Why the Hera-Pheri movies are the best comic-thrillers made in India

After the MCU fandom reached epic proportions in India with the release of Avengers Endgame, Bollywood decided to pull up their socks. Within a few months, Rohit Shetty created his cop universe and now there are talks about YRF creating a universe that includes Salman Khan’s Tiger, Hrithik’s Kabir, and SRK’s Pathan. As I received these news articles, a single desire crept into my mind. If movie-making is really heading in the direction of universes and crossovers, can someone please revive and create a universe of a film franchise that has some of the most loved characters of the country? Here’s me explaining why Hera Pheri is one of the best comic-thrillers ever created and why it deserves to be taken forward.


If Andaz Apna Apna was one of the most underrated comedy films of the 90s, Hera Pheri (HP), for me, is the dark horse of the contemporary era. Though with an average box-office collection and good word of mouth it was a decent success, its true depth and potential have never really been tapped into. Only recently, with a growing inclination of social media towards the art of memeing and a constant search for the real art of filmmaking amid the crest of nepotism, has the hera-pheri series seen a proper revival.

The Hera-Pheri series is not a series that can easily be put into the category of mad-cap comedies, though it often inadvertently lands up there (this is especially disheartening because it's being compared with movies of today that are being put in the same category but are worthless). In reality, it is one of the most thought out and freshly represented stories on screen. So, what really makes Hera Pheri relatable even today? How is it still able to click with the masses?

There are four reasons behind it- the perfect balance between class and mass, the brilliantly fleshed out and real characters, the memorable dialogues, and the unique way of representing a story that everyone knows.


1. The Perfect Balance between Class and Mass.

Many believe that HP is a massy film but I strongly disagree. The film is perfectly balanced, something I have rarely seen in films of that decade and something that is becoming more and more popular today. I believe Hera Pheri laid the groundwork for not just other such comedies like Welcome, the Housefull series, the first Dhamaal, and the Rohit Shetty films, but also provided a key storytelling feature to most Bollywood movies today. It was the first film to successfully and truly blend comedy into the narrative. It taught the industry that the best way to send across your message, be it social, political, cultural, or religious, was to use comedy. Years later, the trope and story-telling style is still being used today. Some of the most successful movies of this decade owe their success to HP. Be it all Raju Hirani films, Badhaai Ho, Dangal, or dark comedies like Delhi Belly, Andhadun, and Blackmail. It taught writers and directors that comedy can be used to keep the audience hooked to the story.

The era before Hera Pheri was one where melodrama and stating facts were what was considered as a way to hook the audience. The audience was thought of as a bunch of fools and no matter how good your story was, you had to drag it to their face and explain everything. Unless something wasn’t stated thrice, it was felt as if no one understood it. Melodrama was thought of as a sure shot trick to make the audience feel empathetic to the characters and the story. If the main characters or the protagonist didn’t have a sad back story, he/she wasn’t qualified to be part of the narrative. Not to say Hera Pheri didn’t use this trope (It did have dramatic backstories for each of the three protagonists), but the audience wasn’t forced to root for the characters because of the backstory. They rooted for them because they were their friends. They knew them. They related to them and hence understood them. They loved them despite their stupidity, greediness, absurdity, and at times even their crudeness. Before HP, in almost all movies, the protagonist was meant to have no weaknesses and if he/she did, then they were meant to overcome them in the end. But then, here comes a story about three idiots who find themselves in a mess and they don’t want to improve themselves. They don’t want to be heroes. All they want is to save themselves, like any other common man. The only difference is that these commonfolk are mad enough to come with absurdities to save themselves. That’s where the quirky characters come in.


2. The Characters

HP is a chaotic film. It has chaos written all over it. But this chaos is what makes it realistic. The chaos is so brilliantly designed that it makes one feel as if it was real life; because this is the only commercial film that I have seen which has come closest to depicting the chaos of life. Every character is perfectly designed, be it the living ones or the non-living ones. Be it the telephone, or the houses. You’ll realise that HP is one of the only films that makes you feel at home. It almost feels like you know each corner of the house that they live in, as if it’s your own house. The storytelling gives you a warm homely feeling, like you’re visiting a friend.

Furthermore, each character can be seen from multiple spheres, catering to the different spheres of the Indian audience. For the carefree class who comes to theatres only to have a good time, the characters are flamboyant and easy to read. For the generic moviegoer who wants entertainment but with a sensible story, the characters are with dual personalities, each having their own arc. And then for the critics and the cinephiles, each of the characters is layered. This is one of the only films where the character changes with the viewer. I like to call such characters ‘The Chameleons’.

I’ll give an example to support this theory. Let’s take Baburao Apte, one of the most iconic characters in the movie. For the generic audience, he’s just a simpleton. Someone who is dumb, emotional, and greedy. But if we look a little closely, Babu bhaiyya is also extremely wise. He understands what he is getting himself into, but also knows he can’t stop himself from trying the heist. He is the balance between Shyam and Raju. Shyam plays safe and Raju is impulsive, but Baburao knows how to balance the two. He is the decision-maker, and in turn, their leader. Baburao isn’t greedy either. In the very first scene that we are introduced to him, he is referred to as a ‘dariyadil aadmi’, a big-hearted man. No, Babu bhaiyya wasn’t greedy, he was curious. He wanted to see what it felt like to have money. Other than that, he was content with what he had.

