It’s a plea that has been passionately made in several films, including perhaps most popularly in Nanban and its original Hindi film, 3 Idiots. Let children pursue their passion! In Hero, Shakthi (Sivakarthikeyan) encourages parents to do this by asking them to go through their children’s ‘rough notebooks’. One has pages and pages of Tamil poetry. One has a Kalpana Chawla photo, with the child expressing an ambition to be like her. Another has pages of music notations. I waited for that child whose rough notebook had nothing of any note (and that’s perfectly acceptable too, you know?). But this isn’t that sort of film. Hero takes its messaging very, very seriously. The film is a scathing criticism of the education system. It attacks colleges, pressurising parents, the spineless government, and above all, a syllabus that stifles originality and creativity, and in the words of Mahadev (Abhay Deol), “that is designed to create labourers.” Moorthy (Arjun) says as much.
Director: PS Mithran
Cast: Sivakarthikeyan, Arjun, Kalyani Priyadarshan
If you know your Tamil cinema pop culture, Arjun playing a character called Moorthy and launching into the education system should instantly evoke images from a certain film made 26 years ago that marked Shankar’s debut: Gentleman. Here, his character is called Sathyamoorthy (it was Krishnamoorthy in Gentleman), and it’s no coincidence that he’s shown to have founded a Sathyamoorthy Charitable Trust to aid free education for the poor. In a sense, this film is the aftermath of Gentleman’s end when Krishnamoorthy thought he had solved the problem of corruption by offering free education. As director Mithran shows though, the problem isn’t simply corrupt colleges; it’s the actual education being imparted, with its purpose and methodology included. Moorthy was a Robinhood once, and in a sense, Shakthi does something similar when he has Rs. 60,000 crore raining on students in a college playground. Gentleman’s Krishnamoorthy had a friend who committed suicide for lack of education, and Hero ends by pointing out that India is the highest when it comes to student suicides. And in one scene, I swear Shakthi looked a lot like Vineeth’s character in Gentleman. In Hero, Moorthy has become older. He’s fatigued, he’s lost faith in his ability to change this country. He needs younger blood, someone whose blood still pumps with the vigour of youth and passion for the country. It’s a passing of the baton, in a sense. A Robinhood to a Robin, if you like. My favourite aspect of Hero is how it’s conceived as a transition from Gentleman.
It’s a film written with effort. Shakthi’s desire to become a superhero fits in nicely with the purpose of this entire film: Of following one’s passion, in resistance against an education system that suppresses the spirit of children, that limits their imagination. “It only trains them to be fearful of life, fearful of asking questions, fearful of helping those in need,” says Moorthy. These are points that really hit home. Shakthi himself is a victim of the system, and this is why when exposed to Moorthy’s style of education, he says, in wonder, “I never knew you could actually learn in school.” His lack of practical knowledge gets exposed at least twice: When he’s asking Mathi to tell him how her machine works, and later, when he electrocutes himself by mistake.
It takes a huge wakeup call for him to realise he too is a hapless victim of the system, that it isn’t too late for him to realise his childhood ambition. In a visually arresting scene of transformation—with Yuvan Shankar Raja delivering musical fireworks—this realisation finally comes true, and with a word, Calypso, featuring prominently in the background. The word is derived from a Greek word that means ‘to mask’. At two different places, both Shakthi and Moorthy are labelled ‘the mask’. It’s quite ironical that two men attempting to reveal deficiencies in the system cannot even reveal their identities. While on the mask, it must be said that it barely does the job of hiding Shakthi’s identity. I was quite frustrated by the inability of his father to identify him. And what should have been a rousing scene of realisation for the father, ends up not having the effect it should.
While on a lack of desired effect, let’s also include that rudimentary training regimen song where this helpless man suddenly turns into a martial arts exponent. A large part of the fun of watching superhero origins films is seeing how someone evolves mentally and physically, and I wish there were more about what Shakthi really had to physically endure to become Hero. It happens too fast, in too little time, and seems too easy. Even if I’d at the time given a pass to that opening half hour—with the ungainly flab of an intro song and a duet—I wished later on that that time had been used in more wiser pursuits.
I liked Yuvan Shankar Raja’s rousing score. I didn’t mind at all that the education system destroying people’s minds gets interpreted literally in how the villain (Abhay Deol) is shown to destroy his enemies: By lobotomising them. I liked that unlike, say, a Batman whose riches fuel his gadgets, here, Hero’s weaponry is created by students like him who couldn’t exist in the education system. It reminded me of the emotional heft of using those coins in that famous Kaththi fight sequence.
I largely enjoyed the dialogues in this film, be it the economy of Shakthi’s dad expressing his frustration when he says, “Adikkardha, azhardhaa nu therila”, or the meaning in Shakthi explaining how his idea took off: “Naan vikkala; vidhachchen.” These aren’t words simply chosen for superficial effect. They tie in really well into the purpose of this film: Criticism of greedy business practices, encouragement of the organic nurturing of passion. I also quite enjoyed how the film looked. Be it the pre-interval stunt block, or the Hero transformation scene, or later, the chase sequences, the film has an almost surrealistic visual quality to it.
Hero origin stories are typically personal journeys, and in a sense, Hero is meant to be one too. However, the education system messaging does go over the top and takes quite a bit of the spotlight off Shakthi, the boy who broke bones, looking for Shakthimaan. What was it like for him to get back to risking getting bones broken again? What was it like for him to trust in his passion again? What is it like for him to believe in the existence of a superhero again, let alone try to become one? In this origins story about a man turning into a hero, I wished I got to the man a lot more. Hopefully, this can happen in future films (the film’s end promises he will return). Also, hopefully, he will go on to wear a mask that actually hides his identity.
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For the remainder of this review (and there’s a lot more left, I assure you), please visit https://www.cinemaexpress.com/reviews/tamil/2019/dec/20/hero-movie-review-sivakarthikeyan-arjun-kalyani-abhay-deol-ps-mithran-yuvan-shankar-raja-kjr-16150.html