Review: ‘Hi Nanna,’ starring Nani, Mrunal Thakur and Kiara Khanna

December 31, 2023

by Carla Hay

Kiara Khanna and Nani in “Hi Nanna” (Photo courtesy of Vyra Entertainments)

“Hi Nanna”

Directed by Shouryuv

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Indian cities of Mumbai and Coonoor, the dramatic film “Hi Nanan” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A single father tells his 6-year-old daughter the story of what happened to her mother, after the daughter’s life is saved by a woman who insists that he tell the story.

Culture Audience: “Hi Nanna” will appeal primarily to people who are fans the movie’s headliners and are interested in watching intriguing movies about how family members cope with separations.

Mrunal Thakur and Shilpa Tulaskar in “Hi Nanna” (Photo courtesy of Vyra Entertainments)

“Hi Nanna” requires some suspension of disbelief in this frequently melodramatic story about the mystery of a mother separated from her family. However, at the center of the film is what makes it shine: a sweet and compelling tale of long-lasting love. It’s by no means a groundbreaking film but it’s an enjoyable movie for viewers who like movies about people who could be reunited with family members.

“Hi Nanna” (which means “Hi Dad” in Telugu) is the feature-film debut of director Shouryuv, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Bhanu Dheeraj Rayudu, Vasanth Sameer and Pinnamaraju. In the city of Mumbai, India, a successful fashion photographer named Viraj (played by Nani) is a single father who has a very close bond with his intelligent and adorable 6-year-old daughter Mahi (played by Kiara Khanna), who says that Viraj is her best friend. Viraj is a kind and patient parent, but there’s one thing that gets him upset: when Mahi asks him to tell her the story about what happened to her mother.

For as a long as possible, Viraj has been postponed telling Mahi (who has cystic fibrosis) the story of what happened to her mother. But now that Mahi is 6, she is old enough to keep asking questions and wanting answers. At school, she is the subject of gossip because of her absentee mother. Viraj promised Mahi that he would tell her the entire story if her grades at school are good enough for Mahi to be at the top of her class in academics.

Mahi achieves that goal, but when she tells Viraj and shows him her academic grades, he once again delays telling her the whole story, by saying that he’s too tired and will tell her later. Mahi and Viraj have an argument. The next morning, Viraj sees that Mahi is missing with their Golden Retriever dog Pluto. Viraj correctly assumes that Mahi has run away from home, so he frantically goes looking for her.

That morning, Mahi is walking with Pluto on a street. The dog breaks free of its leash and runs into traffic. Mahi runs after the dog and is nearly hit by a truck. But just at that moment, a woman in her late 20s or early 30s saves Mahi’s life. The dog has avoided getting hit and also safe.

The woman introduces herself as Varsha (played by Mrunal Thakur), who asks Mai where her parents are. Mahi tells Varsha why she ran away from home. Varsha is sympathetic but says that Mahi’s father has to be contacted to take Mahi home. Mahi gives Varsha the name and phone number of Viraj. Varsha takes Mahi to a nearby restaurant while they wait for him.

When Viraj shows up, he is relieved to see Mahi but seems a little caught off-guard and annoyed when he sees Varsha and finds out that Mahi has told Varsha about their family issues. Varsha insists that Mahi cannot leave with Viraj until Viraj tells Mahi the entire story of Mahi’s mother. Mahi thinks this woman is being very annoying and intrusive, but he complies with her demand because he doesn’t want to upset Mahi any more.

The rest of “Hi Nanna” alternates between showing flashbacks of Viraj’s volatile romance with Mahi’s mother and the present day. Varsha and Mahi have an instant connection, so tey start to become friends. The more time that Varsha spends with Mahi and Viraj, the more she starts to love them and they begin to feel like a family.

Viraj finds himself falling in love with Varsha, but there’s a big problem: She’s already engaged to marry a physician named Dr. Aravind (played by Angad Bedi), with the wedding happening in the near future. Varsha’s overbearing parents (played by Shilpa Tulaskar and Jayaram) approve of this arranged marriage. They think Dr. Avarind would make a more suitable husband for Varsha than Viraj.

The mystery of who and where Mahi’s mother is becomes very easy to solve when this mother is seen in flashbacks. However, the answers to why she is not in Mahi’s life happen much later in the film. It’s enough to say that there’s a very soap-opera-like explanation that is very far-fetched but not beyond the realm of possibility to happen in real life.

