Subhash Ghai had a thing for Sholay. Karma, of course, was his most explicit homage. Hero, on the other hand, is something of a what-if riff. What if a romantic musical were made using bits like the cop with the joint family, the scary villain, and the conman reformed by love? The surprise about Nikhil Advani’s remake of Hero is that he makes a better Ghai movie than Ghai makes these days. It may not be much good, but at least (for a while) it’s inoffensive. That counts as a compliment in Ghai’s world these days.
Was the older film crying out for a remake? Probably not. With the kind of freedom today’s kids have – at least the urban kids – it’s hard to make a case for updates of films about youngsters who fought for love, who defied the establishment for love, films like Bobby or Hero or even Mughal-e-Azam, whose Pyaar kiya to darna kya is echoed in Hero’s Pyaar karne wale kabhi darte nahin. There’s a reason today’s romances are about the kids screwing things up for themselves – their parents are no longer in the picture. But Advani, who directs with a finger wisely on the FF button, almost makes you buy the premise all over again – all you need to do is flip the movie-watching dial inside your head to the Single Screen setting.
He surrounds the heroine Radha (Athiya Shetty, whose cheekbones could cut diamonds) with a large, loving family (father Tigmanshu Dhulia, son Sharad Kelkar, daughter-in-law Anita Hassanandani) – the attachments are evident. You see why this selfie-era girl is going to have to defy this lot, and why it’s going to be a big deal for her. The brother-sister bond is particularly warm. All this may not be much, but you only have to recall something like Student of the Year to see how self-obsessed today’s young-skewing cinema can get. Radha may end up going to Paris, but it’s not for a dream song, and there’s not a designer garment in sight. She’s there because she needs some space – from her family, and from her boyfriend Sooraj (Sooraj Pancholi) who’s in prison. In case you’re unfamiliar with the story, he kidnaps her but then falls in love and gives himself up. So that today’s audience doesn’t end up sniggering at this hero, Advani tweaks his accoutrements. The Jackie Shroff character hinted at the Krishna-like lover inside him by carrying a flute. Sooraj, though, prefers the barbell. Another hint that Hero is very much a movie of these times: Radha says she’ll give up all “bad habits,” which includes… non-vegetarian food. I suspect the film will do very well in Mumbai.
Still, in some ways, Hero is very much an eighties product. There’s a baddie who looks like Mahesh Anand. There’s a “comedy” scene in which a character enters a gym with his girlfriend and says, “Aaja haseena, let’s remove some paseena.” And a number of moments between Sooraj and Radha hark back to a more innocent movie-making (and movie-watching) era. After a song sequence at a disco, a creep tries to have his way with Radha. Sooraj beats him up, and then he drapes his jacket on her shoulders – it’s a move from a more modest time. Then, before making a death-defying leap on a motorbike, he tells her to hold on, and she says yes. The words are suffused with extra meaning. Chhodna mat… Kabhi nahin. It’s not corn if the film makes you believe it believes in it. My favourite shot came at interval point, when Radha’s father aims a gun at Sooraj and she comes between them, a triangular composition that hints at the triangle that lies ahead, with Radha torn between these two men. Advani may be heating up an old recipe, but he serves it with utmost, almost touching, sincerity.
Till a little into the second half, Hero isn’t bad at all. Sooraj Pancholi is built like most newcomers these days, muscles hanging off his torso like fruit from a tree. His introduction scene has him shirtless, doing a handstand on what looks like a bed of nails. Just what we needed, I thought, another oak tree with nipples. But he slowly grows on you – as does Athiya Shetty. They’re not going to win any awards, but they make you root for them, which means they’re doing something right. But then a villain named Ranvijay (an unbearably smug Vivan Bhatena) makes an appearance and everything goes up in smoke. We get scenes like the one where Sooraj is stabbed and lies on the ground for an eternity, and then gets up and begins to fight with renewed vigour – clearly, he was just waiting for the wound to self-heal. Advani loses his grip and settles into autopilot mode. Or maybe he just got a memo from producer Salman Khan that romance is all well and good, but at some point, the story has to accommodate an angry villain tearing his shirt off. Gym trainers have never had it better.
- Student of the Year = see here
- Aaja haseena, let’s remove some paseena = C’mon pet, let’s lose some sweat.
- Chhodna mat… Kabhi nahin = Don’t leave me… I won’t.
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