A Cinematic Framing Of Urban-Polpular cultural Forms: Heroine (2012): Dhiraj K Nite
BY Dhiraj K Nite
The Bollywood has recently benefited from insights of a couple of radical-liberal craftsmen. These craftsmen claim to bring up reflexive realism to the commercial cinema. Madhur Bhandarkar is one of them. The output is a critical narcissistic engagement with the dominant theme of commercial cinema, i.e., the life and culture of wealthy individuals and moneyed professional. Bhandarkar has offered us, thus, an intense movie Heroine. Here, he continues to pour out his critical liberal take on his subject which we have seen him doing in Page 3, Corporate, and Fashion(2008). Very soon I will suggest where he makes departure in his latest venture.
The Heroine’s protagonist, Mahi Arora (Karina Kapoor) yearns for love, company and certainty in her life. She does so in the midst of her pursuit of climbing and remaining at the peak of achievement and success. It is a 19thc bourgeois notion of love, simply another name of a ‘marriage of convenience’ rather than of love. It is contrary to a meaning of love which we find in Sartre’s and Fanon’s work(1952): Love means a person is in the quest for something what s/he likes to have within him/her. Mahi is a celebrity, Bollywood star and a character of the 21st century’s matured professional world. The 19thc bourgeois notion of love descends in Mahi’syearning from the intervention made by her mother. Mahialready had two moments of break up in her youthful life. These moments failed to perturb and rub her professional spirit and the ‘happy-going’ orientation of life. The mother’s intervention reorients her at one stroke. The sharp editing of the movie and its singlefocus do not lend this shift become preachy nor penetrative.
Hereon, Bhandarkar repeats himself in this movie what he has already created in Fashion(2008). Mahi looks for the combination of aninsuring marital life and professional stability. The goal eludes her while it is testing her patience and emotional depth. She proves herself perturbable, and emotionally vulnerable. She pays price for it. The third moment of break up visits her to take an irreparable toll. The smoke of cigrate, galas of alcohol and half-lit flat accompany her inner turmoil. [The light management is splendid in the movie.] In between Bhandarkar once again reveals to us how individualistic and economistic have become the foundation of marital life of Page 3 couples? How promiscuity not just undercuts the façade of monogamy, but functions as a tool to greasing business transection?
Mahi and her advisors ensure her comeback by exploiting sexual transection with a man of substance. The latter is this time no other than a cricket star, i.e., another Star of our cultural, entertainment industry. Bhandarkar’s take on a nexus between the cricket star and the Bollywood star is astute. Only a flamboyant batsman rather than a destructive bowler could become a part of this nexus. Nonetheless, the character of Mahi does something what is hitherto infrequent to occur in Indian cinema. Before it, we have seen in the movie Gulaland Ishqiyathat a female protagonist deploys her sexual possession to hunt for her worldly pursuit.
Mahi is back in the industry. Sooner than later, she is made to realise that she should prove that she is an actor alongside a Star. She divulges in an Art cinema for an image change and become invulnerable to her mainstream male co-star. Bhandarkr’s momentary take on this matter amuses us with the revelation of the inner world of venerate artists of the Art cinema. Its artist is forthright, even when s/he is not unproblematic.
The main plot tells us that Mahi has learnt to prioritise her career first than any pull of certainty in sexual/marital life. The latter should wait. This maturity, or to call a decision, brings up at her door fourth break-up; a reunion with an erstwhile beloved; and one more round of break-up with him. In fact, the latter break-up follows Mahi’s newly acquired inability to become indulgent in the loving relationship; and that she could undertake only in favour of professional achievement. Finally, she also learnt to generate a sexual scandal around herself to attract viewers to her movie. This has become now an ‘acceptable’ pattern in the industry. After all, our memory is short about this! The scandal brings roaring favour of the viewer to her low-budget woman-centric movie (Annie), and new film offers pack her for next two years.
The door of professional achievement is an open one to her. Like Fashion’s MeghnaMathur, Mahi ends up in Europe. Meanwhile, both have gained solace and certain meaning of life by becoming caring to astruggling professional in the same industry.
Unlike Meghna, Mahi finds genuine pleasure and peace of mind when she quits the industry and merges herself in the crowd and immerses on the street. This is a romantic departure made by Bhandarkar in this movie.The explanation for this difference refers to the realisation made by Mahi how lonely an actress could become in the end of the day in this world of celebrity? How depersonalised and self-serving are participants in that world? This is a truly romantic philosophical input, and it demands suspension of any disbelief against its ‘upside-down’ impact on Mahi.
The focus on a continually evolving persona of Mahi and the application of sharp-edge editing has made the movie absorbing. A viewer may not feel cheated. One would definitely be perplexed by the fact of little search for the root of flicker and fickle in human nature of Mahi. She appears no more than a lurking symptom. Isn’t it her origin in a broken, emotionally drained family in-itself a symptomatic element of something else? However, we are witnessing more and more such characters, who may not be meeting the same end.
The Heroine is a commentary on a nexus among professionals (private lives of men, women and transgender), their profession (economic activity), and entertainment capital. Bhandarkarhighlights how the first two are inextricable in the regime of the third, as we find these in the Bollywood. Here, crockery, duplicity and double-crossing define business transection and are rules of the game. Im/morality submits to the regime of entertainment capital. When Mahi feels disgusted with it, she should become an onlooker and prefer oblivion.
Bhandarkar further brings to us a radical-liberal commentary on the popular cultural forms of urban life. The urban cultural forms include the cinema, fashioning, media channels, and cricketing sport. Glamour, luxury, and boisterous living seem to drive its participants. They value human links to the point when they find them useful to satisfy base desires for money, veneration and carnal sensation. They share few deeper concerns for camaraderie, collective consciousness for love and humanism. Indeed, the collective unconscious predominates. How much the reaction of Mahi in the ways of withdrawal from this devouring collective unconscious is a desirable option to others? Pessimism of Bhandarkar marks it different from what his Fashion and Page 3proposed to us.
Yet, Bhandarkar’s pessimist resolution to the problem does not loom large on the movie. The casts have been eager to step into the director’s frame. They have gratified the close-up camera by sufficiently contorting their facial muscle, and reserving their body language to bring characters on the screen. These sound technical sides of the movie reins pessimism of the resolution from casting any uninviting spell over viewers.