“Go wakda”, urges the tagline of the new Bollywood film Aiyyaa, and its stars, Rani Mukerji and Prithviraj Sukumaran, duly oblige.
Wakda is a Marathi word for something you can’t quite make sense of, and it perfectly describes this latest romcom from the producer Anurag Kashyap and the writer and director Sachin Kundalkar.
“When Sachin and I looked at the script, we wondered who could play this role perfectly,” says Kashyap. “We thought of Rani Mukerji and how someone like her would be perfect for this role. Then we thought, why not ask her if she wanted to be in Aiyyaa? So we did.”
“When Anurag came to me with this film, I said: ‘Look, Anurag, if this is another one of your typical “dark” films, I’m not interested’,” recalls Mukerji. “Once I heard the story, though, I was extremely happy. It was so – if I use the word I am going to use now, people will say ‘what a typical comment!’ – but it really is very hatke [different]. You can say it’s a little quirky and a little wacky, which you automatically get when you attach yourself to Anurag. And just like the trailer says: it’s wakda. It’s a very special film and you have to watch it to understand what I mean.”
In Aiyyaa, Mukerji plays Meenakshi Deshpande, an outspoken, melo-dramatic Maharashtrian girl who is a hopeless romantic and film buff. She’s beautiful, sexy, intelligent – and just a little bit crazy. One day, Surya (Sukumaran) enters her life. He is the tall, dark and handsome stranger Meenakshi has always been dreaming of. There’s a small catch, though: like a good desi girl, she’s engaged to the boy of her parents’ choice, the chubby and boring Madhav (Subodh Bhave).
Caught between what she wants but can’t have and what she has but doesn’t want, Meenakshi is at the centre of this romantic comedy of errors set against a backdrop of the clashing cultures of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Jointly produced by Kashyap and Viacom 18, it’s wholesome, light-hearted entertainment.
As well as Mukerji’s unusual get-up – which, at times, is reminiscent of Vidya Balan’s Silk Smitha in The Dirty Picture – another thing about Aiyyaa that has people taking notice is the bizarre Marathi-inspired soundtrack. Kudos to Amit Trivedi for the retro, south-Indian style Dreamum Wakeupum and equally cheeky Aga bai, which sees Mukerji belly dancing for the first time on screen.
The leading lady admits that the film has some of the cheesiest lines and corniest set-ups, but insists they all come together to make a hilarious product.
The cross-cultural romance is also one of the first in mainstream Bollywood to showcase southern India in a positive light, and is bound to break stereotypes. For a change, southern quirks are not a comic side-story but the main reason for a girl’s attraction to a boy – and a Maharashtrian girl falling for a Tamil boy at that, emphasises Mukerji.
The south Indian actor Sukumaran, who makes his Bollywood debut in Aiyyaa, explains that the film is “not a PR stunt for south Indians” but rather a humorous commentary on the culture of arranged marriages in India.
Commenting on her bizarre costumes and outrageous dance moves in Dreamum Wakeupum, Mukerji explains that the song is obviously a dream sequence – the real-life Meenakshi is much more down-to-earth. (Just when we were getting excited about a full-on sensory assault.)
Last year, Mukerji awed audiences with her portrayal of a strong-willed journalist in the female-centric No One Killed Jessica, which was based on the real-life story of a waitress who was publicly shot and killed in New Delhi.
Mukerji dismisses queries about Aiyyaa being the latest on a long list of what seems to be Bollywood’s current favourite genre: female-centric films (most recently seen were English Vinglish, starring Sridevi, and Heroine, starring Kareena Kapoor).
“I would categorise it as a romantic film, not as a female-centric film,” Mukerji says, insisting that films should be looked at for their entertainment value, not for the gender of the main character.
Kashyap – who is better known for critically acclaimed films such as Dev D and Gangs of Wasseypur – has two more lined up for release alongside Aiyyaa: Chittagong and Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana.
Kashyap says that though his films have never suffered losses (mostly because he likes to work backwards, starting with what he thinks a film might make, then using that figure as a ceiling for his budget), Gangs of Wasseypur was a game changer. He has a feeling, though, that Aiyyaa might perform differently, and has set the bar higher for Chittagong and Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana.
Aiyyaa is now showing in cinemas across the UAE