Saturday, June 11, 2016

Aaja Nachle—Dance With Me

I don't know what prompted me to watch Anil Mehta's Aaja Nachle again. Perhaps, it was the return of Akshaye Khanna to the movies. He is supposedly playing a villain in the upcoming Dhishoom, and I could only remember his 'bad guy' act in Aaja Nachle. Notwithstanding the film's lackluster performance at the box office, and equally unflattering reviews, Aaja Nachle is one of my favorite films. It is almost nine years since the film released and was the comeback film of the divine Madhuri Dixit. 
The film is the story of Dia (Madhuri Dixit) who has her dance studio in New York. She receives a call from Shamli in India that the teacher who taught her dance is dying. She comes to meet him, but he has passed away already. He has left a message for her that the theater Ajanta where he taught dance to students is on the verge of being demolished. Dia, for whom there is no love lost by the town dwellers, because of her past activities, has to now save Ajanta theater. She goes to the meet the town's member of parliament (MP) Uday Singh (Akshaye Khanna), who tells her that if she can convince him that the people want the theater, he will not demolish it. She, then, tells him that she will do a show of Laila Majnu at Ajanta after two months, and it will be done by the people of Shamli for the people of Shamli. There in lies the tale of convincing people to do her show and make them realize the importance of nrtiya and sangeet in their life.

Like the recently released Maneesh Sharma's Fan, which was based on real-life story of Shah Rukh Khan, Aaja Nachle also seems a biographical account of Madhuri Dixit. Her character Dia loves dancing, gets married to an American, moves to the US with him, and then comes back to India. Madhuri's life, too, follows the same pattern, where she went to US for a few years after her wedding, and then came back to India. The film was touted as her comeback film.

