Some stories urge us to suspend our disbelief and give in to their charm. Destiny and the power of love drive debut writer-director Shouryuv’s Telugu film Hi Nanna. This tale that introduces us to beautiful people in picture- perfect settings has a few nostalgic tropes such as a pet dog being a catalyst at crucial times. It is cinematic but comfortingly familiar. The leading man, actor Nani, portrays a single father, wearing his heart on his sleeve and making us well up in tears, and Mrunal Thakur revels in the portrayal of her layered characterisation. Hesham Abdul Wahab’s background score is a foil to this tale that sometimes sounds improbable and demands that we set our cynicism aside. Does it work? How much one enjoys this film depends on whether we accept some of the reveals as the narrative progresses and embrace it with its rough edges.
Viraj (Nani) is a celebrity photographer in Mumbai, living with his six-year-old daughter Mahi (child actor Kiara Khanna) in a house that belongs to architecture magazines (production designer Avinash Kolla and cinematographer Sanu John Varghese whip up an aesthetic visual palette). Viraj’s calendar is choc-a-bloc but he tailors it around his daughter’s requirements. The first few minutes give us an idea of him being a hands-on father. Mahi’s small world with her father, grandfather (Jayaram), pet dog Pluto and Viraj’s friend and colleague Justin (Priyadarshi) looks nearly perfect. However, she is curious about her mother.
Hi Nanna (Telugu)
Cast: Nani, Mrunal Thakur, Kiara Khanna, Priyadarshi
Storyline: A single father begins to narrate the story of the missing mother to his child and nothing remains the same
Music: Hesham Abdul Wahab
Shouryuv begins unpacking Viraj’s past in a fairytale manner, in a format that the father uses to tell his daughter bedtime stories, and slowly broaches the bittersweet portions. The writer-director hopes that his audience, too, will patiently listen in and not let the social media-driven short-term attention span get the better of them. He puts Viraj in a spot by making him narrate his past in the presence of Yashna (Mrunal Thakur, voice by Chinmayi), who has befriended Mahi minutes earlier. Slowly, the writer pulls a few tricks from his hat. Events leading up to intermission warrant us to embrace a few old world tropes, particularly about medical conditions and the play of fate.
One can either be dismissive about these trajectories or appreciate how the writer-director uses them to show the contracting personalities in a relationship. If Viraj is all about hope, his wife has anxiety issues that stem from growing up in a broken home. There are promises made, only to be mocked by destiny. The woman wallows in grief and guilt while the man, also in grief, desperately holds on to a silver lining.
A sizable portion of the narrative rests on the single father’s resilience. There’s a lovely scene early on between Viraj and his prospective mother-in-law playing out like a been-there-seen-that situation of highlighting economic differences. Viraj counters her in the most emphatic way possible, making us root for him. Nani makes the writing seem even better in the manner in which he portrays the determination and innocence of Viraj who believes in love at first sight and later as the father who will move heaven and earth for his daughter. This is easily Nani’s best in the emotional space since Jersey and he can make you well up long after leaving the hall.
Music composer Hesham Abdul Wahab is a big asset to the film. The songs are hummable and pleasant, but the background score takes the cake. When the strains of ‘Idhe idhe tholisariga…’ play at different points, it is impossible not to be moved. He also uses the calming notes of the waves and silences where essential.
Mahi’s mother’s story unravels by and by. There’s predictability in these portions that show how a strong romance, despite the chinks in its armour, can overshadow everything else. The banter on the beach and the party song (featuring Shruti Haasan) feel overdrawn. More characters are brought into the fray, like the ones played by Angad Bedi and Viraj Ashwin. A cheeky Kuch Kuch Hota Hai reference is thrown in through a line uttered at the mandap.
We know how the tale will end. But in the process, it’s not just Viraj and his wife who get to introspect on their relationship, parenting and destiny. Jayaram’s understated character gently reinforces the beauty of love and responsible parenting for the older generation as well.
Mrunal, who is gorgeously turned out by design, comes into her own in the final act. After Sita Ramam, this film gives her a more complex character and she steps up, giving it her best shot. For Priyadarshi, the friend-colleague part is like a walk in the park. He blends in with ease and in many places, where he rolls his eyes at the turn of events or nudges things in a certain direction, he is us, the rational audience wondering where all of this is headed. Child actor Kiara Khanna holds the drama together with her innocence and vulnerability.
A few minor details make the narrative more authentic. The story that begins in Mumbai, travels back in time to Coonoor and then to Goa, reflects the multilingual, multicultural people of these regions with a smattering of English, Hindi and Tamil.
I wish an episode in the final stretch didn’t rely on convenient coincidences. One can argue that elite Mumbaikars keep jetsetting to Goa and it isn’t a surprise to find well-qualified professionals among them. Shouryuv drops hints when he introduces certain supporting characters and their profession. Yet, it came across as filmi. Nevertheless, the narrative has its heart in the right place and hopes that we embrace it despite its leaps of faith.
Hi Nanna is a heartwarming story of a father, daughter and the mother fighting her demons and believing in love. Such stories don’t go out of fashion, and Shouryuv’s drama is a breather amid larger-than-life action entertainers.