In Aiyyaa, Sachin Kundalkar uses screen space like he would a stage and this is quite fascinating. In fact, the movie has the feel of Marathi theatre, and there are many occasions when you get the sense that you are not watching a film, but looking through a set at Pune’s Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir while a post-modern comedy is in progress. The characters, most of them anyway, are cuckoo, including the heroine.
Meenakshi Deshpande is a middle-class Maharashtrian and what Kundalkar has done is interesting. He’s taken the traditional values, beliefs and even eccentricities of this community and wildly exaggerated them to the point that they turn surreal.
Meenakshi (Rani Mukherjee) lives in a world of romantic novels and films. She gets a job as a librarian at an art college and instantly falls in love with a tall, dark and handsome Tamil painter. He pays her no heed, so she learns his language from the college tea boy and also from a lurid collection of pulp fiction in Tamil.
Surya (Prithviraj) speaks perfect English and accented Hindi, but no matter, Meenakshi insists on wooing him in Tamil (‘Aiyyaa’ is a respectful way of addressing men in Tamil). She is especially enchanted by his body odour, as though Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream has sprinkled some love juice on her. This stalking of her man is delightful, and most unusual in a Hindi film. Mukherjee does it well and she is charming.
Well, upto a point. The cuckoo bug infects everyone and soon Meenakshi’s parents and brother go bonkers. Her grandmother and a co-worker called Gagabai (a take-off on Lady Gaga) have been nuts to begin with. Writer Kundalkar has no clue how to tie up the ends of the mad film he has made, and so we go home scratching our heads and declaring, like Theseus: “The lunatic, the lover and the poet/ Are of imagination all compact.”