The Hero: Love Story of a Spy

Thesp Sunny Deol goes the whole nine yards as an Indian patriot in "The Hero: Love Story of a Spy," a wildly over-the-top, stridently nationalistic but undeniably entertaining slice of hokum. Story of a secret agent foiling a bunch of Pakistani fundamentalists trying to build a nuclear bomb could prove an aud pleaser at less arty fests.

With: Sunny Deol, Preity Zinta, Priyanka Chopra, Kabir Bedi, Amrish Puri, Arif Zakaria, Rajpal Yadav. (Hindi dialogue.)

Popular middle-aged thesp Sunny Deol goes the whole nine yards, and several more, as an Indian patriot in “The Hero: Love Story of a Spy,” a wildly over-the-top, stridently nationalistic but undeniably entertaining slice of hokum for auds who like their action and romance well-cooked. Touted as the most expensive Indian pic to date — at a claimed 550 million rupees ($11.5 million), exceeding even last year’s “Devdas” — and shot in India, North America and Switzerland, story of a Hindu secret agent foiling a bunch of nasty Pakistani fundamentalists trying to build a nuclear bomb could prove a no-brain audience pleaser at less arty fests.

Films set in and around the disputed Kashmir region constitute a sub-genre in Hindi cinema, from trashier fare like “Mission Kashmir” to classier dramas like J.P. Dutta’s “Refugee.” Current opus is by the team that produced 2001 hit “Gadar: ek prem katha,” another nationalist epic also starring Deol. Bowing April 11, “Hero” has so far done gangbusters biz around Bombay and New Delhi, easily beating out “Daredevil”; but its quieter reception in other parts of the country makes “Hero” unlikely to top “Gadar” in the long run.

In a 20-minute pre-credit sequence that’s almost a self-contained movie, intelligence offer Arjun Khanna (Deol) accepts an award for bravery from the Canadian government and on the flight back home recalls his spying exploits of the past two years. A master of disguise, Khanna had thwarted a plan by maniacal ISI chief Ishaq Khan (vet Amrish Puri) for some pro-Kashmir Islamic extremists to steal one of Pakistan’s nuclear bombs. After fooling Khan in New York, and having him sent to a Pakistani jail, Khanna is sent on a new mission, posing as Major Ravi Batra on the Kashmir frontier. Cue main titles.

Settling into his job, Khanna meets sparky shepherd girl Reshma (Preity Zinta). Discovering she’s actually adopted by her Muslim parents and was born a Hindu, Khanna asks her to go on a mission across the border, posing as a maid in a Pakistani colonel’s house.

Who should turn up at the house but Khan, who’s been secretly released from jail. Reshma barely escapes alive with the info, but back across the border she and Khanna celebrate by becoming engaged at a splashy party in a giant riverside rotunda. Halfway through the proceedings, however, Khan dynamites the gathering, and Reshma is swept down river. Intermission.

Where Part One is more military in mode, and largely set in Kashmir, Part Two is more desi 007, set in Toronto and snowy Canadian mountains (actually the Swiss Alps). The time spent on detailing Khanna and Reshma’s relationship in the first half pays dividends in the second as, in a typically Bollywood maneuver, their paths keep almost crossing as Khanna becomes entangled with Shaheen (stunning newcomer Priyanka Chopra). There’s all kinds of misunderstandings and emotional tangles before the finale on a mountain peak and tourist train.

Though all the money is up on the screen in a variety of set pieces, “The Hero” could have been a much better movie — even on its own pulp level — if more care had been taken with the tech side. Lensing ranges from the excellent to the shabby, and color processing likewise; editing by Suresh Urs (“Bombay,” “Dil se”) also runs the gamut; and the background score is as hysterical as the performances by the villains.

However, the staging and lensing of the musical numbers are excellent, and show considerable thought in integrating them with the plot. The final musical set piece, set at Khanna and Shaheen’s wedding with all the cast present, brilliantly pulls all the emotional and dramatic threads of the preceding 2½ hours together to knockout effect, prior to the extended action finale.

Deol makes a solid, rather than exciting hero, better in military duds than his increasingly outre disguises, and Puri overacts wildly as the villain. Femme leads are much more engaging, with Zinta typically sparky and likable, and mega-looker Chopra (Miss World 2000) making a solid screen debut as a modern urban miss.