Aaja Nachle deals with many conflicts. There is the conflict between modernity and tradition, between Western- and Indian-culture, between the past and the future, between being tied to your roots and flying away to freedom, between naach-gaana and nritya-sangeet, between letting go and trying to hold back to not only things, but relationships as well. It is the conflict to save the heritage of Ajanta instead of a mall, but also the conflict of holding on to your old feelings and moving on. At a much simpler level, Dia's story is like that of a migratory bird. When she is leaving Shamli with Steve, her teacher says, "Phaila apne pankh or udd ja." Open your wings, and fly away. When she calls out her parents' hypocrisy when they listen to songs of Lata Mangeshkar and Mumtaz on the radio, but stop their own daughter from dancing, Aaj Kal Paon Zameen Par Nahi Padte Mere from Ghar plays in the background. That song also talks refers to flying metaphorically. The rickshaw that she rides on with Doctor (Raghubir Yadav) has Ajanta Ki Bulbul written on it, like Dia is also some kind of bulbul, a songbird. This bird has come back to save theater, but will fly back again. 
Even though Dia might have migrated, she has not forgotten her roots. She has her own dance studio in New York, but she still refers to Shamli as her own city, and the people of Shamli as her own people. At one point later, she says, "Is sheher me mera tha kaun, jo main iski sagi banne chali thi." The film opens with her dance on an English song Dance With Me, but she is equally fabulous at Indian-style classical dances. She names her American daughter Radha, an Indian name. She has imbibed both elements of Western- and Indian-style in her, and she thinks she can bring the same to Shamli. Ajanta is dying, and she wants to save it, because her teacher said the art does not need a city, but it is the city that needs art. Ajanta is a reference to the beautiful art caves in Maharashtra, and at one point, Imran even mentions the theater as Ajanta-Ellora. In its place, a jazzy mall is going to be built. This is the conflict that we have been witnessing quite a lot. Dia has an emotional attachment to Ajanta, but it has to be evaluated as a cost benefit analysis to the city. Uday Singh makes a great point that people cannot eat art and dance. Maslow's hierarchy of needs are different for people. For people, who cannot afford a basic standard of living, it is necessary to give them a livelihood. If it was a rich town, dynamics would be completely different. Moreover, no theater had taken place at Ajanta after ages, and even after the play, Dia went back to New York, so we don't really know what happened to Ajanta. It was this thing for which I was not truly convinced if Shamli really cared about Ajanta, but as a lover of art, I completely understand Dia's good intentions and actions. I was also reminded of Piku. At one point, Piku while showing Kolkata to Rana, says that there was once a theater but now a new building has come up. Rana says that she is also doing the same, by selling her own ancestral house Champakunj. She says that she is being practical. He, then, makes a profound statement, "I am not saying tum galat ho. Maybe this is the way forward. Isi ko log development bolte hain. Par apni roots unko agar ukhad do, toh kya bachega."At the very least, Piku's ancestral house had her relatives living in it, but Ajanta was a platform where nothing existed. But, there is of course, an emotional attachment to everything. We don't destroy everything, but, then, at least, people should take care of Ajanta. Honestly, there are no easy answers for such conflicts. 
Mohan (Ranvir Shorey) is a restaurant owner who was left at the altar by Dia. We first meet Mohan when Dia takes Steve to his restaurant. The song Mere Sapno Ki Rani from Aradhana plays in the background, and we know that Dia is indeed his sapno ki rani. Mohan also keeps a picture of Madhubala in his restaurant, perhaps, he sees Madhubala in Dia, as Madhuri is, sometimes, called the Madhubala of the Nineties. Later, when he sees a poster of Dia's return put up in his restaurant, the song Kabhi Kabhie Mere Dil Me from Kabhi Kabhie plays in the background, and the song from a movie pining for his ex-lover who is now married to someone else is a song that exactly fits the situation of Mohan. When policeman Singh, Dhan Kuber, and Mohan are having a drink, another song Jaane Vo Kaise Log The from Pyaasa plays; again befitting to the situation of Mohan, who is wondering who are the people who loved, and got love in return. He would go onto sing the same song at his audition for Laila-Majnu. This playing of songs from another film that fits in the character's situation will show up again in Shuddh Desi Romance, a film that was written by Jaideep Sahni, who wrote Aaja Nachle, too. 
Dia runs away with Steve, and Mohan is heartbroken. There is a picture of flashing neon heart bulbs in the background, and one can't help but feel sorry for him in that situation. When he sees her poster that she has come back, he tears it off, but, then, he is not able to forget her, and irons it back again. It is a lovely moment. He goes onto meet Dia and tells her, "Chai bhi aap ki, main bhi aapka." The tea is yours, I am also yours. As much as I liked Mohan, I really want to go and shake him up, and just tell him, "Move on, Mohan." It is eleven years, and he is still nursing the old wounds. Something, really terrible happened to him, but he should accept it and think of his future. How long will he keep waiting for Dia when she has clearly told him that she will go back. Only in his dreams, he can get Dia, like we see in his dream in Ishq Hua, but in reality, she and he are unlikely to be together. He tried to hate Dia, but could not, and he is ready to support and stand with her, even when no one in the town is willing to do that. At one point, Dia regrets that she did not even apologize to him, and then, asks him, "Tum kis mitti ke bane ho?" What are you made of? While other people had a self-interest to play a role in Laila Majnu, Mohan was perhaps, the only own who came out of his own volition just to help Dia. There is a statue of Gandhi right outside his restaurant. Perhaps, it is the Gandhian influence on him from whom he has imbibed this self-sacrificing spirit. He even shares his first name with Gandhi—Mohan. Seriously, Mohan, you are a great person, but be a little selfish for your own sake. 
Mohan's friends call him jalebi, which I suspect is a euphemism for the word chutzpah that was used in Haider. At one point, his friend calls him Devdas. In the end, the policeman calls him Majnu. Mohan is actually a little bit of everything. There is also an interesting contrast between him, and Uday Singh. All the while, he served tea to Dia and her crew. He makes pakoras. In the end, Uday reached New York and offers Dia a Starbucks coffee, and he makes pizza. Whose taste she prefers?
I would also want to go and shake Mr. Chojar up and tell him, "Loosen up, Mr. Chojar; at the very least, let your wife enjoy whatever she likes." He has got a gem of a wife in Mrs. Chojar. She has awesome homilies to share at every moment. Mr. Chojar is an uptight government officer and he does not like when his wife does something in public that can cause him embarrassment. He does not even like when she eats gol gappas in the bazaar. As her wife said, there are two people in their house, he and his izzat; she is just a file in his life. Their marriage is having some serious lack of communication issues. He realizes his mistake, and requests Dia to give him a role in her place because his wife called him the most boring man on earth. It is always wonderful to see a man trying to make efforts to save his marriage. It is not easy for people to be something that they are not, and shed their skin to become a different being. Mr. Chojar is even embarrassed to show his face in public, but he does a brilliant job in the end, and showed his wife that he can fun, too. I hope the next time, he allows Mrs. Chojar to participate. In this context, the same plot of the Chojars becomes the rudimentary plot of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. In that movie, Tani enters a dance competition with her boring husband who took on another identity. There is also a gol gappas scene in that film.  
In terms of women being forced to not do what they like, even Najma, Dia's friend, had a similar story. Her husband uses her as a source to advance his business interests. She is just a tool for him. There is a scene where he tells her to say things about Dia's character so that people do not go to watch the play, and he awards her with a necklace. He is putting it in her neck and then he gets a call on his cellphone, and he attends the call, while Najma is left holding the necklace. It described the state of their marriage, which does not seem very different from the Chojars. He says that she is a tohfa (a gift) that God has made only for him. Rightly said, which is why he uses this gift to advance his interests, she is a decorative item like the necklace herself. 
Both Mrs. Chojar and Najma reflect the objectification of women as beings who are used as some kind of flashy objects. While Mrs. Chojar has to compete with the izzat of her husband, and do not do anything that harms his izzat in public, because as a wife, she is not her own self, but someone who belongs to her husband. In private, she is the file her husband can open and close anytime he wants. Likewise, Najma is the tohfa who her husband shows it off to other people, and uses her. She is the ostentatious necklace to the society, but in private, he will scream at her. In an earlier scene, when Dia goes to meet Najma, and when Radha tells Farooque that her parents are divorced, Najma helps him put on his blazer, again, a scene that points at the state of their marriage. Both these women do not work, and even if they want to, they cannot come out of this marriage. Interestingly, neither of them had kids even after years of marriage, which is kind of surprising in the society they live, perhaps, a reflection on the lack of physical intimacy, though there is a big picture of a baby in one of the calendars in Mrs. Chojar's room, a prop that has been used often in films to reflect impending pregnancy in the character. There is a strong correlation between working women and divorce rates. In this context, Dia is a divorced woman, living independently on her own in New York, and is raising a daughter all by herself. She has no bitterness about her marriage, and she realizes that she and her husband were not just meant to be. So, she got out easily. She has even no hard feelings about the city people who keep saying about her activities, and she does not let it impact her. She is truly an independent woman, and is willing to stand up for herself. She does not even get afraid when a bunch of goons break her set, rather finds her Majnu in one of the goons. Perhaps, that is why Najma says to Dia that she was always a brave woman, and she could never be like her. Also, not to forget to mention Dia's clothes. Dia wears whatever she wants, and dresses whatever she likes. All other women in the film are shown in traditional Indian attire. Roaming in a small conservative town has limitations, but Dia does not adhere to that unwritten code. The only slightly false note I felt was when she is practicing dance in her balcony in the night, Mr. Chojar comes and he turns his face, and waits for Dia to put her jacket, which I felt was not really necessary, but the presence of that scene shows that the film did make a point about her attire. 
Any women who does not belong to this social code is either labelled an outcast (such as Dia) or called as different, perhaps, which is why Konkona Sen Sharma's character was named Anokhi meaning someone who is different and weird. Eventually, she also came around as a traditionally dressed beautiful Indian woman. 
In the last few years, there have been many films focused exclusively on the foreign journeys women take. These include films, such as English Vinglish, and Queen. At the risk of repetition, I always go back to Santosh Desai's thoughtful take on Queen, where he says, "What Europe does for Rani is to merely to lift the invisible force-field that surrounds women in India. We find that an individual emerges from within quite effortlessly once the cloud of implicitness that governs behaviour is lifted. Europe lifts the expectations that accompany class and gender in Rani’s local context in India, and her foreign-ness renders irrelevant her external appearance and behaviour. She is freed even from the limitations of language; English is after all, merely another language in Paris, not an instrument of class. If Europe erases the descriptors that fix a person into a place, her return to India subtly re-codes her. She has become, as her fiancé put it, more modern. As viewers too, we see a Rani that has inched closer to the self-image of those that watch films like Queen admiringly. Europe may have embraced Rani as she was but we need her to change just ever so little for her to be accepted here." I was thinking about this while watching the film. In the above mentioned movies, the focus was on the journey, but we don't know what happened to them after they came back home. Did Rani get married again? Did Shashi continue to run her business? Aaja Nachle was released in 2007, much before these other films. It is actually the story of a woman post her transformation. Was that one reason that audience did not accept the film, unlike these others movies. Though it is heartening to see the recent trend of the higher acceptance of women only films in last few years; it is a good sign, indeed. 

