September 21, 2012
Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Randeep Hooda, Sanjay Suri, Lillette Dubey, Ranvir Shorey, Helen, Shahana Goswami, Divya Dutta, Mughda Godse
I have one very basic problem with Heroine: I don’t know what it’s trying to say. Is this meant to be a representative story of what life is for an actress in the Hindi film industry or is this the very unique story of Mahi Arora? If it’s meant to be a representative story, why pick a woman with bipolar disorder as your protagonist since that angle must surely make her a unique case study? Is Mahi naturally manipulative or is she a reluctant Machiavelli driven to machinations by a cruel film world? Is Mahi a user or is she being used? Who or what is Mahi Arora? I don’t know.
Heroine revolves around Kareena Kapoor’s Mahi, a beautiful Bollywood actress struggling to cope with an almost-divorced boyfriend who refuses to openly acknowledge their relationship, a career that’s going downhill, new actresses encroaching on her territory, alcohol and drug dependency and severe psychiatric problems. In the past, Madhur Bhandarkar has given us some neat films: Chandni Bar was gritty and real; Page 3 tended to look at high society in black-and-white terms but it was still entertaining and in many ways, insightful too; and both Corporate and Fashion were paced well and fun to watch. The strength of those films lay in their no-frills storytelling style. Heroine’s failing is the completely disjointed characterisation of its fulcrum – the heroine of the film – and the effort to throw too many ingredients into one cooking pot, as a result of which Mahi Arora ends up feeling like a mish-mash of many women merged together instead of a single person, and no particular aspect of her life is fully fleshed out.
For instance, was Mahi genuinely innocent or just downright stupid? We all know that the casting couch is a reality in film industries just as sexual harassment – in varying degrees – is a reality at most workplaces. Women who fight battles against male predators in the professional arena are walking on eggshells because most men in power tend to collude with each other to protect each other in such situations, aided by the fact that the top echelons of professional spaces are usually dominated by men. In such a scenario, I can well imagine Mahi being victimised by a hero whose overtures she resisted, but how come she was so naïve as to not realise that his bruised ego would not permit him to take the rejection lying down? Her plan to duck his passes seemed credible but I’d assume that an intelligent woman with her level of experience in the industry would have executed the plan more subtly, not allowing him to know that she was aware of his intentions, thus giving him a face-saver. Instead, that look she exchanges with the hero in question in a scene in his hotel room is one of open triumph, like a challenge thrown to him. How could she be so foolish? Ohhhh, the questions go on and on.
Despite the inconsistent characterisation Kareena is splendid in the scenes where she’s playing the vulnerable, broken woman, desperate for love and for longevity in her career. She also looks gorgeous in every frame and it’s particularly nice to see how lovely she appears even with minimal makeup. But in scenes where she’s got to pull off Mahi’s public persona, Kareena seems slightly mannered which is odd since those scenes require her to do nothing more than what Kareena Kapoor would do in real life – exit limousines, wave to crowds, pose for photographers and so on. Arjun Rampal, Randeep Hooda and Sanjay Suri acquit themselves well as the men in Mahi’s life. Fortunately for them, their characters are better written than the hapless Mahi.
Even the usually guaranteed Bhandarkar ingredient – good music – is missing in Heroine. The film offers us nothing in the league of Kitne ajeeb rishtey hai yahaan pe from Page 3, Mar jaava from Fashion or Abhi kuchh dino se from Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji. What we get instead are a bunch of lukewarm though well-filmed songs.
Heroine is actually fun in places where the focus is completely on politics in the film industry. The little trick Mahi pulls on a rival heroine (Mughda Godse) is worth a chuckle. And even the press conference at which Mahi lectures abrasive journalists is more realistic than you might imagine. A few years back, I remember a reporter colleague telling me about Kareena Kapoor walking out of a press meet when a journalist told her that she changes her boyfriends more often than her clothes … I kid you not! Bhandarkar knows this scenario well. In fact, the sequence of events that leads to that one final, horrible act of betrayal by Mahi – a misunderstanding, a phone call she did not take when she should have, words that were left unspoken – is believable. But too much is exaggerated elsewhere for convenience or to summon up a cliché ... a scandal unleashed the day before a film’s release automatically makes that film a hit, an endearing bond developing between two actresses ends up as a lesbian interlude, etc etc. At one point Mahi’s psychiatrist tells her that she needs to stop seeking her joys in other people and that she must rely more on herself. Ah, I thought, this sounds interesting … will this be a film about how a woman can be self-sufficient instead of forever depending on men for her identity and peace of mind? But no, like most female professionals in Hindi films these days, Mahi proceeds to crumble under the weight of her desperate need for her man.
No doubt the film industry lends itself to insecurities and actors lead a difficult life. I wish, however, that Mahi Arora and her life were not a potpourri of every heroine we’ve ever heard of. Was Mahi a simple girl forced into devious ways by this heartless industry or was she unscrupulous from the start? I still don’t know the answer. Heroine is too much of everything but not enough of anything.
Rating (out of five): **
CBFC Rating (India):
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroine_(2012_film)