Sunday, September 22, 2013

Phata Poster Nikhla Hero: Delightful, delightful, delightful.

I’m not sure what was in the Kool-Aid served up to Bollywood’s finest movie critics but I’m very glad I didn’t listen to their moaning. Take note: Phata Poster Nikhla Hero is delightful, as is the titular Hero, Shahid Kapoor. The feel is closer in tone to Khiladi 786 than Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani; it’s a comedy first and foremost but with a nice strain of family drama and some fun out-and-out action. This is masala in the old-fashioned definition of the word--there is something for everybody, from kids to grannies.

Shahid Kapoor plays Vishwas Rao, the extremely charming son of Savitri Rao (Padmini Kohlapure--you know, from Prem Rog). The main conflict of the film is that Vishwas desperately wants to be a film hero but Savitiri wants him to be a dutiful and honest police officer. Vishwas scams his way to Mumbai where he meets up with Yogi-uncle (Sanjai Mishra), who claims to be a screenwriter of some sort, and Yogi-uncle’s three aspiring actor disciples whose names I don’t know but would like to. Well, as you can imagine, the inevitable happens and Vishwas happens to get mistaken for a real policeman while wandering around Mumbai in a policeman’s costume. And then his mother shows up and he has to continue the charade. And then he accidentally gets mixed up in a gang war and then… well, I won’t spoil all the plot secrets.

The first half of the film is quite light, focusing on comedy antics and a small romance between the fake policeman Vishwas and “Complaint” Kajal (Ileana D’Cruz), a strident young social activist anxious to stamp out crime. The second half is a bit darker, as Vishwas gets tangled up in the fight between the police commissioner (Darshan Jariwala) and gang boss (Saurabh Shukla) and a mysterious super criminal known just as “Napoleon.” But there is no second-act slump and the film zips along to the grand finale without a single boring moment… well, without a single boring moment except Nargis’s awful dancing. (If one can call what she was doing “dancing.”)

Phata Poster is a hero driven film and the hero is the main reason to see it. Shahid Kapoor shines; he has come a long way since his cuddly puppy days in films like Chup Chup Ke and from the moment he bursts through a giant film poster at the beginning of the film, Shahid is firmly in control of the screen. He delivers both comedy and serious dialogues with equal deftness; his dancing is superb as always, and his flare for the physical translates nicely into action sequences.

Shahid’s boyish charm is still there but age--and experience with experienced directors like Vishal Bhardwaj, as well as his own father Pankaj Kapoor--have tempered him. He’s no longer the lightweight chocolate boy but a man in full command of his craft, and perfectly suited to the full suite of skills required of the masala hero. He convincingly mixes “goodhearted mama’s boy” with “goonda fighting badass” without making either one seem like an act.

At the heart of the film is the love story between mother and son. Some of the reviews I read didn’t understand why Padmini Kohlapure would come out of semi-retirement for a role like this but I don’t see what the confusion is. As Vishwas’s mother Savitiri, Padmini is essentially the heroine of the film. And she’s a tough old broad, too. Savitiri is a no-nonsense, single, working mother who would sooner tie up her pallu and teach troublemakers a lesson then let them get away with any funny business. It’s a nice, meaty role for any actress “of a certain age” and I’m sure Padmini-ma’aam had a lot of fun on set with the youngsters.

The romance portion of the film isn’t given too much weight, which was fine. Ileana is bright and chipper as “Complaint” Kajol and she and Shahid had fine chemistry. But the big relationship resolution wasn’t between Kajol and Vishwas but between Savitiri and Vishwas. The romance didn’t “fizzle out” as I saw in some reviews; there was a conscious decision to focus on the mother-son drama instead. And, honestly, I found it refreshing to see a film where romance wasn’t the main factor in a male-female relationship. Romance is not the central factor in life and certainly has not always been the central factor in masala films, so why the need to harp on it constantly?

Recently, script and “story” have been getting a lot of lipservice from all the usual suspects but what is a “good” script? Phata Poster is certainly weak in plotting by Hollywood standards but can it be called bad if the emotional beats are all on point? Does it really matter that it’s not “realistic” for a series of coincidences lead to Vishwas being mistaken for a police officer in Bombay if all the individual scenes are well-crafted and full of great lines? Shouldn’t we just accept that all narratives have to be manufactured to a certain degree--even documentary films--and if a film chooses to fudge narrative exposition in favor of Shahid Kapoor trading punchlines with a goonda, I’m okay with that.

What it comes down to is that after seeing Phata Poster Nikla Hero, I left the theater with a big smile on my face and a strong desire to spend another couple hours in the company of Shahid Kapoor as Vishwas Rao. (Preferably on the big screen, on which his dancing really, really, really comes across well.)

3 comments:

odadune said...

Sounds like my kind of movie! Bad news is, it's apparently not doing too well :( maybe not even well enough for the kind of semi-hit/above average status K786 pulled off.

Filmi Girl said...

That really is too bad!! I know a mediocre film when I see one and Phata Poster was Housefull 2 levels of fun!

Moimeme said...

@FG - I wish you didn't compare it to Housefull 2. :( I got HF2 on your recommendation, but couldn't last more than 20 minutes into it. I sincerely hope PPNK is better than that.

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