Filmmaker, playwright and author Sachin Kundalkar has a new movie out this week. Gulabjaam, starring Sonali Kulkarni and Siddharth Chandekar, is about a chef from London who returns to Pune to learn about traditional Marathi cuisine. Kundalkar’s debut film, Restaurant, also starred Kulkarni as a chef, and food featured in his 2016 movie Vazandar, about two friends trying to lose weight.
Kundalkar’s most lip-smacking movie doesn’t even have a food setting. Aiyyaa is his only Hindi feature till date, and it remains his most accomplished work. The 2012 production expands on one of the three stories that featured in Kundalkar’s 2009 Marathi feature Gandha. Aiyyaa follows Meenakshi (Rani Mukerji), a librarian at an art college who gets turned on a student whose eyes are as bleary as his scent is intoxicating.
Meenakshi’s head is stuffed with songs and images borrowed from the Hindi movies she adores. She is the kind of screen heroine who wants her life to resemble a movie – a meta-character like Mili from Rangeela, but far ahead in her Technicolour fantasies. The abundance of eccentrics at her home, including a blind grandmother with golden teeth, pushes Meenakshi to plot her escape. When Suriya (Prithviraj Sukumaran), a hunkier and less angst-bitten version of the suffering artist stock character, walks in, his smell fills the room. Meenakshi is besotted, and spends the rest of the movie trying to escape matches arranged by her parents and the horrible possibility that Suriya has not registered her presence.
Amit Trivedi’s catchy tunes are judiciously scattered across the self-consciously exaggerated comedy. Meenakshi mimes to her favourite ’80s tunes over the opening credits; Sava Dollar is a hip version of the lavani dance form; Mahek Bhi is a conventional love song in which Meenakshi luxuriates in her love for Suriya.
It’s no coincidence that Suriya is a Tamilian. Kundalkar cleverly uses Suriya’s cultural heritage to cue Aiyyaa’s most outrageously filmed song. Meenakshi is so desperately trying to inveigle herself with Suriya that she picks up some Tamil, and she enthusiastically takes up a suggestion that she should watch the show Midnight Masala to become Tamil in body and spirit.
Meenakshi’s eyes pop out of her sockets in delight as she watches choreography that simulates sexual moves. The fantasy song Dreamum Wakeupum that follows is an imaginative ode to ’80s songs that featured actors furiously gyrating against outsized props. The heaving breasts and thrusting hips in these songs from films in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu inspire lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya to come up with suitably outrageous lyrics, all ending with an “um” in keeping with Suriya’s linguistic background.
Bhattacharya is in full flow as Meenakshi and Suriya brilliantly mimic ’80s choreography in colour-coordinated costumes: “Face to faceum dharti putram; top to baseum kama sutram; thighsum thunderum downum underum; sizeum matterum thinkum wonderum.” Every breast thrust, hip wobble and facial expression is perfectly timed with Trivedi’s pulsating beats.
Many filmmakers have tried to send up the lurid and ridiculous aesthetic of the ’80s. Ooh La La Ooh La La from The Dirty Picture (2011) comes close, but it lacks the sheer wit of Dreamum Wakeupum. As Meenakshi and Suriya “jumpingum, pumpingum, throbbingum and thumpingum” with unabashed glee, Aiyyaa achieves peak meta-ness.