Hanuman vs Mahiravana Review: Uneventful storytelling in a technically commendable film
The film's a big step as far as animated films in India go, but it isn't quite the big leap it should have been
In a land like India that's rich in mythology, storytelling is the bedrock of culture. From popular folklore to the greatest epics, there are so many stories that are waiting to be told in cinema. One of the epics that has consistently seen such adaptations is the Ramayana. We have seen many types of adaptations from old, faithful ones like NTR's Sampoorna Ramayanam, to modern retellings like Raavanan and even Kaala. But there are also several smaller stories within the epic, and it's one of them that comes to life in Hanuman vs Mahiravana, dubbed 'India's first 3D mythological film'.
Set towards the end of the war, the story begins with Rama breaking Ravana's chariot and having the demon at his mercy. While Lakshmana asks his brother to vanquish the demon lord, Rama refuses to kill an unarmed person as it is against yudh-dharma and lets him live, so he can fight him the next day with weapons on the battlefield. Ravana, thoroughly shamed, uses this opportunity to craft a wicked scheme to win the war. He sends word to Mahiravana, his sorcerer-brother and the ruler of the underworld, to weave his magic and kill Rama and Lakshmana.
Director: Ezhil Vendan
Cast: Rajesh Jolly, Viral Shah, Ganesh Divekar
Unlike the Mahabharata, Ramayana is more about white and black than about the grey. Given the lack of surprise associated with a story that's quite popular, the story needed to focus more on the how than the what, and it is here that the film both succeeds and falters at different stages in the story.
The visuals are gorgeous, with the background and the locales jaw-droppingly good. The entire pathalaloka is so intricately drawn that it wouldn't have looked out of place in a top-tier gaming franchise like Tomb Raider or Unchartered. There is one particularly memorable portion which has the wind god, Vaayu, talking to his son, Hanuman. However, when it comes to character models, the film does best when there are at most two characters on screen because the more animated characters on screen, the more the film ends up looking cartoonish. One fight sequence featuring Rama and Lakshmana feels quite underwhelming for this reason. While the shadows, shading and lighting seem consistently good, occasionally, the body-face ratio feels a bit disproportionate.
In animation films more than in others, sound plays a crucial role. In this film, you get a sweeping orchestra that reminds you of epic war films. It amps up in all the right places. Even in a film with such a small runtime (96 minutes), they manage to pack in a couple of songs: A victory song whose boisterousness is quite contagious, and a separation song that has some stunning visuals.
The big setback is the largely unimaginative fight choreography, as the film plays out like a dull single-player adventure game with Hanuman moving from one place to another. Overall, while the film's a big step as far as animated films in India go, it isn't quite the big leap it should have been.