Hi Nanna Review: Heartfelt Treatment Overpowers Predictable Narrative

Hi Nanna makes up for its weaker parts with some super strong emotional moments
Hi Nanna Review: Heartfelt Treatment Overpowers Predictable Narrative

Director: Shouryuv

Writers: Nagendra Kasi, Shouryuv

Cast: Nani, Mrunal Thakur, Kiara Khanna, Priyadarshi, Jayaram

Duration: 158 minutes

Available in: Theatres

It's easy to gauge how much a filmmaker cares for his characters. It can be perceived through the dignity and prominence they are lent, by the characters in the film and the film itself. In Hi Nanna, a simple choice in the film's climax stood out for me and cemented the fact that debutant Shoryuv cares about the characters he has created. Picture this: a primary character is in a critical condition and all their loved ones are sad and anxious in the hospital, waiting outside the operation theatre. It's a scenario we have witnessed a zillion times in the past. We get reaction shots of each character who means something to this person, registering their grief. In the process, something small but significant happens. We also get a reaction shot of Pluto, the family's pet dog. Now, you might wonder what's so special about the shot of a dog but it's truly remarkable how much importance the film gives to this pet. Pluto, in fact, is treated like a proper character with an arc of his own, while also charting the evolution of various dynamics between characters and even serving as a storytelling device at one point. Pluto for the win! This is only one of the many illustrations of the film's golden heart and obviously, Hi Nanna is much more than a dog-loving film. This same tenderness and care is extended to the humans in the film, only multifold.

A still from Hi Nanna
A still from Hi Nanna

Predictable Writing Yet Heartening Treatment

Hi Nanna isn't a film that relies on groundbreaking concepts or techniques to set itself apart. Yes, there's a big interval twist that turns the tables around for the story in the second half but the way the screenplay flows from one point to the other is largely predictable, especially in the first half. But what works is the heartfelt treatment. Let me explain the story to make my point. 6-year-old Mahi (Kiara Khanna, an amazing find) is raised by a single father, Viraj (a top-tier Nani), and naturally, is very curious to know about her mother. Every time Viraj reads her a bedtime story, he asks her to visualise him as the main character from the story. He is cautious not to tell a story that would demand her mother's presence. But after a series of incidents, Viraj is left with no option but to tell the kid her mother's story. And Mahi visualises Yashna (Mrunal Thakur stands out), a kind bystander who prevents the kid from a road accident, as her mother or, her father's love interest; the lyrics of the song 'Samayama' smartly allude to Yashna's presence, thanking the time for bringing her into their lives and giving the mother a form. 

However, the backstory chronicling the blossoming of love between Viraj and Varsha (played by Mrunal Thakur), is among one of Hi Nanna's weaker links. These portions reek of predictability and exude a heavy been-there-seen-that feeling because there aren't many directions this story could go in any way, considering we have already been exposed to the endpoint.

Even though this backstory is suffused with cliches in the form of Varsha's materialistic and classist mother who stands in the way of the couple's marriage or the fact that Varsha is scared of marriage because her parents' relationship ended on an ugly note, the film comes up with some lovely moments. Be it the moment Varsha first finds solace in Viraj's comforting gesture (something that ties to her parents' rocky marriage) or the conversation where Varsha points out Viraj's lack of responsibility, there are glimpses of mature writing. And the exchange between Viraj and Varsha's mother about his financial status, where he gives it back to her with the trademark Nani simplicity is such a classy mass moment. I wish the film had more such moments that explored familiar situations with a pinch of novelty and coolness.

Mrunal Thakur in Hi Nanna
Mrunal Thakur in Hi Nanna

A Heavy Second Half

Remember the interval twist I told you about? This twist recontextualises the entire story and adds an emotional heft to the narrative in the second half. The way Viraj's rendezvous with Yashna is also recontextualised, with the word 'Hi' in the title finding its actual meaning, is simply beautiful. Things get incredibly heavy during the intermission and this weight lingers throughout the second half. After the story moves to Goa in the second half, a couple of sequences overstay their welcome and it feels the scenes are dragging on and on; the conversation between Viraj and Yashna on the beach at night seems to have no end. Yes, I understand the scene's prominence; it contributes a significant change in Yashna's character, thereby warranting the length but it still feels overblown. Likewise, an attempt at 'drunk comedy' and a highly distracting 'Odiyamma' ruin the gentle energy of the film for the time being.

But some heavy emotional moment keeps popping up throughout the second half, with each moment competing with the previous one on their ability to make you tear up. It's hard not to give in at one point; the tenderness of the father-daughter relationship, the daughter's longing for her mother, coupled with Hesham Abdul Wahab's soothing yet evocative soundtrack.

Nani in Hi Nanna
Nani in Hi Nanna

The second half is where we start seeing the echoes of the plot points from the first half, with character arcs gradually coming a full circle. When Viraj stops narrating his story midway, an impatient Yashna screams that "it doesn't make any sense," questioning some drastic turns in the story but every element adds up by the end. The broken promises, the lies, the mistakes from the past, the character traits, the memories... all of the setups find closure and come together to land a sucker punch of emotions at the end, making it hard not to be moved by the film's earnest nature. Watch out for Angad Bedi's character, which begins as a one-dimensional 'other guy', and how his character is utilised at the end is highly rewarding. The final 30-minute stretch of the film is one rollercoaster ride, but in its own style, it still manages to be soft and how!

Hi Nanna makes up for its weaker parts with some super strong emotional moments and even after not being convinced with it in certain aspects (the need to make Varsha's mother all black, for instance), it's a story that's largely satisfying on the emotional level. The film is as pretty as a greeting card. Sanu John Varghese's pristine frames add to its squeaky-clean aesthetic. Like a greeting card, it's intended to mean well and make you feel warm. But the film goes beyond the surface-level contentments of cold greeting cards, meaning its degree of warmth and emotion might vary but it surely makes you care for its characters.

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