Hero is a fine fresh addition to the few effective films revolving around the atrocious, destructive nature of the education system preying over the young and inquisitive, going about this nasty business backed by ambitious parents placed in such a viewpoint with the strong psychological conditioning of the society. We have Nanban and Saatai lingering largely over the personal travail the students undergo in the crushing education space amidst the perilous pressures from parents. Hero moves from these deeply personal stories of suffering, bearing its bruises and soars high in the known spaces of masala entertainers, placing itself in an inductive, larger than life zone. It ventures beyond the individuals and concentrates its energy on the ideals, the philosophies of life and success reigning over them, battling one another. This is the primary massive element of the flick.
It is not merely your mother who pesters you to stop meddling with that old bike engine, getting your hands all greasy, the neighbours complaining of noise and teasingly commenting that they had never seen you with a book. In the picture, beyond your range of visibility, is a sophisticated malevolent businessman in his dark, vast chambers in the top floors of a skyscraper deciding whether you are his product or competition. He wants you to be just another fish in the humongous stylish tank in his office, locked within the glass, bound to the walls, decorating his business place as an addition to the pool of workforce.
Hero redefines certain aspects of the superhero flicks and refines it just to suit its realm and ideals.
The film embarks on its ideological journey with its very first words derived from the ancient Tamil text Vetri Verkai highlighting the importance to educate one self even when it pushes one to beg to be able to receive the education. – ‘Karkai nandre, karkai nandre, pichai puginum karkai nandre.’ This line is open to significant interpretations: to literally beg for alms or to plead the master to share his wisdom. The film fixates on the former aspect and how this awareness and devotion are viciously exploited.
A man clothed in black with a mask over his face stands atop a distant high tower watching a stadium in which a college match is going on. He remarks how this wicked education system kills the superhero within every kid, rendering them as selfish beings instead. The masked man is standing clearly in the periphery of the stadium, just out the circle it forms as we see it from the wider view, he has indeed defied the rules of the game and the dictated moves of the dance which he was once a part of. He takes us through his story and why he is there at all standing guard over the people.
It commences with a young kid’s obsession with the fictional superhero Shaktimaan whom he believes will save his very life. As the shattering reality threatens life, illusions fade and the young boy, Shakti learns the greatest lesson of his life which will be reinforced to him and which he will pass on- ‘you are your own superhero’.
Hero redefines certain aspects of the superhero flicks and refines it just to suit its realm and ideals. It functions not as the core but as the symbol and device. The entire initial half of the film encompasses a serious amount of melodrama and a few fleeting characters such as Kalyani’s Meera and RoboShankar’s Ink whom we will see scarcely in the later parts of the film. The tale progresses with clichés yet it is interesting to note what it makes of the same toward the end. We are introduced initially to the ideologies of the characters long before we even know them by their names.
Each pivotal character stand as an embodiment of a particular ideal- Abhay Deol is the cunning materialistic force luring the labourers, creating and championing mediocrity while Arjun Sarja plays the crusader, committed to the essence of learning and to the curious spirit of inventions. It is only closer to the interval that we learn the names of these rivals – Moorthy, the mentor and Mahadev.
In the clashes between these two ideals, Shakti rises, moving from the former he was confined in to the latter. Each of these characters are strongly vocal about what they represent, reinforcing the same in nearly every dialogue. There land many of them punches in the film’s messaging that it gets harder to single out a few and the film is powerfully loaded with them regardless of a few redundancies. It is, however, recognisable that the film could have become easily bloated, sounding more preachy than philosophical yet the sharpness of details in the material, honesty to the tone established and steadfast attachment to its core help it tread safe and sound.
Abhay Deol’s presence is scarcely menacing and in contrast to how dangerous his character is, he is unthreatening on screen and leaves an impression of incongruous indifference. An effective dubbing and voice performance come to his aid invoking the dread on his behalf. Arjun Sarja (who was accused in the MeToo movement the previous year) is the mentor figure who helps students who have failed in their academics discover their true talents and potentials. He is called the ‘gentleman’, a meta-reference to his blockbuster with Shankar, a film whose traces are found in this flick as well. The duality in the pursuits and identities of the lead men of the two movies run parallel and the reference is only befitting.
The less momentous and melodramatic initial half of the film is followed by a magnificently mounted second part where we witness the genesis of the hero’s form. Shakti’s hero is essentially a symbol, a voice. We already know our heroes- the dynamic young inventors and their nemeses- the corporate criminal Mahadev. The allegories grow more concrete and the relatively verbose film accommodates stunning visual sequences hinting at the heat of the war raging between the good and the evil.
In the patent office building, as Shakti is beaten up, a strong rush of red fills in the room with streaks of dark blue lights making their way as the torch lights are desperately moved around in the room, in search of the masked man. The intense conflicts of these heavy red and blue lights prevail in the nights and fights that follow as the skies keep thundering, with lightnings breaking out, warning of a fast approaching storm which shall either bring showers of destruction or the rains of salvation. While the constant flicker of lights is an embellished substance of style, it gets quite distracting, especially in the third and subsequent action sequences which unfold. Shakti shall guide us through these rough, dark nights and he is positioned as the harbinger of light- when he rises with the mask having stopped the men sent by Mahadev, the heavens roar as lightning rages in the sky and the giant wheel slowly comes alive, lit. He facilitates the provision of electricity in a village resigned to darkness and brings them the joy of light.
In a scene excitingly reminiscent of another Shankar film, rupee notes pour down on a gathering of students. Sivaji also deals with a similar premise of corruption tainting education. While Sivaji personalises the conflicts, in Hero it is always the ideas preceding the characters and as in the film’s own words, ‘An idea can never be destroyed’, of which it is completely aware and certain. The centralisation of ideas and the development of characters around it enable the film achieve more in a familiar premise providing us a lot to take back and ponder over. Powered by clean and effective writing, the film eases its way into a fine zone of entertainment with its messaging emerging as triggers for thought.
I strangely wish I had watched the film with my parents. We have already learnt our lessons albeit in a bloody hard way. It is all dusted and drained now yet the ruins of the past still prevail with the scars left as marks of horror that hit the dreaming heart.
As the end credits rolled by, I looked at the seat next to mine by the aisle and I am certain that if my mon had been there, she would have asked me, “See those kids and their amazing inventions, now there is you with all those grades and what did you invent?” I will be baffled on what to tell her and on what she is missing but one day she might realise and understand. It is our dreams that source the superpower enabling us be our own superheroes- be it inventors, academicians, journalists, storytellers, photographers or musicians. When the going gets wild and difficult, it will be this strength which shall guide us to the new dawn. Hero heralds this sense of hope in its crusade as it celebrates the triumph of those who dare to risk, fail, fall and rise.