The cast members in “Hi Nanna” give very good (but not outstanding) performances. Khanna is a talented actress who can convey convincing emotions without the forced phoniness that makes many child performances very irritating. “Hi Nanna” also has admirable portrayals of a single father taking care of an underage daughter that aren’t often seen in most family-oriented movies. “Hi Nanna” has some heartbreak, but it’s overshadowed by the movie’s heartwarming qualities.

Vyra Entertainments released “Hi Nanna” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 7, 2023. Netflix will premiere the movie on January 4, 2023.

Review: ‘Dasara’ (2023), starring Nani, Keerthy Suresh, Dheekshith Shetty, Shine Tom Chacko, Samuthirakani and Sai Kumar

April 5, 2023

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front: Dheekshith Shetty and Nani in “Dasara” (Photo courtesy of AA Films)

“Dasara” (2023)

Directed by Srikanth Odela

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Veerlapally, India, mostly in 2009 (and briefly in 1995 and 2016), the action film “Dasara” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In a city plagued by alcoholism, a thief experiences a love triangle with not only his best friend but also with a ruthless politician. 

Culture Audience: “Dasara” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching epic love stories and have a high tolerance for action scenes that are brutally violent.

Keerthy Suresh in “Dasara” (Photo courtesy of AA Films)

“Dasara” uses a lot of familiar techiques in over-the-top action movies about love triangles and vengeful family members. However, the acting performances are better than most movies in this genre. The movie’s story also maintains suspense and intrigue.

Srikanth Odela makes his feature-film directorial debut with “Dasara,” a highly energetic and occasionally ridiculous saga that touches on serious issues of alcoholism, political corruption and domestic violence. Odela co-wrote the “Dasara” screenplay with Vamsi Krishna P., Jella Srinath and Arjuna Paturi. The movie has some stunning visuals, but the violence might be too intense or offensive for some viewers.

In “Dasara,” which takes place mostly in 2009, Dharani (played by Nani) and his best friend Siddham Suryam, nicknamed Suri (played by Dheekshith Shetty) are unemployed troublemakers in the village of Veerlapally, India. Dharani and Suri steal coal for money. The two pals hang out with other scoundrels, who also steal and get into brawls.

Dharani and a local teacher named Vennela (played by Keerthy Suresh) have known each other since childhood. Dharani (who comes from a lower-caste family) has been in love with Vennela for many years, but she just sees him as a platonic friend. Vennela is actually in love with Suri, who comes from an upper-caste family. Predictably, Vennela’s mother (played by Jhansi) would rather have Vennela marry Suri.

Veerlapally is a village plagued by alcoholism. Many women in the village have spouses or partners who are violent alcoholics. The central pub in the village is called Silk Bar. And whoever owns Silk Bar has the most power in Veerlapally. The way that customers are served by the Silk Bar is a reflection of the caste system: The upper-caste people are served inside, while the lower-caste people must stay outside in order to be served.

“Dasara” has a subplot about two stepbrothers who are competing with each other for control of Veerlapally. Shivanna (played by Samuthirakani) is considered to be the upstanding citizen, while Rajanna (played by Sai Kumar) has a reputation for being corrupt. These sibling rivals compete against each other by forming different political parties. Shivanna wins an election to be the leader of Veerlapally, but Rajanna bitterly contests the election.

The rest of “Dasara” shows how Dharani and Suri get swept up in this vicious political power struggle. Rajanna as a son named Chinna Nambi (played by Shine Tom Chacko), who’s a lot worse than Rajanna. It’s enough to say that Chinna Nambi becomes an enemy of Dharani. Chinna Nambi’s long-suffering wife (played by Shamna Kasim) has a pivotal role in the movie.

With a total running time of 156 minutes, “Dasara” takes too long to tell a story that could have easily been told in a movie with a total running time of 120 minutes or less. However, the film moves at such a brisk pace, the long running time doesn’t make “Dasara” a tedious movie to watch. “Dasara” balances the very graphic violence with some comedy and sentimentality. It’s not a great film on any level, but it’s of a slightly higher quality than the formulaic and soulless action junk that gets churned out by movie studios on a regular basis.

AA Films released “Dasara” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on March 30, 2023.

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