Running time: 145 mins.
Rating : **
A dance studio in New York, where shapely instructor Dia (Madhuri Dixit) is coaching foreigners in dance, in Hema Malini-accented English, when she is interrupted by a phone call from India. The morose voice on the other end conveys bad news which forces Dia to make an instant decision to return to India after 11 long years, a single mother with pudgy daughter in tow.
Cut to flashback. Dia is a chirpy small-town girl who loves to dance and spends every waking hour perfecting her steps at ‘Ajanta’ the amphitheatre in her tiny town, Shamli. Her dance guru, Dadda (Darshan Jariwala, who could teach Shahrukh Khan a thing, or twenty, about hamming) encourages her to do so and dream big even as her parents try to confine her to home and hearth. Dia catches visiting foreign photographer from Nation Geographic, Steve’s lens and eye and before the click of a shutter they are madly in love and lust.
Eyes pop open and tongues start wagging at Steve and Dia’s open display of friendship-bordering-on-affection around the town. The horrified small town mentality reaches such a crescendo that the head of the town, Chaudhary, comes up to Dia’s parents and warns them to reign in their smutty daughter, or else…
That evening as Dia returns home hopping, skipping and humming her parents greet her with a hard slap and the news that her wedding has been arranged with local tea-stall owner Mohan (Ranvir Sheory, brilliant as usual, in a sip-your-tea-and-you-miss-it role) for the day after tomorrow, tomorrow being her big, and last, dance performance in her beloved ‘Ajanta.’
After her swansong Dadda encourages Dia to live her life, and elope, and Dia and Steve do just that and fly away to America, shaming Dia’s parents into leaving Shamli.
Cut to present-day Shamli. Doctor saab (Raghubir Yadav, valiantly trying to outdo Darshan Jariwala’s hamming prowess) informs Dia that she is too late and Daddaji has passed away, leaving behind a last request, on film, for her, his favorite student. The request is to resurrect the abandoned and now-in-ruins ‘Ajanta’ to its former glory. Dia vows to do just that till the ominous Doctor saab informs her that ‘Ajanta’ is going to be razed to build a shopping mall in it’s place. An enraged Dia approaches the local MP Rajasaab (Akshaye Khanna, looking dishier that the pizza he comes in with in his introductory scene) opposing the building of the shopping mall. He gives her a 2 month leeway to prove the fact that Ajanta should stand there, turning down her idea of bringing in her dance troupe from New York for a musical and challenging her to rope in the Shamli-locals to stage a musical instead.
A hostile Shamli, who treat Dia as a pariah for abandoning her parents and eloping with a foreigner all those years ago jeer when she invites the entire village for a dance performance par excellence and introduces herself and her dream to resurrect Ajanta. Boo’s, brickbats and lewd references to her rather colorful past greet her idea and she and Doctor saab are left standing alone as the crowds hastily depart.
Things begin to fall in place when Chaudhary’s goons, headed by Imran (Kunal Kapoor, really good) who have been sent to tear down what has been revived so far by Dia are sweet-talked by her into not only letting Ajanta be but also into starring in the lead and other important roles in the musical ‘Laila-Majnu’ that she plans to stage to prove that Shamli needs culture more than a shopping mall. A sly Chaudhary not only agrees to play a role in the musical but begins campaigning for Ajanta, to gain favor for the upcoming elections against Rajasaab. A medley of characters is soon cast in all the roles with Imran as Majnu, Anokhi (Konkona Sen Sharma, adorable) as Laila, Sanjeev Mehta ( Jugal Hansraj in a yawn and you miss him role) as Laila’s brother Tabrez and assorted others like Mr Chojar( Vinay Pathak, repetitive) playing the narrator and Chaudhary(Akhilendra Mishra ) playing Laila’s father.
The rehearsals progress with all the non-actors blossoming into actors and love blossoming between Imran and Anokhi. The rehearsals have paid off, the people of the town have thawed towards Dia, and the stage is set for the much awaited ‘Laila-Majnu’ till Chadhary, handsomely bribed by the shopping mall owner/builder Irfann Khan sends his goons to thrash Ajanta and stop the musical from being staged. What happens next? Will the musical be staged? Will Dia succeed in saving Ajanta?
In her eagerly awaited comeback film Madhuri Dixit doesn’t disappoint. Her charismatic screen- persona reminds you of the endearing and sensuous ‘Mads’ of yore. Though the America-returned slim, sleek and chic version of the now Mrs Nene looks much better than she did in her last stint as an actress where we were accustomed to seeing her with garish makeup, a stiffly sprayed Elvis-like bouffant of a hairstyle and enough padding to make a double-bed mattress. Her brilliant smile lights up the screen making you almost overlook how haggard certain camera angles make her seem; nothing that a few more shots of botox and some clever surgery can’t cure.
The rest of the cast lend adequate support with Kunal Kapoor and Konkona Sen Sharma standing out with their brilliant performances. A special mention to Akshaye Khanna and Ranvir Sheory who excel in their miniscule roles. Choreography by Vaibhavi Merchant is outstandingly refreshing with Madhuri’s lithe body language enhancing it further. Music by Salim-Suleiman is so-so.
A predictable storyline (Jaideep Sahni), stereotypical characters, sluggish direction by debutant Anil Mehta and tardy editing ( Ritesh Soni) weigh the story down. The most uninspired and insipid first shot or ‘entry’, as it is known in filmi parlance, introducing the awaited and loved star Madhuri Dixit sets the tone for the rest of the film. The only saving grace being the Laila-Majnu musical staged at the end which is brilliantly choreographed, has gorgeous sets and costumes and performed with passionate intensity by the pair of Kunal and Konkona and all others. ‘Come dance with me’ invites Madhuri from her film posters, but after this movie you only dance for joy that it’s finally over.
* I want my money back + a fully booked and paid 3 month trip to _________(please fill in a destination of choice)
** I don’t want my money back even though I didn’t like the movie, but director/producer may please pay for my popcorn/samosa/parking.
*** Time and money both well spent!
**** Loved it!
***** Whistle, clap, even smile at irritating neighbor-who-kept-talking-on-cell phone, queue up to buy tickets again and extol virtues of the movie.