Aashayein (“Hopes”) is the story of Rahul (John Abraham), an affable guy in his mid-thirties whose ship has finally come in. He wins big gambling on a cricket match, giving him the financial freedom to finally marry his girlfriend Nafisa (Sonal Sehgal) and buy a share in a luxury resort at the foot of the Himalayas. But when he collapses at a celebratory party, he learns that he may not have the time to realize his dreams.
Rahul is diagnosed with incurable lung cancer so advanced that he has only a matter of months to live. Nafisa wants to get married as planned, but Rahul doesn’t want to leave her a widow. He runs away to a hospice to spend his final days.
The hospice looks nothing like one imagines a real hospice. Instead of a clinic, Aashayein‘s hospice is a beach resort where meals are made to order. That the hospice purports to run entirely on donations strains credulity, but it gives Rahul an excuse to buy a room at the facility (sorry, poor people who were on the waiting list ahead of him).
There he meets a group of other terminally ill people: a businessman estranged from his family, a former prostitute, a sick boy with supposedly divine powers. It’s never stated definitively whether the boy, Govinda (Ashwin Chitale) is really magical (he says he just makes up stories, and they make people happy), or if the dreams he inspires in Rahul are merely manifestations of the dementia symptomatic of Rahul’s advancing illness.
The most compelling resident is the crass 17-year-old girl, Padma (Anaitha Nair). She’s rude and has a dark sense of humor, but she’s immediately smitten with Rahul.
Padma’s anti-social behavior stems from the fact that she’s acutely aware of all that she won’t experience in life. Unlike Rahul, she doesn’t have a supportive family or friends. It has the unfortunate effect of making Rahul seem like more of a jerk than the girl with the gallows sense of humor.
I think that writer-director Nagesh Kukunoor intended to portray Rahul as a screw-up who redeems himself. At the beginning, he’s seen smoking, drinking and gambling. But Rahul is a nice guy, at least at first: a good friend and a devoted boyfriend. Kukunoor seems to be saying that self-destructive vices outweigh human decency when it comes to judging character. I wasn’t convinced.
Rahul’s eventual decision to run away seems uncharacteristically mean. It would be one thing if he did it for his own sake, but he thinks he’s doing Nafisa a favor. She explains that Rahul only has to suffer for a few months, while she and his friends will suffer for the rest of their lives without him.
That said, Rahul’s running away is presented as one of the various ways people deal with devastating news: the businessman’s estrangement, Padma’s biting wit, the prostitute’s calm acceptance.
Rahul uses his money to enrich the lives of his fellow patients, both as a way of atoning for his past and as a way to feel like he matters. Whether or not he atones for hurting Nafisa, I’m not sure. As in real life, Rahul just doesn’t have enough time.