Heropanti (“Big Attitude”, according to the subtitles) labors under the misapprehension that it is a progressive film. Despite a couple of statements disapproving of arranged marriage, the movie ultimately ends up reinforcing the patriarchal system it thinks it’s criticizing.
The plot is the same story we’ve seen a hundred times in Hindi cinema. The hero (debutant Tiger Shroff) wants to marry a girl (Kriti Sanon), but her father (Prakash Raj) disapproves. Rather than elope with her, the hero uses his brute strength to convince her father to let the couple marry.
The action takes place in a small town over which Chaudhray (Raj) rules with an iron fist. When his eldest daughter, Renu (Sandeepa Dhar), runs off with a man, Rakesh (Devanshu Sharma), Chaudhray has his goons round up Rakesh’s friends and hold them prisoner until they disclose the couple’s whereabouts.
Shroff’s Bablu is captured along with two of his friends/lackeys and Kiki, an annoying guy who’s kidnapped by mistake. The comic relief Kiki is supposed to supply consists of him endlessly repeating the phrase, “What is the position?”
While in captivity, Bablu discloses that he’s fallen in love at first sight. This triggers a flashback to Bablu ogling a woman — Sanon’s Dimpy — on the street. He sees the same mystery woman again at a temple as he and the lackeys try to escape, and his moon-eyed staring results in their recapture. Only later does Bablu find out Dimpy’s (hilarious) name and learn that she’s Chaudhray’s youngest daughter.
Why do we need the flashback to Bablu scoping Dimpy on the street? It ruins the pacing of the story and wastes time in a movie that’s already plenty boring. Had Bablu seen Dimpy for the first time at the temple, it would’ve made their botched escape more exciting and made him a more interesting character.
As it is, Shroff’s Bablu seems like a younger knock-off of a typical Salman Khan character — smug, invincible, and perfect except for the fact that he’s single — only with Hrithik Roshan’s physique and dance moves. With young actors like Sushant Singh Rajput, Sidharth Malhotra, and Varun Dhawan making big impressions early in their careers, Shroff seems like a throwback to a type of hero that’s on the way out. This is a perplexing film to choose for one’s debut.
Sanon shows real promise. She gives Dimpy a spark that livens up a character possessed of very little agency. It will be interesting to see what Sanon can do with a character who’s more than just a damsel in distress.
Dimpy’s in a hopeless position that gets at the crux of Heropanti‘s problems. She falls for Bablu in return but can’t act on it because Chaudhray has promised to marry her to one of his underlings. Also, Chaudhray repeatedly states that when he finds Renu, he’s going to “burn her alive.” He does find her, though director Sabbir Khan doesn’t show us what actually becomes of Renu.
Despite knowing of Chaudhray’s willingness to murder his own child to save face, Bablu tells Dimpy, “You have to fight. That’s how you get equality.” But when push comes to shove, Bablu abandons the notion of a woman’s right to choose her own marriage partner. He tells Chaudray, “I don’t want to take away your right to decide who she marries.”
Dimpy has no control over what the men around her do with her body. Before knowing her identity, Bablu gets drunk and puts his hands all over her in a darkened room. She’s left alone for all of twenty minutes in Delhi, and a gang of men try to rape her. Her father ultimately “gives” her to her groom, as though she were an object. The camera routinely zooms in on her bare torso, further objectifying her.
Heropanti is so out of touch that it’s mystifying that it was even made, let alone used as the vehicle to launch Shroff’s movie career. It’s hard to imagine the teenage girls who are Shroff’s most obvious potential fanbase being impressed by a movie that thinks they shouldn’t have control over their own lives or bodies.