Cast: Prabhas, Shraddha Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Chunky Pandey, Arun Vijay, Mandira Bedi
The kindest thing you can say about Saaho is that it's a full-blown theatre of the absurd. During promotional interviews, Prabhas kept describing it as a screenplay film, which I think meant that there are lots of twists and turns. Yes, there is that. This is a labyrinthine story with double identities, double crosses, a secret black box, two lakh crore rupees that are missing, cops and criminals who aren't what they seem and a fictional city called Waaji, which is described as Hindustan ke door aur crime ke paas. The film begins with a voice-over that establishes what is going on and who is who. But the plot is both bizarrely complicated and incredibly silly. At least twice in the film, characters ask – what's going on? Honestly, I couldn't tell you.
Saaho is essentially a string of expensive set-pieces strung together to showcase the leading man. Prabhas returns to screen two years after the blockbuster Baahubali franchise. Amarendra and Mahendra Baahubali are a tough act to follow. So writer-director Sujeeth decided to throw everything into the mix – we get Prabhas as the charming, protective lover but also as the dangerous bad boy. Just in case you don't get it, there's even a song called 'Bad Boy' in which Prabhas stands on a tank while dozens of scantily clad women and Jacqueline Fernandez shimmy around him. At the end of the song, the tank crushes two cars while Prabhas walks by, smoking a cigar, in slow motion. It's macho posturing taken to the next level. There's also Prabhas as an avenging angel, as a good son, and as a do-gooder. It's 50 shades of Prabhas – something for every fan.
The actor combines a gentle manner with an outsized physicality. He has great screen presence but even those mighty shoulders need a sliver of a story to lean on. In Saaho, more care and money seems to have been invested in the action, the songs and the wardrobe than the writing. It feels like a film from the 80s – Sujeeth gives us a world in which criminals in shiny jackets have board meetings to decide their next move, Mandira Bedi plays a key legal advisor – we're told that she's a Stanford and Oxford graduate so she wears handloom saris and silver jewelry. Neil Nitin Mukesh is a character who is so determined that he's walking on a treadmill with a bullet in his leg. Meanwhile, the villains take pedicures and bubble baths, while loud background music underscores their evil. Chunky Pandey decided that he would add to menace by speaking very slowly – like Truck…milne….se…kuch…nahin…hota.
Both the cops and the criminals in the film are equally dimwitted. Especially Amrita, played by Shraddha Kapoor. In one scene, they lose the criminal they are chasing because she gets drunk and starts singing 'Psycho Saiyaan' instead of focusing on the job. And Amrita has clearly never heard of sexual harassment at the workplace. Because when she is asked by her senior, "Tum jaisi khubsoorat ladki police department main kya kar rahi hai?" she has no problem with it.
I know that a popcorn entertainer like Saaho isn't driven by logic or coherence. And I would have made my peace with it if the film delivered a good time. My biggest complaint is that it's a crashing bore. A lot of hard work has gone into creating the action and the extravagant sets. The budget is a reported 350 crores but for the viewer there's little bang for the buck. I got through it by getting involved with the peripherals – like the many, muscled henchmen who had fascinating haircuts and tattoos. They all growled and glared into the camera. And it was a noticeably international team. In one scene, we meet baddies called the Franco Brothers. Their introduction is – inko darr hi nahin lagta. Animals also appear randomly – an ostrich, a python and a panther. It's superbly nutty.
There so much on screen and so little that sticks. I hope the next time Prabhas decides to dedicate years of his life to a project, it's closer to Baahubali than this.