Cast: Prabhas, Shraddha Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Chunky Pandey, Arun Vijay, Mandira Bedi
What happened? What happened? I’m almost feeling guilty for not understanding the plot – and point – of Sujeeth’s Saaho, which has a rumoured budget of some 350 crores. Most of the action sequences and songs are shot in small countries whose GDP fails to exceed that amount. It’s a lot of money. I could have bought a couple of Caribbean islands, which incidentally might have even justified Prabhas’ lethargic drawl and beach-holiday body language. I could have bought Wimbledon, if only to have the men’s 2019 final replayed from 8-7 in the fifth until Djokovic drops dead. I could have bought at least four newspaper companies so that I’m never out of a job. I could have even rented Tom Cruise for a day.
But instead what we have is Saaho, a globe-trotting action thriller about cops and thieves and gangsters in a script so full of moles and undercover characters that even they forget who they’re supposed to be by the end. Imagine Katappa impersonating Mahendra Baahubali and then declaring he is Amarendra Baahubali. Or Hrithik Roshan pretending to be the Queen of England in Dhoom 2 and then revealing that he actually directed the movie Queen. Or Salman and Shah Rukh going all “Confusion, confusion” after answering each other’s phone calls in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and going back to the wrong Anjalis.
Saaho begins with a man named Roy (Jackie Shroff), who has inherited a powerful crime syndicate from paralyzed Prithvi Raj (Tinnu Anand) in a fictional country called Waaji, which I’m assuming is where Bikaji originated from. Roy wants to shift his business to Mumbai, so he kidnaps a minister and burns his hand (not very smart) to make him sign the necessary documents. But Roy, like the Hindi film of his name, is killed on his first night back in India. The narrative of the Roy empire – with Chunky Pandey invoking his inner Bhallaladeva to play the evil stepson in competition with Roy’s random long-hidden heir – runs in parallel to a Dhoom-style track of a supercop named Ashok (Prabhas) and a superthief called Shadow (Neil Nitin Mukesh).
Their introduction scenes are fairly creative. Ashok single-handedly runs through every floor of a villainous chawl (he finds a panther, a python and bodybuilders on successive levels) after using rain water as a mixer in his Old Monk bottle. He is an ill-conceived combination between Terminator and Sherlock Holmes (“no pings since morning, you must have no friends/parents”). Shadow choreographs a robbery using common people who are unaware they are robbing a store. Ashok is put on his case, and with the help of colleague Amritha (Shraddha Kapoor) whose idea of undercover is sultrily singing ‘Psycho Saiyaan’ at a nightclub, they try to figure out why Shadow is after something called the Black Box. Or why the writers couldn’t come up with a term that doesn’t have anything to do with a plane crash. The box is of course related to the Roy empire. The first half culminates on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, with an incoherent car chase followed by a twist that defeats the entire purpose of the film’s opening 90 minutes. The second half is just a series of scenes written to accommodate the locations featured. A cliff dive here, an abandoned town full of barbarians from the Roman age there…though props to a gasping goldfish that manages to be the most expressive creature in a shootout centered on the hero and heroine. It doesn’t help that Prabhas isn’t much of a dancer – he moves so less that the camera is forced to move more than him (drone shots, zooms, pans) to hide the lack of rhythm.
The problem with Saaho, and so many obscenely designed movies like Saaho, is a disturbing lack of self-awareness. It isn’t satisfied with being a slick and senseless action-spy entertainer. It wants to be brainy, too. There’s nothing wrong with the unabashed dumbness of the genre – the Mission Impossible franchise is virtually built on the concept of brave idiots doing ridiculous things in exotic places. But at least Ethan Hunt and co. don’t pretend to be smart. Even if they use their IQ, there’s an element of humanity and self-doubt to them – you always sense they are defying their own limits and barely surviving. Saaho has people who think they’re the cat’s whiskers in a story that thinks it is up for the Science Nobel. Prabhas is shown reading The Indian Express (as opposed to, say, The Times of India) and a Linwood Barclay novel between showdowns. At no point does it feel like he is vulnerable or tense or short of breath – like the cinematic equivalent of Cristiano Ronaldo’s gelled hair after a goal celebration. He looks smug even when he is sad.
Saaho doesn’t do logic. It does “paisa wasool”. For 174 minutes. In 3 languages. Across 6000 screens
The script tries to keep up with his purported hyper-intelligence, tying itself up in so many knots (Thailand? Hungary? Dubai?) that by the time a 20-minute-long Avengers-style air-to-ground chase sequence across a Middle-Eastern city gets underway, the action loses all context. Who is after who? Why is Prabhas on a bike? Is he dancing or moving? Who is in the helicopter? Are those bullets or paint balls? It ends with a money shot: Prabhas leaping out of a malfunctioning jetpack mid-air to rescue a falling Shraddha in between glass buildings. And where do they land? In the water, in the ocean that is visibly a few blocks away. This shameless geographical manipulation – which isn’t the same as creative liberty – concludes such an elaborately constructed shot with a careless whimper.
Ideally, the two should have made a hole in the street…and walked away with a fractured finger. And a bruised ego. But Saaho doesn’t do logic. It does “paisa wasool”. For 174 minutes. In 3 languages. Across 6000 screens. In the words of its hero: It’s showtime. Also, in the words of its hero: Baby, I’m a bad boy, will you be my bad girl?