BRAHMACHARI meets MR. INDIA meets HUM HAIN RAHI PYAR KE meets GHOST meets MEET JOE BLACK. That, in a nutshell, is Mahesh Manjrekar's latest endeavor VAAH! LIFE HO TOH AISI, produced by Sangeeta Ahir.
Manjrekar's repertoire includes serious films mainly. Intense films are his forte. But he steps into alien territory this time around. VAAH! LIFE HO TOH AISI is a fantasy. It transports you to a world of make-believe. Popularized the world over by comic books. But rarely attempted in Bollywood.
Though VAAH! LIFE HO TOH AISI borrows from several notable films, the one thing you realize at the conclusion of the screening is that it stands on its own feet. Besides, the marriage of content and special effects in most parts of the enterprise is an eye-opener. The C.G. visual effects are at par with international standards most of the timesï¿½ But more on that later!
However, the film is not without its share of blemishes. It has its lows, especially in the post-interval portions [the screenplay could've been tighter, more riveting]. But despite the hiccups, VAAH! LIFE HO TOH AISI at least tries to offer something novel to an entertainment seeking moviegoer.
Most importantly, it plays best to the child inside all of us and is most effective when fitted into the family film niche. Members of the under-10 crowd are guaranteed to fall under its spell, but there's enough meat in the narrative to enchant adults as well.
Aditya [Shahid Kapoor] lives with his grandmother [Suhasini Mulay], brother [Mohnish Bahl], sister-in-law [Ekta Bahl], sister and his brothers' children. Neha [Amrita Rao] is the children's tutor who lives in the same neighborhood. Both Aditya and Neha are in love and plan to get married.
Aditya gets his sister engaged to a person whose father demands Rs. 50 lacs as dowry. Aditya is left with no choice but mortgage his mansion since he is confident that a business deal will make him rich enough to repay the loan. But disaster strikes and Aditya meets with an accident. He dies in the operation theatre and finds himself in front of a well-dressed man who introduces himself as Yamraj [Sanjay Dutt].
Aditya pleads with Yamraj to let him return to earth to complete the pending jobs. But Yamraj sets two conditions: One, he can't be seen or heard by anyone; two, Aditya has to sort all pending matters in one week itself. A deadline is set!
Aditya and a kid, Shakti [also dead on the same day as Aditya], return to earth and minutes after setting foot on the soil realize that a person called Fakira BPCM [Arshad Warsi] can see and listen to them. Fakira helps Aditya get super powers from Lord Hanuman and how Aditya goes about completing the unfinished task forms the crux of the story.
VAAH! LIFE HO TOH AISI is a fairy tale with a heart. You cannot and should not watch this film with a magnifying glass or look for logic in every scene simply because fairy tales are meant to be viewed that way. The interesting part of VAAH! LIFE HO TOH AISI is that the encounter of Yamraj and the mortal has been treated with variation. In the film, Yamraj wears designer outfits, sports a trendy hair style, drives a vintage car with the windshield doubling up as a computer screen, loves to consume alcohol and dances in pubs. That's why VAAH! LIFE HO TOH AISI fits into the fantasy film bracket beautifully.
Actually, VAAH! LIFE HO TOH AISI starts off in a routine manner. The initial 20 minutes are as ordinary as ordinary can be. But there's a surprise in store, and a pleasant one at that. The moment Shahid meets with an accident and the screen is filled with clouds and a vintage car, you realize that the story has just begun.
Sanju's entry as also the entire conversation between Sanju, Shahid and Shakti in the clouds is one of the most interesting aspects of the enterprise. The depiction of hell in the course of the conversation, right till the car arriving at the gates of heaven, is a novel experience for an average Indian moviegoer. The immediate sequence, when Shahid and Shakti return to earth, is another well executed sequence. Ditto for the entire Arshad Warsi track, right till the Hanuman Chalisa devotional song, takes the film to an all-time high. The first hour is well spent, you feel strongly.
But it's the second hour that loosens up. No doubt, there are several interesting sequences, but the rapid flow of songs [one in Egypt and the other in the pub] seem forced in the narrative. Besides, from the screenplay point of view, the writer should've ensured that the post-interval portions are laced with as many punches as the first hour. The punches here are of ordinary variety. For instance, the long conversation between Sanju and Shahid soon after the intermission can easily be reduced. Even the Egypt song, although visually breath-taking, can be trimmed or deleted for a stronger impact.
The story gathers momentum yet again during the last 20 minutes, when Shahid settles the score with the gang of mischief makers [Prem Chopra, Sharat Saxena, Rajat Bedi, Sagar]. The entire 10-minute sequence is sure to send the kids in a frenzy; they'll simply love this part, especially the Sharat Saxena portion. Even the end [we wouldn't like to reveal it since that will take the charm away] is a well-thought culmination.
After attempting a series of serious films, director Mahesh Manjrekar proves his versatility in a fantasy film with VAAH! LIFE HO TOH AISI. It may not rank amongst Manjrekar's finest attempts, but the storyteller travels a path not many film-makers in Bollywood have dared to charter in the past.
The effects [Prime Focus] are topnotch; in fact this is one category that deserves distinction marks. The clouds, Sanju's intro at the hospital when Shahid is dying, the depiction of hell and the gates of heaven, even the general effects are top class. Cinematography [Vijay Arora] is sparkling. Dialogues are wonderful, especially the lines delivered by Sanju and of course, Arshad Warsi. Himesh Reshammiya's music is mediocre, save the Hanuman Chalisa devotional track and 'Teri Yaad Yaad'.
Production values are grand. Producer Sangeeta Ahir has spent lavishly and it shows in every frame of the film. She has left no stone unturned to give the film the look it deserves.
Manjrekar has always presented Sanju in roles that remain etched in public memory for a long time. VAAH! LIFE HO TOH AISI is no exception. Playing the lovable, kind-hearted Yamraj, the actor is in terrific form all through. Right from the introduction to the penultimate sequence, the actor gives the film that extra sheen that stays in your mind even after the show has concluded.
Shahid Kapoor is sincere, enacting his part with utmost conviction. Arshad Warsi is outstanding as the desi Whoopi Goldberg. The sad part is that you miss his presence in the second half. One only wishes there was more of this gifted actor. Amrita Rao does a decent job.
Prem Chopra is first-rate, especially in portions when he starts rattling 'India is my country' lines. Sharat Saxena leaves a mark in a small role. Suhasini Mulay is proficient. Sagar is efficient. Rajat Bedi is okay. Amongst kids, Adil [Shahid's companion in the film], Darshil [the youngest kid who loves to eat], Parth and Ishaan stand out. Well-known child artists Shweta [MAKDEE, IQBAL] and Tanvi [PITAAH] are relegated to the backseat.
On the whole, VAAH! LIFE HO TOH AISI is a fairy tale with a heart. A film that aims at entertaining, it serves its purpose competently, with the marriage of content and special effects as its trump card. At the box-office, releasing the film during the Christmas vacations is a step in the right direction. The kids -- its target audience -- should embrace it with open arms.