Even Oedipus Thinks The Mom in ‘Helicopter Eela’ Is Messed Up
Thoughtful, well-plotted, true-to-life, insightful – these are all things that Bollywood is not. Which is why I did not have high hopes (or any hopes, really), for Helicopter Eela, a newly released movie starring Kajol as an over-involved mother.
The trailer promised that she was going back to college with her son – and alas, if that was actually the story, perhaps it would have had some mitigating factors.
“Helicopter parenting” was coined in 1990 to describe how parents hover over their kids, not allowing them to grow up, take their own decisions and more. Kajol’s Eela Raiturkar isn’t a helicopter parent – she’s a straight up stalker. So much so that she always knows when her son is nearby or outside their front door – thus answering the eternal question: are some of us part dog? By the time the intermission rolled around, the audience was Googling “how can a teen get emancipated from crazy mother” on behalf of Vivaan, her son in the movie.
Kajol’s OTT, shrieky performance doesn’t help – as I watched, a senior citizen hobbled out of the theatre, hand on ear, presumably trying to stem the bleeding from her burst eardrum, within the first 10 minutes. That left eight of us in the theatre, unprepared for what was about to come.
Eela Raiturkar is a super special snowflake. The movie starts with her as a young woman; she wants to be a singer, and despite not knowing anything – “What’s a jingle?”; no, seriously, she asks this question – and rarely using headphones in the sound studio when she does sing (HOW does she know what to sing to? HOW?), and a constant obsession with being ‘famous,’ she is hailed and applauded and encouraged by everyone she meets.
And hasn’t #MeToo proven that powerful men in entertainment only want to encourage young women, with no expectations or demands in return? Helicopter Eela ably demonstrates this global truth; Eela is continuously feted in a variety of situations by singers, producers, directors working in the next studio (I wish I were kidding), pigeons, termites and god knows who else.
And Eela is determined to be successful despite her awful lip-syncing – evident in the fact that the first minor setback makes her jump into her boyfriend’s arms and demand to get married, claiming, “My career will always be there.” Indeed, show business is notoriously like a government job – your position is indefinitely open and waiting for you to come back to.
A marriage and baby carriage later, Eela’s husband becomes convinced he’s going to die – because no man in his family has survived past the age of 35 due to a series of freak accidents. “Something something last year of my life live like I’m gonna die something,” he says, promptly walking out on his wife and child. Had I been this man, I would have chosen to become an extremely smug agoraphobe — but then I remember I’d still have to live with Eela, and I, too, would want to live my last year out somewhere, anywhere, else.
Eela then decides to focus (obsess) solely on her child – and doesn’t. Ever. Stop.
This movie made me come home and want to re-read Mommie Dearest; in between wire hangers, Christina was at least left alone with her thoughts, some of the of time.
She even gives up singing professionally – and for the life of me, I could not understand how this film wasn’t called Single Mother Out on the Street. I did an informal poll amongst married friends about whether they could quit their jobs and be a single mother without a job. When they stop laughing next week, I will report back.
We see cutesy montages and scenes of Vivaan growing up, also serving as examples of her helicoptering. This kid’s (and the audience’s) frustration with Eela being a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out of a human being peaks when she decides to join her teenage son in college – just to spend time with him.
She didn’t not finish college when she was younger. She just wants to chill with her baby all the time now. And whatever Snowflake wants, Snowflake gets – from the principal, her son’s friends and even her son’s shoe-throwing music teacher (literally flings footwear at students in every scene).
The movie plods, and plods, and plods. The dad returns, and it’s a non-event. I don’t even know why they needed that sequence; unless it was to demonstrate the totality of Vivaan’s Stockholm syndrome.
Finally, a plot twist – his mother interferes in teenage love (sadly, not her son’s. I kept waiting for it, but no, he only wuvs mommy) and Vivaan storms out. Cue thunderstorm, because even nature feels for our special snowflake.
Mother and son both sulk, cry, look morose. There’s some nonsense about Eela singing in an inter-college play/skit/competition on the music teacher’s insistence and some sensible people finally showing up and not allowing anyone over 35 to sing – and a finale where her son pushes her to sing anyway, damn all those college students looking for their first break.
Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler hasn’t gotten the kind of crowd approval, applause or adulation that a completely unknown mother, singing some never-before-heard weird Indi-pop song with multiple pop culture references, receives in this movie.
Also, for a movie centered on a woman, with at least two supporting female characters and no adult male protagonist in sight – it is shocking that Helicopter Eela does not pass the Bechdel test. There are no conversations about anything, other than the husband or the kid, between the women onscreen. God help us, Eela, as a mother, doesn’t even talk about food. She’s constantly obsessing over ensuring her son brings his “dabba” back home – and why not, there’s no visible source of income, she can’t buy another – but we never see her do anything other than stalk him unceasingly, mercilessly, exhaustingly.
Societal conditioning is so strong that most mums today would relate to this movie – despite being nothing like the freak show that Eela is.
The end is predictable – she starts to sing again, and rightly so; therapy is not cheap and Vivaan will need a lot of it. This movie also made me come home and want to re-read Mommie Dearest; in between wire hangers, Christina was at least left alone with her thoughts, some of the of time.
India has always been in thrall to the idea of the Great Indian Mother – self-sacrificing, obsessed with her children, doing everything for them and basically only living for them. This societal conditioning is so strong that most mums today would relate to this movie – despite being nothing like the freak show that Eela is.
Bollywood, I see you – you’re trying to make bucks by banging out a paean to that Nargis-inspired ideal – but it won’t work. We want our mothers, and our women, to be fabulously, lovably human. We want them to have other interests and joys and live their lives – and in turn, let us do the same. We’re already struggling with men realizing that we’re human, and that we need to be treated with respect. Movies like this are just hurting all the causes.
Kajol, my love; you have kids, a film career, a production company and endorsement deals. Why you chose this script and did nothing to improve it is beyond me. At one point in the movie, your character says, “I should just slap myself.” I agree. I’ll help.