Though it’s made clear in the latter stages that the Indians’ battle is not against the Pakistani people or Islam per se, only rotten elements in both, the pic’s politics don’t even bear thinking about.

Popular on Variety

The Hero: Love Story of a Spy


Production: A Nanjibhai Shah presentation of a Time Movies production. Produced by Dhirajlal Shah, Pravin Shah, Hasmukh Shah. Executive producer, Asif Shaikh. Co-producer, Manu Shah. Directed by Anil Sharma. Associate director, A. Shiral J. Screenplay, Shaktimaan.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Kabir Lal; associate camera, Amir Lal; editor, Suresh Urs; background music, Gurmeet; song music, Uttam Singh; lyrics, Anand Bakshi, Javed Akhtar; art director, Sanjay Dhabade; associate art director, Rahguveer Bhist; costume designer, Simple Kapadia; sound (Dolby Digital), Kiran Ramsay; choreographer, Ganesh Acharya; action director, Allan Amin; visual effects, Rajtoru Videosonic; assistant director, Chitra Shah. Reviewed at Cineworld Feltham 5, London, April 16, 2003. Running time: 183 MIN. (I: 88 MIN.; II: 95 MIN.).

With: With: Sunny Deol, Preity Zinta, Priyanka Chopra, Kabir Bedi, Amrish Puri, Arif Zakaria, Rajpal Yadav. (Hindi dialogue.)

More Film

  • AMC TheatresShop signs, Los Angeles, America

    AMC Theatres Lays Off 35 Corporate Staffers

    AMC Entertainment has laid off 35 corporate staffers and will not fill an additional 15 open jobs. The Kansas-based chain made the announcement Thursday as part of a previously announced “profit improvement plan” intended to achieve operating and administrative efficiencies. AMC, which operates more than 10,000 movie screens, had disclosed the plan on Aug. 8 [...]

  • Ann Sarnoff Warner Bros

    Ann Sarnoff Formally Takes Reins of Warner Bros. as CEO

    The Ann Sarnoff era at Warner Bros. has begun. Sarnoff formally took the reins as Warner Bros. chair-CEO on Thursday, two months after she was appointed to the post. Sarnoff told employees in a memo that she has been impressed by the company’s track record during the past year amid a period of upheaval for [...]

  • Take Me Somewhere Nice review

    Ena Sendijarevic on Migration, Identity and the Question of Belonging

    Bosnian filmmaker Ena Sendijarević had an auspicious debut with “Import,” a short film which world premiered in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight in 2016. Drawing on her own family’s personal history, the Amsterdam-based director crafted an idiosyncratic tale about a family of Bosnian refugees trying to make a new home in the Netherlands. With her feature debut, [...]

  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire

    Haugesund Prizes ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire,’ ‘Him,’ ‘Ballon’

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  Celine Sciamma’s intellectually dexterous, bittersweet love tale “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” has claimed another heart, taking home The Norwegian Film-Critics’ Prize at the Haugesund Film Festival’s closing night on Thursday. The festival, which runs over August 17-23, capped its 47th edition with a screening of André Løyning and Kristian Landmark’s [...]

  • Motherless Brooklyn Edward Norton

    Edward Norton Investigates Murder in 'Motherless Brooklyn' Trailer

    The trailer for Edward Norton’s forthcoming crime drama “Motherless Brooklyn” is officially out. Warner Bros.’ drama, based on the 1999 novel by Jonathan Lethem, follows Lionel Essrog, a young man who works for a small-time mobster in Brooklyn while struggling with an intense case of Tourette Syndrome. “Okay, listen, I got something wrong with me, [...]

  • Summer Box Office

    Box Office Report Card: Studios Get Their Summer Grades

    Studios got badly burned this summer. From May to August, popcorn season in movie speak, the film flops piled up and the big hits were few and far between for nearly every company except Disney. As a whole, summer did little to instill confidence in the state of moviegoing. To be sure, there were successes [...]

  • Port Authority

    Nate Parker's 'American Skin' to Play in Deauville

    Nate Parker’s politically charged drama “American Skin” is set to play at the 45th edition of the Deauville American Film Festival following its world premiere at Venice. “American Skin,” which tells the story of a Gulf War veteran whose son is killed by a police officer, marks Parker’s first feature film since the news resurfaced [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content