Hari, a name in the same league as Ram, Shyam or Sita in terms of originality, is nevertheless a resoundingly unique character. It is ironic that the writers, directors and producers in Nepal’s film industry these days churn out such inventive names, only for the audiences to discover it is the same old formula. And bland ones at that.
Hari is a film about an eponymous character, a man as simple as his name, but a deceptively complex film and a rich, delicious treat. Hari is a manager at a cooperative in Kathmandu with three other employees. Even though he is their boss, he doesn't feel respected. Guarded, and a little wound up, he lives with his mother and follows her word to the tee.
He doesn’t drink alcohol, and doesn't eat anything with onion, garlic or meat in it. He stops at every temple on his way to work and back, and is superstitious. One day, a bird shits on him. And that’s when the story finds momentum. Was it a pigeon, or a crow? Was it good luck, or an omen? Good and bad things happen alternatively to Hari, but we cannot be sure.
This is a character-driven drama. Given the plot lines of Nepali cinema, Hari is a revelation – revolving perfectly around its central character. It is a story is generated by the fault-lines in his psyche, the great divide of what he is and what he wants deep within his self. It is an existential film and every other character either pushes or pulls on this central thread. There are no extraneous characters, scenes, or dialogue that are ham-fisted for a lame laugh, or an action set or a song-and-dance piece.
A severe dearth of memorable cinematic experience in Nepal means that anything that comes close will demand hyperbole. And perhaps it is not a perfect film, but features an expert use of cinematic tools. Its exquisite cinematography and minimalistic art direction brim with purpose. Full credit to Director of Photography Chintan Raj Bhandari, and the superb acting of an inimitable Bipin Karki, who continues to challenge literally every other actor in the industry to do better.
The open ending, however, is supposed to leave the audience with some questions. Instead, it falls flat. For a film as intricately crafted as this one, the need to meander into a needlessly convoluted plot is a disappointing one.
But eventually the viewer can forgive and forget. Some stand-out moments in the film are so dope, for the lack of a better word, that they will be remembered for years. Hari is an engaging, and often hilarious movie that manages to subvert some well-known tropes of good filmmaking.
No dream sequences, they say? Hari is full of them. Show, don’t tell? Hari narrates almost the entirety of his story. Be careful with that fourth wall! Hari breaks it like a boss. And yet, it comes out the other side a great film. It is somewhat devastating that more than likely we won’t be seeing something like this in Nepali cinema again in a long time. Highly recommended.