In Marathi “Aiyyaa” is used to express regret or surprise. Meenakshi (Rani Mukherjee), the leading lady of Maharashtrian director Sachin Kundalkar’s first Hindi feature, is well aware of her mistakes and says it bashfully and even sensuously. She is a typist who develops lust at first sight for Surya (Malayali actor Prithviraj Sukumaran), a painter, because he smells great. (While writing the script, Kundalkar had Tamil star Surya in mind.)
The premise is drawn from the first of the three stories that make up Kundalkar’s third Marathi feature, Gondh (Smell), in which a young woman is attracted to a man because of the scent he carries with him. It was a simple, subtle piece of filmmaking that won Kundalkar the National Award for best screenplay. Those who have seen Gondh and Kundalkar’s other features, Restaurant and Nirop, will be surprised to see the over-the-top, fun promos of Aiyyaa. “I am getting a lot of ‘too much commercial’ feedback from my friends,” said Kundalkar. “They are wondering, ‘What has he become?’” His doubters can rest assured that Kundalkar intends to return to the thought-provoking and realistic fare he is associated with. Simultaneously, he wants “to show that Aiyyaa is a meaningful film”, albeit with a “raunchy song”.
For the Hindi version, Kundalkar surrounded Meenakshi with zany family members who want to get her married. The film delves into her fantasy world in which she is a South Indian siren. But Aiyyaa’s essence remains the same: the man is the object of desire.
Kundalkar referred to his hero as the male Brigitte Bardot. “He is not killing anybody, saving people or flexing his muscles; he is just standing,” said Kundalkar. Aiyyaa, he said, “sensuously portrays a man’s body”. Meanwhile, the heroine is a rebel with a cause; she deviates from the conventional ways of choosing a partner. “There is an Indian cliché that men always look at women from a physical and sensuous point of view,” he said, “while women will go for commitment, security, family and values. My girl won’t do that.”
Set in Pune, where Kundalkar was born and grew up, Aiyyaa uses real locations such as vegetable markets and a post office. Through the film, Kundalkar wanted to bring out the Maharashtrian sensibility, which he felt has been missing in Hindi films. “I think we [Maharashtrians] want to dream big but there are conservative elements which prohibit most of us from expressing in the fashion that Aiyyaa does,” said Kundalkar. “The first thing that a Maharashtrian thinks of is security in job, in marriage. My character just runs away from any [kind of] security.”
Aiyyaa also marks many other firsts for Kundalkar. It’s his first attempt at comedy, his first foray into Bollywood and his first time working with A-list Bollywood and Mollywood stars. “When I walked on to the sets, I asked my executive producer, ‘Why are there so many production vehicles on the set?’,” said Kundalkar. It also marked the first time security guards were needed on his sets to contain the crowds.
Kundalkar grew up on Yash Chopra films and enjoyed cinema of the late 1980s and ’90s – his favourites include Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Chaalbaaz and Tezaab. Kundalkar was 14 when his distant relative, Ashutosh Gowariker, made his directorial debut with Pehla Nasha. “I never knew what being a film director meant until then,” he said, “and after that I too wanted to become one.” By 17 he was assisting Maharashtrian filmmakers Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhthankar and in 2000 he joined Film and Television Institute of India to pursue direction. But he quit in
the first year. “There were too many strikes,” said Kundalkar. He moved to Mumbai a year later and started writing shorts such as The Bath (a poignant take on male prostitution, starring Rajit Kapur), plays (Dreams of Taleem, in which characters struggle to deal with their homosexuality) and ideas that would later become features (Restaurant).
In the Marathi film scene, Kundalkar feels he is seen as an “over-intellectual”, whose films’ dark subjects see them categorised as “rona-dhona”. In the three years he spent on Aiyyaa, Kundalkar said he was in a perky state. “I was in no mood of introspection.”
By Suhani Singh on October 12 2012 7.42am