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'Heroine': behind-the-scenes Bollywood no revelation

September 23, 2012


Heroine (2012)

Starring Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Randeep Hooda

It's called Heroine, but the handiwork is all about the director. Madhur Bhandarkar is a distinct Hindi filmmaker—"issues" being his usual subject matter and realism his style. Heroine has equal measure of grit and glam—and he deftly blends them—making the film more Bollywood than his typical projects. As it should be, since the movie is about Bollywood itself.

His work ranges from social commentaries about prostitution and imprisonment to exposés of glamour industries such as celebrity journalism and fashion. Heroine retreads a lot of the ground of the latter, particularly his critically acclaimed hit Fashion (2008), which was about a driven, small-town girl on her way up and an emotionally-unstable supermodel on her way down. Those characters are merged in Heroine with a lead who is trying to hold on to her precarious place in the Bollywood pantheon, all while drinking and pill-popping and making other bad decisions.

The film opens with the protagonist, Mahi (Kareena Kapoor), already a mess, and she interestingly develops as she tries to straighten herself out. She dumps her no-good, almost-divorced co-star—Aryan (Arjun Rampal)—and takes up with a gorgeous, gum-chewing jock—cricket star Angad (Randeep Hooda)—who adores her. Their romance and ensuing complications are the highlights of the film, along with her concurrent attempt to revive her career by reluctantly delving into art film and learning what it means to be an actress rather than a star. Mahi's about-face back to her old self could have worked, but Bhandarkar mishandles it to an unsatisfying conclusion.

Bhandarkar can always be counted on to trot out underrated B-listers and talented no-namers who rival the bigger stars in his films; Heroine is no exception. Hooda is fabulous as a swaggering yet decent guy who nonetheless pressures his torn girlfriend to make him a priority over her career. Ranvir Shorey as a quirky art-film director is a scene-stealer. Lillete Dubey has made a career playing prickly mothers, including here as Mahi's difficult mom—their relationship could have been a whole movie itself. Beloved, yesteryear star Helen plays a beloved, yesteryear star with touching sweetness. Mugdha Godse as Mahi's rival unfortunately doesn't get enough screen time. Others in the supporting cast are equally strong.

The same can't be said of the headliners in Heroine, however. Rampal proves once again he's expert at portraying scumballs, but we've seen that act enough already. Kapoor has moments when she relaxes into her character and lets herself be the superstar she is in real life, facing many of the same professional (and one can guess, personal) challenges as Mahi. But the cliché, needlessly-added personality traits of mental illness and substance addiction derail Kapoor into excessive, forced hysteria.

Heroine is rated Worth Watching.

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