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‘Hero’ Review: A Well-Imagined, Slow, Not-So-Slick, Homegrown Superhero Story

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Director: PS Mithran

Cast: Sivakarthikeyan, Arjun Sarja, Kalyani Priyadarshan

To imagine is to have freedom. Is to have a superpower. Imagination is the superhero in Hero. The archenemy, Hero suggests, is the system. There are overt references to Shaktimaan and Arjun’s Gentleman, throughout Hero, and the film takes these tribute angles very seriously. Kicha from Gentleman passes on the mantle to this Hero. It’s also a very down-to-earth superhero film (the only two homegrown superhero films I’ve liked too are down-to-earth; Bhawesh Joshi Superhero and Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota), and its pace is pretty slow (at times too slow), but as an idea, it is a remarkable thing.

Sivakarthikeyan is Sakthi, grows up on Shaktimaan and wants to be a superhero. He even jumps off a building, like kids did back when the series was running thinking his friend Shaktimaan will come and rescue him. His father then tells him that no one will come to rescue us. This is what Hero is about. That we must rescue ourselves. This kid who wants to be a superhero ends up as a fraudster, making fake mark sheets because our system is more interested in mark sheets and money.

A great (even if every man) superhero deserves a great villain. To wrap your head around who it is, (the system? Parents? Capitalism? Capitation fees? Coaching centres?) in this film takes long. The villain represents everyone trying to keep us like cattle, in check. Productive. One seemingly (rather unconvincingly) all-powerful man, Mahadev (a stylish but poker-faced Abhay Deol). This is why he chooses to lobotomise children whose ideas could change the world. He doesn’t want them dead. He just wants them to stop thinking, asking questions and coming up with solutions. (I chuckled at the ‘Rio’ University jokes). In the most effective scene in the film, Mahadev explains why he does this: he makes a kid (who was an innovator but has been lobotomised) do his bidding — raise your hand, stand up on the bench, finger on your lips. Each of these is intercut with shots of teachers making kids in schools do this. This one scene is more effective and conveys the philosophical underpinnings of Mithran’s venture than many elaborate dialogues through the film.

There’s the threat of a romance angle, very elaborately set between Sakthi and a motivational speaker (an effective Kalyani Priyadarshan) but it fizzles into nothing when things take a turn for the worse. The people who make Sakthi a real-life Shakthimaan are Sathyamoorthy (Arjun who plays the role with great ease and is very good; through the film, I was acutely conscious of the fact that here’s a man who didn’t even need to be “rehabilitated” after being named in #Metoo. He’s just carried on without any consequences,) and his students. Sathyamoorthy is like the Phunsukh Wangdu of 3 Idiots except he runs a school for kids who fail, and spots the genius in them.

The problem with Hero is one that is age-old. It wants to solve too many problems. Hero takes a simple but profound idea and turns it into a nearly three hour (!) excruciating PSA and lecture. Many dialogues are just plain taxing to sit through. Is Kollywood the only film industry that makes people pay money to have heroes and villains lecture them endlessly? There are no punchy lines, and the punches too, are few, there’s just lengthy non-witty banter and songs that are not even remotely memorable. (Only one worth even remembering. It’s been sung by Ilaiyaraaja). It takes too long to set up, and there are very few thrills. Plus, kind of too much of a stretch to say a bunch of kids release a satellite into space, by themselves?

The Hero review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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