There are two types of nostalgia: one with big, bold letters, remembrances, and references galore, and the other based on faithful recreation, utilizing both the good and bad aspects of college life to create a three-dimensional story. Vineeth Sreenivasan’s “Hridayam” falls squarely in the middle of this. On one hand, this is a nostalgic film for anyone who has ever attended an engineering college. Unlike “3 Idiots,” however, the hyper-specificity of the nostalgia will appeal to students who have migrated to any of the engineering colleges in the south, particularly Chennai. It also feels like Sreenivasan is trying to showcase the nostalgia of living in the early 2000s by making it a marketable and cool fad.
The film spans over a decade in the life of Arun Neelakandan (Pranav Mohanlal), and “Hridayam” takes the cliché route of exploring life in college to entering the phase of adulthood with as little conflict and as many musical montages as it possibly can without looking out of place. It’s not even a disadvantage that the movie is clichéd. The tropes of coming-of-age storytelling require a unique plot that makes it cohesive. Otherwise, we have the same brandy repackaged in a new bottle.
That’s also not to say that the brandy is entirely bad. It has just aged far too much. Dropping the analogy, I think the structuring of the screenplay is very much flawed. The decision to focus on the burgeoning romance between Arun and Darshana (Darshana Rajendran) is sweet, but it is cut short before entering its honeymoon phase. The reason behind it is also relatable, as is the reaction, forcing both the characters to be antagonistic towards each other. It goes downhill, however, when the movie focuses on Arun’s metamorphosing into the senior he has actively tried to avoid in his college days-a bully, always angry at the world. From a personal standpoint, it is relatable that you can lose your way or take a long, winding path in your college life to get it all together. But, at the very least, you can have some semblance of a reflection of reality, and “Hridayam” stumbles a lot there. The redemption track, on the other hand, starts promisingly with Arun’s character having an epiphany after looking around the apartment he is sharing; but the movie chooses to move ahead by introducing a new character, who becomes the Good Samaritan, guiding Arun to the right path. This, again, skews reality and takes the easy way out. The redemption track and the rest of college life are just rushed to the end of the first half.
In the second half, the movie focuses on Arun exploring life after college. Instead of being narrative-driven, Sreenivasan takes the scenic route, literally and figuratively. (And yes, me being completely nitpicky about every aspect of the movie would drive away from the primary point here.) This is, at its core, a simple coming-of-age drama with flaws in its screenplay that bog it down. There are instances of easy plot contrivances and, later, conflicts that feel more manufactured than holistic, but we are already 70 minutes into a 180-minute movie. The criticism of montage-heavy storytelling aside, I will be damned if I didn’t say that the montages were actually well done. The songs blended well with the flawed narrative or the not-so-well-defined character arcs, strengthening these arcs and these moments far more than the screenplay could have done.
However, what makes the movie engaging are the performances. Pranav Mohanlal, as Arun Neelakandan, is probably the hardest role in the film. He brings an easy-going charm to his character, a likeability that makes us root for him even in the direst circumstances. The writing too focuses the most on Arun and Darshana’s characters, thus making them the most well-rounded and three-dimensional characters in the entire movie. However, Darshana Rajendran’s portrayal of Darshana is easily one of the strongest roles in the film. She manages to portray a shy and vulnerable, yet clever and extremely smart, woman with her foibles. The story, spanning across decades, gave Rajendran enough of a canvas to showcase all the facets of Darshana, and she nailed it. The chemistry between Arun and Darshana, too, captured the feeling of the fleeting college romance and, later, the friendship between the two of them.
In contrast to Darshana’s character, Nithya is a far more thinly written character. Since we are following Arun’s life and expect the protagonist to meet someone and fall in love with them over and over again, (because why else are we watching a coming-of-age and romance story), Nithya’s character is comparatively less well written than what I would have preferred. However, Kalyani Priyadarshan is extremely charming and brings added energy and sweetness to the role, helping us buy into the chemistry between Nithya and Arun.
“Hidayam” is a coming-of-age story buoyed by clever marketing and focused heavily on the nostalgic aspects of growing up. Its flaws don’t outweigh the facets of growing up; it manages to capture more beautifully. However, the nuance is lacking, surprisingly being more plot-heavy than character-heavy. The montage storytelling is a very familiar and, almost lazy, take of storytelling; the songs utilized to encapsulate the moments of the screenplay are damned effective, even if the runtime becomes bloated as a result. It’s a beautiful-looking motion picture. Oddukatthil Vishwajith’s cinematography and Hesham Abdul Wahab’s score work in tandem to make “Hridayam” look and sound poignant, resonating far more than the writing is capable of. The honesty in the principal characters, though, is present and ably acted by the core actors, making “Hridayam” a decent one-time watch for anyone looking to take a memory lane down to their college days. Don’t expect too much realism. Instead, look out for the simplicity and, as its name suggests, the soul underlying it.
“Hridayam” is a 2022 Indian Romance Drama film written and directed by Vineeth Sreenivasan.