‘Helicopter Eela’ review: S-mothering with love

At some point in the film, a college teen comes up to Kajol informing her that students above 23 years of age can’t perform in an intercollegiate competition. A perplexed Kajol looks at her and says, “Main samjhi nahi (I didn’t understand)”. Another teen steps forward with conviction. “Main samjhati hoon (I will clarify),” she says and proceeds to say literally the same thing as her classmate. Kajol nods as if she finally got it, and is now crestfallen. That’s Helicopter Eela in a nutshell: an unnecessarily long, loosely edited film that hammers down a point with repetitive telling, till you ironically giggle at how tone-deaf it is.

Talking of being off-key, Kajol plays Eela Raiturkar, an upcoming singer in the ’90s but now a doting mother, who sings “Oh Krishna, you are the greatest musician of this world,” in a moment of personal tragedy. She’s otherwise spunky and lively and quite spot-on with weaving the events of her life in her music but this song with jarring English lyrics, which is meant to be melancholic, evokes nothing but laughter. Eela, after all, was given a seal of approval by Baba Sehgal in her heydays.

Helicopter Eela
  • Director: Pradeep Sarkar
  • Cast: Kajol, Riddhi Sen, Tota Roy Chowdhury, Neha Dhupia
  • Story line: Eela joins her son’s college to be closer to him

Indian parents, especially mothers, are notorious for making their children the pivot of their lives. They dump their dreams, aspirations and fears onto their offspring, often at the cost of putting their own desires on the back-burner. Pradeep Sarkar’s Helicopter Eela has a lot of observational — quintessentially desi — material to work with: broken dreams, self-actualisation, the generation gap and differing teen culture of the ’90s and today. We see potential because the film mildly hints at these subjects, so it’s reasonable to expect more than an unending series of disjointed events that are weak in conflict, lack innovative comedy and bereft of emotions. But it’s all packaged in a glossy, almost artificial, bright yellowy visuals, that are at points punctuated with emojis floating wildly on-screen.

For an actor, who peaked in the ’90s, Kajol struggles to get the kitsch of the decade right. A lot of it is to do with the film settling for representational overtures than detailing. To show the currency of cassettes, you have Kajol going through the now-closed Rhythm House; to illustrate the popularity of indie pop there’s an invitation to MTV music awards (shot at Liberty cinema); and to depict a different Bollywood, Mahesh Bhatt (who makes a cameo) gets a call from the underworld — there’s a lack of ambition and innovation to detail the quirks of an era.

As for the present day, when she attends college with her son, Vivaan (Riddhi Sen), the film struggles to keep up with urban, privileged teen culture. Other than selfies, Facebook requests, emojis and an occasional sighting of marijuana (assumed to be dried methi by Kajol), the film has very little idea of how teens behave today, and the kind of debauchery, or lack thereof, they are involved in.

We live in a time when social media exodus is more trendy as parents dominate spaces like Facebook. The film instead uses characteristics that are so 2010 that it blurs the contrast between her and her son’s youth. What we simply end up seeing is a crazy, unreasonable mother, who shoves her child in the void that her husband created. Kajol is hyper and tries to match up to the high-volume nature of the film, even as Sen is calm, natural and comfortable, seeming like the more-experienced actor of the two. Mother-son coming-of-age stories are rare and have a universal appeal. If only the film invested more in the complexities involved instead of being a convenient tale that builds up to a garish finale.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 5:42:38 PM |

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