Helicopter Eela movie review: This soppy Kajol film never takes off
Director Pradeep Sarkar
Cast: Kajol, Riddhi Sen, Neha Dhupia
At the most emotional moment of this film, a defiant and teary-eyed Kajol strides up to the piano. Her character Eela is a musician and an instrument therefore appears like a natural place for her to vent, though her choice of song is utterly confounding. So far in the film we have heard the singer perform a Ruk Ruk Ruk remix and other Hindi tracks, but now she breaks into an impassioned and nearly off-key song in English, something that goes ‘O Krishna, you are the greatest musician of this world.’
Helicopter Eela starts with a girl who admires Baba Sehgal — I’m extremely on board with a heroine like that, I must say — who goes on to make something of herself as a singer, even if that something is a trivia question on Kaun Banega Crorepati. “Amitabh Bachchan took my name thrice,” she exults, enjoying the attention only as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the way she opens her front door before her approaching, college-going son can turn the handle. Her ear and senses are cocked for his arrival. Eela Raiturkar has chosen the career of an over-involved mother. She is a helicopter parent, hence the film’s title, and she doesn’t want to even try cutting the apron strings. Her son is all hers.
Director Pradeep Sarkar has lucked out with his heroine. Kajol is full of verve, and her enthusiasm is infectious even when her intensely eager character comes across as too chirrupy. She is embraced as a singer and applauded by stars of the 90s, all playing themselves, from Baba Sehgal and Mahesh Bhatt to Ila Arun, who is struck by the coincidence that this Eela has a husband named Arun. One day, Arun gets superstitious about a statistic and loses his head with paranoia, leaving Eela and their young child to fend for themselves.
This understandably makes Eela too protective, a different kind of paranoia. She fusses constantly over her son, smothering him, and it surprises me how rarely this subject has been tackled in Indian cinema given how many parents dictate their children’s lives. Being a tiger or helicopter parent often becomes a point of pride, and there is much to be said here — but we must wait for a better film to say it. Sarkar’s film is too melodramatic and long drawn out to hold any impact.
The true highlight is Neha Dhupia playing a college drama teacher who throws things at those who annoy her — she misses on purpose — and spends most of her time angry-snacking. She sits back in her chair like a genuine goonda, and later even channels Dr Strangelove when she insists that she doesn’t want too much drama in the drama club. I’d watch a film about this character any day.
Helicopter Eela also claims to be a comedy, though most of the humour is inadvertent. Kajol goes up to girls studying in a Mumbai college and asks if they live in Mumbai, and goes to record her songs in a studio given the disarmingly honest name of Autotune. There are a couple of fun bits — a nosy neighbour who perpetually watches television, Kajol being shoved aside on a 90s red-carpet because people want to see (the ageless) Shaan — but this is basically the kind of film that believes saying “LOL” out loud counts as a joke.
The idea of Kajol being too boisterous for a library is easy to accept, and the actor takes the role seriously enough to make Eela believable. The film doesn’t work as hard, with college students using volumes of the World Book for research, and a young man with a thickly Bengali accent playing Eela’s half-Maharashtrian, half-Punjabi son. In a throwback to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’s infamously unplugged electric guitars, Kajol even conquers a stadium with a song without needing a microphone. This Mommy may not know best, but she sure knows loudest.
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