Review: Heroes / Roadside Romeo

Posted on October 25, 2008


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Our soldiers get the rah-rah treatment in a sluggish message movie. Plus, the unremarkable love story of two… dogs.

OCT 26, 2008 – WAS THERE SOMETHING IN THE WATER SUPPLY in Salim Khan’s home that has resulted in a peculiar affliction in his sons – some kind of delicate skin condition, perhaps, that requires the upper body to remain uncovered as much as possible? Over the years, we’ve made our peace with Salman Khan streaking through his films with his torso covered with muscles and little else, but now, Sohail Khan (who plays Samir in Samir Karnik’s Heroes) appears to have picked up the bug. In an early scene, Samir is about to do the deed with Amrita Arora (who, by the way, happens to be the sister-in-law of Sohail’s real-life brother, Arbaaz; just saying), when he discovers they have no protection. So he pulls on a pair of boxers (which, I guess, in Khan-speak, translates as clothing perfectly suited to go shopping in), hops on a motorbike and heads to the pharmacy. There’s a perfectly unmemorable song that follows, and Samir is shirtless in that too. Now, Hrithik Roshan showing off his carefully sculpted body, I can see the womenfolk responding to. But is there anyone who wants to see Sohail Khan go topless? (Or Vatsal Sheth go bottomless, for that matter; the actor, who plays Ali, recycles the gag from Friends where Ross pulls off his leather pants and finds he can’t pull them back on.)

As such, the opening reels of Heroes are excruciating – going after comedy and finding none (at least intentionally). After that, things get marginally better, as spoilt brats Ali and Samir embark on a road trip to gather material for their graduation film about why not to join the army. And the instant this plot development is put across, you know where the film is headed – Ali and Samir, of course, will discover several rocking reasons to join the army. As they meet the people the slain soldiers have left behind – a wife (Preity Zinta, who’s good), a brother (Sunny Deol, who isn’t, but then what can he do with a role that requires him to fight some twenty men while bound to a wheelchair, pulverising floor tiles with the sheer force of his fists?), and a father (Mithun Chakraborty) – Ali and Samir realise, among other things, that it’s far more honourable to die from enemy fire than by being run over by a bus. (Naturally, in a film this propagandistic, it doesn’t occur to anyone that a good many people meet their ends in a fairly non-violent fashion, like say, slumping silently in one’s seat from terminal boredom during sluggish message movies like Heroes.)

It’s tempting to think what Ashutosh Gowariker would have made out of material this earnest. Going by Swades – another story of an outsider discovering aspects of his country that will change his outlook and, eventually, his life – that version might have turned out to be a bit of a tedious message movie too, one that bit off more than it could chew, but Gowariker at least knows his way around people. He knows when to close in for the small moment, when to pull back for the grand statement. All Karnik can do here – firm believer in the tell-don’t-show philosophy that he appears to be – is set up stilted situations that lead to much yakkety-yak about army this and army that. There are complicated issues under the surface, like the state of the country today that has (sadly) made us much more cynical about abstract concepts like patriotism, or how, in our struggle to look after our families, looking after our country has become a distant afterthought. But Karnik is content to goose our emotions with melodramatic scenes like the one where a kite that Ali and Samir are playing with lands across a fence, beyond which, they discover, lies Pakistan. (In case we are still in doubt about the monumental nature of this discovery, that borders aren’t just lines on a map but actual physical space, Vande Mataram booms on the soundtrack.) Heroes is so stuffed with good intentions, you want to give it the Param Vir Chakra, the Magsaysay Award – anything, actually, except three hours of your time.

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INTENTIONAL OR NOT, THE CLEVEREST CONCEIT in Jugal Hansraj’s Roadside Romeo is the sly nod to our long-standing cinematic tradition of inter-religious romance – you know, of the Veer-Zaara variety. The he-dog (voiced by Saif Ali Khan) is named Romeo, the she-dog (Kareena Kapoor) is Laila. Two immortal lovers of two different faiths from two immortal tragedies – except that, in this case, they wag their tails into the sunset, happily ever after. The second cleverest aspect of this tale of canine canoodling is… um, nothing. As the end credits roll, we are treated to mock bloopers and recording-room sessions of the voice cast having a blast. If only some of that energy and fun had spilled into the preceding two-odd hours, we wouldn’t have been fidgeting in our seats, wondering just what was there in this extremely old-Bollywoodish story – Hero Dog and Heroine Dog have to fend off a Villain Dog (Jaaved Jaffery) who wants to lay his grubby paws on Laila – that made Walt Disney want to pitch in. (Couldn’t they have simply commissioned a remake of Lady and the Tramp?) Some nice voice talent (Sanjay Mishra is a hoot as the villain’s sidekick) and fairly detailed animation apart (Jaffery’s slack-jowled character seems inspired by the Naboo natives from The Phantom Menace), this Romeo was perhaps better left by the roadside.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi