Ever since Vicky Donor, Bollywood has engaged with subjects that are apparently taboo with the hoi polloi — erectile dysfunction in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, middle-aged pregnancy in Badhaai Ho, menstruation in Padman. Unfortunately, with every new film in this space, it is becoming less and less interesting and innovative. There’s a staleness, a been-there-done-that feel to the way Helmet plays out. We have seen these characters, heard these accents, way too many times in Hindi films of recent vintage.
Lucky [Aparshakti Khurana] is a down-on-his-luck lead singer in a wedding band in small-town Uttar Pradesh. He is in love with Rupali [Pranutan Bahl], the daughter of the man [Ashish Vidyarthi] who owns the band. Humiliated and rejected by Rupali’s father, Lucky hatches a hare-brained get-rich-quick plan: Rob a truck ferrying mobile phones (there’s a lot of convoluted and unconvincing reasoning that goes behind this decision). Complicating the endeavour are the two comrades-in-arms he recruits for the purpose: His friends, Minus (Ashish Verma; hard of hearing and slow on the uptake) and Sultan (Abhishek Banerjee; a poultry breeder being leaned on by muscleman moneylender Bunty Bhai).
The holdup goes as per plan, but imagine their horror when the friends discover that instead of mobile phones, they have a warehouse full of condom cartons!
If the original plan seems far-fetched, the way the friends go about disposing of the stock is downright puerile. To avoid the embarrassment of being recognised as purveyors of condoms, they don helmets as masks! Of course, there’s the subtext of the helmet as a symbol of what a condom is supposed to do. From here on, it gets progressively worse as the friends hit it big in a town where the C-word and S-word are not even whispered. There’s a barber who hasn’t had it easy with his wife in a long time, the owner of a seedy theatre which plays porn films for its masturbating clients, a sex worker and her team, a network of housemaids, and sundry unemployed of the town — all of whom add to the friends’ growing clientele.
There are seeds of a genuinely funny film here involving some good old-fashioned takedown of our sexual mores, but Helmet seems unsure of how to go about it. Time and again the film seems stuck in a no man’s land between satire and self-righteousness. Consider, for example, the scene in the brothel — the point being made is valid and important, but it seems to belong to a different film in the context of what has gone before. As does the sequence where Lucky narrates his childhood woes and sermonises how there would be fewer orphans if people used condoms!
Then there’s the ridiculous climax where the three friends are hailed as messiahs for banishing STDs and AIDS from the town. Lucky, hands raised, exhorts the townspeople to chant the slogan: ‘Condom, condom!’ Revolution, anyone? I mean, really, come on! The sequence isn’t even played for laughs. And then you even have the prime minister’s speech on population control — which left me wondering if this is one of those Films Division films.
The actors here are a game lot consistently undone by the writing. There’s Pranutan Bahl who has a swell scene at the outset, daring her lover to get a condom before he gets frisky, ending with, ‘Ticket nahin toh entry nahin!’, a rather bold and corny line for a leading woman in a Hindi film to spell out. But like the rest of the film, her character too runs out of steam. There’s some good-natured ribbing and repartee between Aparshakti, Abhishek and Avinash before the film makes the about-turn into maudlin territory. There are a few nice touches — the police sketch artist, the truck driver who is robbed and his conversation with the police, Sultan’s ringtone (given he is into poultry) — done offhandedly to good effect. If only the makers had the nerve to follow their gut, this could have been more substantial than the one-dimensional take it is now.
Cast: Aparshakti Khurana, Pranutan Bahl, Abhishek Banerjee, Anurita Jha, Ashish Verma
Director: Satramm Ramani
Rating: 2.5 stars
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)