Hridayam Movie Review: Vineeth Sreenivasan delivers two feel-good films for the price of one
As a coming-of-age entertainer, Hridayam is to Vineeth what Premam was to Alphonse Puthren
I had two concerns before going into Hridayam. Its length and the 15 songs in it. Having seen the film, I can say that I can't imagine it without that length and those songs. Vineeth Sreenivasan has structured Hridayam in a way that makes it seem like you're watching two feel-good films for the price of one. It's like the Side A and Side B of an album. And the songs don't exist just for the sake of it. They act as markers for pivotal events in protagonist Arun Neelakandan's (Pranav Mohanlal) life. In fact, the Hridayam experience already began the day they launched the album. It's the appetizer before the buffet. If you're already familiar with the album, you'll like them even more once you see their placement in the film. There were six songs that I wasn't floored by when I first heard them, but I began to appreciate them after getting a sense of the context. I'm listening to the soundtrack as I write this review because I want to remember the details.
Director: Vineeth Sreenivasan
Cast: Pranav Mohanlal, Darshana Rajendran, Kalyani Priyadarshan
Hridayam feels like a novel that charts a character's growth from one specific part of his life to another. Vineeth Sreenivasan is not going for the typical conflict-resolution format. He has written the film like a collection of conflict-resolution episodes, with the pre-interval portions covering Arun's college life and the other half exploring his post-college experiences. (I liked how Vineeth uses the film's title in place of 'Interval'.) Although it employs the familiar coming-of-age tropes, Vineeth makes them seem fresh again. Arun is a different person to different people. He could be the coolest guy you looked up to in college or the guy who beat you up. I connected to Hridayam a lot because Arun commences college in the same year I did (2006) and in the same place (Chennai). So, I was hooked right from that opening scene showing Pranav boarding a train where he meets his future buddies for the first time. It's that time before smartphones became a fashion -- when your phones looked more like a video game console. It's that time when you interacted with non-Malayalis for the first time. It's that time when seniors tell you that the grill safeguarding your hostel corridor is useless because they will catch you and rag you no matter what. Arun goes through it all.
We have all had those moments in our late 20s or early 30s where we remember the people we met during our college life (batchmates to professors to canteen guys to wardens), and we wonder what happened to those who -- good or bad -- shaped our formative years. Sometimes you learn that the person you hated the most back then has now turned into someone with whom you'd like to hang out. When you get to know someone close, you learn that they are not the raging jerk you assumed they were. Some of them don't change and get worse as they grow older. When we first meet Arun, he is a charming guy with the kind of swag you wish you had in the first year of college. But meeting Darshana (Darshana Rajendran) changes him into someone unruly and brutish. He becomes prone to mistakes and temptations, just like most of us did back then.
You see, it's this therapeutic quality of Hridayam that I loved the most. It makes you feel less embarrassed about the awkward, foolish things you did in the past. It's a film that doesn't believe in dwelling on past mistakes. It's like a friend that pats you on the back and says, "It's fine, dude. Look at these characters. They have moved on. Nobody cares anymore about what happened a decade ago. You should move on too," and you think to yourself that, yes, it's as simple as that. It's not the end of the world. This realisation must've dawned on Arun too. He finds a way to push himself, again and again, to put everything behind and grow into a responsible young adult. He ends up right where we want him to end up. In most films involving a love story, it's the guys who usually have difficulty moving on. This time, it's a girl. But even she will eventually muster the strength to begin the next phase of her life. Better late than never, right?
Oh, I forgot to add one more initial concern -- of Pranav Mohanlal fitting into a film of this nature. I was curious to see how a filmmaker like Vineeth Sreenivasan would handle him. The Darshana song had already given us a faint glimmer of hope. But how would he do in the entire film? I'm happy to report that Pranav delivers in spades. Pranav gets the transformation -- from flawed and rebellious to mature and responsible -- right. He also excels in those little moments where we meet minor characters who make a strong impact regardless of their screentime. How many films do that? Hridayam's most emotional and inspiring segment involves Arun's friendship with a Tamil batchmate named Selva. It acts as its own little movie, and you get the sense that Vineeth is pulling off, in a small way, his dream of making a Tamil-language feature. Or perhaps he is warming up before making a big one. Another poignant moment has Arun conversing with a Tamil-speaking stranger at a tea stall. The man, who seems to have fallen on hard times, tells him that he used to be a big movie producer. In that instant, you wish that things got better for him too. You'll get your answer in the film's third act. Nobody does feel good like Vineeth Sreenivasan.
I also loved the casting of Kalyani Priyadarshan as Nithya, the girl Arun will eventually marry. Hridayam is undoubtedly Kalyani's finest hour. Anyone can tell that Nithya is so apt for Arun. She brings that much-needed level of warmth, mischief, and humour in his life that we didn't notice in his interactions with Darshana. He is not reluctant to be under her control. It's a match made in heaven. And Darshana Rajendran is aptly cast as the girl who thinks a lot before making serious life decisions. She is not sure in the way that Arun or Nithya is. The involvement of these three actors proves once again that Vineeth has a great eye (and ear) for talent.
But Pranav, Kalyani and Darshana are not the only inspired casting choices in Hridayam. The guy who plays Arun's best friend -- I don't know his name -- is excellent too. Vineeth gives him a fair share of comical and emotional moments that make him endearing. I can tell that he has a great future ahead of him. Also terrific are all the actors cast as Arun's batchmates. (One of the actors, Arun Kurian of Anandam-fame, is already familiar to us.) And Vineeth brings his trademark sense of humour in certain situations that you first expect to have a serious outcome. And when you have the incredibly hilarious Johny Antony playing Nithya's father, you know from where she got her sense of humour. Speaking of supportive parents, Vijayaraghavan plays Arun's. A railway station conversation scene brought back memories of talking to my father at the Thalassery railway station moments before I boarded a train headed for Chennai's Egmore station.
As a coming-of-age drama, Hridayam is to Vineeth Sreenivasan what Premam was to Alphonse Puthren. (If given a choice, I would easily pick Hridayam over Premam.) It's one of those films I wanted to hug once the end credits started rolling. I also wanted to hug Vineeth for making a film with so many heartwarming moments and then daring to release it at a time when everyone is constantly troubled by concerns over a raging pandemic and the restrictions imposed. I badly needed this film. Thank you, Vineeth Sreenivasan and friends.