There is a scene in Hunterrr where three youths are sitting in recreation room at a boy's hostel, with two of them playing carrom. Thus far, we have seen these three friends take a bath together, hit on girls together, and leave their house keys around so that the other can, ahem, make full use of an empty apartment.
But this is the first time we hear them talk about something serious, something that connects sex and misogyny. As they talk about the situation at hand, the sound design chimes in, doubling up as background score. A crow cawing in the background, the sound of table-tennis balls being whacked — these turn into percussive elements whose frequencies increases dramatically to build up tension for the next scene.
In moments like these, and many others, I wondered: why in the world is this movie called something as silly as Hunterrr and why was it being promoted like a lowbrow skin-flick?
Because the movie, the directorial debut of writer-director Harshavardhan Kulkarni, attempts to be more than 'boys will be boys' and actually boasts of female characters who have some semblance of a personality (although it doesn't quite pass the Bechdel Test). Because the locations, situations, and people in the movie look real and familiar to us. Because the women acting in this movie look like women we see and know in real life, not like Bruna Abdullah.
"I'm not sure it's possible to make a film about male sexual awakenings in India without being slightly politically incorrect."
Hunterrr is less Grand Masti and more I Am A Sex Addict minus the explicit sex and the mockumentary approach. It tells the story of Mandar 'Hunterrr' Ponkshe (Gulshan Devaiah), a skinny and awkward Maharashtrian lad who grows up wondering how to channel his lust in an appropriate manner. Together with his closest friends Kshitij and Dilip, he explores the terrain of forming relationships with girls whilst being secretly terrified of them.
The screenplay jumps back and forth between different eras quite a bit; one minute it'll say 'Present day', then it will say '6 Months earlier', then it might just take you back to 1995 before coming back to the present. While this little device helps Kulkarni explain Mandar's motivations, it does get confusing and occasionally tiresome.
"The writing is fresh for the most part, but there are also many scenes that make you wonder if you suddenly stepped into the wrong theatre. "
The entire narrative is held together by a track in the present day that involves Mandar's courtship with Trupti (Radhika Apte), who is mostly trying out the whole arranged marriage shebang since she isn't "getting any younger." As this film's leading lady, Apte is extremely watchable as she plays what is essentially a middle-class Maharashtrian interpretation of the classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl character.
The main issue that many would be looking to address is whether the film is misogynistic to a fault. The answer is both yes and no. Here's the thing: I'm not sure it's possible to make a film about male sexual awakenings in India without being slightly politically incorrect. That being said, it is still problematic to adopt the male gaze to such an extent that a scene depicting teenagers attempting to grope middle-aged women in public for fun is turned into some sort of nostalgic sexual adventure. Instead of playing it straight and showing this misadventure for what it is, Kulkarni treats it as part of a lively, rose-tinted view of boyhood set to groovy, RD Burman-ish music.
At other times, though, the script has a more balanced approach, particularly when it comes to the female characters. Veera Saxena and Sai Tamhankar play two women Mandar comes closest to having more than a physical relationship with. Saxena, making her debut, is suitably sincere while Tamhankar nails her character, oozing both vulnerability and sexuality in equal doses. Devaiah turns in possibly the best performance of his career so far, straddling that fine line between likeable and creepy quite well.
The writing is fresh for the most part, but there are also many scenes that make you wonder if you suddenly stepped into the wrong theatre. There are only so many times you can use the 'Misled the audience during a flashback, haha, gotcha!' trope before it gets annoying. Meanwhile, I'm officially tired of criticising Bollywood films for overusing background score (Hitesh Sonik in this case, who otherwise doesn't do a bad job), so I'm just going to let Russell Brand get a word in here.
Hunterrr, eventually, comes across as a movie with an identity crisis: sex comedy or coming-of-age film? The makers claim it is the latter after pretty much marketing it as the former. One suspects that this dichotomy also found its way into Kulkarni's script, preventing it from becoming the film it really could have.