The first half hour of Pradeep Sarkar’s Helicopter Eela wants to cash in on your 90s nostalgia, something that is suddenly in fashion of late. We have films and pop culture artifacts that do it well (the recently released Tamil film 96 for one) while there are many examples like Eela that simply want to paint pictures with no depth. Director Sarkar shows us indie-pop songs where Baba Sehgal makes an appearance with Ila Arun and Shaan, and a guy in the launch party of MTV India is styled like Biddu. Mahesh Bhatt and Anu Malik present their condescending dispositions, and there is even the recently shut down Rhythm House for the locals of Mumbai to fondly remember.
Eela Raiturkar (Kajol Devgan) is an aspiring singer, or at least that’s what she was in the mid-90s, till her career is, well, that is the thing – we don’t know what happened to her career. Eela and her husband (Tota Roy Chowdhury as Arun. She is now Eela Arun, get it?) have a son, and Arun suddenly develops a phobia for life itself, learning that the men in his family, all of them, pass long before they hit 40. He leaves. Eela’s world begins to revolve around son Vivaan (Riddhi Sen).
Vivaan grows up and goes to college. Eela never does and wants to go to college too. Eela is written as the excessively mushy, corny, overbearing mother who just cannot leave her son alone. It makes you wonder if Eela has seen men who’ve been brought up this way and what kind of issues they end up having thanks to that sort of upbringing. Helicopter Eela might rank as Kajol’s worst ever performance and very little in it is her fault. She is not at all helped by the way the character is written (screenplay by Mitesh Shah and Anand Gandhi). At some level, Helicopter Eela wants to be a comedy and that does a great disservice to the film and Kajol. We are supposed to laugh at this laughably played mother-son dynamic, but it only makes us shift in our seat, the discomfort of it all. One can easily see this needed a Vidya Balan who can calibrate the moods of a character like Eela but the problem is more in the writing than the performer.
The film never comes up with moments that could make you care for Eela or Vivaan, because everything they do and say is generic and half-hearted. They plan to go for a film and we see Eela in the queue in a single screen theatre booking tickets for The Revengers (yes, you read that right). Vivaan doesn’t show up until after the end credits of The Revengers. It never crossed Eela’s mind that she can book tickets online and walk in (she gives one ticket to the usher and describes Vivaan’s appearance so that he can let him in). Vivaan forgot that he has a phone. Some assistant or Sarkar himself forgot that they were filming the present-day part of the script and not the 90s. Eela cannot leave her 10-year-old son alone? She follows him to a school trip. Eela cannot let her son go to college and study in peace? She joins his college!
One would expect better excuses for Eela to join college again, but everything here is so perfunctory. At one point Vivaan suggests she could teach music to the kids in their apartment. What happened to that? What about actually restarting her career – she, after all, figures in a Kaun Banega Crorepati question. All of these would have made for better films than the dull mess that Pradeep Sarkar has made.