They say sensibilities are different for Hindi film viewers and for each of India’s filmmaking industries. As much as I would want to buy this argument, the lines have drastically blurred over the years, especially when it comes to the mass genre. The Baahubali franchise, which originated in Telugu filmdom, has found pan-India patronage and so has the surplus dubbed films that run prime time on Hindi movie channels. Director Sujeeth’s mega actioner Saaho is a byproduct of this possibility and is, therefore, the year’s biggest film. Touted to be a large-scale action adventure, the film stars Prabhas, Shraddha Kapoor and long list of supporting actors in what is easily amongst the most complicated plot lines for the genre in recent past.
Running close to three hours, Saaho bears the innate format of a quintessential Telugu action thriller. The initial reels focusses on a light-hearted yet heroic introduction of the leading man (Prabhas) which is only the beginning a series of unbelievably far-fetched sequences that the film packs along. The supposedly funny sequence that screams ’90s in its very design sees everything from CGI pythons to butchers to housewives washing clothes in the dingy space of a Mumbai chawl. Saaho begins to work better when its leading lady Amritha (Shraddha Kapoor) is introduced. One of Malayali origins, there is this lovely strain of a Kerala folk song used to romanticize her presence. A cop by profession, her intent behind becoming one is a talking point once in the film, which also – strangely – brings her closer to the leading man. Like how every second Indian commercial film would want to, there are songs galore popping in sans valid situations. To be frank, I did not mind any of them given the lavish scale and the stylish shot taking and editing in place. Towards the interval, Saaho halts with a sudden brake as a massive revelation comes through as a lightning bolt, only to nosedive for a good amount of time and salvage itself towards the finale.
For a film that emerges from a massy space, Saaho becomes extremely convoluted from the third act. There is a bevy of characters and each one of them find a profound place in the screenplay. That way, the film does justice to its characters but the end result feels way too taxing to sit through. In what could be a less pacy and more in-your-face version of an Abbas-Mustan thriller, Saaho complicates a highly familiar story by segmenting it with too many layers and unnecessary back stories. For instance, there is a scene where Prithviraj (Tinnu Anand), an aged gangster, who gets assaulted by his son Devraj (Chunky Panday). We see the intent behind having this scene but the output is not as smart as the film wants it to be. Saaho is also not very successful in designing certain character’s and their grey shades. Chief cop Shinde (Prakash Belawadi) is shown to be a close aide of the antagonist’s clan but the film hardly makes the cut in establishing his deceiving traits. Belawadi’s is a passive character that, eventually, generates zero impact. Besides songs, we also see certain brief moments shot to showcase the leading man’s bravado. It is almost like stock footage. They can be placed in any instance or – wait – any film, for that matter. There is this unnecessary passage where the person is seen leaping shirtless from a cliff to get hold of what looks like a bag. In gravity-defying instance, the man deflects his route mid-air, goes in the way of the bag, unzips it, and wears a parachute placed inside, later to land on his feet like an agile cat. My goodness!
The film goofs up basic geography too, possibly out of naivety. Set in the fictitious city of Waaji which resembles an advanced version of Tokyo or the NYC, the terrain around it oscillates bizarrely between Europe-like lush locales to another fictitious ‘village’ nearby which is arid as one of those abandoned middle-eastern desert stretches. I was particularly aghast to spot people who resembled those from the apocalyptic age in the said village, which is barely an hour away from the metropolis that Waaji is.
Placing the film on a higher citadel is the stellar efforts put in by the technical crew. For a film this long, it is near impossible to keep the viewer glued to the screen. On that front, Saaho engages for its entire runtime despite a spate of sequences that induce unintentional laughs. Sreekar Prasad’s editing in particular gives the film a very slick look as the transitions feel stylish and innovative. R. Madhi’s camerawork is dramatic will all the slow-motion shots and fast chases etched to perfection. While the CGI bits are cringe-inducing for most parts, the action choreography is of international standards and is amplified by some quirky camera angles. Ghibran’s original score is loud yet effective keeping in mind the film’s general tenor.
For we all know that a fresh story is out of question when it comes to a “safe” massy commercial film of today, we wish that the director Sujeeth had simplified Saaho from its present state. The screenplay – despite all its intricate twists and a long list of characters – still remain in the hackneyed zone. Clearly, more thoughts have gone into transforming the film into a grand spectacle rather than making it an entertainer with real merits. As a result, Saaho is never really an opportunity lost but is, for sure, a gargantuan instance of resource wastage. 350 crores, they say!