Film: "Heroes"; Director: Samir Karnik; Cast: Sunny Deol, Bobby Deol, Salman Khan, Preity Zinta, Mithun Chakraborty, Dino Morea, Sohail Khan, Vatsal Sheth; Rating: ****
Not since Rakeysh Mehra's "Rang De Basanti" have we seen a film so inspiring. Portions of "Heroes" are pure genius, sparkling with the unshed tears of a mother whose child dies before she can hold it in her arms and nurture it.
Here's a piece of cinema that we need to applaud for its idealism and absolute absence of cynicism in telling a story that invites the conscience to cry for a country and global society that can't think beyond its own nose.
But wait. "Heroes" is not a flag-waving exercise propagating the join-the-army message.
Yes, to begin with, the film does put that message forward. But soon enough you journey across the toughest Indian terrain of intense warmth and acute cold in pursuit of a dream that transcends everyday existence. And you realize "Heroes" is about bereavement and how to cope with it without getting cynical about subjects like patriotism.
To a wife in Punjab who copes with a child and her dead soldier husband's parents on her own, or a wheel-chaired soldier who has lost his kid brother to war, or to an ageing couple coping with the death of their only son to war, does it matter if the country needs to be protected from outside aggression?
The answer to the question is not provided in rhetoric and sermons but in the course of the vivid journey that takes our two narrators Sohail Khan and Vatsal Seth to the heart of the country.
"Heroes" is shot in the hearts of characters who are wounded by war without going to the battlefront.
This isn't the first film about the war bereaved coping with their loss. At times "Heroes" is redolent of J.P. Dutta's "Border" and "LOC Kargil" - homesick soldiers writing lovelorn letters, the battery of war vehicles winding their way through mountainous terrain and soldiers coming home in coffins.
We've seen it all before. But director Samir Karnik succeeds in taking the theme of patriotism and soldierly duties far beyond the clichés.
Some interludes woven into the multitude of grieving characters' lives are heart rending. The look in Preity's eyes when she holds her dead husband's letter in her trembling hands, or much later when our two narrators travel in a vehicle loaded with coffins of war martyrs, or Mithun Chakraborty's breakdown before his dead son's picture.
"Heroes" connects with us in ways that are emotional and spiritual. Often while you watch the characters live through a devastating loss, you feel the screenwriter, dialogue writer and director breathe a vigorous life into the scenes.
All three segments of bereavement and reconciliation are designed with a great deal of emotional honesty and clamped intensity. If one has to pick a favorite, it would have to be where Vatsal-Sohail meet Preity, who plays the brave Punjabi war widow.
Disappearing into herself to emerge with a character who is dignified in her tragedy, Preity gives the film's best performance.
Effortlessly and persuasively, Karnik goes from pure emotionalism to unstoppered populism. Watch Sunny Deol's fight in the pub where he swings into full-fledged action from a wheelchair. It is truly a paisa-vasool sequence.
Besides Preity, Sunny, Mithun Chakbraborty, child actor Dwij Yadav and Sohail Khan leave the strongest impression. Vatsal's rawness goes well with his spoilt-rich-coming-of-age character.
The two cinematogaphers - Binod Pradhan and Gopal Shah - create stirring echoes of spiritual and emotional majesty without letting the color schemes become over-representational.
On the minus side, the songs and dances are largely over-stated and obtrusive. Sohail and Vatsal's striptease with Riya Sen and Amrita Arora belongs to another film, another world.
A special word for Karnik and Aseem Arora's dialogues. The conversations convey both the reality of life and the richness of a life that exists beyond the mundane everyday chit-chat.
After watching "Heroes", one wonders whether it was really Samir Karnik who made the no-show "Kyun, Ho Gaya Na".