The Hero: A Love Story of a Spy

Director: Anil Sharma
Music: Uttam Singh; Lyrics: Anand Bakshi, Javed Akhtar
Year: 2003
Running Time: 2 hours ? minutes

Sunny Deol’s reputation for mixing his over the top action fisticuffs with a large dose of patriotic grandstanding has left me disinterested and avoiding his movies like a broken bottle of beer. It is often difficult enough watching film heroes of my own cinema wrap themselves in the red, white and blue while the closest they ever come to real danger is an annoying paparazzi and so seeing nationalistic nonsense from another country’s cinema just strikes me as self-inflicted pain. Still the presence of Preity Zinta and the fact that this film was playing in my local theater brought me in like a homing pigeon to roost. Hell, I’d sit through a State of the Union speech to catch a glimpse of Preity and her impish smile.

All in all I have to admit that my first Sunny Deol film was a lot of fun if one turns their brain off - saying that it is ultra-nationalistic would be an understatement - Indian commander to a Canadian Mountie - "now watch what an Indian can do" implying that the Mounties are a bunch of namby pambies. It is also not particularly kind to Pakistanis who are clearly not a target film going audience - "To err one time is to be human. To err two times is to be Satan. To err three times is to be Pakistani. To forgive and forgive and forgive is to be Indian.” This sort of thing would generally grate on my nerves like a Valley Girls vocals, as would multiple scenes with Islamic fanatics whose evil laughs would embarrass Austin Powers – but here it was all part of the fun (at least from my perspective – my guess is that others would be quite offended and others perhaps thrilled). Though Pakistanis take a bashing in the film – verbally and physically - Islam is treated with a lot more respect than from many of our wonderfully narrow minded American religious leaders - it's just those darn fanatics that want to take over Kashmir and set off nuclear bombs that you have to watch out for! Or ones that look like Amrish Puri whose eyes threaten to pop out every time he talks about killing Indians.
The film begins like a clunky old car that had me initially groaning inwardly - but as soon as Preity Zinta pops up among a herd of lambs in native Kashmirian dress with dimples as deep as the Indian Ocean and eyes so soft they belong in a petting zoo the film begins to zip along at non-stop high speed action. Sunny Deol is an Indian super spy with an array of disguises and tricks up his sleeves to constantly foil the evil plans of Amrish and his fanatical cohorts. After stopping one plot in New York City, Sunny is transferred to Kashmir where he takes on the identity of a major in the army and begins constructing a network of spies. When Preity shows up with a baby lamb strapped to her back it is clear that he will both fall in love with her and also recruit her as a spy (the fate of the lamb is left unclear). After a quick romance of sweets and a promise to marry her if her honor is breached, he sends her across the border to infiltrate the enemy - and at this point Preity happily takes over the first half of the film. In the second half the film moves to Canada where Deol attempts to track down the source for a potential nuclear bomb and has to romance the daughter of one of the bad guys. As the film’s story shifts more towards Deol and less towards Preity, it loses a bit of its charm, but remains enjoyable to the last dead Pakistani.
There are some good if highly exaggerated action scenes - one of a house being blown up and people sliding into the raging river was incredible. Some of the action is fairly cartoonish as in one fun scene in which Preity is surrounded by twenty leering terrorists and one of them says, “Who will save you now?” No bonus points for getting that one right as Deol leaves their bodies littering the landscape. What’s really enjoyable about the film though is the sentimental love story that is very nicely interwoven into the narrative without slowing it down a beat. The evolving romance and the melodrama that surrounds it plays out very well and there are a couple “only in Bollywood” scenes that were like romantic body checks. The chemistry between Sunny and Preity is more congenial than passionate – it’s hard to imagine Sunny getting passionate about anything except weapon ordinance - but the fact that apparently he saved her life on the set from a fall off of the Alps may have contributed to a chatty friendliness that comes across on the screen.
Though he dances like a three legged dog and doesn’t really make much of an effort to emote, Deol is much better than I had anticipated – nothing to get excited about but a solid serious presence who gives off an air of simplicity and decency - and damn he can fall off a hundred foot mountain and stand up, brush the snow off and go kill the bad guys - what more do you want from a hero!
The music is also quite good though one song springs up on multiple occasions and the dance numbers in the wedding and engagement scenes were quite enjoyable. There are still a few dancing taboos in my mind – such as watching a bunch of soldiers dance around like unshaven Rockettes  - this is a bit disconcerting and makes me concerned about India's security! Another plus in the film is a new actress named Priyanka Chopra who is knockout gorgeous and someone I look forward to seeing more of. She didn’t have much to do here but emit a radiant smile, but when she wears this sleek party dress a smile was all that was needed. Apparently, the film had one of the highest budgets of any Indian film in history - but I have to say I didn't see it on the screen - other than the house blowing up scene nothing struck me as all that extravagant - maybe it was that dress!

My rating for this film: 7.5

The Trailer