Nagesh Kukunoor was probably the pioneer of the wave of crossover cinema in "Bollywood", with his rather tacky but delightful Hyderabad Blues almost a decade ago (not sure if the same can be said about its sequel). He sure has survived the test of time (unlike many of his kind who have not quite managed to) and is still very much around making his brand of films. Along the way, he has managed a couple of highly acclaimed films in Iqbal and Dor, Teen Deewarein did manage to make the cut for me as well, but not Bombay to Bangkok for sure. He has also given breakthrough roles to actors like Shreyas Talpade (Iqbal) and Gul Panag (Dor), and managed to break through the 'star' barrier and has churned out back to back films with two A-list stars, 8x10 Tasveer (quite a dud!) with Akshay Kumar and the much delayed Aashayein with John Abraham.
It is a bit strange that a John Abraham starrer directed by Nagesh has been waiting for a release for well over a year now. But when you see it, one can probably figure out why! It is supposed to be a film about hope and the acceptance of impending death, but does not quite take you through the experience. It is very unevenly paced bordering on being dull and rather boring at times. The whole "going away to a retreat home to face one's last days" story gets laborious to watch and inspite of a few endearing moments here and there, makes you feel like getting over with it sooner than later. The whole struggle of John's character (he has multiple names) to accept death gracefully fails to come across and you do not feel the pleasure of seeing him live his last days with a smile nor do you feel the pain of seeing life leaving him slowly but surely.
Admittedly, a few interesting characters do meet him along the way, like the angry rebel on a wheel chair, Padma enacted adorably by Anahita Nair, or God Almighty's messenger on earth, Govinda, another cute act by a little actor. But the wonderful Girish Karnad's throat cancer and estranged father track and Farida Jalal's...hold your breath...prostitute (?!?!?!?), having AIDS owing to a blood transfusion gone wrong, fail to have the desired impact or make the heartfelt connection. There is an Indiana Jones fantasy adventure (interesting but abstract) and a Wish Club (The Bucket List in a montage) tossed in as well.
The screenplay has its problems. The main protagonist, inspite of having won a 3 crore bounty does not do anything to find a cure for his lung cancer, has a two minute conversation with his doctor on the subject, walks out on his fiancee one fine morning, bribes his way into the retreat home, continues to smoke/drink while throwing up every other day and decides to leave the retreat home to end his life at a supposed better place up in the Himalayas. He does organize a party with a live band for his fellow companions at the retreat, fulfills a few last wishes and agrees to make love to a minor before he checks out. So even though it is an eventful last leg to a reckless life, the tranformations, in him after arriving at the retreat and in the people around him after his arrival, do not quite hit home. John does pitch in an earnest performance inspite of all his acting limitations and is seeming like an actor willing to step out of his comfort zone... But wait! he is starring in both the sequels to Dostana and Race next year, so lets not jump the gun.
Well Nagesh Kukunoor has (thankfully) curtailed his acting roles in his films for sure - he has a friendly appearance here, but somewhere along the way has also let go of that emotional connect which he had with his audience coupled with his choice of subject, which has always tried to be the truimph of the human spirit. His overtly subtle and snail paced treatment needs some re-thinking, if he is to get back to finding himself as a filmmaker with a difference and not get lost in the aura of being a once maverick director. His uncanny physical resemblance to another similar talent in Hollywood, the once great M Night Shyamalan is also creeping in to his movies, but as long as there will be semblances of hope (Aashayein), he can keep that spirit (Yeh Housla, his next release) up and running.