Heroes verges on propaganda

Directed by Samir Karnik. Starring Sohail Khan, Vatsal Seth, and Salman Khan. Rated PG.

Samir Karnik’s Heroes is a nationalist film verging on propaganda that has the singular purpose of motivating Indian youth to serve their country.

The film juxtaposes the lives of two slacker college boys with the lives and deaths of three Indian military officers. Structured as a road trip, Saand (Sohail Khan) and Ali (Vatsal Seth) travel to the respective homes of the deceased soldiers (Salman Khan, Bobby Deol, and Dino Morea) to deliver their “last letters”. They document their trip as part of a film project in an attempt to finally graduate from film school. They meet the families of the soldiers, and grudgingly gain insight into the pride and sacrifice that inspired each young man to enlist.

The first of the three stories is the strongest, due to the solid performance of Preity Zinta (who also stars in Deepa Mehta's Heaven on Earth)  as a widow and struggling single mother. The second features Sunny Deol as a disabled war veteran and brother of the deceased soldier, while the third story centres on a grieving father, played by Mithun Chakraborty. Neither of these stories moves beyond cliché.

The movie’s two protagonists are Hindu and Muslim, and the three soldiers are Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim, respectively. The message of the film, not so subtly delivered, is that the Indian state embraces everyone and is thus deserving of absolute patriotism. This is represented in the film as unquestioning reverence for the military. It’s hard not to compare this film to the vastly superior Rang de Basanti, in which similar youths are inspired to a patriotism that includes political engagement and protest.

Although nationalistic films have a long history in India, they belong to an era when India was newly independent and a global underdog. In 2008, when India has one of the largest militaries in the world, Heroes remains naive and simplistic.