In the opening scene we hear an upbeat pop tune and see a lissome and superbly graceful figure dancing to the beats, all alone is a studio! It is the incomparable Madhuri, the girl who broke our hearts when she married a doctor and moved to the US. Somehow she was convinced by Yash Chopra to do a film – one scripted specifically for her by Jaideep Sahni. Diya (Madhuri) is a choreographer in New York and has to rush back to India with her daughter when she hears that her Guru is dying and wants to see her. We find out that Diya had to leave India, her dancing, and the Ajanta theater in a hurry 11 years ago when she chose to marry an American photographer against her parents wishes. Now Ajanta is about to be demolished and Diya is the lone woman fighting to keep the theater intact and prevent a mall from coming in its place. Diya is determined to fight the local MP – Raja Sahab (Akshaye Khanna), the goons of Chaudhary Om Singh, the prejudices of the entire town, to save Ajanta, but she has to play by the rules. The NRI cannot throw money at the problem but must gather up indigenous talent and have a successful show in two months, to demonstrate that people really care about the theater and have a use for it!
When Diya fled she left behind a best friend Najma (Divya Dutta) who is now married to the mal developer Farookh (Irrfan Khan), Mohan (Ranvir Shorey), the man she jilted on the even of the wedding, his best friend who is now a cop (Yashpal Sharma), and “doctor” (Raghuvir Yadav), a friend of her Guru and a fellow artist. She renters the small hamlet of Shyamali and tries to pick up the threads of a life abandoned 11 years ago only to be rudely awakened to the fact that her friend cannot care for her as she is shackled in a marriage that does not allow her to, and there is deep resentment over the abandonment of Mohan. Undaunted, Diya first finds a home in her old residence now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Chojar (Vinay Pathak and Sushmita Mukherjee) and then sets out, with the help of “Doctor”, to recruit actors from Shyamali for the staging of a musical “Laila Majnu”.
The town of Shyamali is pretty obviously a set, but the makers assemble enough authentic characters to make it somewhat real. There is a carnival atmosphere throughout as Diya and “Doctor” race through town on a rickshaw to the upbeat tune of “Show me your Jalwa” trying to recruit actors! The minor characters are well etched, their stories are interesting and maximum use is made of the considerable talents of Irrfan, Divya Dutta, Konkona Sen Sharma, Ranvir Shorey, and Vinay Pathak. Ranvir is a standout as the jilted man who tears and crushes a poster with Diya’s photo and is later seen lovingly ironing it out! Vinay Pathak has some great moments as the man who wants to show his wife he can break out of the “you are the most boring man” mould. Irrfan is understated excellence as the Nouveau riche man who does not fit into the golf playing world of Raja Saab, can buy his way out with money, and is not averse to using his wife as a means to an end. Konkona hams it up delightfully as the woman who loves a hunk but has no wiles to win him, and then is beautiful as the graceful siren Laila.
Tying this diverse assemblage together is Madhuri – with that same 1000 watt smile, and yes a few age lines, but not a move out of place, and all that acting talent intact! If you have not seen Aaja Nachley then do it JUST FOR THE DANCING DIVA! She lures the town to Ajanta in a blue ghaghra choli as she dances to Aaja Nachley Nachley Mere Yaar Tu Nachley! And then scouts the town for talent and finally is the sutradhar in a spectacular retelling of the Laila Majnu tale – a long but soulful drama that is stunningly put together. Yes, there is some schmaltz, but the tale is also real with characters that come alive on screen, and in the end the NRI goes back to her life on distant shores after having touched numerous lives in Shyamali! If there is a weak link in Aaja Nachley it is Akshaye Khanna – the man has no charm or charisma, but fortunately there is no overt romantic track and the movie happily chugs along even with this deficiency. The music by Saleem Suleiman is fun and upbeat and the film is a treat for all Madhuri fans. Can someone please tell her we are waiting for more?
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