The trailer for Phata Poster Nikla Hero (“Through the Poster Emerges the Hero“) promises an overly wacky, seemingly disjointed screwball comedy. Fortunately, the movie succeeds by subverting the promises of the trailer. Instead, Phata Poster Nikla Hero exploits Bollywood conventions to produce a hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable movie.
As a child, young Vishwas is obsessed with movies, but his mother makes him swear before God that he’ll grow up to be an honest police officer. She further warns him that, should he ever do anything wrong, she and God will know about it. Nevertheless, the boy’s Bollywood dreams persist into adulthood. When his mother (Padmini Kolhapure) arranges an interview with the Mumbai police department, Vishwas (Shahid Kapoor) heads to the city, intent on pursuing his movie career behind his mother’s back.
When Vishwas accidentally thwarts a kidnapping while still wearing the police uniform he had donned for a photo shoot, it brings him fame and the unwanted attention of the local crime bosses. Worse, his mother finds out, and she comes to Mumbai to visit. Things get out of control as Vishwas tries to hide the truth from his mother, avoid the police and gangsters, and still make it big as an actor.
There are dozens of moving parts in Phata Poster Nikla Hero, but writer-director Rajkumar Santoshi keeps everything under control. As opposed to another recent comedy of errors, Chennai Express, Santoshi pays careful attention to continuity. He doesn’t introduce side characters for temporary plot convenience; all of the friends and enemies Vishwas makes along the way are with him ’til the end.
This is great, because there are some very funny supporting characters in Phata Poster Nikla Hero. Upon arriving in Mumbai, Vishwas rents a room in a guest house run by Yogi (Sanjay Mishra), a screenplay guru who “almost” wrote a number of hit films. Yogi and the other aspiring actors who rent rooms from him help Vishwas keep the truth from his mom. The only downside is that all of the other renters are terrible actors.
Kajal (Ileana D’Cruz) is another character who creates headaches for Vishwas in her attempts to help him. She mistakes Vishwas for a real police officer, setting up the accidental heroics that bring him unwanted notoriety. D’Cruz’s plucky earnestness makes dynamic Kajal a perfect foil and love interest for poor Vishwas, who’s just trying to keep his ruse from falling apart.
The cops and robbers generate some good laughs, too: Saurabh Shukla as a local don enamored of Vishwas’s fighting skills; Darshan Jariwala as flustered Police Commissioner Khare; and Zakir Hussain as Officer Ghorpade, a man whose loyalty is divided because he’s getting paid by both the police and the gangsters.
Of course none of this works if Vishwas is a dud, but Shahid Kapoor gives a funny and charming performance. All of his hammy bits in the trailer make sense in context, and Kapoor fashions Vishwas as a good guy torn between doing the right thing and following his heart. This is easily my favorite performance by Kapoor.
In addition to busting out some of the exciting dance moves for which Kapoor is renowned, he gets to show off his physicality in several funny fight scenes. Given that Vishwas is a boy raised on movies, all of the fights have a deliberately over-the-top, cinematic style. It’s so obvious when Kapoor is wearing a harness, it’s as though Santoshi is winking at the audience. The film’s title comes from an early scene in which Vishwas leaps through a movie poster to rescue a woman, as though he’s a celluloid hero made flesh.
Santoshi deserves the most credit for the success of Phata Poster Nikla Hero. He gives the audience exactly what they’ve come to expect over the years — Parental conflict! Gangsters! An abrupt tone change in the second half! A dance number featuring a woman in a ball gown on a beach! — but he does it on his own terms. There’s a great moment at the end where Vishwas lists all of the filmy plot points he’s hit during his journey. Such self-awareness is refreshing.