Mumbai, 01 Jun 2017 22:00 IST
This 2D animated film has pleasing visuals and a cute Hanuman, but the storyline lacks punch.
In 2005, an animated feature film and a television series were launched, showing the origins of Hanuman, showcasing him in his childhood. Since then there have been several films (including one directed by Anurag Kashyap) that have focused on the monkey god and Ram devotee. Hanuman Da 'Damdaar (2017), written, produced and directed by Ruchi Narain, is the latest to feature Hanuman.
So what sets apart this animated feature from the rest? This one has Salman Khan as the adult version of Hanuman. The animated film opens with a funny disclaimer stating, ‘No animators were harmed during the production of the film. Ok, they were, but they are fine now.’ Valmiki, writer of the Ramayana, is narrating it to a rapt audience when Narad Muni alerts him of a greater story than his.
Valmiki (voiced by writer-poet Javed Akhtar) is intrigued and travels far and wide to climb a mountain and come across the author of this great narrative. It is, of course, Hanuman, voiced by Salman Khan, who tells Valmiki, ‘Jo darr gaya, samjho marr gaya!' Obviously, this is a sly inside joke, that is taken further when Hanuman asks Valmiki, 'Aap bhi likhte hain? Akele ya kisi partner ke saath?' Akhtar, of course, is the screenwriter of such iconic films as Deewaar (1975) and Sholay (1975) with Salim Khan, Salman’s father.
This version of Hanuman also spouts Salman’s famous dialogues from Wanted (2009) like 'Ek baar jo maine commitment kar di uske baad to mai khud ki bhi nahi suntaa!' and a song from Partner (2007). But apart from this self-aware comedy, the grown-up Hanuman destroys all evidence of his story and proceeds to narrate it to us anyway.
Citing ancient Hindu legend, the young Hanuman is struck by Indra with a thunderbolt when he tries to gobble up the sun, thinking it to be a fruit. When Hanuman’s mother Anjani (voiced by Raveena Tandon) finds him unconscious, she becomes over-protective of him, causing him to lose his legendary boldness from before the accident.
Meanwhile, a powerful sage Vishrav (voice of Makarand Deshpande) is denied amrit (nectar of immortality) by Brahma as he is not the bravest of all. He decides to acquire it by tricking the naïve young Hanuman by luring him into a vast forest, away from family and friends.
There, the always-scared little Hanuman (voice of Arnav Nathani) comes into his own, with the help of his loyal sidekick Seeti (voice of Sneha Khanwalkar) and Garuda (voice of Hussain Dalal) whom he comes to regard as a brother.
Hanuman Da 'Damdaar does try to do a fresh take on a character we already know a lot of, but overcomplicates the story with additional angles and characters. The jungle sequence has an unnecessary element where Hanuman competes in a sort of Olympics with other animals. The screenplay is riddled with juvenile jokes (including the always present fart scene) that do no favours.
There are a few humorous scenes, in particular little Hanuman (also called Maruti) and Garuda’s interaction with Indra (voice of Kunal Khemu) and Vishnu (Viraf Phiroz Patel) in heaven, where the two are bonded with the gods in a hamesha (forever) contract. But the caricatures of northern and southern Indian characters (complete with bad accents) seems in bad taste, as is the typical stereotypical gay character Nazuk Guide (voiced by Chunky Pandey) that greets visitors in Lanka.
The problem with animation films, including international projects, is that we belittle what we think children will like. Give them a little more credit and create content that will both enrich and entertain them. So far only a few animated studios have managed to crack the code.
Coming back to Hanuman Da 'Damdaar, there are a few encouraging aspects of the film. The 2D feature begins and ends well, with colourful visuals and strong compositions of its environment. But the middle jungle portion lacks imagination and seems to have a heavy Walt Disney hangover.
The characters also lapse into English slang easily, especially the sidekick Seeti, who begins to grate after a while. In trying to appeal to the younger generation, it loses all credibility.
Writer-director Ruchi Narain seems to have created a promising series as this is the first in a planned trilogy, but Hanuman Da Damdaar seems to be hampered by its own grand ambitions.
Reviewed by Sonal Pandya