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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Saaho, Review: Posture Boys

Saaho, Review: Posture Boys

Grand emptiness fills the screen as the Saaho saga unfolds. There is a semblance of a plot and a picture post-card collage of both serene and breath-taking visuals. However, most unfortunately, the most crucial element of a well-crafted film, story-telling, is at a discount. Gory and one-sided fights, a floating, free-falling and soaring mortal superhero, and flesh flaunting femme fatales cannot compensate for flimsy premises and disbelief inviting sequences.

Prithviraj, the patriarch of a crime syndicate, appoints Roy as his successor, superseding his own son, Devraj. Roy consolidates the empire by kidnapping an Indian central government minister and obtaining his signature on a massive, lucrative contract. The gang operates out of a country called Waaji. Roy comes to Mumbai to further his business, and sends a ship full of money to Mumbai, separately. While he is talking on the mobile phone, his car explodes, and he is mortally wounded. As he crawls out, he is shot dead. Devraj turns against his own father as a result of the humiliation he has suffered, and tortures him till he becomes paralysed. This is the same Devraj who had murdered his uncle as a kid. He is all set to gain greater control of the syndicate, at a ‘board meeting’, when a man arrives, announcing that he is Roy’s son, Vishwank, and the rightful heir to the throne. This causes huge tension within the gang, which includes Prince, Ibrahim and Kalki, their legal adviser.

A series of high-scale robberies plague Mumbai. The thief leaves no clues and even uses unsuspecting strangers to execute parts of his plans. Inspector Amritha Nair is unable to crack the cases, so Commissioner Shinde calls for renowned undercover operative Ashok Chakravarthy to take over. Ashok, at first, ridicules Amritha and her two colleagues—the IT wizard David and another Inspector working on the theft cases, Goswami. Later, he asks all three to join him. He has unconventional methods and brute strength, though he looks handsome and even flirts with Amritha. The team zeroes in on a suspect, who, however, eludes them twice. Meanwhile, it becomes clear that both factions of the syndicate, the Vishwank supporters and the Devraj backers, are after a hidden black box that holds the key to a fortune with more zeroes in it than many can count, and the thief is now after that box (office? bad joke). Who will get to the secret location of the box, retrieve it and unlock the priceless treasure: one of the two factions or the thief or the police?

As a skeletal plot, the above reads fine. The devil is in the detail. Nobody is above suspicion, which again reads well, but then where is the fun of a guessing game? Where is the suspense? It is revealed about halfway through that Ashok is not Ashok, but the thief he is supposed to be pursuing. Really? How did a master thief just walk into a high-level police establishment and get readily accepted as the special operative? No picture? No id? No protocol? Wait a minute. The thief being chased by the police is not really a thief, but Ashok Chakravarthy. David is really on….whose side? And the man who claims to be Roy’s son is, in reality….et cetera et cetera. Suffice to say that only Goswami and Amritha are who they are, and are doing the jobs assigned to them. Oh no! Amritha has fallen in love with ‘Ashok’ and has even given him an engagement ring. So, will her loyalties switch? Let’s replace Amritha with the Inspector General of Police in this slot. He’s above suspicion alright. All the others are bad guys, either out to kill or steal, or pretend to be someone else or betray someone’s trust. No wonder the film lasts 172 minutes! Anybody who can dissect the screenplay (Sujeeth, also director) into a linear, credible narrative, and read it like a straight novel must be gifted with extra-sensory perception. Not being so blessed, I found in Saaho a lot of confusion confounded.

Why does the protagonist have to go about in the most convoluted way to wreak vengeance, acquire ‘super-powers’ in the process and leave everything to chance, beats my logic hollow. To those for whom logic is not an issue, the Rs. 350-400 crore (3500-4000 million) extravaganza could be enjoyable and a joy ride of sorts. Watching the Hindi version, as we were invited to,  led to three issues being thrown up: songs can be a hindrance and source of boredom, even if scantily clad chorus girls are gyrating suggestively; a brave effort on the part of the lead actor to speak his own lines in Hindi though his mother tongue is Telugu can backfire and be the butt of ridicule, often sounding unintentionally funny; unless dialogues (Abbas Dalal, Hussain Dalal) are meticulously carved out of the visual proceedings, with punches and witticisms added judiciously as punctuations, even if the action is gung-ho, they can lead to ho hum.