This is exactly what each of us, the common folk, go through. We are enjoying life with what we have, but are curious about what all we can achieve. This connection makes us empathize with the character, even if he makes mistakes or does something stupid. This is just a single character trait. The reason that Babu bhaiyya is such an iconic character is that it's one of the most detailed and multi-dimensional characters ever created in Bollywood. The character has a duality, a contradiction. He is greedy yet big-hearted, stupid yet wise.

This contrasting duality is one feature present in each character of the story. Raju is impulsive yet one who uses his brain the most, Shyam is the humblest of the three but also has a superiority complex and considers himself better than the other two. Each character holds traits that are poles apart, yet it doesn’t feel like they don’t match the personality of the character. This is because that’s how human beings are. They possess both faces of a coin. They can be calm and angry at the same time; they can love and hate at the same time. This is one of the main reasons why Hera Pheri managed to reach the audience in a way that no other film had managed before. But its power doesn’t end there. What’s amazing about the film is that it reaches us to date. No matter if you watch it the first time or the hundredth time, it’ll touch you in the same way or perhaps, in an even better way. This is because of the dialogues and the comedy.


3. The Dialogues and the Comedy

Unlike other thrillers that use the story to create a thrill, HP is the only film that creates a thriller using comedy. Most movies create the aspect of thrill through the plot points and twists and then pepper the plot with comedy. Dialogues are just some kind of supporting device to create intrigue. In Hera Pheri, the dialogues take the movie forward more than the plot itself. They force the viewer to continue watching and develop an interest in the story. It is because of the comedy that this movie feels like a thriller even though it is not meant to be. If you see the basic plot, it's quite a standard stereotypical one. However, what makes it different are the characters and the dialogues. Here the characters are not defined by the story, but the story is refined by the characters.

Hera Pheri arrived at a time when comic masterpieces produced by Bollywood could be counted on one hand. In the name of comedy, there was only one duo that had left a mark on the audience- David Dhawan and Govinda. Even though films like Chupke Chupke did do well with comedy, the space was completely dominated by Govinda’s charming but not so subtle humor. This humor was less dependent on dialogues and more on how it would be presented by the actor. What Andaz Apna Apna started to meddle with was completed brilliantly by Hera Pheri. They created characters that were goofy but real and gave them hilariously realistic dialogues. In both the movies of the series, every dialogue was one that could be spoken by anyone in your house, or at work, or even by someone you were passing on the road. The realistic yet addictive nature of the dialogues is what makes it such popular fodder for memes today.

The dialogues are universal; they can be spoken anywhere, for any issue. But what truly gives the dialogues life, is when they are spoken out loud. Hence, a large credit goes to the actors and casting directors. Paresh Rawal sir, as Baburao Ganpatrao Apte was a revelation. His comic timing can never be matched by anyone else in Bollywood. This film cemented his position as one of the best comic actors in the industry for generations to come. It kickstarted his career and led him to give us such good performances for the decade to come. Baburao is such a meaty character and Pareshji did full justice to it. Be it his walk, the thing he did with his spectacles, his arched back, his dhoti and vest and most importantly his voice; all of it was phenomenal. Suniel Shetty too did his part with absolute ease and the transformation from the macho hero to the timid and shy lover was a breath of fresh air. Akshay Kumar as Raju, for the first time, showed his true acting potential. The man went all out with the character, blurring the lines between Raju and himself. He stood out even in scenes with stalwarts of comedy like Rajpal Yadav, Johny Lever, Om Puri, Manoj Joshi, and Sharat Saxena. Though the first film mainly focused on the three protagonists, the supporting cast added to the level of the film in the second part. Rajpal Yadav, Sharat Saxena, and Manoj Joshi reached right up to the level of the three main characters in terms of being fan favourites with their portrayal of Pappu, Totla Tiwari, and Kachra Seth respectively.

It was a huge relief to see that the likeability of the first instalment was banked upon by the new director, Neeraj Vora, and the creation of new characters was as good as the original ones. I feel that Neeraj himself was a big fan of the universe created by Priyadarshan in the first film and so, he wrote and directed the second one like a true fanboy. Though the gorilla scene in the climax was one where he went a little overboard, I feel Neeraj was not just able to do justice to the original piece, but also expand the universe in the right direction and introduce more lovable characters. When the second film connects to the audience in a way similar to the first one, it proves two things- One, that the new director was successful; and two, the enormous power of the characters that had been originally created.


4. The Unique Style of Storytelling

Lastly, and most importantly, the reason that the series worked well was the fact that the portrayal of the story and the characters were flamboyantly down-to-earth. This unique way of story-telling resonated with the audience. The characters were so outrageously foolish and loveable, that they seemed close to the people sitting in the audience. This is one of the biggest reasons why the Hera Pheri series will remain immortal in the history of Bollywood.

Conclusion

I don’t know if we’ll ever get a Hera Pheri universe or even a third film (That announcement with Abhishek and John really broke my heart. If the series is continued, we need the original trio.), but I do know if it’s ever made, and made in the right way, it’ll create havoc. Paisa his paisa hoga! Undoubtedly, it’s one of the most loved films of Indian cinema and contributed to the art form and the industry in multiple ways. I can say with confidence that if Hera Pheri was never made, we would have never reached the level of creativity, storytelling, and scriptwriting in Bollywood that we enjoy so much today, both as viewers and creators. It’s time we give due respect to the film that cemented comedy as the most powerful genre of Indian cinema.