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She plays an overindulgent mother from hell, but actress Kajol manages to add a dash of dignity to her role with her charisma and screen-presence in Helicopter Eela.

The pleasant family drama, directed by Pradeep Sarkar, transports us to the life a single parent Eela who takes insane pride in shadowing her genial son, Vivan, played wonderfully by Riddhi Sen. Like every helicopter parent worth their salt, she derives her self-worth from her son’s progress and life.

Vivan has everything going for him including a mop of unfettered curly hair, except his mother who hovers around him like a crazy stalker with a dabba (tiffin box filled with food) in her hand. The more he resists, the more she tightens her vice-like grip. More than once, he barks at her to back off, but she’s persistent.

Any lesser actor would have reduced Eela to a grating figure but Kajol manages to dial down the repulsiveness to a decent degree. But that doesn’t mean she’s wholly likeable — her acting prowess ensures that while we empathise with her, we sympathise with her son even more.

It’s not often that Bollywood films explore the problematic parts of parenting. Usually the on-screen parents in Hindi films are nobility personified or forgotten figures in the lead players’ periphery or they are raving mad, bloodthirsty villains. There’s hardly any in-between.

Towing the line

That’s where Helicopter Eela scores. The film does a neat job of showcasing the middle-class lives of doting Eela and her understandably frustrated son. But you need to be patient with this tempestuous pair. The first half focuses on Eela’s back story of how she was a gifted singer and her love-drenched life with Vivan’s father. Her husband’s abrupt exit from their utopian life is not entirely convincing though and feels like an ill-conceived whim. Precious minutes are wasted on glorifying Eela’s musical talents, but if you are a 90s kid like this journalist, then you are likely to enjoy all those pop culture and song references.

Conflicts galore

While the first half moves at a languid pace, it’s the second half that picks up pace. The conflict between the mother and son reaches a breaking point and it’s engaging to watch them navigate those tricky terrains. But what lets the movie down is the simplistic manner in which the movie explores the life of a single mother. Even at the end of the movie, it’s unclear what Eela did for a living to make her ends meet. Even if we assume that her estranged husband left her a tiny fortune, the math of living in a costly city in India does not just match up.

The problems in this film are resolved in a pedestrian and simplistic manner. Eela’s journey of self-discovery is hasty and not wholly believable.

But it’s the collective performances of this well-cast film that elevates this film to an engaging, pleasant watch.

Neha Dhupia as a temperamental drama coach with anger-management issues is a hoot and so are the rest of the supporting cast.

The film also has a few progressive twists in the manner in which Eela handles her personal relationships.

While Helicopter Eela won’t rock your world, it is a soothing watch.

Don’t miss it

Film: Helicopter Eela
Director: Pradeep Sarkar
Cast: Kajol, Riddhi Sen and Neha Dhupia
Stars: 3 out of 5