“Helicopter Eela”… A terrible mother-son story with a Freudian subtext it doesn’t know what to do with

Posted on October 12, 2018


Spoilers ahead…

In Helicopter Eela, Kajol plays a single mother named Eela — though if you expect straggly hair, ketchup-stained clothes and eyes glazed over from supervising homework, you’re in for a disappointment. The light on Eela is always just right, and it accentuates her makeup just so — even when she’s in a hospital bed after delivery. The pains of labour are only on her face. The lipstick is just so — not rolled on with a tube, heaven forbid, but painted on with the kind of reverence Michelangelo lavished on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The lips are always parted just so — the smile stopping just short of creating a crease, or three. The cheeks, too — they shine like wax apples. And the fake eyelashes practically scream out for an award category of their own: Best Supporting Duo. We get it. We aren’t here to watch Eela. This is really Kajol telling us she can still make it to a Cine Blitz cover, circa 1995.

Pradeep Sarkar was ostensibly hired as director based on his reputation for making cinema that is woman-oriented. But Helicopter Eela is merely Kajol-oriented. She looks the same whether her son is a toddler or a college-goer. (His name is Vivan, and he’s played by the affable Riddhi Sen.) The vanity would be easy to overlook if there was at least a good performance — but the entire film is essentially Kajol posing in front of a mirror and saying, “I’m fabulous and I’m letting you know it.” In the early scenes, set in the nineties, she plays a wannabe singer. When she’s called for a dummy track for Anu Malik — it goes Ruk ruk ruk — she gyrates in the recording booth like Lata Mangeshkar possessed by the spirit of Helen. Anu Malik is impressed. He says, “She’s fabulous and I know it.”

Vivan, too, thinks Eela is fabulous — never mind that she’s a suffocating mother who uses her son to fulfil her emotional needs. Eela is a “helicopter” parent, always hovering around Vivan — and despite her tendency to keep barging into his bedroom (and in one troubling instance, his bathroom), Vivan never thinks of locking the door. He keeps mouthing the odd line about needing space, but it just sounds like a mildly grumpier version of “You’re fabulous!” Vivan seems strangely balanced, but Eela is another story. When Vivan doesn’t show up for a movie Eela has booked tickets for, she begins to climb the walls as though she were this close and the battery in her vibrator died. I’m only half-joking. This is a seriously messed-up relationship that would keep a battery of therapists in a Swiss facility busy for decades, but the screenplay — which sets a world record for the number of times a teenager utters the word “mama,” and whose pages appear to have been strung together with an umbilical cord — treats it all like a comedy. (It’s based on the Gujarati play Beta, Kaagdo.) Haha. Look, Eela has barged, yet again, into Vivan’s room and when he complains, she reminds him that she changed his diapers. In a sane world, he’d get a restraining order and consider putting out a #MeToo tweet. Instead, he just says, grumpily, “You’re fabulous!”

The only person unconvinced about Eela’s fabulousness is her husband, Arun (Tota Roy Chowdhury) — but then, he’s got bigger issues. He leaves Eela and the young Vivan because… Guru Dutt died in 1964. Not really, but the actual reason is no less weird. As is the character. You’d think someone who abandons his wife and child would walk around with some amount of existential baggage, but when he waltzes into their lives again, some twenty years later, he behaves as though he went shopping and couldn’t get a cab back home. Eela doesn’t shout or demand explanations — her eyes well up as much as they can without endangering the mascara, and she looks sorrowfully at Vivan, as he walks in from college. Right there, we have the germ of an infinitely more interesting movie, Oedipus Rex: Daddy’s Not Dead.

The father departs, leaving behind an artily designed diary that looks significant, presumably containing the answer to the Meaning of Life. Eela doesn’t so much as glance at it. Helicopter Eela makes it very clear why Eela has no place for another man in her life. When her mother-in-law suggests that she find someone new, Eela says there’s no guarantee that this man won’t leave her, too — and the only male figure who will never leave her is her son. Why any of this is supposed to be funny (as opposed to a Bermanesque psychodrama, directed by Lars von Trier) is anyone’s guess. The second half is about Eela finding herself again, and this she does by… joining the college her son goes to. (Still think I’m overthinking the Freudian subtext?) Is she serious about studies? Is it just to alleviate her loneliness? Who cares! The song-and-dance climax plumbs hitherto uncharted depths of godawfulness as it hoists Eela on a stage and makes the college — and by extension, the world — see how fabulous she is. In comparison, a Cine Blitz blind item, circa 1995, comes off like Hamlet.

Copyright ©2018 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