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Austen’s ‘Emma’ becomes Bollywood’s ‘Aisha’ - Movie Review

August 8, 2010


Aisha with Sonam Kapoor, Abhay Deol
Aisha (2010)

Starring Sonam Kapoor, Abhay Deol

Aisha is a Bollywood adaptation of English novelist Jane Austen's timeless classic Emma, done in the modern spirit of Clueless (1995), the Hollywood adaptation of the same, with a dash of Sex and the City. The romantic narrative template crafted by Austen—a pioneering writer of women-centric stories, which are still, to this day, too rare—is now, with Aisha, used in cinema the world over.

This version of Emma is set in modern-day Delhi's high society. But the depiction is too generic. It reveals nothing about the interesting idiosyncrasies of Delhi's elite, of which there are surely many. Without that fascinating color (which you find in the original Emma, about the upper-class of 19th-century England, and in Clueless, about the upper-class of 20th-century Beverly Hills), the rich are vapid. All we learn from Aisha about wealthy Delhiites is that they're fabulously well-dressed.

That's not to knock the fashion in the film. The radiant Sonam Kapoor in the title role gives Carrie Bradshaw a run for her money with an unrestrained display of gorgeous Western and Indian styles. But that's about all the film has to offer.

Kapoor is relatively new to the industry—Aisha is her fourth film—and her record isn't great so far—not because she isn't competent, but because she's been in weak films, including her debut Saawariya (2007), followed by Delhi-6 (2009) and I Hate Luv Storys (2010). In Aisha, she gives her best performance to date, easily occupying the role of privileged princess and indulged daddy's girl. As the real-life daughter of Bollywood star Anil Kapoor, she likely relates to the character. Her Aisha co-star Abhay Deol also belongs to a Bollywood family dynasty (he is the nephew of famed actor Dharmendra and the cousin of actors Sunny, Bobby, and Esha Deol) and also still cutting his teeth. But Deol has taken a different track than Kapoor, appearing mostly in off-beat, critically-praised films, and his career trajectory spiked in 2009 as the lead in the groundbreaking Dev.D. Aisha is his first outing in a mainstream commercial flick as a conventional romantic hero—and it doesn't suit him anymore than Aisha suits his character, Arjun.

Aisha and Arjun are supposed to dislike each other, as the story goes, until they realize that they actually love each other. But here, they are so entrenched in antipathy—for good reason: she's selfish and shallow, he's judgmental and self-important, and there's not a redeemable quality between them—that their changes of heart are inexplicable. There's no basis for their attraction other than jealousy of each other's respective love interests, Dhruv and Aarti (played by actors sexy enough to make anyone jealous). Aisha and Arjun deserve each other—as punishment, not reward.

Aisha is rated Skip.

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