Helicopter parenting, also known as “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do”, is one of the themes of Pradeep Sarkar’s latest movie. Kajol stars as Eela, a former model and singer who has had to give up her career after her husband Arun (Tota Roy Chowdhury) walked out on the family when their son Vivan was a tot. Arun has been spooked by the fact that all the men in his clan have died young, and he believes that rather than collapsing on the sofa in front of his family, he will wander off to live the rest of his life elsewhere.

In a movie with greater coherence and depth than this one, Arun’s motives might have been explained better – a bent towards asceticism, perhaps, or an inability to assume responsibility. At any rate, Vivan’s grandmother (Kamini Khanna) is unmoved by Arun’s departure (he might as well have gone out for a long jog). Eela, however, reacts by evolving from mother into smotherer. She becomes the nag of nightmares who thinks nothing of landing up at Vivan’s school picnic, eavesdropping on his phone conversations, and butting into his personal space at any opportunity.

It’s a miracle that Vivan (Riddhi Sen) grows up to be a normal teenager without Norman Bates tendencies. When Eela decides to complete her neglected education and enrol in the same college course as her son, Vivan doesn’t reach for the razor. He treats the whole thing like a rash of pimples that will eventually go away. Like his grandmother, Vivan seems to know a thing or two about scripting contrivances. He knows that the entire set-up has been created to ensure a heart-tugging climax in which Eela will finally come into her own.

Helicopter Eela (2018).

The delayed coming-of-tale, by Anand Gandhi and Mitesh Shah and based on Gandhi’s Gujarati play Beta Kaagdo, has an interesting premise but misses several beats. The pre-interval section is almost entirely a flashback, and suggests that Eela might have been a 1990s Indipop star if Arun hadn’t fled the coop. The post-interval bits deal with the piquant situation that arises out of Eela and Vivan sharing a classroom. Neha Dhupia stars as Padma, a boho-chic dressing teacher with a bad temper who is the only adult in a room filled with adolescents (Eela included), while Zakir Hussain plays the college principal who is always available to solve trifling matters.

The start-stop narrative, which feels jerky and disjointed, contains the ghost of a screwball comedy. Eela’s endeavours to micro-manage Vivan’s existence raises a few laughs, and suggest that the movie might have worked better as a farce about typically controlling Indian parents and fed-up children than a self-realisation fantasy. Potentially interesting questions about the challenges and loneliness faced by single mothers and a woman’s struggle to unearth her suppressed self barely get a look-in (it doesn’t helps that Vivan, rather than Eela, comes up with all the solutions). The bond between mother and son has its sweet spots, and yet, none of the characters feels sharply observed.

The sense of alienation is deepened by the plasticky nature of the production, which feels like a commercial or a television show, and Eela’s visible make-up and elegant wardrobe (she even wears a silk kurta while fixing breakfast). Kajol over-does the chirpiness and flakiness, and doesn’t have Riddhi Sen’s comfort level in the comic scenes. She settles down when the movie finally does. The extended climax is pure schmaltz, but is rousing enough to ensure that Helicopter Eela doesn’t crash-land all the way but escapes with significant damage.