Sujeeth is a chartered accountant-turned short film maker-turned feature film maker. Still under 30, he has made only one feature before Saaho, Run, Raja Run, which was a nice debut. Saaho is not so nice. Which brings me to ask, what does ‘Saaho’ mean? If it is just a name, it serves little purpose, as every viewer will guess that it will be a moniker associated with the films hero, Prabhas, ending all speculation and suspense that has gone-in to weave a web around it. If it has connotations of more than a mere appellation, then those connotations are never explained! There loopholes as big as the holes in our ozone layer, but listing them would add insult to injury, so I will just stop after stressing that crime thrillers need more than crime (howsoever intricate and cleverly planned and executed) and thrills (never mind if they can give Iron Man and Spiderman a swing for their sling). You need coherence and relatability too, both of which are noticed in absentia.

(Venkata Suryanarayana) Prabhas (Raju Uppalapati), 39, is known to Hindi audiences as the hero of Bahubali 1 and 2 (The Conclusion), both top grosser costume action dramas. Both were initially made in Telugu and then dubbed in other languages, and Prabhas did not speak his lines in Hindi. Perhaps it was the epic nature of the plot, a hark-back to the lavishly mounted swash-buckling features of the 1930s-60s, which, in turn, set their stories in earlier centuries, that added to the aura of the star in the two films. Although he has been around since 2002, Saaho could have been his launch vehicle in a contemporary drama genre, and helped him gain acceptance as a modern, 21st century hero among Hindi viewers. That, I am afraid, is an opportunity lost. It will take some courage to now mount another dollar guzzling spectacle to provide him a milieu of this manner. On the other hand, why be a slave to over-the-top vehicles to prove your abilities. Any decent social contemporary theme could be explored, with just that little bit of inherent risk that goes with such projects.

Shraddha Kapoor, with twenty films in ten years, is no spring chicken, and does what she is made to do, tote guns and engagement rings in turn, with confidence that comes with maturity. Daughter of villain Shakti Kapoor, she bears a token resemblance to her senior, Rani Mukerji, but the two are vastly different in persona. Asking her to do song numbers that go ‘Psycho saiyan’ (psycho lover) is not doing her any service. A girl taking the initiative and putting an engagement ring on the finger of the man she loves, taking him for granted, was a bold idea, but her back story was utterly contrived. If it came to that, Shraddha’s role could easily be expurgated, without any significant impact on the central plot.

There is one surprise packet, though, in the shape of Chunkey Pandey, who plays Devraj. Both in terms of looks and performance, he makes a clean cut as the vile villain. Who could have thought that this lead actor turned comedy specialist could strike terror too? Jackie Shroff is Jackie Shroff, the grainy voice and the “you should know better than to deal with me” looks. Neil Nitin Mukesh is getting more and more type-cast by the day, as is the relative newcomer Prakash Belawadi (Shinde). Neil plays the thief, who is an undercover cop. Mahesh Manjrekar as Prince is Mahesh Manjrekar as anybody.

Murali Sharma does a good job as David, as does Tinnu Anand as Prithviraj (why did they have to make him the narrator too?). Arun Vijay makes a powerful Vishwank. Also in the cast are Evelyn Sharma as Aisha/Jennifer, Vennela Kishore as Goswami and Jacqueline Fernandez in Special Appearance, cast as the ‘Bad Girl’ to Prabhas’s ‘Bad Boy’ act song. Watch out for Mandira Bedi as Kalki, who is more than the legal adviser to the mafia. It’s a regular role, and she gets an opportunity to prove her acting prowess. Lal makes a valiant Ibrahim. Add another 100 heavies and tallies to the list, many of them from foreign shores, all of who are there to be cut to size by Prabhas, if not reduced to mince-meat.

Cinematography by R. Madhi is as stylish as it gets, with myriad exotic locales to train his cameras on, in imaginary cities and city-lights, in the middle-east (Waaji, Karana) and other countries, replete with panoramic shots and liberal use of helicopters and drones. Editing by veteran A. Sreekar Prasad is disappointingly inconsistent and varied. Nevertheless, why am I getting this feeling that he might have been successful in actually salvaging some sensibility from the damage and disability? Saaho is a field day for the art director and the production designer, Illia Bocca and Sabu Cyril respectively. Locations and sets, with explosions and crumbling edifices, are breath-taking, and add an extra dimension. Music by Ghibran tries hard to pump up the volume, but in vain. So much hammering was uncalled for, unless it was expected to over-compensate for the lack of conviction on the visual track. Computer Graphics and effects have worked overtime and turned-in a creditable display, including car/truck/bike chases by the dozen, and a goldfish out of water, in the throes of death.

Almost every character in the film strikes a pose (or several poses) or adopts a posture (or postures). Prabhas, being Saaho, has been given the lions share. Sometimes you wish these postures were confined to posters, and not to live actions. Is this a film about Mafiosos, or poster boys?

Ahem! Pray, why is this film open to teenagers too, when accompanied by adults? Should we not keep at least the children totally away from such mayhem, and only allow adults into the cinema halls where Saahositlities are being exhibited?

Rating: **



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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