Aisha: St. Mean Girl

08 Aug
<i>Aisha</i>: St. Mean Girl

“Are you trying to say I’m manipulative?” an easily outraged Aisha asks early on in the movie. And the answer would have to be No, because manipulation requires you to think at least a little about other people.

An adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma directed by Rajshree Ojha, Aisha has a problem – it is a movie populated by a bunch of interesting actors who effortlessly outshine the titular lead.

First, a note about Emma: it is not my favorite Austen novel. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I have conflicted feelings about it. It’s right up there with the best of Austen’s work and Knightley is second only to Darcy in terms of my favorite Austen heroes, but it is also the story of a deeply unlikable central character. Emma is an officious little twit and seldom have I wanted to smack somebody upside the head  as much as her.

Everybody mentions Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless when talking of the cinematic adaptations of this novel, but I personally think the version starring Gwyneth Paltrow was a lot more true to the spirit of the tale because The Goopster is pretty much the embodiment of the kind of charmingly beautiful horror I always imagined Emma to be. Silverstone is too warm to be entirely the Emma of the novel, just as Romola Garai is too sensitive in the BBC adaptation that came out last year. Oddly enough, Aisha could have done with some of that warmth and charm but Sonam Kapoor comes up low on supplies of both.

The only thing that made me think vaguely charitable thoughts about Emma, is when I saw her as a victim of her circumstances – she’s obviously smart, capable and well-off; if only her society permitted her to do something other than be a lady, she might have been more bearable.

Aisha (Sonam Kapoor) does live in a time and place where she can be something in addition to a lady – she simply chooses not to be anything else. She gardens, she bakes, she shops, she goes to events, she wears clothes, she throws lunches and dinner parties for her family and friends, and when she feels like doing something more, she dabbles in art.

Which is fine. What is not fine, is the way she sulks around this great life. She’s the world’s tallest toddler, throwing weddings for her dolls in this giant doll house called Delhi that God and Daddy have created for her entertainment, turning petulant and aghast when people refuse to fall in line with her plans for them.

Yeah. Fucking Emma. She reminds me a little too much of the person I try very hard not to be. :mrgreen:

Apart from the heroine, the true charm of the novel lies in the people around her and their reactions to her well-intentioned if ultimately disastrous meddling in their lives. I do not mean to go on comparing the two, so I will nip that habit in the bud right here but I will say that if you were hoping to see Aisha skewer upper class Delhi the way Austen always managed to needle her society, you will be disappointed. But as nothing about this movie suggests it intended to travel down that route, I barely missed it.

Aisha is instead a movie about one of the most inept mean girls who ever mean-girled and the people who love her in spite of it. Her attempts to ostracize Arti (Lisa Haydon), for example, a perceived rival who is everything Aisha could ever hope to be plus more, are embarrassingly childish. And not in an endearing way.

But the only person who bothers to consistently call Aisha out on her bullshit behavior is Arjun (Abhay Deol), her sister’s brother-in-law. He teases her, fights with her, takes care of her, rebukes her, and is the only person who treats her with honesty from the get-go rather than waiting to be pushed into it when her behavior gets beyond bearable.

If you haven’t already got Abhay Fever, this is a movie that might just infect you. There’s a lovely scene at a party during the course of which Aisha finds herself in the disconcerting position of a wallflower right in the middle of her natural milieu as Arjun’s attention turns to other women. The song is the amazing Behke Behke, the dance moves are Latin, and Arjun is moving around the floor, partnering with different women. And the first thing that popped into my head was, “Oh my God, he dances like a gentleman.”

I don’t think I’ve ever had that reaction to any man dancing before. The restraint, the genuine politeness that makes him ensure that everybody is having a good time, the manliness of his partnering skills, the subtly different way he held Aisha… ladies, it was a moment of true Regency etiquette come to life. Of all the characters, writer Devika Bhagat and Abhay really nailed George Knightley in Arjun.

