Who do you think would be more interesting? On the one hand we have housewife with two kids, a distant husband, and a constant struggle with self esteem. On the other a girl infatuated with a silent, intoxicating stranger and who keeps fluctuating between a harsh reality and lascivious dreams.
Well let’s look at the latter first, you seem to say, so here goes. In Aiyya, Rani plays a dreamy “girl” who maintains sanity by lapsing into fantasy. She inhabits a world of squalor, and dreams of clean, quiet streets till a mysterious dark, red eyed, brooding man with an enchanting smell walks in her life. And then she is torn between her attraction to him and her impending marriage to a simple guy who likes Deepti Naval. There is a good idea here, and a sorta kinda twist at the end of this tale, but stretch this over two and a half hours, and you start wishing something bad happens to her, just to make something happen.
The best thing about this film is its complete reversal of gender roles without breaking the world we live in. The girl is not empowered, she is paraded before prospective in-laws, and no one asks her for consent. But within herself, the heroine experiences what can only be described as lust for the dark stranger who smells really nice.
Had the makers eliminated an unnecessary and unnecessarily loud grandmother, toned down the mom, removed the dogs and fired the Lady Gaga lookalike coworker, we would probably have a decent film. As it stands though, this movie is symbolized by the ever present, all encompassing garbage.
Run therefore, to the one symbolized by fresh, enticing laddoos, English Vinglish. The warm, sweet tale of a lady suffering a crisis of identity, because her family cruelly makes fun of her. She finds acceptance everywhere else, but keeps craving for the respect of the ones she has dedicated her life to.
It turns out she needed a break from them to find herself. Learning English is not even a path, but a mere side effect of her self discovery and self appreciation. From making an assortment of new friends, and even an admirer, she learns to love herself, and live for herself.
The best part is the language she uses to express herself. Sridevi shuns all words and uses her face to say all she needs to. To say Sridevi is good in this is like saying laddoos are somewhat sweet.
In Aiyya, Rani is at her best when she is in her ridiculous costumes in the item numbers, but adds to the shrill tone when she is annoyed or complaining. In the end, however, Aiyya’s failure is not hers. That blame lies solely with the director. Director Sachin Kundalkar earlier made Gandha in Marathi, and this is literally one third of the story of Gandha. And Gandha was a total of 96 minutes long. No one should be surprised that this film feels bloated in the extreme.
Gauri Shinde, on the other hand, crafts a story with believable characters and understandable situations. Even she finds it hard to resist stereotypes, but tried to control the tone of the film. It’s to her credit that the character of Sridevi, although designed to evoke sympathy, doesn’t fall into the “Bechari” category, and instead becomes endearing and relatable. English Vinglish not perfect by any means, but does enough, maybe a bit more than that.
Thus it is that a story of a simple housewife is more compelling than that of a young girl passionately enchanted. Don’t blame the subject, however. Blame the story.