Jane Austen’s literary classic Emma was inevitably going to be the given the Bollywood treatment one day considering that the boy meets girl scenario is not uncommon to the narrative discourse of popular Hindi cinema. Predominately a vehicle for newcomer Sonam Kapoor who stars in the lead role as the bratty upper class Delhite, Aisha is a harmless and non offensive chick flick. With so many love stories regularly chewing up the multiplexes, Aisha just about manages to rise above the pedestrian with the help of talented artists including actor Abhay Deol, editor Sreekar Prasad (one of Hindi cinema’s finest editors) and the up and coming music composer Amit Trivedi. Produced by Anil Kapoor and his daughter Rhea Kapoor (nepotism rules) they have clearly been wise not to prolong the melodramatic entanglements and adolescent musings to a hysterically inflated running time. Knowing when to reach the ending in a Hindi family melodrama seems like a challenge in itself these days with many mainstream films opting for an infuriating and unreasonable number of false endings.
Ideologically I’m not sure if Aisha says anything particularly profound or of any notable significance other than the class divide that has existed for centuries in most societies. Marriage, relationships, family and love all show up in equal measure, demonstrating that films like Aisha which may deliberately allude to art house inclinations are ultimately subjected to the cinematic necessities of convention. Though this has been built up as a contemporary updating of Emma it is clear to see we have been here before with the hugely unmemorable Hollywood film Clueless. Of course it is obvious to the discerning cinema goer that it is from Clueless and not Emma that Aisha takes most of its inspiration and youthful energy. Abhay Deol as the soulful and caring Arjun remains largely in the background but in many of the scenes with Sonam Kapoor the two lack that certain chemistry which can help to maintain the convictions of the weary spectator who has seen one too many dim witted love stories. Aisha may actually be one of the first romantic roles Abhay Deol has completed since his meteoric rise as the alternative face of Hindi cinema. As for Sonam Kapoor, well, she lacks screen presence (the girl next door image isn’t really working for her either) and in many of her scenes her inexperience reveal a superficial engagement with the dynamics of the role she has been selected to articulate.
A lot of popular Hindi films jump schizophrenically from one location to the other offering an infantile series of holiday snaps and though Aisha does something similar it refuses in many ways to surrender inexplicably to NRI sentiments by maintaining a consistent connection with the wealthy prism of Delhi’s elite. Aisha like Raavan and other major releases of the year have disappointed in terms of both invention and conviction. Technically, many of these films including Aisha have been spot on and perhaps this is the reason why they have not been dismissed outright by the critics. Compared to the embarrassing debacle of Bride and Prejudice, another Austen updating, Aisha might be considered somewhat of a competent achievement. However, like most Hindi films of late it is both instantly disposable and unmemorable. Overall, Aisha is a well crafted film which of course is absolutely vital if Hindi cinema is to compete with the technical sophistication of Hollywood but the absence of ideology is an aspect of the film that slightly perturbs me. I’m not really sure how Aisha will fare at the box office given the film’s marketing approach has wavered towards the middle class multiplex audience. Nevertheless, it deserves to be a commercial success given the fact that this is one of the few recent mainstream Hindi films to have been directed by a woman.