There is also a theme of secularism throughout the film. I had suspected Chaudhury Om Singh's character to be a religious hothead, but he was more a local goon with political interests. At one point, Dia tells him that there is no enmity between Hindus and Muslims in Shamli, so, he should make Ajanta as a poll issue. The film's characters belong to all religions, and there are no visible religious undercurrents in the town. In the final moments of the play, Dia dressed as an angel comes and says, whether one believes in the Brahm Gyan, the Gita, the Bible, the Quran, or the Guru Granth Mahaan, pehle pyaar bhari insaani zubaan ko maano, as a fitting end to the play. 
Any film that has audition scenes are a laugh riot. There is also a effeminate Gabbar Singh in one of those, but Anokhi's scenes are outrageously funny. The film's strength is its genuine characters. But the film belongs firmly to Madhuri Dixit. She is truly a diva, like her name Di(v)a, she lights up the screen by just her presence. At one moment, they even do a hat tip to her stardom, when she herself watches one of the girls in the audition enact her iconic song Dhak Dhak from Beta, and there is also a passing reference to her rival Sridevi, when Binduji dances in the blue saree, quite reminiscent of the song Kaate Nahi Kat Te from Mr. India. I realized how much I missed watching her in the films. My favorite scene is the entire Laila-Majnu play, which I read somewhere was directed by Piyush Mishra. It is beautiful, and I found all dance sequences to be gorgeous. When the play ended, and Dia came on stage to take a bow and the beats of Aaja Nachle start playing, it is a really happy moment. If I was watching it in a theater, I would even whistle (if I knew how to whistle). There is an alternate ending available on YouTube in which Dia gets reunited with her parents. I am curious as to why they did not keep that ending. Despite having some misgivings about the film's ending, Aaja Nachle is a personal favorite. The film's theme to loosen up and come and dance is the best tribute to a star whose only passion is dance. If only, I did not have two left feet, but as Dia said to Anokhi, "Kaam samajh kar karogi toh mushkil hai, pyaar samajh karogi toh kuch bhi nahi." I will heed this advice till I become the next Hrithik Roshan, and then, I will also sing. Sab ko nacha ke nachle, aaja nachle nachle mere yaar, tu nach le.
Mrs. Chojar says the best lines
Before Nawazuddin Siddiqui became a star
Sridevi from Mr. India
Using this in my next Twitter fight
We will make lemon juice
Oi say hello to Liquid from Pyaar Ka Punchnama
 Tum saala Gulam log neeche baithega, aur hum special chair pe baithega

