The Aashayein Review
What's supposed to be a well acted, heartfelt story of a wounded soul finding himself and learning to heal is obliterated in one vile, manipulative swoop. This scene isn't deep or thought-provoking, it is in fact a sucker punch. John Abraham sprints through rain to deafening music and breaks up with his girlfriend, and in a matter of minutes 'Aashayein' goes from something that might have been memorable to a wholly unnecessary disappointment. There's a sense of construction to 'Aashayein' that undercuts its emotional impact, and emotional impact is pretty much all this film is shooting for. The result is an insignificant film that desperately wants to be significant. Still, thanks to a decent supporting cast and mostly solid direction by Kukunoor, it manages to be at least moderately interesting through its running time. If 'Aashayien' is remembered for anything at all, other than being yet another John Abraham vehicle, it will be for its over-the-top ending, which ranks high amongst the most shameless jerkers of tears ever unleashed upon lachrymose Indians.
So many terrible things happen to the people in 'Aashayein' that when the last awful scene comes - something so resounding and meaningful that it instantly, horribly cheapens the rest of the movie - you get almost numb to it. Here we have a protagonist with lung cancer and a foot in the bucket list, a teenage cancer patient in love with the protagonist, an out of work prostitute affected by AIDS, a speech impaired old timer. We have a dying hero fulfilling his fantasy of stepping into Indiana Jones' shoes, forced to mouth bland, excessively corny, schmaltzy and contrived dialogue. By act three, when Kukunoor himself shifts from a cameo to a supporting role, the sentimental twaddle bounces all over the place trying to find a center. It never does. And the finale turns exploitative, touting forgiveness while being infuriating.
Director Kukunoor plays it straight, and invites us to sniffle along if we want. There's something kind of admirable about this, I guess, in a going-down-with-the-ship sort of way. There's no real depth or texture to the characters of any sort, sentimental or otherwise. During the first half Mr.Abraham gives Keanu Reeves and Arjun Rampal serious competition - defining numerous shades of blank of which I had been thus far unaware. Part of the problem is John Abraham, an actor with the strengths and faults of Sylvester Stallone - he can be a charming antihero, as in No Smoking, or a block of wood, albeit one carved by God's hands. Though Ms. Sonal Sehgal and Anaitha Nair are lovely actresses, their inexperience shows in their scenes, which aren't written very well to begin with, while Mr. Abraham's stolid reserve decays into dull passivity. The terminally sappy romance shared between the leads delivers heartache, sacrifice, and of course a make-out scene that seems frustratingly out of place. The one person here who doesn't embarrass himself is Girish Karnad. But it's hard to see what he saw in this project, aside from a fairly easy paycheck. Farida Jalal is ghastly as the HIV-infected ex prostitute, bad not just in one or two ways, but in all kinds of ways.
'Aashayein' starts off promisingly, then falls to pieces by the second act, devolving into saccharine slush. A big disappointment from a filmmaker who's made path breaking cult classics like 'Hyderabad Blues', 'Teen Deewarein' and 'Iqbal'.
First published on india.com on August 26, 2010