Cast: John Abraham, Sonal Sehgal, Anaitha Nair, Farida Jalal, Girish Karnad
Director: Nagesh Kukunoor
There are many reasons why Aashayein is a difficult film to sit through, but chief among them is its misplaced sense of self-importance.
John Abraham lumbers through his scenes as chain-smoking gambler Rahul, who abandons his live-in girlfriend and takes off to a remote home for the terminally ill when he's diagnosed with lung cancer. There he smokes some more, befriends the assorted co-patients, and ultimately redeems himself when he sets out to fulfill their last wishes.
It's a formulaic, tried-and-tested plot that's inherently manipulative anyway, but director Nagesh Kukunoor weighs it down further with a tone of self-congratulatory smugness. An AIDS-afflicted ex-prostitute (played by our favourite screen-mummy Farida Jalal) is treated like a pariah by the other patients, until Rahul comes along and shows them the error of their ways. He reunites an older speech-impaired patient (played by Girish Karnad) with his estranged family; and softens a caustic teenage patient when he indulges her romantic fantasies.
Aashayein as you can see, is the kind of film that's yelling out to its audience: "Look at me! Look what a noble, heartfelt film I am!"
The only character in this movie written flexibly enough for an actor to inject any personality into it is Padma, the wheelchair-bound teenager (played by Anaitha Nair) who has a knack of saying all the wrong things at the wrong time. In a film bursting with stereotypes and cardboard caricatures, she's the only flesh-and-blood character that rings true.
There's an interesting track involving Rahul's obsession with the cult film Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it's sadly overwritten and ends up becoming so ridiculous that you wish they'd never tried.
Unlike Kukunoor's earlier gem Iqbal - also a formulaic film but one that pushed all the right buttons - Aashayein is contrived and goes for emotional overkill instead of subtle humour. The film's pre-climax scene in which Rahul finally agrees to Padma's last wish is calculated to get those tear-ducts going. But it's so awkwardly performed and written that it comes off as laughably stupid and defeats its very purpose.
John Abraham's shoulders may be broad, but he can't seem to lift this sinking mess of a movie. He struggles through the emotional scenes, never really helped by Kukunoor's shoddy writing and ham-fisted direction.
I'm going with one-and-a-half out of five for Aashayein. Intended as a heart-felt story, it is in fact a serious test of your patience.
Rating: 1.5 / 5