Seasoned and supremely gifted actors. A powerful and novel concept. A strong technical team. But, something goes wrong along the way, the perfect ingredients don’t make that perfect dish. That’s Helicopter Eela for you! I was left disappointed at the end of it because this could have and should have been a pioneering endeavour in Hindi Cinema. But the half-baked script and the inconsistent screenplay, unfortunately, make this a turbulent ride with a bumpy landing.
Helicopter Parenting needs no explanation. Helicopter parents are all around us, probably in us too even if we may not want to accept it. But, this idea has seldom been explored and depicted on celluloid. However, Helicopter Eela does not just touch upon this theme but also attempts to bring to fore the struggles of single parenting. The movie is as much about lost identities and missing connections, as it is about resurrecting dreams and being practical in the face of adversity.
Drawn to Eela’s world
As we watch our protagonist Eela Raiturkar, played by the naturally delightful and effervescent Kajol, in the opening scene with the classic “Pari hoon main” playing in the background, we are immediately drawn into her world. The reels unfold at a brisk pace in the first half as the viewers get transported to the 90s era which was also the golden period of Indi Pop music. Eela is shown to be a budding singing star whose rendition of “Ruk Ruk Ruk” makes her an overnight sensation.
Just when life seems to be taking an upward turn for her, a twist of fate brings it all to a grinding halt. With minimal support and a toddler to fend for, this single mother focuses all her time and energy on raising him, willingly putting her career and music aspirations on the back-burner.
This backstory lays down the premise for the second half set in the current day. Eela’s teenage son Vivaan (portrayed by National award-winning actor Riddhi Sen) often feels suffocated due to lack of space in his life because of his “helicopter” mother. When he is pushed to the brink, he takes a firm decision which forces Eela to introspect and find herself.
What I particularly found impressive in the first half of the movie is how the writers have smartly infused the scenes with random moments here and there when we get a fleeting glimpse of the “helicopter” side to Eela. However, the plot point which causes her to become a single parent is peculiar and totally unconvincing, to say the least. I literally heard someone in the audience gasp inside the theatre and blurt out “seriously?” when the turning point was playing out on screen.
In fact, the whole track involving Eela’s husband has been clumsily handled in the movie. It does not help that the love story between Kajol and Tota Roy Chowdhury (who plays her love interest/husband) is lacklustre due to the evident lack of chemistry. This further keeps the viewers away from getting invested in the characters and their conflicts.
Obsession with ‘dabbas’, that’s it?
The second half manages to connect the viewers back to the story but only in parts. My biggest grouch with the movie is ironically in its depiction of helicopter parenting. The writing lacks depth and nuance and the only way in which Eela is shown to be a helicopter parent is through her obsession with “dabbas” and by being all over the place. Sure, that is done to generate laughs along the way but resorting to the same gimmick, again and again, to bring humour into the screenplay only falls flat.
The subject matter is treated at a surface level and we are not made a part of the real, day to day challenges faced by Eela. In fact, the movie takes a simplistic view of a complex, layered problem which exists in our patriarchal society. It is almost made to seem as if Eela does not want to chase her dream which is true about the character, but then how easy is it for a single mother to live for herself in our culture?
In the absence of the right support system in place, many women are left with no choice but to prioritize keeping their responsibilities in mind. Eela’s husband very conveniently chooses to leave his family in a lurch but could Eela have done the same thing if the situation was reversed? There is not enough meat in the writing to subtly pose these questions to the viewers and show them a mirror.
The climax too, when finally Eela learns to let go of her controlling and hovering ways, does not hit hard. She takes that flight towards her dreams but as a viewer, I didn’t feel the urge to stand up and cheer for her. This is because her passion for music and her pain of not being able to pursue it should have been a key subtext in the second half of the movie which is sorely missing from the narrative.
Lead actors stellar performances
What saves the movie from sinking is the sparkling performance of the lead actors. Only a veteran performer like Kajol could breathe life into the character of Eela. She plays Eela with utmost conviction and lights up the screen with her spunk, in spite of being given a patchily written role which borders around being annoying and irksome.
The character of Vivaan is limited to being one-note, yet Riddhi Sen puts his heart and soul into it. The mother-son duo shares a crackling chemistry. Their light-hearted banter makes the otherwise drab proceedings entertaining. Trust Kajol to burst your dam of tears just by the mere prowess of her art and craft. She makes you feel and understand her state of mind even in an average scene. There is a scene in the movie in which Eela pesters her son to call up a family friend whom he hardly knows to offer his condolences on the demise of the latter’s father. The scene has been masterfully and realistically handled. The transition of the pitch and tone within the scene is absolutely brilliant. Sadly, such moments in the movie are few and far between.
On the whole, “Helicopter Eela” is a well-intentioned, one-time watch and if you are a Kajol Fan, you might just ignore some of its shortcomings. Though the execution stops short of being on point, I would like to applaud the team for their attempt to make a movie which talks about mothers and their dreams. The message undoubtedly is loud and clear – we must learn to cut the umbilical cord, however hard it may be and as a society, we need to stop glorifying motherhood. It is a part of us, not our whole.
Image Source – Movie Promo Still