Film:  Saaho

Director: Sujeeth

Cast: Prabhas, Shraddha Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Arun Vijay, Mahesh Manjrekar, Murali Sharma, Mandira Bedi

Saaho is a film that grows on you. It’s a grand mess that has everything in it; action, drama, romance, violence, a rounded screenplay, actors and what not. The film’s opening sequence sets the blueprint of what is to follow. The style, swagger and class are all stamped from the first frame of the film. The police investigation that opens Saaho with a two lakh crore-robbery that sets the film into motion and introduces Prabhas as an undercover cop was a good addition that grounded the high-rise ambitions of the filmmakers, literally and metaphorically. That police element was perhaps, the only part that added some humour to the film till it became all serious and bloodied-action post interval.

The part which introduced Prabhas as Ashok Chakravorty, in the first part of the movie, and his god-like presence and power in the film is an ode to action-flick cinema from across the world. From The Mission Impossible franchise, James Bond, Terminator to any and every action flick one grew up watching, that reference and presence is always there. Prabhas fights enemies in an extended opening sequence, if one may call it, in a speed that is even faster for a human eye to catch. For that matter, the entire pre-interval film is like that. Editing could have been a major help there.

There is a python in the same building where Prabhas is fighting goons; women are drying clothes, a butcher’s den, and everything that establishes classic hero v/s goons scene in crime films ever made; only that the makers developed a standard hard to reach.

Saaho is another end of the local-mafia and their gunda-gang films; everything is high-end. From the streets, crime is now dressed in suits making deals in huge conference rooms and buildings. And yet, the ethos of the street-crime seeps into the highly stylized setup. But then again, this is no Godfather and audiences do not want to see, if one were to generalise, Prabhas as a silent-brooding gangster plotting moves from behind an armchair. Saaho is like a backstory to the rise of that entity in the first place.

Set in a landscape outside India, in the Waaji City that is modelled on the likes of metropolitan cities like Dubai, the story, despite being set in an unbelievable land, was made believable by the common human conflicts: lust for power, position and chair.

The action sequences are followed and complimented by emphatic musical arrangements that heighten the tension and effect of what is shown on-screen.

As unbelievable as everything about Prabhas, the super-intelligent cop who knows everything and is always one-step ahead, is explained in the second-half and that happens in a lot of sequences in the film. One is always wondering if this is not required or totally unnecessary and then the makers go on to prove the audiences wrong by explaining “why the scene is there in the first place”. Besides, a film mounted on the budget that Saaho is, one does not expect makers to go wrong when so much is at stake.

But, the strength of Saaho lies in the confidence of its director Sujeeth and that of its lead actor, Prabhas. Both believe utterly and completely that their material will work. And perhaps, that naivety to a certain degree and the effort gone into making Saaho makes it a watchable-believable film.

However, that is not just a reason to watch the film. The immense action sequences that use all possible weapons, all possible automobiles to surmount Prabhas’ character (in the second-half is called Saaho) are commendable. To make it as real as possible, the action is a factor that makes Saaho a spectacle of another level.

The weight of Saaho rests on Prabhas’ shoulders who tries to deliver to the best of his ability. Sujeeth has played on the actor’s strength, which worked well for most of the parts, but dramatic sequences though rare in the film, are not really his genre. The dubbing in Hindi got misplaced here and there and then again, that department could have been worked upon a little bit more.

Shradhha Kapoor plays an investigating police officer whose chemistry with Prabhas builds up over time in the second-half.  There is work-place harassment too, but then again Shraddha’s character has no problem.The first half is so stuffed up with character introductions and narrative build-up that there is barely any place for development of character relations; the only relation in the film is of Prabhas and Shradhha. All others are playing solo.

Saaho has a huge ensemble cast in the form of supporting characters. From Mandira Bedi, Mahesh Manjrekar to Arun Vijay and Chunky Pandey who plays the lead antagonist and tries lending the ‘mafia-don’ feels; the screenplay tries to make use of all to further the narrative.

At one point in the second-half, that build-up of climax sequence has three story-lines playing side by side. It is hard to keep track, but the confusion intended is deliberate so as to prepare for the final catharsis at the end.

Saaho is a two-part film, in one, Prabhas plays one character and in the second, another. There is not much difference between the two, but it’s easy to differentiate along plot lines.

One of the commendable mention in Saaho is its closing for interval which mentions the title of the film after an hour and a half has been played out with a message on the screen that says, “Its showtime”; a tagline that the makers adhered to with all the grandiose of action. The ultimate climax track looked and felt like Death Race, Mad Max: Fury Road, Mission Impossible and so much more. There are obvious meta-references to action flicks like The Terminator and Mr & Mrs Smith to highlight the kind of action, violence portrayed in the film and the relationship between Shraddha and Prabhas; both provide humour in critical hours of action.

The second part’s opening sequence could have been better. The “Bad Boy” song was intended to show another side to Saaho’s personality as a person, but then again, in what better way than an ‘item-song’ that has been stylized and high-profiled, is the makers’ call.

The ‘woman- being-the -traitor’ trope is also played with in Saaho through Shradhha’s character and re-asserted and challenged at the same time by Mandira Bedi’s character.

The pace of the film is uneven throughout. The cinematography shines in moments; especially in slow-motion and some hurried-caught moments in action that by accident or design gives the film a different look.

The dialogue fits the genre, exceptions being some ‘romantic-tanhai’ dialogue that Prabhas voices’ in the first part and ‘I love you, Dad’ in the climax. But, then again the film couldn’t have an actor who doesn’t speak at all. If the makers capitalized most on ‘show-not-tell’ sequences to explain how and when Prabhas is always one step ahead of the game, they did give him some speech to compensate for the lack of the emotional-dramatic feel of the film, through romance.

The tonality of the film changes in the climax scene, where Prabhas is battling goons all alone in a deserted, burnt-out village on one hand, whereas, in an unreal part of the film, guilty or not, men are punished by the antagonist Devraj (played by Chunky).

All left-over resources are also used in the form of weapons; cars to establish and play-out a Batman-kind chase story at the end of the film to create a massive spectacle.

After the film was coming to a close, and all motives, ploys were being explained and solved, a sequence that made one cringe and question the purpose of the entire film was the thought of are-we-still-worshipping-rulers-badshahs.

In a part that Arun Vijay explains to Neil Nitin Mukesh, that from time immemorial kings have come in the form of yodhas (warriors) to inherit and take over what is rightfully theirs, in an intention to explain who the real Saaho is — one thought there was a sort of mythical, religious reference and in that same moment time stopped as did a weapon that was about to hit the invincible Prabhas in the face — and it all came down to the revelation that established that the mighty will inherit on the basis of merit; but why to be king or look for him in the first place is a question that changed the way one looked at the film, altogether.

Rating: 2.5