Mumbai, 25 Oct 2019 7:00 IST
The Sonalee Kulkarni-starrer Hirkani is actor Prasad Oak's second film as director after the National award-winning Kaccha Limbu (2017).
The real-life story of Hirkani has an incredible mix of emotions, drama, action and thrills. The story is popular among children since it is part of the school curriculum in Maharashtra. In other words, before we watch Prasad Oak’s Hirkani, where Sonalee Kulkarni plays the titular role, we already know the story and how it ends.
For the uninitiated, Hirkani aka Heera was a milkmaid who lived in a hamlet at the foot of Raigad fort when it was the capital of the celebrated Maratha king Shivaji. For reasons of security, it is Shivaji’s strict order to shut the main gates of the fort at sundown, to be opened only at dawn the next day.
On Kojagiri Purnima day, Hirkani is delayed while making her delivery rounds and the gates close before she can exit the fort. The young woman is distraught, for her infant is at home alone, waiting for her to return and feed it. Despite her entreaties, the guards refuse to open the gates. After all, who would dare defy the king's order?
Trapped for the night, Hirkani takes a drastic step. She decides to descend from an unguarded portion of the mountain on which the fort is located. That portion is left unguarded because it is believed to be impossible for anyone to scale up or down. However, the cliff is not steep enough to stop a mother determined to be with her baby. Amazed by her feat, Shivaji honours her the next day.
Frankly, the story of Hirkani’s bravery does not have enough meat to be turned into a feature film. This is probably why the film's runtime, even with a nine-minute song on Shivaji's coronation, is only 99 minutes. In such a situation, one has to build up the story with proper background and depth. This also means taking creative liberties, dramatizing situations and even creating new ones.
Barring a couple of scenes between Hirkani and her husband (Ameet Khedekar), this somehow works in the first half where the story is established and the mood of Shivaji’s capital is created. The latter is helped by the nine-minute-long ‘Shivrajyabhishek’ song.
You also can’t miss the rich production design right from the start in terms of sets and costumes which not only appear authentic but also pleasing to the eye.
It was Kulkarni who had approached Oak to make Hirkani, as revealed by the director in an interview with Cinestaan. The actress has certainly delivered one of her better performances playing the vulnerable mother. The rest of the cast does not have much to do. Kulkarni is the only one present in almost every frame of the film.
The most crucial aspect of Hirkani’s story was to show how she completed the life-threatening journey. This is the crux of the film and nothing less than a litmus test, particularly since every child in Maharashtra knows how the story ended.
Unfortunately, the film does not score highly in the moments that matter the most. Except at one or two places, the entire downhill journey of Hirkani hardly offers any thrilling or tense moments. The instance where she is shown going through a dangerous stunt appears forced. Worse, her ordeal ends sooner than expected given the height of the mountain in the Western Ghats where Raigad is located.
The film had another chance of redeeming itself somewhat when Hirkani gets honoured by Shivaji. The makers had kept the identity of the actor playing Shivaji a secret. The choice of actor does come as a surprise, but these moments are too underwhelming to leave much of an impact.
Prasad Oak had made a phenomenal debut as director with Kaccha Limbu (2017), which won the National award for Best Feature Film in Marathi. Hence, expectations from his second film as director were bound to be high. Unfortunately, Hirkani is unable to meet them. The brave mother deserved better.
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