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Helicopter Eela fails to take off, with an uneven act from Kajol

Helicopter Eela rests on Kajol’s shoulders, who delivers only in parts

By Priyanka Roy
  • Published 12.10.18, 7:18 PM
  • Updated 12.10.18, 7:18 PM
  • 3 mins read
Kajol and Riddhi Sen in Helicopter Eela A still from the film

The best moments in Helicopter Eela — be warned, there aren’t many — are the bits where it recreates the ’90s. So we have knotted tops, platform heels, cordless telephones…. Indipop is riding a wave, with Baba Sehgal being described as “the new sensation”. Audio cassettes in thick cases to posters of Alisha Chinai, ad jingles from that decade we loved to an appearance by Anu Malik, the film brings the ’90s back in a way that’s guaranteed to make you break into a nostalgic smile.

It’s here that Eela Raiturkar (Kajol), a 20-something with stars in her eyes, dreams of becoming a playback singer. So we have her delivering her only hit — a remixed version of Ruk ruk from the Ajay Devgn-Tabu hit Vijaypath. Her overnight success lands her on the red carpet of the launch of MTV India (which started beaming in 1996, but is passed off as 1994 here). Shaan’s at the party, so is Shibani Kashyap, and Baba Sehgal comes rapping in from somewhere. There’s even a fun moment where Ila Arun is suitably amused that Eela’s boyfriend is named Arun (Tota Roy Choudhury).

If only the rest of Helicopter Eela was as engaging. Instead, director Pradeep Sarkar — the man behind watchable fare like Parineeta and Mardaani — delivers a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Helicopter Eela talks about everything — the need for space in a relationship to realising one’s dreams, carving an identity for oneself to allowing children to become their own people — but barely skims the surface of anything.

Named so after “helicopter parenting” — where a parent hovers around a child and invades their privacy to the point of smothering them emotionally — Helicopter Eela is just a surface exploration of this relevant topic.

In the present day, we find single mom Eela as a constant presence in 20-year-old son Vivan’s (Riddhi Sen) life. She insists on delivering his lunchbox to college when he leaves it behind, opens the front door even before he can turn the handle, relentlessly snoops around his room and can’t fathom why he prefers the company of his smartphone to that of his mother. Well, we aren’t surprised.

When an exasperated Vivan suggests that Eela invest her energies into rediscovering her passion in life, she decides to go back to studying — but in his college. This situation — Eela being mistaken for a teacher, Vivan doing all he can to avoid his mom in college — gives rise to some fun moments, but the laughs quickly disappear with the film cranking up the melodrama.

Helicopter Eela may have its heart in the right place — the mother’s abandonment issues forcing her to overcompensate in the form of mollycoddling the son could have made for a good watch — but Sarkar fails to ground his film well. So you have Arun walking out on his wife and young son after losing his head over a family mortality statistic (the most bizarre bit you would have watched in a film in a long time). Though the character is sketchy, it’s to his credit that Tota manages to leave a mark.

The film also undoes the watchable bits by being unintentionally funny in parts. Like how Eela, tears streaming down her cheeks, decides to sing the utterly misplaced O Krishna you are the greatest musician of this world from the 1992 film Meera Ka Mohan, remembered for leading man Avinash Wadhawan’s PT-like dance moves.

Running at a little over two hours, Helicopter Eela feels overstretched, especially in Half Two. The ending — mother and son sorting out their differences in front of almost half of Mumbai’s population — is predictable and feels staged.

Riddhi is a natural, effortlessly bringing out the dilemma of a son who needs distance from his mother and yet can’t do without her. Neha Dhupia — playing an eccentric drama teacher given to throwing slippers at errant students — is a hoot, but has very little screen time.

Helicopter Eela rests on Kajol’s shoulders, who delivers only in parts. It doesn’t help that she often channels her silly and shrill Anjali from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. The result is an uneven act from an actress whose every performance is looked forward to. Well, maybe in a better film.