HanuMan Review: Prasanth Varma’s homegrown superhero tale is a satisfying, wholesome meal, writes Srivathsan Nadadhur
Hanumanthu is a happy-go-lucky youngster, who leads a content life with his sister Anjamma in the fictitious hill town Anjanadri. He falls for Meenakshi, a woman who always stands up for the village’s greater good. Hanumanthu’s destiny takes a different turn while trying to rescue his lady love from a crisis. When a power-hungry businessman Michael enters Anjanadri, all hell breaks loose.
HanuMan is probably the most conventional, easily palatable film that director Prasanth Varma has made in his career packed with not-so-straightforward narratives. His fourth directorial effort tells the tale of an underdog with the visual aesthetic of a superhero film, enriched by an enticing cocktail of romance, mythology, devotion, action, humour and intense emotions.
Even while HanuMan’s aims are lofty, the storytelling is rooted and aimed at the average viewer. Prasanth Varma makes no bones about playing to the galleries, but he uses the license responsibly and takes good care of the characterisation and the emotional beats. The humour helps the film tick along smoothly while the cinematic liberties come with a strong purpose.
The fantasy film is a David vs Goliath tale that could be labelled as a clash between two worlds. A crooked Michael grows up in a city, inspired by superhero comics and uses science as a weapon to drive his aims forward. Hanumanthu is a typical underdog, raised by his elder sister in Anjanadri, a fictitious village guarded by a mythical presence, that continues to live in stone age.
If Michael is desperate to prove his dominance, tick all the boxes in a superhero checklist – even if means going against his loved ones – Hanumanthu doesn’t even have the strength to even open a steel container in his house and gets a handful whenever he tries to punch above his weight. While you relate with Hanumanthu, Micheal is clearly the bad guy. There are no shades of grey here.
The village backdrop brings liveliness to the proceedings, the screenplay is busy with multiple subplots that add up well. From a despotic village head Gajapathi to a sidekick Kasi who rears buffaloes for a living to a funny shopkeeper Gunneswar Rao with unkempt hair, a sage-like do-gooder and a necklace that binds two childhood sweethearts – several elements add sheen to the tale.
Prasanth Varma populates the comedy sequences with abundant ‘filmi’ references. Teja Sajja’s introduction sequence offers a timely throwback to his ‘Nenunna Nanamma..’ dialogue in Indra, there are tributes to Baahubali, Jalsa, Pushpa while referring to the protagonist’s superpowers. While they’re initially entertaining, they feel like indulgent attempts to please the fan bases of Telugu stars soon.
HanuMan’s first hour intentionally celebrates the protagonist’s ‘ordinariness’, tries to be ‘kid-friendly’, laying a neat foundation and believability for its larger-than-life transition later. The devotional dimension is authentic but is only sparingly used to supplement the story with greater emotional depth. HanuMan is conscious of being a superhero tale first.
The brother-sister sentiment brings familiarity to the storytelling while the romance segments bank on tried-and-tested tropes. This is by all means a ‘mass’ film too. Beneath the superhero/mythological veneer, the story is about a saviour who comes of age, realises his purpose and stands up for a village. There’s an intro song, a terrific pre-interval bang and a bombastic finale.
The predictability could’ve been a risk in the hands of a less-capable writer, but HanuMan reimagines the mass moments innovatively. The ‘Avakaya Anjaneya’ song, for instance, is a perfect example where local traditions are celebrated, the hero gets to charm his lady love and the ‘pickle preparation’ is smartly integrated with an action sequence.
However, the power-hungry antagonist’s character is rather uni-dimensional. Beyond his dark childhood, there are no more surprises in his bag. At 160 minutes, though the screenplay is largely captivating, the narrative outstays its welcome and an undeniable restlessness creeps up in the pre-climactic sequences.
The quality use of animation for the mythological backstories, the VFX extensions and the reliance on graphics provide added authenticity and don’t overpower the story. A closer observation of HanuMan also makes us realise Prasanth Varma is inspired by Kodi Ramakrishna’s treatment of devotional/supernatural films like Anji and Devi Puthrudu. The background score is impactful but one can’t shake off the influence of Keeravaani on Hari Gowra.
The film is a ‘Baahubalian’ triumph for Teja Sajja – he displays fantastic grasp over emotions, handles character transitions, heroic moments, vulnerability and humour with ease. Vinay Rai plays his ‘sophisticated’ antagonist avatar with dignity and restraint. Varalaxmi Sarathkumar’s comic touches, on-screen bravura and her emotional maturity are a delight to watch.
Amritha Aiyer makes the most of a substantial role with a confident performance. Getup Srinu’s humour is forced at places while Satya deserved a better role. Samuthirakani’s stately presence works in favour of his part. Vennela Kishore as the scientist Siri Vennela brings the roof down in several sequences. Rakesh Master, Jabardasth Rohini, Raj Deepak Shetty make a mark too.
Prasanth Varma, in his most box-office-friendly tale to date, proves it’s possible to make a superhero tale that’s sensible, entertaining, and stays true to the tastes of the Telugu audience. Watch out for the performances of Teja Sajja, Vinay Rai, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar. HanuMan is a wholesome meal that has something for everyone – it’s meant for big-screen viewing.