Director: Pradeep Sarkar
Cast: Kajol, Riddhi Sen, Tota Roy Choudhury, Neha Dhupia
You remember Anjali Sharma – the character Kajol played in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham...? She's over-animated, shrill and drop-dead gorgeous. Well, if she got older and became a single mom, she would be Eela in Helicopter Eela. Eela also has that Mrs. Raichand trait of sensing when her son is near. So just like Jaya Bachchan turns to the door in K3G before Shah Rukh Khan walks in, Eela opens the door even before her son, Vivaan has knocked. But what was the ultimate proof of maa ka pyaar in 2001 has become a sign of smothering in 2018.
Eela, as the title tells us, is a nightmarish helicopter parent. She hovers over every aspect of her son's life. When he asks for privacy, she says, "Kaisi privacy? Teri chaddi badli hai maine." Just like in the Melissa McCarthy film Life of the Party, Eela ends up going to college with her child. Which of course pushes her suffocating ways to the next level.
The film is based on the Gujarati play Beta Kaagdo by Anand Gandhi who has co-written the screenplay with Mitesh Shah. The writers and director Pradeep Sarkar want to create a portrait of a middle-aged, middle-class woman who must rediscover herself and find a life outside of her son. It's a worthy idea but the narration is almost entirely lacking in insight or authenticity. Little of it rings true – especially not the bewildering plot twist that makes Eela a single parent and puts an end to her career as a singer.
Helicopter Eela has been produced by Ajay Devgn and it comes off as a vanity project for his wife. In every scene, Kajol is fabulously put together – even when she's in bed or in the the hospital after giving birth, her hair and lipstick are in place. Instead of being moved by Eela's story, which is the story of countless Indian mothers, I was admiring Kajol's lovely kurtas and marveling at the fact that she looks just as beautiful now as she did in K3G. What's harder to digest is her acting. Kajol is far too eager to be likeable, charming and funny. In a few emotional scenes, you glimpse the actress who once spoke straight to your heart. But mostly, her acting is so broad, that you feel like she's overcompensating for the lack of script.
National Award-winning actor Riddhi Sen brings some heft to a generic part. He and Kajol work well together. Their relationship is convincing but the screenplay is so juvenile that little connects. In one scene, Vivaan's father leaves his diary for him. Mother and son exchange a pained look. We get a close up of the diary and then we never see it again. You are left wondering – what the hell was that about?
Tota Roy Choudhury plays the dad and Neha Dhupia is a college drama teacher – I realised that just as Ronit Roy has become the staple abusive father, Neha has become the staple friend who enables the leading lady to rediscover herself – she did it in Tumhari Sulu and Karan Johar's short film in the Lust Stories anthology. A flashback takes us to the 90s, when Eela is trying be a singer. We get glimpses of folks like Ila Arun, Baba Seghal and Mahesh Bhatt made younger with black hair. It's a little disturbing.
In once scene, Eela tells a college-mate, who is obviously half her age, to call her 'Eela' instead of 'Eela aunty'. She says, "I'm very modern." But this film doesn't feel modern. It feels dated and shallow.