Heroine: A collage of clichés

When Madhur Bhandarkar started work on Fashion, he had an idea. An idea to take what was up until then, supposedly, only acknowledged in hushed conversations of the super elite and the back of Filmfare gossip pages and create an in-your-face, let’s get it out of the closet, almost-commentary of the Indian fashion industry. What the audience got was not unexpected, but since it came from someone on the “inside”, it felt good to watch. It’s the kind of kick an outsider gets when he’s shown the darker face of where he can never be. And that is why Fashion worked.

After watching Heroine, it looks like Bhandarkar had no idea, no vision, no story and that he probably decided to wing it. Most of the director’s efforts seem to have gone in ensuring the movie stays in the headlines for a good year before its release. Had he put in similar efforts to the story, he might have been able to do us all some justice. Instead, riding heavily on recycled clichés, what Bhandarkar has managed to give us with Heroine is an utter rot.

Heroine is the story of Mahi Arora (Kareena Kapoor), a Bollywood actress who goes about doing what every other Bollywood actress does, according to ToI. She first has an affair with a married superstar, Aryan Khanna (an exasperated Arjun Rampal) – cliché #1, when that doesn’t work out she hooks up with cricketer, Angad (he-CANNOT-act Randeep Hooda) – cliché #2, when her career starts to go south, she decides to do an alternate cinema directed by an eccentric Bengali director Tapan Da  (Ranvir Shorey, one of these days, the world will take notice of what this guy is truly capable of), which he promptly shelves when the “commercial movie people” decide to go against his “artistic visions – cliché #3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Between all of this there are a couple of friends who play Mahi’s personal devil and angel, a few parties where people air-kiss over crates of wine, Mahi’s competitors who are willing to use their friends’ sexual preference to get advertisement contracts, a no-nonsense cut-throat PR lady (Divya Dutt) who’s not averse to pulling any strings required to keep her client in the news, a sex tape, a shrink, a drinking problem, a snide remark by Mahi about how she can always decide to buy an IPL team with a businessman (hmm.. let’s guess who that is aimed at..) and on and on and on. And oh, all of this happens over copious amounts of cigarette smoke (if you really want to make this movie entertaining for yourself, try counting the number of cigarettes smoked in the movie..).

A word for Kareena Kapoor though – she looks pretty and manages to do a decent job of playing the damaged Mahi and actually succeeds in making the audience feel a little sad for her. This is saying a lot considering she had so little to go by.

The verdict – Heroine is a bad movie that is almost 2 and half hours long too long.

Barfi! – A Guilt-free Indulgence

Barfi!, written and directed by Anurag Basu, is mushy and soft when you first taste it, slightly chewy in the middle, but gives a memorable sweet aftertaste.

It is a simple yet well-conceived and well-enacted story of Murphy, or Barfi (as the incredible Ranbir Kapoor ‘calls’ himself), about the women he meets (the brave Priyanka Chopra and beautiful Ileana D’cruz), about how they change his life, and most importantly about how he changes theirs. Barfi is both hearing and speech impaired since birth, who, to the dismay of the audience, never once fishes for sympathy. Dismay; because the Hindi film industry has unfairly raised multiple generations of Indians using characters who leverage their disabilities to tug heart-strings with gay abandon. So Barfi provides an element of cognitive dissonance to the audience. A rather enjoyable dissonance if I may add.

In this age of large scale media bombardments, it is difficult to surprise viewers with a plot that they have not already guessed from the promos and over-enthusiastic reviews. Hence I will resist the temptation of re-exposing the story and inadvertently giving away more plot-lines. But remember this: some stories are less about what is unravelled and more about how it is unravelled. A discerning viewer may be able to predict the story before it is told but will enjoy its telling nonetheless.

Ranbir Kapoor, as Barfi, is fabulous. One may allege that he has borrowed quite a few pages from greats like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and his showman grandfather Raj Kapoor. But I feel that it takes great audacity for even undertaking such an endeavour and it is not unethical either. if Jean Dujardin can do it in ‘The Artist’, then why not Ranbir? Talking of audacity, a round of applause should go to Priyanka for even attempting to play Jhilmil. Yes, she sometimes blurs the line between autism and mental retardation but that can be forgiven in the larger scheme of things. Ileana D’cruz is a revelation. I know that she is not new to acting and that she has had quite a successful career down south. I also know that she is more known for starring rather than acting. So Ileana’s Shruti comes across as a very pleasant surprise.

I’ve always believed that a good movie is like a good subway sandwich. The sauces you choose are as important as the the bread or the filings, if not more. Barfi has a great supporting cast comprising old faithfuls like Akash Khurana, Ashish Vidyarthi, Rupa Ganguly and Saurabh Shukla. Although if I were to nitpick, I’d have preferred to see Ashish and Akash interchange roles in order to make the Jhilmil plot less predictable.

Director Anurag Basu can finally be forgiven for Kites. He writes and directs Barfi with equal love and care. Cinematography by Ravi Varman is so great that I wouldn’t be surprised if Darjeeling sees more honeymooning couples this wedding season. Pritam does a very good job with the music and the picturization only makes the songs more memorable.

If I were to be pushed against a wall to pick out problems, I’d say that it has to be the length of film in the second half. Specially Barfi and Jhilmil’s journey from Darjeeling to Kolkata. No doubt West Bengal has been picturized beautifully but it does come across as the director’s indulgence. Also, Pritam and gang playing in the background, a la ‘Life.. in a Metro‘, starts getting on the nerves after a while.

Movies like Barfi challenge conventional wisdom that you need unconventional actors to make an unconventional film. Go indulge, guilt-free.

Rating: 8/10 (one each for Ranbir, Priyanka, Ileana, Anurag, Pritam, Ravi and Darjeeling; with one more given by me for good measure)

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