Oh, cheer up, Mohan
Same holds true for me, Anokhi
Filed under I love Madhuri Dixit
Filed under I love Madhuri Dixit  
Filed under I love Madhuri Dixit  
 Filed under I love Madhuri Dixit 
Aaja Nachle
Always, respect the stage, always

Other Reading:
Baradwaj Rangan's splendid and fabulous take on Aaja NachleLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Teri maa ko mausi bolu."
—Anokhi, Aaja Nachle

"Kismat to kholni ki baat hai, khul jaati hai, har dil ki chaabi hai, dhoondo to mil jaati hai."
—Mrs. Chojar, Aaja Nachle


  1. Good one :) And the end sequence with comments was hilarious.
    Feel the same about this movie, even if it was not a box-office or cult hit.

    1. Konkona's scenes are funny :D I love this movie :)

  2. now i will watch this movie.. only because you wrote about it.. have to watch.

    1. Haha, thanks, but don't blame me if you don't like it :D

  3. So glad You published it. It's lovely. How You interpret about the minute details, amazes me every single time. We need more people like You so that the movies' message doesnt die. You are Awesome!

    [P.S: I'll be waiting for the DCH BOOK! All the Best with the final touch :)]

  4. Thank you; don't know when or if the book will ever get published :(

  5. i just knew this movie recently coz i was looking for Madhuri's dance, i love the way she dance. i love this movie, esp. the laila-majnu theatrical...and i love the way you describe it, the details and the meaning of the scene. thank you so much for your written.


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