Ahem. Yes. So… there are other people. Like Randhir (Cyrus Sahukar), the eligible young bachelor -cum- lovesick pile on who Aisha’s trying to unload on Shefali (Amria Puri), the downmarket dowdy she decides to transform into a princess – or a pale clone of herself, as Arjun points out with unkind perception.

Shefali is, in fact, the star of the enterprise. She starts out as a fairly easy to mock caricature of a behenji from Haryana, but by the time the credits roll you suspect she was a far more successful queen bee at her Hindi medium school than Aisha ever was at her tony public school, and those are skills that chickie is going to use to much better effect too.

There is also Pinky (Ira Dubey), Aisha’s quirky BFF, who is far less apologetic about who she is yet conversely more worried about what it means to be her. Aisha, who is possibly the most deaf a person can get without actually being deaf, is by turns dismissive, insensitive, and judgmental to the marvelous Pinky’s on-going crisis of confidence – and then shocked when Pinky has the mother of all blow-outs.

Aisha isn’t likely to blow you away, unless you count Amit Trivedi’s outstanding soundtrack, and even Paltrow at the height of her Ice Princess powers made you root for her more than Kapoor, but it’s one of the better attempts at froth this year, especially if you’re an Austen fan.


Posted by on August 8, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video


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13 responses to “Aisha: St. Mean Girl

  1. sophy

    August 8, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Looks like you have Abhay fever. Methinks he’s too young to get temperature about but then I haven’t seen him dance.

  2. Gradwolf

    August 8, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    Bang on! And thanks for writing this. I’ve been spearheading a one man defense against an unjustified Internet attack on Aisha and Sonam Kapoor(the former for what it’s worth and latter for fanboy-ism). And after the similar attack on Raavan-an wrote one whole rant on it.

  3. eclat

    August 9, 2010 at 2:29 am

    Amrita (and all Austen clubbers), have you read Elizabeth Gaskell? You MUST!! Her North and South is like the Victorian version of P & P, only with a lot more drama- not so much of a satire, as a commentary. I came across her after watching a BBC adaptation of N & S, with some seriously hot eye candy in the form of Richard Armitage. Now in the process of watching Cranford, another adaptation of her novels- and also spreading the word about Ms. Gaskell!

  4. Shrabonti

    August 9, 2010 at 3:16 am

    I guess what I really admired about the film was how it stays true to the inspiration while adding and taking away stuff intelligently. Though a secret romance between Aarti and — Jai? — would have been nice. Might have been tough to pull off in liberal high-class Delhi society, though.

    Eclat: Always meant to read Elizabeth Gaskell but wondered if it would be too boring and Middlemarch-ish. Will look out now, though.

  5. dipali

    August 9, 2010 at 9:26 am

    I loved the froth and frivolity, though the pace dragged at times. I loved your review and the phrase ‘world’s tallest toddler:)’

  6. Banno

    August 10, 2010 at 1:00 am

    Everyone else and Abhay kept one engrossed in the film. I would have liked Sonam better if she wasn’t trapped under so many fashionable clothes. I felt she could hardly breathe.

  7. memsaab

    August 10, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    I love Elizabeth Gaskell, and Catherine Cookson too.

    I’m glad you liked this Amrita—I’m looking forward to making it my first Abhay Deol AND Sonam Kapoor fillum!

  8. Amrita

    August 11, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Sophy – he’s just at the sweet spot, age-wise 😀 Ahem! Here’s another song where he dances adorably like a 12 yr old performing for his parents.

    Adithya – Yeah, I dont get it when people go to a frothy romance and then come out and complain that it’s a frothy romance. If you feel that way, don’t watch it. Simple.

    Eclat – preach it! 😀 I LOVE that miniseries! And Richard Armitage was so hot, I actually did a picspam post about it. It’s somewhere on this site if you feel like drooling! I even watched Robin Hood although I had zero interest in it, so I could see a little of him.
    Is Cranford good? I must see!

    Shrabonti – it translated very well to Delhi, yes 🙂 And you really have to look up the BBC adaptation of North and South. OH. My. God. 😳

    Dipali – when they were doing Shefali’s makeover, I began to worry it was going to proceed in real time 😀

    Banno – if you took away the clothes as well, then there would have been nothing left 😀 Although for my money, Pinky was the one with actual style.

