Old wine in a swanky bottle

However, the first time he witnesses a cold-blooded murder from a distance, Subramanyam’s reaction is as cold as the killing itself.
A scene from the movie Harom Hara.
A scene from the movie Harom Hara.

Harom Hara

Cast: Sudheer Babu, Sunil, Malavika Sharma, Ravi Kale, Arjun Gowda, Akshara Gowda

Director: Gnanasagar Dwaraka

Rating: 2.5/5

With every new action-driven film in Telugu cinema, you realise the impact films like Pushpa: The Rise and the KGF franchise have made on the industry. And sure enough, for the first 20 minutes of the latest Sudheer Babu starrer, Harom Hara, it is hard to shake off the feeling that we are watching yet another unofficial offspring of the KGF school of filmmaking, especially given its inclination for violence and dark visual palette. It also doesn’t help that the narrative kicks off from a third-person perspective, with an insider narrating the mythical tale to an outsider.

However, I stand corrected. Director Gnanasagar Dwaraka does his best to lend a sense of individualistic style and swagger to his sophomore action-drama and succeeds to an extent. There is an evident penchant for innovation and a desire to bring something new to the table.

The first time you are struck by the director’s ambition is during a sequence where a character manoeuvres his way around a funeral procession to fetch something that is valuable to him and a secret to others. It’s a fascinating collage, and Gnanasekhar shoots this scene in a single take, following the character as he walks inside a house and steps out a minute later, underscoring the moment with a deceitfully upbeat number, building tension around the secretive red bag he is holding. It is moments like this that make Harom Hara stand out from other action films.

The director also chooses an interesting moment to thwart our image of the protagonist, Subramanyam (Sudheer Babu). When he is introduced to us, Subramanyam looks no different from an average small-town man who couldn’t possibly become a part of the violent world he is entering.

However, the first time he witnesses a cold-blooded murder from a distance, Subramanyam’s reaction is as cold as the killing itself. He doesn’t show any sign of fear or repulsion at the sight. At that point, Subramanyam is elevated above a regular protagonist figure; we realise there are layers to him that we are yet to discover. Kudos to Sudheer Babu, who holds a lot of intrigue with his performance, channelling a stone-faced demeanour to keep us mystified, even as Subramanyam undergoes a mythical transformation from being a commonplace lab assistant to a local robinhood figure who is feared as much as he is loved. There are many of these moments, particularly in the first half, where Gnanasagar can be seen attempting to break out of the mould.

Harom Hara is also rather vast and ambitious in scale. There is a distinguished appeal to the consistent rain-soaked visuals (cinematography by Arvind Viswanathan), adding a mystic aura to the world-building. As Subramanyam becomes larger-than-life, the director manages to capture that aura around him through the visuals. When Subramanyam is arrested and local villagers lay in front of the police vehicles, Gnanasagar uses an aerial view of the location, where both the cop figure and the audience are introduced to the enormity of Subramanyam’s following.

Amidst an array of conventionally staged violent sequences, there are a couple of moments that grab you by the collar with their stylistic flourishes. During a pre-interval sequence, Subramanyam erupts into a demonic mode, killing men left, right, and centre at a dilapidated cinema theatre. Just when we get a sense of stagnancy, the director moves the action to the corridors, amping up the tension, with the bad guys more fearful of Subramanyam than confrontational. The physical progression in this brief stretch feels natural and warranted.

And yet, there is only so much you can do with a template as routine and worn-out as this. The most, and the least, we can say is that Gnanasagar Dwaraka tries. While the first half still has a lot of newness to offer, it’s the second half where Harom Hara struggles to maintain a balance between form and content. Despite Gnanasagar’s many attempts, it dawns on the viewer that all the stylistic touches on an execution level cannot make up for the formulaic narrative arc. The material is just too familiar for the director’s technical prowess to keep us distracted for too long.

The dynamics between Subramanyam and his rivals evolve in a predictable fashion, leaving very little for the audience to remain keen about. The half-baked father-son angle doesn’t help, nor does Devi’s character, who, despite an amusing moment of confrontation with Subramanyam where she approves of his illicit trade, largely remains ornamental and inconsequential to the proceedings. The director also overindulges himself in the grotesque nature of his action sequences, and the goriness begins to bother after a point.

On a whole, Harom Hara struggles to bear the weight of the story it tells and the prototypes that such a story entails, and remains passable at best despite its many promising moments.

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The New Indian Express