In the first year of law school, in the process of getting high on each other, my friends and I had a particularly inane conversation. Out of that conversation was born an even more inane idea. We would, at the appropriate moment, stage a snake dance. We'd be a snake family, hiss in synchronized serpitude, arch our hands above our heads threateningly, perhaps do a few lolls on the ground. It was gloriously silly and of course we wouldn't EVER commit to it, but just the thought of doing it would make us convulse with hysterical laughter.
Aiyyaa is the result of someone committing to such an idea. It is a deranged film, high on its ideas, unashamed and unembarrassedly ploughing ahead with the loopy situations it engineers. It is crass and loud and pretty darn silly. Its also the best, most hilarious time I've had at the movies in quite a while.
Now this wouldn't necessarily be a memorable film if it stuck to that template. It'd dispense with its duties as a no-holds-barred entertainer, and that'd be all. But what Aiyyaa does is actually contain two completely different genres, two completely different kinds of movies, that may as well have been directed by two completely different people who hadn't seen each others scripts while making the movie. There is the unsubtle laugh riot I've mentioned. But there is also this other achingly melancholic, overbearingly sensual piece of film-making that jumps out at strategic points in the madness. That other movie is about a girl who is in love with a smell, and the fact that it belongs to a rather attractive man makes things that much more difficult. When her olfactory senses are triggered, she is unable to do anything but follow the source, chasing the man in a dazed state through increasingly narrow alleys. Even as her yearning escalates in intensity, he remains seemingly oblivious to her presence.
This other movie is not just an occasionally powerful piece of film-making, its also an incredibly refreshing one. This is one of the few Bollywood movies I've seen where the female gaze so unashamedly objectifies the male body, where sexuality is celebrated as such a powerful, positive force. A scene where Rani Mukherjee and Prithviraj stand on opposite sides of a curtain, his body as close as possible to her without her actually registering her presence - the screen absolutely throbs with erotic charge. There is similar sensuality in the sequences where she follows him down a street which explodes with colour as a religious procession marches past.
Aiyyaa then, is not a conventionally good movie. It doesn't play by the established rules of narrative, it can be too loud at parts and slow down too much at others. This juxtaposition of genres doesn't always work. But, if the purpose of art can be to move you, if it is to make you feel, vital, alive, if cinema can also be about the thrill of the unexpected - then Aiyyaa is a roaring success. It will be compared, and be held as inferior, in scrutiny to last week's English Vinglish. Both are "comeback" vehicles, both feature defining performances by heroines who can hold an entire movie. And yes, while English Vinglish is the technically better movie, while it gets the script and performances right and goes for the heartwarming finish, its also less vital in some ways. The boundaries of cinema are pushed by the ambitious failures rather than the conventional genre products.
Go watch this movie. And even if you hate it - and there is a reasonable chance you might - you will have experienced something far, far removed from what the conventions of Bollywood have given you to expect.