I apparently have a thing for really mediocre Shahid Kapoor films, because for me Phata Poster Nikhla Hero was the best thing to happen since Teri Meri Kahaani. (Okay I lied! English Vinglish and Go Goa Gone were better. But I still really liked these two Shahid films that no one else seems to like.) Shahid was at his best acting yet, showing across one movie that he can not only be the goofy lovable Shahid we’re used to, but also purposefully overact, shed legitimate tears, and even scare the shit out of his enemies when necessary. The themes were also really perfect – the film touched on police corruption without overdoing it, dealt with the “modern-day Indian youth” conflict of following your own dreams vs following those of your parents in a way that didn’t even put one above the other, and ended with a typical but beautiful message about giving back to the people who have cared for you (and specifically not to people with whom you only share a “khoon ka rishta (blood tie)”). Plus, this movie included my favorite Bollywood necessities: a plethora of references to other movies/actors and plot twists every thirty seconds.
Ileana’s acting was sub-par, but she looked beautiful, and really her character wasn’t essential anyway. I could complain about how she was clearly just there for eye candy/to fulfill the obligatory role of a romantic interest for the hero, but I actually appreciated the lack of emphasis on the love story, especially since this was disregarded in favor of actual character development. Plus, even though her character wasn’t strong or as fully developed as Shahid’s, the character of Shahid’s maa was all of the above – a female rickshawala who openly argued against her husband’s amoral decisions. (I should also mention that I LOVED the way her backstory was revealed – we didn’t know everything from the beginning, but only learned it when it became relevant. It was reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, another film I absolutely loved despite everyone else’s consensus that it sucked.) Both women also fulfilled the role of “a woman with a strong sense of right and wrong who keeps the hero grounded in his own morals” (aka Kali). When the bad guys were holding a bunch of girls hostage in implied sex slavery/trafficking, they were swiftly rescued by both Shahid AND Ileana. The girl wasn’t just standing to the side in any of their missions; in fact, she was normally at the forefront and was just using Shahid for his body (by that I mean his muscles and fighting ability) – which was pretty badass.
Still, as much as I love the trope of women being necessary for a man’s survival*, I am going to have to advocate for the elimination of the obligatory romance plot line [in this scenario], just because literally every problem I had with this film centered around there being an obligatory love interest. Seriously, within a few seconds of meeting Ileana’s character, Shahid is literally following her around like an animal (like, literally, the choreography is that he’s acting like a dog) and saying, literally, “tera peechha karoon to rokne ka nahin” (I’m going to follow you and you aren’t gonna stop me). This is literally the most rapey song ever and deserves a whole post to itself where I will translate the full lyrics to the delight/fear of non-Hindi speakers, but beware: It is so much worse than Blurred Lines ever was; you will be stunned.
If you thought that was bad, just wait until Shahid walks into a strip club: His jaw drops to the floor and he literally says that the strippers are not girls; they are food (“ye ladkiyon nahin hai ye to vanilla ice cream hai”) – delicious, white, fair-skinned, creamy food. I would have never thought this was necessary to say, but I literally think some people in India/the film industry don’t understand this concept: Just because a person is light-skinned, even if she is working in a strip club, it doesn’t mean she transforms into an object for your male consumption! That’s not how it works!
I don’t understand how a film can be simultaneously so good and so terrible all at once. Most people don’t like it when there are so many plot twists that two minutes on a timer takes longer to reach zero than in a game of American football, but I really love football! And also really loved most things about this movie. It’s really too bad they had to make the main character (who has an entire film plot built around how honest and upright he is!) objectify, harass, and stalk women using lines I’ve literally been followed around India with (okay fine, I don’t mean literally this time; none of my harassers were ever clever enough to call me “vanilla ice cream”), because if that one [major] problem was fixed this film could have been so great.
*Yes, this trope sounds incredibly anti-LGBT. I like to think of it as not as black and white as it normally is portrayed in the films; that everyone has a little Kali and a little Shiva in them, and what is important is finding a balance within yourself. If your partner/friends/whatever help with that, then awesome! But it doesn’t actually have to be as male/female as it normally is portrayed. If Bollywood would portray it in a way that wasn’t so male/female dichotomous, then it would obviously be even better.