Early on in the Telugu cop drama HER: Chapter 1, written and directed by newcomer Sreedhar Swaraghav, we are privy to a day in the life of Archana Prasad (Ruhani Sharma), an assistant commissioner of police. She is poised and stoic as she goes about her work. The look in her eyes indicates scars from the past. A mug of coffee to start her day and an occasional cup of tea when she is at work, keep her going. Soon, while investigating a double murder case, she asks one of her deputies to invite a few people connected to the case for a cup of tea. We know where things are headed — fingerprints, forensics, the works. Yet, when the penny drops in a smart pre-interval sequence and the protagonist revels with a glint in her eyes, the payoff is worth it. Moments like these stand out.
Sreedhar presents a film that is genre-specific and does not waver from its principal story of investigating a double murder crime incident, occasionally giving us a peep into Archana’s life. She has lost a loved one in a shootout that went haywire and has faced suspension. She has to prove herself all over again.
Stepping away from HER, I was reminded of HIT: The First Case in which Ruhani was cast as a forensics officer but her role was essentially that of a romantic interest of the protagonist cop, played by Vishwak Sen, who has to solve a tricky crime while battling post-traumatic stress disorder. In HER, Ruhani does the heavy lifting and we see snatches of the stressful incident from the past shadowing her actions. Long after her debut film Chi la Sow, Ruhani gets an author-backed role and makes the best of it. The writing does not give us enough to understand her psyche or that of the suspects. Probably her backstory has been saved for the next chapter, but revealing a little more wouldn’t have hurt.
HER: Chapter 1 (Telugu)
Cast: Ruhani Sharma, Vikas Vashista, Jeevan Kumar
Direction: Sreedhar Swaraghav
Storyline: Returning from a personal loss and a suspension, a female cop has to solve a tricky double murder case
HER has a crisp run time of an hour and 43 minutes and wastes no time in frivolities. It weaves in humour through the character of cop Nataraj (Jeevan Kumar is excellent with his poker-faced delivery of lines that brighten up the tense, grim atmosphere). Romance is also skilfully woven into the story and there are the usual subplots of the protagonist having to rise above limitations and also having to be mindful of politics within the system. The last hour navigates all these threads, solving a few mysteries and opening the door for new puzzles to be addressed.
Where HER falters is in the initial portions where every move of the characters is spelt out more than necessary. Even the simplest of tasks are explained. Pavan’s music that stays on cue and Vishnu Besi’s camera that captures the urgency of the unsettling crime situations help smoothen out some of the rough edges. Adequate support also comes in from actors Vikas Vashista, Pradeep Rudra, Abhignya, Padmaja and Ravi Varma, among others.
An appreciable aspect of HER is that it doesn’t make a hue and cry about having a female cop at the centre of the action. It does not glorify her but acknowledges that she is good at her job and is game for challenges. After a crucial reveal towards the end, when someone character assassinates a woman, Ruhani asks why the men involved in the incident are never judged on similar parameters. It happens matter of factly but the impact registers. Well played.
HER: Chapter 1 is not the smartest cop drama out there, but is earnest and has the potential to be sharper in its next edition.