In a tense opening scene, an actress, who only moments ago has been hurled out of a car onto the road, enters a police station, her body still trembling, her face smeared with tears and running mascara. Clutching a lit cigarette nervously, she takes a seat before a cop who is persuading her to reveal why she’s in this condition. “Did someone assault you?” he asks.
Heroine, directed by Madhur Bhandarkar opens with genuine promise, but very quickly collapses into a heap of lazy stereotypes. Sadly, the film offers no original insight into the minds of movie stars or the inner workings of the Mumbai film industry – this is a movie that might well have been made by an avid reader of gossip rags; it hardly feels like the work of an experienced filmmaker. At least with Page 3, Corporate and Fashion, Bhandarkar cast an outsider’s eye on different worlds. What’s his excuse for doing such a sloppy job on an industry he belongs to?
Kareena Kapoor stars as Mahi Arora, a top film actress whose rocky relationship with a married star (Arjun Rampal) is hurting her career. Obsessed and insecure about his affections, addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs, and possibly bipolar, she’s a train wreck waiting to happen. What follows is as predictable as the lunch menu at your office canteen – her life is derailed in pursuit of this man.
To reclaim past glory, a ruthless publicist is hired, a new romance is staged, rivals are sabotaged, and a sex tape is leaked. Sleaze, scandal, and drugs are all familiar ingredients in a Bhandarkar film, yet all you’re left with here is one flat cocktail.
The only pleasure Heroine provides is lending itself to a game of Spot The Reference. Bhandarkar litters the film with thinly veiled digs at well-known celebrities: an actress who empties a glass of red wine on the head of her married lover’s wife, a star who seeks to fill the void in her life by adopting a child, a superstar’s wife who has final say in the selection of actresses who can work opposite her skirt-chaser husband, even a Casanova cricketer who spends more time between the sheets with different actresses than on the pitch. Expectedly, there’s also an assembly line of two-faced, bitchy movie stars, gossiping gay designers, and corrupt journalists.
From the very start of Heroine, a sense of gloom and doom haunts this film. Mahi is perpetually in pieces, her eyes red-rimmed with tears or dazed by alcohol and drugs. There is an attempt to infuse some heart in the script when she forms an unlikely bond with a yesteryear star (Helen), or when she shares a tentative friendship with a Bengali art-house actress (Shahana Goswami, flashing enough cleavage to blind you!). But even this track ends up being unintentionally hilarious, when the two girls avoid each other awkwardly the morning after some inebriated ‘fooling around’. “I’m not a lesbian,” says Shahana, apologizing for what must be the worst crime in Madhur Bhandarkar’s book – being gay! In another instance that’ll have you rolling in your seats, Mugdha Godse, playing a top actress desperate to steal an endorsement deal from a rival star, asks her male model friend to sidle up to the “bisexual” corporate honcho in charge of the account.
But these moments offer little entertainment in a film weighed down by its terrible writing. Page 3 and Fashion weren’t particularly competent films, yet they had some semblance of a plot and a narrative, however formulaic. Heroine, on the other hand, is a bunch of scenes in search of a plot.
Of the cast, Randeep Hooda keeps it real as the charming cricketer who falls for Mahi, while Arjun Rampal seems ill-equipped to tackle the role of her mercurial lover. Divya Dutta is convincing as the manipulative PR consultant who’s available to discuss strategy with her client even when she’s in the middle of a bedroom romp. But it’s poor Kareena Kapoor who gets a pretty raw deal in this disappointing film. Mahi isn’t exactly a likeable character, yet Kareena plays the part with utmost sincerity. Matching the film’s over-the-top sensibilities with a deliciously camp performance, she’s the only reason this film is watchable.
Despite an entertaining first half, thanks to all the unintentional laughs, Heroine slips into a slush of melodrama post interval. By this point, it feels interminably long and boring. Bhandarkar loses his grip on the script, and it’s evident that his storytelling now desperately needs reinventing.
I’m going with two out of five for Heroine. It’s pack-up for this one!