The advent of cable-TV happened in India in the early 1990’s when foreign channels were beaming in the houses of the privileged upper-middle-class. A decade later came the age of the reality shows with Channel V running a contest to form a girl-band on the lines of Spice Girls; and in 2002 Viva happened.
But much before cable-tv was introduced and much before reality shows made an appearance, came the movie Hero Hiralal. It was the vision of Ketan Mehta that he weaved such a tale which seemed pedestrian to begin with, but ended in a crescendo. It was a reality show of high-voltage drama and very much ahead of its times, when nobody had come-up with such a concept.
The movie released in 1988 and I saw it a couple of years later in DD. The movie starts in a typical boy-meets-girl format. We are introduced to Naseeruddin Shah as Hiralal who drives an auto in Hyderabad. He is a big film buff and that’s how gets the title Hero. His friend Mohan Gokhale plays a movie-poster-painter and one of the landmark dialogues of the movie was ‘phata poster, nikla hero’.
A film troupe arrives in Hyderabad to shoot a movie and Roopa, played by Sanjana Kapoor in her debut movie, is the lead actress of the movie. Hero falls head over heels for her, he takes her round the city in his auto .Kiran Kumar plays the lead opposite Roopa in the movie that’s being made, and Hero keeps landing up during the shooting. He whisks her away and they spend a lot of time together, exploring the city in his auto. Roopa is just being friendly but Hero mistakes her overtures for love.
The movie shooting is complete and the entire cast moves back to Bombay. Hero, in his desperate bid to announce his love to Roopa, reaches Bombay. When Roopa dispels all his notions and feelings of love, Hero decides that life is not worth living and he wishes to end his life.
That’s when Sitara Devi, a publicity agent, enters his life. She does not want Hero to end his nondescript life in such anonymous fashion. She wishes to make his death a mega-event, to announce to the world about the pain and subsequent death of a lover and thereby make him a love-martyr. She turns, what would have been an incident [his suicide], into an event.
Huge hoardings are drawn-up all over the city, declaring this reality show as a must-watch. Lots of publicity is done and people queue-up to buy the tickets. There is media frenzy and reporters scamper to Roopa and and Sitara Devi for exclusive interviews. People on the streets start discussing this event and Roopa starts questioning herself whether she loves Hero or not; and what she can do to stop him from sacrificing his life.
Meanwhile Roopa is being closely guarded so she does not escape to meet Hero. Kiran Kumar and Rohini Hattangadi, playing Roopa’s mom, keep a vigil on her. The talk of the town is Hero and his game-of-death, the tickets are all sold out. People are for the first time going to witness a volunteered death in broad-daylight amidst public eye, and all for love. Hero’s unrequited love has brought him so close to death.
The day of the event has finally arrived. People and media throng the venue and Hero is tied in a glass tank and water starts filling into the tank. Roopa flees from her home, and helping her cause is Amitabh Bachchan, in a special guest appearance who drives Roopa to the venue of the event. Can Roopa stop Hero from giving away his life? Will she stop Hero by declaring her love to him so he has a good enough reason to live for? Will Sitara Devi let someone disrupt the show? Will love triumph?
Naseeruddin Shah was marvellous in the movie, he displayed great restraint. Sanjana Kapoor in a debut performance was good as well. Rohini Hattangadi as Roopa’s mom was just about ok. But Ketan had kept the most important role for his to-be wife Deepa Sahi who played Sitara Devi with lot of strength and vigor. She brought the shrewdness and wile into the character, she was fantastic. And of course, Ketan Mehta as a film-maker, excelled in his artistic vision.
The movie’s unique concept of exploiting people’s emotions for commercial gains is much like the reality shows of today; where behind-the-scene activities, emotional outbursts, minor squabbles and disappointments, impoverished backgrounds are highlighted for higher TRPs. Every incident is micro-managed to gain maximum publicity. Curiosity is generated and the public is made to wait for days together for the events to unfold. The media/event-managers are desensitized and they neither care for the trauma and desperation of the participant nor for the consequences of such unethical event management, much like Sitara Devi in the movie.
In 1988 we had one Hero Hiralal, but in 2013 we have hundreds of Hero Hiralals on every show in every channel. What was a figment of Ketan Mehta’s imagination is now unfolding in every drawing-room with people glued to their couches waiting for their Hero Hiralals to appear on-screen. Phata poster, nikla Hero!