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‘Helicopter Eela’ Favours Soppy Melodrama Over Exploring A Mother’s Obsession With Her Son

  • IWB Post
  •  October 12, 2018

Bollywood has long been fascinated with mothers, and with good reason. The mother-son relationship can lead to several layered and nuanced stories, but Helicopter Eela is not one of them.

Eela (Kajol) becomes a single mother after her husband walks out on her and their toddler for a mind-bogglingly idiotic reason. She gives up her career as a budding playback singer and focuses all her energy and attention on her son, Vivan. Vivan grows up to be a relatively well-settled teenager (Riddhi Sen), which is a surprise because Eela invades his personal space at every given point.

At one point, her mother-in-law hints at her marrying again, and she looks at her toddler and says, “I already have someone who will never leave me.” If the film was hinting at Oedipal tendencies, it was probably unintentional because this is supposed to be a family entertainer. But that might have made this laborious story otherwise interesting.

When Vivan goes for a two-night-long school trip, Eela is so worried about him that she follows him there. Once he’s grown up, she nags him about using his phone too much and not giving her time. These are legitimate complaints that real moms have with their real sons, but they don’t word it like this and then they don’t end up in their sons’ college to have something to do with their life. Vivan hates this turn of events but takes it better than a real-life teenager might.

This is meant to be a slice-of-life film but it doesn’t feel authentic at all. Kajol is impeccably-styled and that keeps reminding the audience that this is nowhere close to real-life. A single mom who helicopter-parents her son and runs behind him all the time might have a hair out of place in a while, but not Eela. The college that Eela and Vivan go to is also a sham, and while Eela says that she goes there to finish her studies, she never even pretends to study.

Neha Dhupia plays a sassy single older character for the third time in a row (Tumhari Sulu and Lust Stories before this) who smokes and wears super stylish clothes but is also blunt and sort of wild. She gives Eela a melodramatic speech at just the right time, but it is super cliched and forgettable.

In the first half, we spend a considerable time in the 90s, where Eela is in her 20s and trying to break into playback singing. We see cameos from Shaan, Ila Arun, Baba Sehgal, and Mahesh Bhatt, and also how much potential Eela has. We’re constantly told she’s a great singer but her version of Ruk Ruk Ruk, which makes her semi-famous, sounds heavily autotuned and kind of terrible. In fact, for a film about a singer, it has some truly average songs. At one very emotional point in the film, Eela sits in front of the piano, looks pained, and starts singing, “Oh Krishna, you are the greatest musician of this world.” Thankfully, her son soon interrupts her.

A mother obsessed with caring for her son is a simple but effective subject, but director Pradeep Sarkar massively underestimates its potential. The motives and emotions of the characters, especially Eela, are not explored in the least. Towards the end, when her son berates her for losing her identity for him, you see not one moment of introspection from Eela. Ultimately (this is not a spoiler because come on!), when Eela takes the stage to sing again for an audience, we’re not sure if she understands that she should do this for herself or just to pacify her son. If it’s the latter, which is what it looks like, then what was the point of the film?

As far as performances are concerned, Riddhi does a better job than Kajol because he seems at ease with the character and that’s perhaps because he has a better-written character. Kajol overacts a lot, and it doesn’t help that the entire story is one long, maudlin melodrama. She’s annoying even when she’s not supposed to be, and you’re never sure what part of Eela’s personality you have to root for.

A mother who willingly gives up her career for her son only to be told later that she’s started to suffocate him could have made for a compelling character, but what we get is a deeply extra woman who irritates not just her son but also the audience.

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