Practically every new-age film-maker wants to attempt a real story on celluloid. Stories which are straight out of life/newspapers/news channels. These stories, generally, strike a chord with the ticket buying audience if narrated convincingly and most importantly, narrated within commercial parameters.
Nagesh Kukunoor has been a frontrunner as far as choosing and narrating real stories are concerned. AASHAYEIN too seems like 'our' story. Here's a man who suddenly discovers that he has a few months to live. The indomitable spirit of living life to the fullest, under all circumstances, is what you expect from him. But AASHAYEIN gets so bizarre and abstract that you feel anesthetized after a point. Sadly, you don't react to the characters, you don't react to the film either.
Like Kukunoor's previous attempts, AASHAYEIN is sensitively told and has several poignant and heart wrenching moments, but the story strays from realism and ends up being a fantasy, which leaves a sour taste in your mouth. The entire RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK track, with John imagining himself in Harrison Ford's boots, is weird.
Final word? AASHAYEIN just doesn't meet the aashayein [hopes] of the viewer.
At a party to celebrate his big win at gambling, Rahul [John Abraham] proposes to his girlfriend Nafisa [Sonal Sehgal]. Within minutes of announcing his engagement, he collapses on the floor. After a medical diagnosis, Rahul discovers that he has only a few months left to live. He is diagnosed with lung cancer.
A distraught Rahul learns of a hospice and without sounding off his girlfriend about it, packs his bags and leaves in the middle of the night. He meets a number of people at the hospice, who may have failing health, but unfailing spirit.
For millions of viewers worldwide, Hrishikesh Mukherjee's classic ANAND [Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan] remains one of the best films on the matchless spirit of a person diagnosed with a terminal illness. The person in question [Rajesh Khanna] knows he doesn't have much time on hand and decides to spread light and cheer all around.
Though AASHAYEIN has nothing to do with ANAND [although there's a reference to the film], the least Kukunoor could've done was to narrate the story without getting into the fantasy zone. When you talk of matters as serious as death, when you show people spending their last days in a hospice, you can't deviate from the topic. Even the hospice here looks more like a small-town resort where people have come for a vacation. The seriousness is clearly missing!
On the brighter side, the sequences between John and Anaitha Nair are wonderful. Ditto between John and Farida Jalal. Salim-Sulaiman's music is in sync with the mood of the film. The song filmed on Shreyas Talpade is the pick of the lot. Sudeep Chatterjee's camera captures the outdoors well. But the writing is imprecise and like I pointed out at the outset, the culmination to this story is difficult to decipher.
Kukunoor is a master when it comes to extracting performances and AASHAYEIN also boasts of sparkling performances by each and every member of the cast. John puts a whitewash on his previous works and comes up with an honest and sincere performance. In fact, this film makes you forget that he's blessed with a striking personality. Instead, you notice the fine actor beneath the good looks and that's what makes you relate to this character for most parts.
Anaitha Nair is pure dynamite. Fiery, feisty, someone who can light fire in water. She's sure to make people notice her talent after this film. Sonal Sehgal is efficient. Girish Karnad, Farida Jalal and Prateeksha Lonkar are perfect. Ashwin Chitale [as Govinda] is natural to the core. Vikram Inamdar [as Xavier, John's friend] is alright. Sonali Sachdev [Doctor] is adequate. Shreyas Talpade appears in a song.
On the whole, AASHAYEIN falters and fails on the writing level. Not much aasha [hope] from AASHAYEIN. Nonetheless, the film has been made on a shoe-string budget and therefore, the recovery from non-theatrical avenues would keep its distributors safe, although the returns from theatrical business would be disastrous.