Holding out for a real ‘Heroine’

As the credits of Madhur Bhandarkar's Heroine rolled in the dark preview theatre, my thoughts went back to a casual meeting with Shyam Benegal, vanguard of art cinema in India, when I thanked him for making movies that did not shy away from showing women getting in touch with their wicked desires (read sexual activity). Back then, when women got pregnant after stormy nights and lovemaking was clumsily disguised as flowers banging against each other or birds cooing, Shyam Babu was nothing short of revolutionary.

One film that stood out was Bhumika, with Smita Patil playing the lead role of Urvashi, a woman who seeks a normal life as homemaker but finds herself constantly thrust under the arc lights by her husband. She strikes out on her own to find love, but after a couple of equally claustrophobic amorous encounters, she returns to her normal life. It was a telling comment on the life-altering experience that life in the movies can be. Urvashi, grown accustomed to her fame, could not settle for mere love, something that she ironically yearned for all her life.

Madhur Bhandarkar's Heroine, an ode to Bollywood's leading ladies, chooses to dwell on the dark side of show business. The mirror he holds up, quite like what cruel camera heroines court every day, captures every fake smile and grimace, every false act motivated by ambition. Film star Mahi Arora's reckless pursuit of love and the numero uno crown sets her up for a downward spiral. Whether it is the rejection by her lover or the cricketer she courts briefly, the casting coups or the games she plays with the media, it all borrows generously from the lives of present day denizens of showbiz. But in Bhandarkar's attempt at being true to "reality", no new ground is broken.

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