“Heropanti”… Paper tiger

Posted on May 24, 2014


Spoilers ahead…

It’s a wedding. It’s Jatland. That’s not really a word but it isn’t hard to guess what it means. Like Finland is occupied by Finns, Jatland is the domain of Jats, who, we’re told, don’t believe in love before marriage. But if that were true, there would be no movie, and so the bride elopes with her boyfriend, leaving her father fuming. Literally. When he gets this news, he’s seated at the  mandap, before the fire. He wants his daughter back. And so he abducts the friends of the man she ran off with. If they don’t know where the couple is, who will? Sabbir Khan’s Heropanti is a remake of the Telugu film Parugu, and it moves to the classic rhythms of a certain kind of love story popular in Tamil and Telugu cinema, one that’s as much about the individuality of the couple as the importance of the family unit.  Bommarillu and its Tamil remake Santosh Subramaniam come to mind, along with Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, the granddaddy of this type of love story, where love for one’s boyfriend or girlfriend was placed on the same footing as love for one’s parents. You may love the girl, but you’re not going to get her till you get her daddy to love you.

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This is a strange regression in the context of love stories, after the freedoms of films like Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Dil, where the couple essentially told their disapproving families where they could get off. After all, you have one life to live. Wouldn’t you want to spend the rest of it with someone you like? But films like Heropanti mount a strong case for the parents’ expectations. At the wedding, when Chaudhury (Prakash Raj) looks fondly at his daughter, the bride who will soon run away, someone remarks, “Aap ki jaan to is chidiya mein basi hai.” She is his life. That explains why he has such a tough time trying to do the “honourable” thing when she runs away and he sets out to find her. He knows he should kill her, but that amounts, in a way, to suicide. (Remember? She is his life.) So he wishes – no, prays for the next best thing, proof that she hasn’t run away of her own accord. If she hasn’t, then it’s the guy’s fault, and that can be easily remedied with a bullet. After all, there’s a reason the supporting cast consists of Henchman No. 1, Henchman No. 2…

This is the scenario in which Tiger Shroff makes his debut, often backed by the flute theme from his father’s first hit, Hero. That was more than thirty years ago, and the leading man has changed in so many ways. For one, he is not allowed to be hairy, at least in the parts one can glimpse in a family entertainer. Shroff is suitably waxed and polished – as with all young heroes today, the gym is his temple, Salman Khan his deity – and his amply muscled torso is frequently put on display. This is another way the leading man has changed. In earlier films, the heroine used to be the one required to strip. (Even the prim n’ proper ones like Meenakshi Seshadri were given a form-fitting Shakuntala-type costume and a couple of thrust-the-bust dance moves.) Here, the heroine, Dimpy, is played by a pleasant newcomer named Kriti Sanon, and she’s a veritable nun – that is, if nuns were given to navel displays. That’s it, really. There’s really not much in today’s films for hormonal teenage boys hoping to drag and drop another image into their mental folder. Unless the boys are into Shroff. With the camera gazing so lasciviously on the hero, it’s probably no surprise that he’s begun to look like a heroine. Jackie Shroff was the kind of macho hero who looked macho even when he draped a bandhni dupatta around his neck. Tiger makes his entry in a leather jacket, and he still looks… well, delicate. He’s given some unfortunate dance steps that emphasise this… well, delicacy, but even otherwise he moves with the litheness of a ballet dancer. He turns as if executing a pirouette. He has a smooth face and pink lips and the body of a champion weightlifter. He’s somewhere between the hero in touch with his feminine side (think Shah Rukh Khan in the 1990s) and the hero who’s all cocky swagger (think Anil Kapoor in the 1980s). And his character, Babloo, is somewhere between the soft, swoony-hearted romantic who treasures a fallen earring (think Rajendra Kumar in the 1960s) and the brute who’ll do anything for his woman (think Sunny Deol in the 2000s). It’s all very confusing. We want to tell him: “Make up your mind. Pick one type and stick with it.” In return, he tells us, repeatedly,  that he’s got what no one else has. “Sabko aati nahin, meri jaati nahin.” He’s referring to heropanti, the quality of heroism. And then he shyly asks the heroine whether she thinks he is tall and handsome, whether his nose looks good, whether his lips look good.

Heropanti isn’t terrible. There is a nice set of contrivances, early on, that prevent Babloo from seeing Dimpy’s face. He doesn’t, therefore, realise that she’s the same girl he fell for, at first sight, when that earring fell from her ear, and later, when he saw her praying at a temple, her hair fluttering prettily in the Bollywood Breeze™. And when he sees that she is that girl, it’s a dramatic moment. Under a better filmmaker, these scenes would have registered more strongly, but in films like these, we take what we can get. A better filmmaker would have also realised that between the falling-in-love scenes and the separated-from-lover scenes and the happily-ever-after scenes, you need a few being-in-love scenes, so we know what this boy and girl mean to each other and why we’re supposed to root for them. And a better filmmaker would not rely so much on coincidences, like a conveniently overheard conversation, or following the trail of the abducted Dimpy by glimpsing a tiny statuette of Ganesha that’s fallen from her hands in an insanely crowded Delhi street. (Things always seem to keep falling from her – that earring, this statuette.) But the parts where Babloo sees how much Dimpy’s father loves her and cares for her are nicely done. There’s a terrific stretch outside a marriage bureau where Chaudhury runs into a couple that has eloped, and he tries to understand them. Prakash Raj has played these scenes a thousand times before, but as he seems to be the only one around who can act, we remain invested in him. As I said, in films like these, we take what we can get.

There are some tokenistic attempts at making the heroine more than just a showpiece. She says she wants to become Miss Haryana. (Translation: She Has Dreams.) She studies Home Science in college. (Translation: She’s Being Trained to Be a Homemaker in This Hideously Male-dominated Area.) Babloo talks to her about equality and bra burning and women’s suffrage. But there’s no denying that this is his film, a “show-reel film” meant to tell us how well Tiger can dance and fight and show off his muscles, and how tall and handsome he is, how good his nose is, how good his lips are.


* Parugu = see here
* Santosh Subramaniam = see here
* Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge = see here
* Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak = see here
* Dil = see here
* the flute theme = see here
* Shakuntala-type costume = see here
* a bandhni dupatta = see here , around the 3:00 mark
* Bollywood Breeze™ = see here

Copyright ©2014 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi