‘HanuMan’ movie review: This homegrown superhero film is largely a fun ride

Director Prasanth Varma and actor Teja Sajja’s superhero film blends the familiar good versus evil superpower template with a touch of devotion, and tops it with entertaining masala segments

January 12, 2024 12:35 pm | Updated April 18, 2024 01:21 pm IST

Teja Sajja in director Prasanth Varma’s ‘HanuMan’

Teja Sajja in director Prasanth Varma’s ‘HanuMan’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A broad, familiar story arc that we associate with superhero films has to do with an underdog character, bestowed with superpowers, taking on an enemy who wants to use the superpower for destructive purposes. In these stories, the tropes are familiar. The success of such narratives lies in how the writers and directors make us root for the underdog character and what he/she stands for, while enjoying the larger-than-life possibilities that arise from the clash between good and evil. HanuMan, the first film in the superhero universe created by director Prasanth Varma, follows this template and draws just enough from the chapters of the Ramayana, to narrate a Chandamama-like story laced with pop culture references and fun, massy segments that Telugu cinema is known for. 

The opening segment acknowledges the influence of Marvel and DC superhero films through the character of a boy who hopes that he, too, will be a spiderman after being bitten by a spider. However, this sets the stage for a superpower-thirsty maniac Michael (Vinay Rai) who goes by the moniker M. While M’s world is high on technology and the city’s night skyline is dotted with high rises, Prasanth Varma contrasts this with the town of Anjanadri, flanked by mountains, valleys and a larger-than-life rock carving of Hanuman.

The underdog in this story is Hanumanthu (Teja Sajja), a happy go lucky guy who lives with his sister Anjamma (Varalaxmi Sarathkumar). Anjanadri is set in the parallel world of Akhand Bharath whose inhabitants range from people who have been untouched by urbanisation to a monkey named Koti (with voiceover by Ravi Teja). Sweeping drone shots show a picturesque Anjanadri that is reminiscent of a few fictional kingdoms we have seen in superhero films. The large Hanuman rock carving, at a later point, is effectively used to stage heroic moments, in a nod to Rajamouli’s Baahubali.

HanuMan (Telugu)
Direction: Prasanth Varma
Cast: Teja Sajja, Amritha Aiyer, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Vinay Rai
Storyline: In the fictional town of Anjanadri, Hanumanthu is bestowed with superpowers and realises that his journey has just begun.

It takes a while for the film to find its rhythm and for us to soak in its milieu. It is commendable what this team has been able to achieve with its budget limitations but there are sequences, especially in the later half, where the visual effects do not match the ambitious superhero origin story. However, the narrative has enough emotional gravitas to keep us hooked.

HanuMan veers into superhero mode after about 40 minutes. An extended underwater sequence reveals a few hidden secrets in all its glory. The world is your oyster, they say. The statement rings true in the case of Hanumanthu, both literally and figuratively. His transformation happens gradually and is convincing.

Teja Sajja has an energetic screen presence that fits the part and goes from being carefree and impish to realising that he can use the power for a greater good. It is interesting that he is placed amid women who are no pushovers and nudge him in the right direction. His childhood sweetheart Meenakshi (Amritha Aiyer) is a doctor who bats for a democratic process of selecting a leader in the village. Anjamma calls the shots at home and is a guiding force for Hanumanthu, urging him to remember the larger truth of what Hanuman stands for.

Before the battle between Hanumanthu and Michael unfolds, Prasanth Varma makes plenty of room for fun. The action sequences in the village are choreographed to ensure ample fun moments. In the cinema hall that I watched, children and adults lapped it up with enthusiasm. A few gags, like the ones that involve Sathya, seem like needless additions. Even the segment in which Hanumanthu and his friend Kaasi (Getup Srinu) reference the powers of stars such as Prabhas, Mahesh Babu, Pawan Kalyan, Allu Arjun and Balakrishna seem like fan service at first but cleverly establishes how we, as audience, have become habituated to associating screen heroes with superhero powers. 

The warm hues of the sun, daylight and the imagery of Hanuman leaping up to the sun are all referenced when the superpower comes into play. References from the Ramayana are leveraged to deliver clapworthy moments; like Hanumanthu sitting on a pile of beaten up thugs is equated to Hanuman sitting on his large tail. Anjamma, too, gets her share of mass moments that elicit cheers. There’s more. Also, the makers know how to blend faith and mainstream cinema tropes. And, do watch out for the ‘avakaya’ song sequence.

Teja Sajja delivers an assured performance and is ably supported by Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Getup Srinu and Amritha Aiyer. Vennela Kishore appears in a brief part as Sirivennela (abbreviated aptly to Siri in the film) and Samuthirakani is cast in a character that holds a surprise element. Gowra Hari’s score is in sync with the emotional beats of the narrative.

In the climax portions, the visual effects do not match up to the ambition but this is a minor distraction. HanuMan ends with the announcement of another superhero film and it will be interesting to see how this team takes on a bigger task, perhaps with more resources. What is heartening is that the film does not overtly capitalise on religious sentiments and draws from stories we have heard since childhood to present an entertaining homegrown superhero story.

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