    Memsaab – I don’t get Catherine Cookson at all. 😦 The first one I read was unfortunately rapey and after that I never went back to her. I hear Sean Bean appeared in a few of her adaptations for TV though, so I might have to revisit. The things that man makes me do!
    Any recommendations?

    • memsaab

      August 11, 2010 at 10:46 pm

      She writes books with very bad men doing bad things, but they always get their comeuppance. Sometimes it takes a generation—but do give her a chance!

  9. eclat

    August 11, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    Ok haha it’s 9 in the AM and I want to rush out and re-watch N & S thanks to that Armitage post of yours, Amrita!
    And yes, Cranford is good- do watch! Next on my list is Wives & Daughters, and Little Dorrit. Don’t know where Ill find them- maybe off the interwebs, so that my husband can crib even more about my self-induced Victorian fug…:)

  10. Uday Shankar

    August 12, 2010 at 4:10 am

    Chanced upon your blog thanks to @dharmeshG’s retweet of @gradwolf’s tweet and boy am I glad! It’s totally different from the regular blogs that I follow (mostly with short, really witty posts like that of @chuck_gopal) and surprisingly enjoyable. Hope to come across more interesting posts from you.

    • Amrita

      August 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm

      @ Uday – Hi, welcome to the blog 🙂

      @ eclat – Wives and Daughters is available on these internets but it’s a hellishly big file for some reason. Netflix if you’re in America, I guess.
      And hey, RA is good at all hours of the day 😀

      @ memsaab – “very bad men doing bad things” sounds like the one I read. Ok, I guess I will then.

  11. CheeC

    January 10, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    “officious little twit..seldom have I wanted to smack somebody upside the head as much as her” — I watched the first half of Aisha yesterday with family, and when my tweenager commented “mom, this gal is so obnoxious, I wanna slap her,” I LOL’d recalling the line from your review. (And shortly thereafter, it was “mom you are so obnoxious” as I (anticipated the post-river-rafting “let’s do it right here under the stars” scene-that-preceded-the-pepperspray and) asked her to go read a book in the other room coz I was in no mood to answer decidedly “adult” questions from a not-yet adolescent.) 😀

    I just re-read your review (and of course BR’s, replete with wickedly observed details that I for one would’ve NEVER thought to cull. “Anuradha Singh (née Patel, as Aisha’s aunt) can’t seem to be able to sit down for a cup of tea without draping herself in pearls,” has got to be among the finest of sociological gems to spill forth from that hallowed head of his).

    Since I hadn’t read Emma nor watched Clueless, I brought a relatively baggage-free viewing experience. Despite that, this film had me fidgeting for the most part. (As for “Abhay Fever”, I thought his salsa dancing was more gentlemanly in Honeymoon Travels, from a clip I caught on youtube a while back; yet to see the film.) I admit there were moments I’d rank high for sheer relatability (e.g. the elevator scene that epitomizes the timeless allure of specifics: Shefali warbles on about wanting, for her wedding, a lehenga like Kareena’s in K3G…neither maroon nor red but “donon ke beech mein ek fataak sa rang,” reminding me of BR’s recent metaphor for writerly fidgeting over word choice: “Have you hung around a woman as she selects a blouse for a newly purchased sari, rifling through bolts of blue till she finds the right blue, the one and only blue that matches the border?”), but the ending was a let down. The ladder scene was OTT given Arjun and Aisha’s complete lack of chemistry till then (with the exception of the quickly-glossed-over Salsa moments). Arjun’s putting out protective feelers for Aisha thus far, seemed to awkwardly coalesce into his passionately pecking her on the eyes, making it seem more predatory than romantic.

    And oh, BR’s note on the non-nymphet who oozes womanly oomph reminded me of his “seriously sexy Zuleikha Robinson” (from Namesake). Definitely bring on the (barely seen in Bollywood) woman who can flaunt her sexiness in a manner that’s a far cry from frivolous! Glad this movie got that right.

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