It isn't hard to picture just how Madhur Bhandarkar pitched this film to Kareena Kapoor, India's highest paid actress. (I naturally assume a script wasn't involved.) 'Kareenaji,' I speculate the director would have said, 'this film will make you Meryl Strip.'
'You mean Streep?' Kareena perhaps interjects.
'Yes, same only, just with more skin show. So we can show off not just how good an actress you are but also how tiptop your body is. We'll make you do everything, from playing insecure to bipolar to furious to arty. Matlab Kangana plus Priyanka, madam.'
At this point Kapoor, weary (as one gets) of all those hundred-crore moneyspinners that have featured her merely as arm-candy, sighs, and looks over above the fireplace in front of that Asian Paints emulsified wall. On the mantelpiece she spots a gap, a gap just large enough for a National Award. She smiles but hesitates. (She might have watched Jail, you see.)
The director lays out his trump card: 'The former number one heroine was to do it, but now it's you.'
Film as coronation, as it were, the ultimate endorsement. She giddily signs on, and Bhandarkar, armed with three years of Stardust back-issues, starts to write what we might as well call a script.
See what I did there?
It's called stereotyping, and Madhur Bhandarkar has parlayed it into a career. Film after film he embraces cliches -- about businessmen, models, journalists -- and exaggerates them, revelling in caricature and tacky dialogue. It's like a recreated dramatisation on a sensationalist television crime show, with marginally better actors and production values.
Actually, to be fair, Heroine is quite stupendously glossy, with every actress soaked in bronzer, and much flattering lighting. And the actors really aren't the problem here, each of them -- even the disastrous ones -- earning more than their fare share just for keeping straight faces through this malarkey.
Kapoor's Mahi Arora is an emotionally fraught girl from a small town and a broken family, which is apparently enough to make her stand out in Bollywood. She's having an affair with married actor Aryan Khanna (Arjun Rampal, more restrained than ever and frequently looking justifiably exasperated) on the verge of a divorce, while fending off rivals scheming for her A-list slot. (One of these pretenders sics her boyfriend onto a bisexual industrialist in order to nab a jewellery endorsement contract. Okay then.)
Mahi downs bourbon by the gallon as her career nosedives, and despite the master manipulations of a Public Relations shark (Divya Dutta) and the affection of a namby-pamby cricketer hopelessly besotted by her (Randeep Hooda at his most woeful and blubbery) she continues to spiral down into HasBeen-land.
Bravely, she tries to do an art-film with a 'realistic filmmaker' (Ranbir Shorey in a hilariously indignant role) and briefly lets her hair down (nudgenudgewinkwink) with an arty actress (played by, surprise, arty actress Shahana Goswami) but regrets it immediately after. Having cast Goswami's bosom for the film, the filmmakers fail to give the solid actress who comes with it anything interesting to do, besides furtively and shamefacedly deny being a lesbian. Groan.
The first half of the film passes swiftly enough, with much spot-the-unsubtle-celeb-impersonation to be played: Sanjay Suri does a decent SRK laugh, even. But soon things devolve into utter lunacy, with Kareena's mascara eventually channeling Heath Ledger's Joker (o, how tiring the flashbulbs can be) while Bhandarkar finally ends his film much like Christopher Nolan did earlier this year.
No, no kidding.
Sometime before that there's some randomness to do with a sextape scandal, some nonsense about how a leaked video can lead to superstardom, an absurd conceit that will certainly ruin Riya Sen's weekend.
How then does Kareena do in this feature-length showreel? Impressively well. Ever a strong actress, she takes the opportunity to emote her guts out, but has been given far too large and unexciting a stage. She wails and moans and grumbles and huffs and pouts and sticks out her hip and uses those insanely captivating eyes to tremendous effect.
Kapoor acquits herself admirably and while the performance is overtly showy, it's more than most of her peers can do.
Unfortunately the sheer mediocrity surrounding her -- with everyone in spoof mode, especially the dialogue writers -- never lets us feel for her character in what turns out to be a grotesquely long film.
We do, thus, feel for Kareena herself. But that was never the point.