For a change, here's a war-film that's not about the wars that are fought on the borders. Or about the heroes who leave their wives and girlfriends. Heroes is about the little wars fought inside hearts, after those Big Wars. It is about those wives, kids and parents who have to pick up the pieces and move on.
Plot and everything else aside, it is Heroes' theme statement, 'we do our duty, and the enemy, theirs' that is a breakthrough from the traditional chest-beating, Pak-bashing patriotism that Bollywood loves to peddle. A little contemporary, and a little deep, Heroes is a sincere effort at post-war emotion.
Two losers, who call themselves Nawab (Vatsal Seth) and Saand (Sohail Khan), need to pass their filmmaking course, and so decide to make a movie on why one should not join the army. A war-journalist (a gloomily gaunt Mohnish Behl) hands them three letters, that were the last ones written by three soldiers slain in war, and which were not delivered. They set off to capture the lives of the people these letters were addressed to.
Their journey takes them first to a village near Amritsar, where, if your kite strays too far across your neighbour's field, it lands in Pakistan and you might as well forget about it. The village is fiercely proud of the local martyr, soldier Balkar Singh (a bearded, kajal-eyed Salman Khan, back to those glorious days when he did a bit of acting too), whose heart-broken wife (Preity Zinta) now dutifully takes care of the family, and makes sure her in-laws never have to sell off family heirlooms to pay the mortgage on their tractor, making do with er paltry pension.
Nawab's and Saand's cynical anti-army stance thaws when they realize that Balkar's little son plans to follow in his father's footsteps. Instead of deprivation and helplessness, they start sensing the family's genuine pride in Balkar's sacrifice.
Next is Himachal Pradesh, homeland of the late Dhananjay Shergill (Bobby Deol), to the home of his patriotic elder brother (Sunny Deol), an ex-officer of the Air Force. Fighting the enemy took away his legs (he is paralyzed from the waist down), and his brother's life, but he still doesn't really hate the enemy because (hear it from Mr. Jingo-Jat himself), we do our duty and the enemy, theirs. Beneath the vainly cheerful exterior, he does however miss his kid brother, and his stoic optimism makes the duo realize they are fast changing their minds about the army.
The third lap of their journey takes them to the family of Sahil Naqvi (Dino Morea). They meet a different kind of grief here - a mother who has let time heal the pain of her son's death, but has given up making her husband (Mithun Chakraborty) come to terms with it. Nawab and Saand end up helping the stubborn man cope with his self-imposed loneliness. The voyage ends, and the two have grown up quite a bit, and realize they are carrying home much more than they bargained for.
Because it's a story of the family behind the hero instead of the hero himself, this isn't a Salman-Bobby-Dino film as much as it is a Preity-Sunny-Mithun film. And out of the three stories, the Salman-Preity story is the most honestly constructed. The dialogues in this section are mostly in Punjabi, but Preity doesn't need a language to convince you that she is a struggling war-widow trying to rein in her grief. Neither does Salman need one to proclaim he's around.
Post-interval, it is quite downhill. Sunny Deol starts off with some understated patriotic lines, but he then slips into doing his thing, namely, hollering, and scrunching baddies' heads on pub floors.
The Dino-Mithun story is agonizingly tiresome, especially when it ends with men like Sohail Khan and Mithun Chakraborty sobbing their eyes out. Because by now, the audience have got the point, they understand what the film is trying to say, and building up a whole new soppy father-son angle and wringing it dry does not help. Anyway, the whole lot of actors looks either tired or bloated, or just plain aging.
Sohail and Vatsal are in key roles. Save for the first few reels, which includes a tasteless introduction to their love lives (with Amrita Arora and Riya Sen, respectively) and a rip-off of the leather pants joke from Friends, they are pleasant to move around the film with. Watching Sohail Khan on a leash, in a sensible performance - yes, we just used the word 'performance' in the context of Sohail Khan - and Vatsal Seth's light-eyed earnestness, makes you sometimes forget that this is actually a heavily studded multi-starrer.
Himachal, Punjab and Kashmir are all not overwhelmingly captured, but quite well-shot. (One of the best scenes is the one towards the end, where Sohail Khan catches a fish with his hands - and not just for cinematographic value.) The dialogues are intelligent, and reflect a change in patriotic gears. The songs are not great, but again, the Salman-Preity story gets the best deal, with Mannata.
Heroes has its light-hearted moments, but it ends up heavy, weepy and long. Don't watch it if you are not in the mood to cry, or watch a lot of people cry.