BR Review: Despite The Familiar Coming-Of-Age Tropes, Vineeth Sreenivasan’s ‘Hridayam’ Is All Heart, All Charm, And Feel-Good Even In Its Feel-Bad Moments

‘Hridayam’ is the kind of movie for people who want to get lost in the image of lovers embracing at night at the beach, and there's a full moon on top and it's casting its yellow shadow in the calm sea behind

Director:  Vineeth Sreenivasan

Cast: Pranav Mohanlal, Kalyani Priyadarshan, Darshana Rajendran

Language: Malayalam

Vineeth Sreenivasan’s Hridayam stars Pranav Mohanlal, Kalyani Priyadarshan and Darshana Rajendran. On the surface, this is a very simple movie. It’s a series of scenes that shows a college-age boy becoming a man, that is turning towards fatherhood. You might also think that I have seen these scenes in many films, where it’s about meeting your best friends, getting ragged in college, the college music fest and having your first crush.

But despite the familiarity of the situation, there is always a tweak or a twist that kind of turns the scene around a little bit. For example, take the scene where a bunch of seniors find out that Arun, the character played by Pranav Mohanlal, is alone in his room, and they want to come and beat him up. This scene goes as predicted for a bit but then suddenly, a third character is introduced, somebody who will go on to become a much bigger part of the movie later on. And the scene ends with a joke about Malayalees and the English language.

There is a scene where Pranav becomes a father and you expect happy cheery music, but you hear sad heavy strings like something like the santur or sarod. It gives a touch of melancholy to the scene and the moment, that you can’t put a finger on. Hesham Abdul Wahab’s score is simply fantastic. I heard the songs on YouTube and ran to the theatre just to hear the movie with these songs and this score playing in theatre speakers.

Let’s take another scene where there’s a kind of shocking revelation from an ex-girlfriend that happens just at the point when the final semester is over, and you’re going to leave college and all your friends. Most filmmakers would make this the big interval point. But Vineeth lets the scene happen, then he leaves this girl alone, and he just shows the male protagonist and his other male friends chasing the train to give him one last gift before the train pulls out.

When you dig really deep, that’s when you see the power of the writing. Now, for example, take this question, what is the difference between college-age love and love after you get married? Here is Vineeth Sreenivasan’s answer. When in college, you may be in love, you may have a girlfriend but you’re also very hormonal. So let’s say you’re alone and you meet another girl. If she asks, if you are single, you might be tempted to say yes. And even though you don’t exactly want to, you may end up lying to your girlfriend about this girl. But when it’s your wife, your conscience kicks in a different way. It’s not that the conscious didn’t kick in earlier but you were able to at least place your conscience aside and say, shut up for a little while, let me just handle this. But when it comes to your wife, the conscience is in the full form inside you.

The scene plays like an echo of the earlier scene where you are again going to meet a girl and again you’re lying, you’re saying I’m going to meet some friends. But the minute you step outside, conscience says—“knock on the door, go back inside and tell your wife where you’re actually going” and that’s what happens.

So Hridayam lies between these two stages of adulthood, which is the college-age youth to the early fatherhood stage. You could argue that there are college-age youths who are faithful to their girlfriends and there are married men who lie to their wives. Of course, there are such people. But this is how Vineeth Sreenivasan sees his unique universe.

Pranav Mohanlal finally finds one of those roles where you are so perfect for it that you seem born for it. There are scenes where you see the apparent effortlessness that you saw in his famous father. Let’s talk about Vineeth Sreenivasan’s world. His world is unique in the sense that it’s not just about the unique characters, but it’s also the place. He romanticizes Chennai the way Anjali Menon romanticized Bengaluru in Bangalore days. He makes sambar rice sound like the food of the gods, he makes Anbe Sivam sound like the movies the gods would see.

Vineeth also romanticizes the process of growing up where apparently getting good advice and having good people around you can solve almost every life problem. There are no bad people in Chennai, everybody is happy, the underprivileged youth gather together and there is a sense of community. They study together and because these Tamil underprivileged kids are so bright, they are able to help Malayalis like Arun who have a lot of arrears to clear.

Even the arc of a ruthless Arun finding his passion and making it a profession happens by some kind of divine fate. It almost happens through luck in the form of Aju Varghese. I’m not saying this is a problem, I’m just saying this is how Vineeth sees his world. He smooths everything over with a kind of feel-good flavour.

Hridayam is the kind of movie for people who want to get lost in the image of lovers embracing at night at the beach, and there’s a full moon on top and it’s casting its yellow shadow in the calm sea behind. It is the kind of movie where a father asks permission to embrace his son, and you find your eyes filled with tears.

The only time I had an issue with this feel-good approach is with the Darshana character. This is a character that is filled with angst. Since we see the film mostly from Arun’s point of view, this angst is not felt fully. But there are times it burns so bright, that you feel you needed a harder approach to her character, or at least give her more time to process that angst. This is a character that belongs in something like Arjun Reddy and this is the kind of angst that doesn’t go away easily. At the end of the film, I wanted a sequel Hridayam 2, where we would be seeing Darshana as the protagonist, navigating the world, Arun and everything else that she kind of left behind and is now trying to come to grips with.

But I don’t know whether Vineeth Sreenivasan, in the space that he is now, is capable of making that movie or whether he even wants to make that movie. Kalyani’s character, on the other hand, is very much part of Vineeth Sreenivasan’s universe. She’s strong and sensitive, but above all, she’s a happy person. So is Arun, the Pranav character and he doesn’t let old wounds fester. He kind of broods a bit, maybe it affects him a bit, but he finds ways to move on. Now, if we did a full character of Arun, you might come up with gaps of why he does or does not do certain things, or why he chooses to follow or not follow certain things. But that is where the screenplay approach work.

It is like a collection of photographs in an album. When you see the photograph, you see that exact moment, but the moments before and after the photo was taken will be fuzzy. You only remember the exact moment of the photograph because that’s what’s crystal clear in front of you. Arun’s character is like that because the scenes become those crystal clear photograph moments of Arun, the snapshots of his life.

Photographs from the past—that would be an excellent way to describe Hridayam. Kalyani Priyadarshan and Darshana Rajendran lend excellent support to Arun. I say support because even though they are technically heroines, this is really Arun’s story and their scenes are not as much as his.

The making is so smooth, that no shot calls attention to itself and there is this huge nostalgia factor where you identify with at least 75-80 of those 150 scenes which would have happened to either you or somebody who you know. That is why despite my reservations, I came away from Hridayam with a full ‘Hridayam’ (heart).

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"Baradwaj Rangan: Baradwaj Rangan is a National Award-winning film critic. He has authored Conversations with Mani Ratnam and Dispatches From the Wall Corner. His long-form story on Vikram was featured in The Caravan Book of Profiles, as one of their “twelve definitive profiles.” His short story, The Call, was published in The Indian Quarterly. He has written screenplays and works for theatre. He teaches a course on cinema at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.."
  
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