Updated January 13th, 2024 at 09:03 IST

HanuMan Review: Teja Sajja Starrer is a weak concoction of mass action and mythology

HanuMan is underwhelming in its promises of an inventive, indie-spirited superhero movie where the visuals don't do justice to its ambitions.

Reported by: harsh bhagwatula
Hanuman poster | Image:Image: X
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In an interview, HanuMan director Prasanth Varma spoke about the goldmine of stories that Indian culture is. He also empasised how it can serve as the fodder for homegrown superhero movies. From that perspective, HanuMan promises to be an original, fun superhero movie that introduces its audience to newer facets of Indian mythology. However, it’s a risky proposition to blend religion with the superhero genre and the film struggles to cope with it.

Hanuman poster | Image: Instagram/Prasanth Varma

Hot Take

HanuMan is a heady blend of mythology, fantasy and massy hero-driven narrative. However, it's both the film’s strength and weakness. It’s possible to enjoy HanuMan as a campy, self-aware ode to Telugu mass cinema, but when such a film attempts to blend Hindu iconography with such an authoritarian stamp, it becomes hard to overlook its narrative shortcomings, and not take its fantastical strides with a pinch of salt.

Does HanuMan live up to the hype?

HanuMan is grossly underwhelming in its promises of an inventive, indie-spirited superhero movie. While one can sense the scale of Prasanth Varma’s ambition here, his visuals don’t do justice.

Hanuman poster | Image: Instagram/Prasanth Varma

HanuMan struggles to stay firm in its tone

In the first half, HanuMan delivers a handful of moments that are hilarious. Prasanth Varma also pays an ode to the classic underdog-turned-superhero arc, and he is not wary of acknowledging it. In the portions where the film is decidedly goofy and over-the-top, it works.

It’s when the film incorporates mythology with its VFX-heavy treatment that it begins to feel both laboured and insincere. It feels wrong to see a film operating on this level of parody suddenly assume this air of significance on the pretext of its religious backdrop. HanuMan struggles to pick a tone between campiness and heaviness, and never feels comfortable in its skin.

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The film’s flaws and shortcomings become glaringly clear in the final act where Varma is clearly in a hurry to wrap up the narrative while also packing the elaborate mythological context to both sum up his story as well as set the stage for a sequel. It’s too many things coming at us all at once and it becomes increasingly overbearing.

Visuals don’t match its ambition

The way Prasanth Varma designs his scenes and places specific visuals in his narrative throughout, it’s evident the filmmaker has great ambition. However, HanuMan doesn’t consistently have the finesse or craftsmanship that’s required to pull off a narrative like this.

The frantic style of editing that Varma deploys here makes it hard to distinguish HanuMan from any other conventional masala fare. He draws inspiration from SS Rajamouli (apparent in the opening credits itself) but doesn’t have that kind of filmmaking poise.

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One could give HanuMan the give the benefit of the doubt considering its meager budget (₹30 crore reportedly, excluding the print & advertising costs), but HanuMan needed a lot more conviction to pull off what's on paper.

Hanuman poster | Image: Instagram/Prasanth Varma

The supporting cast holds its own

Even as Varma struggles to navigate the campiness and seriousness at once, it’s the film’s supporting cast that holds the film together. For all it’s worth, there are plenty of chuckle-worthy moments in the film courtesy of actors like Srinu, who plays the geeky, conscientious scientist, named Siri. Comedian Satya too pitches in a hilarious performance as a local grocery store owner. Also, Vinay Rai, who is the film’s antagonist Michael, is delightfully over-the-top as a supervillain.

Teja Sajja’s performance is the film's biggest undoing

Unfortunately, it’s Teja Sajja's central act that never manages to become the film’s driving force. Initially, the impish charm of the young actor works in the film's favour. Even as Hanuman figures out how to deal with his new-found superpowers, there is a constant sense of bewilderment and wonder in him. Teja Sajja pulls these portions well.

However, when it comes down to the action-driven sequences or the moments of the underdog’s powerful rise, Teja Sajja’s performance comes off as very manufactured. It remains in the parodic, self-aware and spoofy zone where it’s hard to take our hero figure seriously - at best, we can smile at the child-like desire of the makers.

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Hanuman poster | Image: Instagram/Prasanth Varma

Watch it or skip it?

If one wants to explore an Indian superhero movie that’s steeped in its cultural backdrop, HanuMan is worth a watch. However, Prasanth Varma, despite his moments of conviction and finesses, doesn’t manage to blend all the elements in a palatable manner.

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Bottomline

If anything, HanuMan proves why the superhero genre never took off in India - it takes a godly figure to outdo the miracles that a masala film protagonist can pull off. Anything less will remain underwhelming and a mix of both can be overbearing.

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Rating - 3/5 stars

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Published January 12th, 2024 at 18:32 IST