Direction: Madhur Bhandarkar
Actors: Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Randeep Hooda
A Madhur Bhandarkar film has the same allure as a juicy tabloid or some particularly nasty gossip. Bhandarkar is a proudly pedestrian director. His movies are voyeuristic, sensational, sleazy. But invariably, the narrative includes a strong conservative streak so viewers can leer and still feel morally superior. Heroine is Bhandarkar’s great Bollywood exposé.
It’s supposed to be our window into the muck, the Machiavellian politics and the Faustian bargains that a life in the limelight necessarily entails. This seemed, to me at least, like a perfect fit of maker and material. After all, what better subject for steamy scandal than the life of an actress? But sadly, Heroine never rises to the occasion. Bhandarkar and his team of co-writers – Anuradha Tiwari, Manoj Tyagi and Niranjan Iyengar – bung in every possible element of masala. There’s alcohol, affairs, a sex tape and even – gasp – a lesbian one-night stand. But Heroine doesn’t even deliver the frisson of a good Stardust story. It’s limp and, more incredibly, boring.
The first half, though, has a delicious, camp quality to it. It’s hugely entertaining, unintentionally of course. We are introduced to actress Mahi Arora, played by Kareena Kapoor, who is some sort of wild child. She pops pills, gets psychiatric treatment, can’t be trusted to hold her alcohol and usually looks like she’s a heartbeat away from a nervous breakdown. Why is she like this? There is some half-baked story about a broken home. At one point, we see Mahi hanging out with her mother. Both women are smoking and knocking back scotch. Clearly, ladies such as these can come to no good. We meet Mahi’s lovers, a superstar played by Arjun Rampal and a cricketer, played by Randeep Hooda. She also has a tough-talking publicist who tells her: You have to be a player now.
There are the stock Bhandarkar gay characters and several catty rivals. Everyone is posturing and playing politics. Everyone starts sentences with ‘babes’. Like, ‘Babes, why are you so tensed?’ In one scene, a man tells his male lover something like ‘Hamari industry mein zip aur zabaan dono band rakhni chahiye’. Honestly there’s a lot of fun to be had with dialogue like this. But in the second half, everybody gets serious and the laughs go out of the window. Mahi weeps and weeps and then, weeps some more. Helen, playing a yesteryear superstar, gives us the moral of the story: that selling your soul for the glitter of glamour will always, always end badly.
Kareena Kapoor works very hard to give Mahi depth. She looks sensational, but is also brave enough to risk being ugly on screen, literally and figuratively. Sadly, Bhandarkar has saddled her with a character without an arc. Mahi is just a trembling mass of furiously smoking insecurity from beginning to end. And she’s just not interesting enough for us to spend two and a half hours with. At one point in Heroine, a character asks: Iss glamour industry mein kaun fraud nahin hota. This film certainly is one.