This is a glossy picture postcard that has seen better days – still good to look at but frayed at the edges and utterly lifeless.
The foremost problem with Madhur Bhandarkar’s Heroine is that behind its gossamer exterior, it is weighed down by banalities that don’t quite add up.
In conveying the ebbs and tides of the life of a self-obsessed, impulsive and troubled Bollywood diva, the film taps into the tropes that constitute the Bhandarkar formula. The novelty has worn off. So, all that the audience is left with is an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.
It’s all in here: tension-ridden Page 3 parties, smarmy celebrities bent upon pulling the rug from under each other’s feet, a sniggering underclass hovering around the charmed circle and hurling jibes at the glitterati and mealy-mouthed gossip columnists out to pull down the high and mighty.
And what would a Madhur Bhandarkar film be without a funeral where a sea of white conceals barely disguised cruel intentions?
For good measure, in addition to the inevitably gay designers and agents that people his universe, he throws in a lesbian fling involving two female actors from different ends of the showbiz spectrum.
Heroine is drably monotonous, its insights are shallow, most of the characters are caricatures and the lines that they speak border on the corny, if not on the outright ridiculous.
It is a single-note film that never manages to break free from the limitations imposed on its flow by its own slew of predictable contrivances.
The heroine of the plot, Mahi Arora (Kareena Kapoor), is a product of a broken home. There are repeated suggestions that she is a victim of bipolar disorder. She is an alcoholic to boot.
Her affairs invariably end in disaster. And her desperate attempts to cling to stardom spark more complications than she can handle. The resultant stress tells on every move she makes.
The screenplay would have us like her and empathize with her plight. We cannot because besides being far too remote to facilitate easy identification she is a rather unlikeable woman, prone to flying off the handle at the slightest provocation and tying herself in emotional knots. Get a life, lady!
My life is fully under control, Mahi tells her social climber mom (Lilette Dubey). Trouble is that the film isn’t.
Mahi and the men in her life – superstar Aryan Khanna (Arjun Rampal) and cricketer Angad Paul (Randeep Hooda) – are always on the verge of cracking up. They repeatedly complain that they cannot take it anymore. We should be the ones carping.
The male characters in Heroine are a bunch of wimps with an unfettered glad eye. They throw their weight around but without ever quite achieving their ends. They give full vent to their libido only to leave a right royal mess behind. Not a pretty sight at all.
In the mix is another manipulative superstar, Abbas Khan (Sanjay Suri), who, on a location shoot away from the watchful eyes of his wife, seeks to lead Mahi to his bed. Expectedly, the mean mission ends in disaster as the girl turns the tables on him.
Kareena is in virtually every scene in the film. She is particularly good when she dons the no-makeup look and allows herself to go with the flow of the emotions. But when she is called upon to strut around like a heroine, she is, surprisingly, far less convincing.
One of the many stereotypes that pop up in Heroine is a Bengali-spouting filmmaker (Ranvir Shorey) who casts the commercial cinema star in his first Hindi film, a realistic take on a sex worker’s life.
After one shot, this wedded-to-the-cause-of-true-art dada tells Mahi that she is “talking like a machine”. Feel the character, he insists.
The film that Bhandarkar has made is indeed disappointingly mechanical. Mercifully, Kareena does demonstrate that she has a feel for the character. But, then, why wouldn’t she? After all she plays herself in Heroine.
As for the others in the principal cast, Randeep Hooda, as always, makes the most of the limited opportunity that he is given. There is more genuine emotion in a casual “kya yaar” that he utters than in the whole film put together. Need we say more?
Helen, cast as a yesteryears star who serves as an occasional sounding board for the protagonist, and Shahana Goswami in a cameo as a full-of-beans regional cinema actor who takes Mahi to a brothel to research for a role, provide rare flashes of brightness in an otherwise listless show.
Heroine has a scene in which a film producer discusses an upcoming Rs 150-crore project with a male superstar. On the wall of his room we catch a glimpse of posters of Citizen Kane and Rear Window.
Should Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock be turning in their graves? Let alone the two, Billy Wilder needn’t worry either. Sunset Boulevard is in no danger of being dislodged from its perch.