20 years of Hera Pheri: Revisiting Priyadarshan's classic comedy film and what makes it such a cult favourite
For a lot of people growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, Hera Pheri was the best comedy movie they'd seen. And for good reason. It has an equal amount of wit and slapstick humour, delivered perfectly by the trio of Paresh Rawal, Akshay Kumar and Suneil Shetty. 31 March marks 20 years since Hera Pheri released in the year 2000, and there's no better time and excuse to revisit this classic comedy.
What I, and indeed, everyone else, remembers about the movie was how funny it was. A kind of clean comedy that still remains unparalleled in Bollywood today. As a child, the laugh-out-loud moments were many, the dialogues hilarious, the schemes and scams were crazy, and Paresh Rawal, as Baburao Apte, was genius with his comic timing.
Paresh Rawal played Babu bhaiya with so much ease, and such great timing, that it was impossible to not adore him. “Yeh Baburao ka style hai” became a catch-phrase, and I know many people who can still sprout Paresh Rawal’s lines from the movie without hesitation. Every scene with Paresh Rawal elevated the film — whether it was him showing Suniel Shetty’s Shyam the house, or his frustration at all the calls for Devi Prasad or his excitement at getting the money towards the climax of the film. He even makes the banal every-day kind of dialogues just click, and there is no dull moment when he is on screen.
He’s supported, of course, by the street-smart Raju, played by Akshay Kumar; the more quiet, sensitive Shyam who has just moved to Bombay, in search of a job; Gulshan Grover, as the typical bollywood villain; and Tabu, who competes with Shyam for the job and unwittingly becomes a member of their trio.
What really made the film work though, in my opinion, is that all the characters were so believable and human. The film made you feel for them, even when they did something completely evil. Their dreams, sorrows and aspirations were laid on the table, and you couldn’t help but be invested in the characters and their stories. In fact, watching it now, I’m shocked by how sad some of the scenes are — I never think of them when I think of Hera Pheri but there are so many: Shyam’s desperation to get a job because he’s in debt, Akshay Kumar’s elaborate lies to his mother, just because he doesn’t want her to know he’s unemployed and unsuccessful, Tabu’s family situation. It is this desperate need for money that makes the trio cook up a plan to make something quick in the second half, when they receive a phone call that wasn’t meant for them.
Hera Pheri has become a cult classic now, even after 20 years it had retains its humour and charm. It is one of the few Bollywood comedies which focused on the urban poor in its story. It wasn’t set in a village, but in the richest city in India. And through the jokes and comedy, it managed to comment on several social issues - unemployment, migration from rural areas, poverty, even alcoholism.
For Bollywood, in particular, Hera Pheri changed many things. Akshay Kumar, till then, was considered to be more of an action star than a comic actor. This was one of the first few films where viewers saw his comedic timing and that, of course, has been liberally used by the industry ever since, with Kumar becoming one of the top and most popular actors, known for his comedy as much as his action skills. In fact, it even led to more heroes having a funny side to them inherently, as opposed to movie heroes of the past, who perennially had a comedic sidekick.
Hera Pheri even inspired a second film, Phir Hera Pheri, with a third one (with the original cast) rumoured to be confirmed for a while now. Whether the third one will match up remains to be seen, but it’s very obvious that Hera Pheri has made its place in the hearts of the audience and will remain there for a long time.
Updated Date: Mar 31, 2020 15:50:01 IST
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