The third Jane Austen novel to get the Bollywood treatment (after S&S as Kandukondain Kandukondain and P&P as Bride and Prejudice) is Emma, presented here as Aisha. Aisha is a modern Delhi girl, obsessed with fashion and makeup and with matching up her friends. Wait–haven’t we seen this already, with a blonde girl from Los Angeles? Why, yes, we have. But it’s still fun to see Jane Austen’s story successfully injected into a modern setting.
Like Emma, Aisha begins with a wedding, which Aisha tells us in voiceover she arranged, between her aunt and a ruggedly handsome colonel. (Perhaps he wandered in from S&S. We will never complain about ruggedly handsome colonels, however.) At the wedding, Aisha sees “loser” Randhir spill wine over Shefali, whose aunt brought her from the country to Delhi to find a husband, and she immediately decides it will be a match. Cue a makeover for Shefali, several misunderstandings, and a hilarious episode with pepper spray, and Aisha switches gears to match Shefali with Dhruv, her aunt’s hottie stepson, with whom she just wasn’t able to fall in love. Meanwhile, Aisha argues with Arjun, her annoying neighbor whose brother is married to Aisha’s sister and who likes to tell her to grow up and stop being so shallow; but she is extremely put out whenever Arjuns spends time with Aarti, recently returned to Delhi from New York (and the actress who plays her looks EXACTLY like Angelina Jolie, we mean EXACTLY, could be her twin minus the tattoos, so one can’t really blame her). There is a secret engagement–but probably not the one you’re thinking of–and a borrowed subplot that almost could have come over from P&P.
Like Emma Woodhouse, Aisha learns humility; the girl who, surrounded by friends and family, squeals, “I love my life!” at the beginning of the film learns that her fashionable, fun life is truly meaningless when she alienates those she loves with her interfering ways; but this is shown as a montage with a sad pop ballad played over it, which is a bit shallow itself.
Unlike the previous Bollywood treatments of Austen, there are no musical numbers in which the characters sing and dance, a la the great MGM Hollywood musicals. There is lots of music, but it’s more like background to the characters; more John Hughes than Jane Austen.
We particularly enjoyed Abhay Deol as Arjun, the Mr. Knightley character. He is natural and funny, and only Aisha never seems to figure out that he has very strong feelings for her. Sonam Kapoor is lovely and plays Aisha exactly right–she is shallow, frivolous, fun-loving, and yet sweet and lovable and way smarter than she has shown.
The product placement is egregious and unashamed: the product logos are put right up on the screen in the beginning of the movie with thanks to the companies! And then watch Aisha put on her L’OREAL eyeshadow out of the case with L’OREAL on it and watch the camera follow her every movement as she opens her L’OREAL mascara and daubs her lips with L’OREAL gloss! When Aisha goes through her long dark musical montage of the soul, it is probably significant that her lipstick becomes less glossy and her eyeshadow much lighter, and her false eyelashes seem to disappear completely. But it’s all part of the fashion-conscious scenester of Aisha in the beginning of the film, so it works, but we still found it hilarious, and something that wouldn’t fly in Hollywood without being mocked endlessly.
We also noticed a lot of similarities with Clueless that went beyond the setting. There are scenes that are practically lifted from that movie. Aisha calling Arjun to pick her up when she is stuck in a bad neighborhood with a flat tire; Aisha and Arjun fighting over the TV remote; the gang “sparking up a doobie” and dancing at a party; shopping, hair, makeup, shoes, voiceovers by the lead, it’s all there. It’s almost as if Aisha is an Indian remake of Clueless, rather than an adaptation of Emma, but we guess it’s all the same.
Aisha is sweet and funny, but like Anne Elliot we felt that “There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others.” We adore Clueless, and while we enjoyed Aisha (and laughed out loud during several scenes), and liked the clothes and the music and the pretty girls and handsome boys, overall we just don’t love Aisha in quite the same way. For Janeites, it’s worth seeing as an object of our mutual obsession, and it is fun and funny, but like the title character, a bit shallow. Don’t expect any Emma-like epiphanies.
P.S. There’s an intermission of about 10 minutes! Really! Haven’t seen one of those in YEARS.
P.P.S. We forgot! There was a KISS! On the LIPS! And two characters made out in a bar! There were gasps from the audience at the first one, but the second didn’t seem to faze anyone. We thought there was no smooching in Bollywood, but we guess no more.