Greetings from Singapore.
Apologies for the radio silence for the last three weeks. After Udaan, there seemed to be no new movie, Hindi or English that seemed worthy of my time or yours. But after nearly 3 weeks of self-imposed cinematic exile, I couldn't take it anymore and decided to spend $11 at the only theatre (incidentally also half-way across the city) playing Aisha and here's what I thought:
Time and again, I have often said, both on this blog and in person that for a film, being formulaic is not a fault by itself. Formulas exist for a reason: when used well with the right ingredients, they work. If you have a conventional romantic comedy to make, there is a basic plot outline you need to follow. To execute it, there are certain obligatory scenes that you need to put in to make the story reach its conclusion logically. There must be a pair of charming lead actors who not only work individually but also as a screen couple. Pepper the remainder of the film with good music (if in Hindi) and some genuine, fresh, light, breezy moments; infuse a little wit and humour in the rest et voila! You have a fairly safe formula film. When done well, this can result in a Notting Hill, When Harry Met Sally, Jab We Met and others. However, tampering with this formula unnecessarily can dilute the impact and sink the film faster than the Titanic. That is the problem with Aisha.
Aisha finds a great formula by drawing inspiration primarily from Jane Austen's Emma. Welcome to the lives of people in upper class Delhi, which is striking in its similarities with the 19th century English village. A small community of people where everyone knows each other and live a classy (read: borderline pretentious) lifestyle with their own a set of social rules. In this small cocoon, we meet Aisha (Sonam Kapoor) who considers herself to be an expert matchmaker. In her life are her father, her best friend Pinky (Ira Dubey), a potential love interest Dhruv (Arunoday Singh) and her new matchmaking "project" Shefali (Amrita Puri) who she believes will be a perfect match for Randhir (Cyrus) the archetypal Punjabi Delhiite. Also, in her life is Arjun (Abhay Deol), an investment banker and friend who thinks she should mind her own business and stop meddling around with others'. As Aisha tries to bring Shefali and Randhir together, things complicate, chaos ensues and disaster looms.
Aisha is formulaic and it embraces that fact quite whole-heartedly. It gets some parts of the formula right. It had the basic plot points in place. Sonam Kapoor and Abhay Deol are terrific actors with great chemistry and even better lines. There is good humour in places and a very good supporting cast that often delivers laughs even on the dullest lines. Cyrus as the typical Delhi boy with his Punjabi English and his lack of style is hilarious, particularly in the hotel scene. Amrita Puri is brilliant as the naive girl from Bahadurgarh who is suddenly thrown into the web of upper class Delhi and taught the rules of the game by Aisha. For Ira Dubey, acting is a genetic gift which runs in her family. She does best with sarcasm and also manages to deliver in the more emotional sequences.
However, there are too many things Aisha gets wrong. It digresses from the obligatory scenes to add unnecessarily plot points. The whole Dhruv-Shefali track looks fake, unnecessary and forced. It seems to have been added only to add to the (otherwise short) runtime. Aisha comes off as annoying, dumb and silly in these portions, a disaster for a film titled after that character. The story does come back on track. Unfortunately, by then it is a little too late. Also, certain plot points like the Randhir-Pinky track and the characters of Aarti (Lisa Haydon), Arjun's colleague from New York and potential love interest are just not developed at all. The writers could have spent the precious runtime there. The writing is also clunky and dull in important places and that spark, so essential for a romantic comedy, is clearly missing. However, the worst thing is that the writers waste time chasing supporting characters while giving precious little time to develop the romance between the leads. While both Sonam Kapoor and Abhay Deol make the most of the few real scenes between them and try hard to create magical romance, the writing lets them down. That is unforgivable.
Ultimately, Aisha could have been not only a good formulaic romance, but a great one much like movies I mentioned at the beginning of this review. It had some really good performances, a fantastic foot tapping score by Amit Trivedi and excellent production values. Unfortunately, the half-baked writing in key portions and the unnecessary plot digressions create a mess out of which the film gets out of, but barely just and takes too much of our time doing it. An average film and consequently, a disappointment.