Mayank Shekhar | Last Modified - Sep 21, 2012, 12:57 PM IST
At a film awards show, which given this movie’s budgets could’ve looked as grand as the actual ones, yesteryear heartthrob Helen is handed the lifetime achievement award. Helen plays one Shagufta Rizwi. In her acceptance speech, Shagufta thanks all those who stood by her during her career. But more importantly she chooses to thank especially those who chose to abandon her when the chips were down. Because those are the people, she correctly suggests, who really end up teaching you life's most important lessons.
Shagufta is old now, downsized to play non-lead roles. They’re called “character actors” in the Indian film industry, who make as little money as they earn respect. Shagufta is clearly the conscience of this film. At another moment, she warns, fame takes away a lot more than it gives you. It dries up the soul. She is right.
Having been a journalist for over a decade in Bombay, covering entertainment in particular, I can say, there are few terrifying things you notice about certain people in show business – especially among the upstarts – that is as demented as their singular pursuit of fame. Some will go to any lengths, humiliate and embarrass themselves in private conversations and in public, just so that the world can know they exist. Seeking fame then becomes an end in itself. It’s a worrying trait. This film, I suppose, is meant to study this phenomenon. It does, though only in a way that you’ve known Bhandarkar’s one-dimensional movies to.
Shagufta appears for a barely a few seconds. Sex is central to this pseudo tragedy. It’s a terrible scenario where a profession is merely a means for powerful men to get laid. God knows, it may well be true. At any rate, it’s a commercially profitable proposition for the film to be looking at the world this way.
The heroine’s mother beds a cabinet minister, who recommends a Padma Sri for her daughter. Her male assistant sleeps with a male corporate head honcho, so the heroine can bag an endorsement deal. She herself snogs another female actor under the influence of drugs and alcohol. And if she upsets the hero of her film (read: doesn't sleep with him), everybody accepts the fact that she'll be reduced to a stamp-size pic in the movie’s poster. Heroes essentially hire female co-stars so they can lay their hands on them, both on and off-screen.
Kareena Kapoor (competent, and going with the flow) plays the Heroine. She’s been a heroine and actor for years now. In that sense, she could be playing herself. Consciously she takes you into the kind of showbiz that her cynical audiences think the worst of. Heartless, arrogant, sexist men can do what they wish to. There is no way in hell a woman can get away with the same things without burning herself, going through that hell. This has been the basic narrative of several of this director’s movies since the National Award winning Chandni Bar. This one becomes different only in the portions when the heroine genuinely gives it back.
Besides coming from a broken family, the tragedy queen in this film suffers from a bi-polar disorder. Mood-altering pills and psychologists don’t help. The perfect cure she eventually finds to her ailment is an aggressive publicist. She starts to play the showbiz game in the way it should be. She dates a cricketing star, which many Bollywood heroines do. It’s a natural move. In a country that hardly has national leaders anymore, few public figures bear recall and resonance across India as do top cricketers and movie stars. They can either feed off or at least live comfortably with each other’s short-lived fame. Mahie Arora, the lead character, does. You really enjoy these parts of the picture. You want to feel inspired by her phenomenal rise. Sadly they last all of 10 odd minutes in the movie.
A film called Heroine would evidently be a heroine’s journey. We know very little about her to begin with. She was never quite big enough for her downfall to matter. For most of the movie, we watch instead her trip from being a “zeroine” to a “zeroine” in a mad, sad jungle.
Mainstream Bollywood movies surveying the film industry is a genre of its own. Of all recent movies of the lot, ironically Ram Gopal Varma’s Naach remains the most subtle; Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance, the most realistic; and Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture, the most entertaining. This one is the most obvious.
One of the reasons Bhandarkar’s film instantly click with regular viewers is because they tell you the most deranged things about the rich (Corporate), or famous (Fashion), or both (Page Three). The thoughts behind those films, even if their budgets go up, are instantly gratifying. Most of the audiences aren’t rich or famous, with few opportunities to get there. They leave the theatre reassured that they’ve missed out on nothing. Even characters who are invited to posh parties at a star home in this film looks down upon her hosts, “Iss glemaar industry mein kaun fraud nahi hota.” It’s a murky world out there. Stereotypes must be reinforced.
The actual thrills in the movie then get reduced to celeb-spotting: Is that cricketer she’s dating, Yuvraj Singh? Is that happily married actor who’s writing his autobiography, Shah Rukh Khan? Did the heroine replay the Raveena Tandon episode when she poured a glass of red wine over a woman’s head? Is that actor who snipped his heroine’s role, Akshay Kumar, or Aamir Khan? Do Bollywood awards get negotiated even while the show is still on? The heroine says, “If my career goes down, I can always get together with an industrialist and buy an IPL team.” If I was Shilpa Shetty or Preity Zinta, I’d sue Bhandarkar, for sure!
Consumers of cheap gossip are satisfied. Anyway, they were never looking for an inside story on how actors and filmmakers in Bollywood are actually more sincere and brighter than their films might suggest. Do these silly, petty, unprofessional people before us actually also end up making movies that become national phenomena? I guess they do.
But then again, you can make any film, the dumb audience will buy it. It just needs to be publicised in the right way, the script here suggests. Given how this film itself has been packaged and sold, maybe the filmmakers are right.