Don't get your hopes up

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By Pratim D. Gupta Did you like/not like Aashayein? Tell
  • Published 28.08.10

Nagesh Kukunoor’s career graph has an uncanny similarity to another director with a south Indian connection — M. Night Shyamalan. Both made breakthrough debuts, both registered assured follow-ups and then came the fall. The Fall is also the name of the film (by Tarsem Singh) whose storyline has an uncanny similarity to Aashayein, but we will come to that later.

The reason we kept getting reminded of Shyamalan while watching Kukunoor’s latest is because in spirit Aashayein is like one of The Sixth Sense maker’s last films, Lady in the Water. How real people become characters of a story in the mind of a person and inspire him in that surreal space to do something good in real life.

But isn’t Aashayein the story of a man winning a jackpot and learning on the same day that he has 90 more days to live? Yes, it is but then all that happens within the first 15 minutes of the film. From thereon it’s about what Rahul (John Abraham) does in those 90 days. Does he become Ikiru’s Kanji Watanabe or Anand’s Anand or Dasvidaniya’s Amar Kaul?

A bit of them all actually, but the sense of despair and the stench of death never leave Rahul’s world. And that is why Aashayein never becomes the big uplifting experience that Kukunoor aims for. It’s got very noble intentions, the kind of nek khayalat the studio crowd at KBC claps to, but it never quite shrugs off the bleak blanket it wraps around itself early on. Talking of blanket, chances are Aashayein can even lull you to a quick nap given how tedious a watch it tends to become every now and then.

Also, incredibly, the Rs 3 crore that Rahul wins from betting doesn’t come to much use. Because all he does is leave his fiancee Nafisa (Sonal Sehgal) and get himself admitted into a home for the terminally ill. It is there that he meets a gang of always-say-die patients, all with their own set of problems.

Yes, the ones Rahul will play Patch Adams to. His partner in philanthropy, the Amelie of the film, is another cancer patient — the 17-year-old Padma (Anaitha Nair). Add to this the little Oracle boy Govinda (Ashwin Chitale), The Fall connection, who ‘incepts’ an Indiana Jonesesque story in Rahul’s dreams and makes him set up the Wish Fairy Club at the home.

The feisty, and sometimes freaky, Padma is the real Anand of the film, the pint-sized dynamo who makes fun of death and hides her fears behind her crazy antics. Chak De!’s Aliya Bose, Anaitha is terrific as Padma and it is her scenes with John that are the few crests of the trough-filled Aashayein.

John himself is very good. You can clearly see the kind of effort he has put into the performance. There is earnestness, sensitivity and a lot of passion at play. But the film fails him and despite that Rajesh Khanna frame from Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye dissolving into his face, Aashayein is unlikely to be John’s Anand.

Sonal Sehgal is much more restrained than her howlarious Radio act. Kukunoor’s usual suspects like Girish Karnad and Prateeksha Lonkar are also good.

DoP Sudeep Chatterjee shoots the film with a lot of care. The love-making scene (John-Sonal) in the dark is perfectly captured. But there’s only so much that fine performances and pretty frames can redeem in a depressing film. The songs from a whole host of music directors — Pritam, Salim-Sulaiman, etc — only accentuate the agony in the air.

PS: Every time a film takes ages to make it to the theatres, you ‘hope’ that it becomes an Apocalypse Now, but they mostly all turn out to be Aashayein.

also releasing this week

Antardwand: Sushil Rajpal directs the National Award-winning Antardwand, starring Gulaal man Raj Singh Chaudhary as Raghuveer, a victim of “groom kidnapping”. It is based on a real incident involving a friend of the director who was abducted by a village girl’s father and forced to marry her. The film also highlights other socially relevant topics like patriarchal powerplay and feudalism. The film also stars Vinay Pathak, Akhilendra Mishra, Swati Sen and Jaya Bhattacharya.

Madholal Keep Walking: This hard-hitting film, directed by Jai Tank, is about the impact of the Mumbai train blast on the common man. Madholal’s simple life with modest dreams and the usual challenges is shaken by the gruesome act of terror. The film explores how Madholal must fight his fears and return to life. Tollywood’s Subrat Dutta won Best Actor at the Cairo International Film Festival for his portrayal of Madholal.

Avatar: Re-released with nine extra minutes of footage, this Special Edition is exclusively in 3D, and includes new creatures of Pandora and unseen action scenes. The buzz is that James Cameron has also put in a love-making scene between Jake and Neytiri that got cut out in the original. Avatar has already made more money than any film ever.