have truly awakened to a love for the arts or not.
The story of the film revolves around Dia (Madhuri), a dancer in New York, a divorcee with a young daughter, who comes to India to fulfill the last wishes of her guru and teacher (Darshan Jariwala). He wished for her to resurrect the decrepit theatre Ajanta, to its former days of glory. Dia arrives in Shamli, a town where she grew up, learned to dance, a town from where she eloped one night with her Amercian lover. Her parents have fled the town in shame long since, and all that is left for her is a decrepit Ajanta, crumbling memories and a hostile town. The agenda of the town planners is to pull down the old theatre and build a shopping mall. Supporting the builder lobby is the standing MP of the region, played with great charm by Akshaye Khanna. He offers her a deal: If Dia is able to pull of a show in Ajanta, a show in which the residents of Shamli take part, and then he will not go ahead with its demolition.
Dia has two months time in her hands to put on a grand show. She decides to stage Laila Majnu but has the biggest problem trying to come up with a suitable cast. With a little help from the local MLA, she manages to get together an assorted cast consisting of a government official (Vinay Pande), her old loyal lover and tea stall owner (Ranvir Shorey), the local tomboy as Laila (Konkona) and the politico's henchman, Kunal Kapoor as Majnu. The show goes off without any hitch, Dia wins the day and Ajanta is saved.
This is director Anil Mehta's debut venture and that shows in the very airy, superficial handling of the theme. But what he manages to do is extract an excellent performance from all his actors. It helps that all of them are consummate actors in their own right. Actors like Irrfan, Shorey and Pathak are masters of the craft and each one of them gets into the skin of their characters with ease. The Laila-Majnu pair of Kunal and Konkona, however, is a little disappointing. There is very little chemistry between the two of them. In contrast, despite the brevity of their sequences together, whenever Madhuri and Akshaye occupy the same frame, one can see the potential for a lot more passion there. One wished that Mehta had explored that angle as well. But on the whole, the film, if one can overlook the predictable turn of events; one does end up enjoying the movie and its characters, brought to life by the actors.
The film belongs to Madhuri and she proves that she can still draw in crowds with her famous smile, her twinkling toes and her histrionic abilities. The actress shows a lot of spontaneity and charm in her performance. It is definitely a signal to filmmakers out there that she still has it in her to carry a film through, just like in her heydays.