Cast: Prabhas, Shraddha Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Chunky Pandey, Arun Vijay, Mandira Bedi
Closer to the film’s ending, we are in the middle of an empty village—Karaana is the name, which seems inspired from the dystopian landscapes of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road—with our protagonist, Ashok, fighting and breaking a bunch of well-built men into two. At one point, he comes face to face with a rather cruel-looking big man, bigger than Prabhas, with a hammer in his hand. And we are shown Ashok’s weapon of choice, a broken shard of glass. After a few beats, the tiny shard manages to defeat the hammer. An interesting way to say: it’s not the weapon that matters, it’s the hand that wields it that matters. The same goes with Saaho as well. Sujeeth is a talented director—his debut film Run Raja Run is a fun ride—but Saaho needed someone better, or rather bigger.
The film begins as any action thriller does. With a bunch of bad guys living in a faraway city and a bunch of cops in India cluelessly trying to figure out what is happening. The city in question is a made-up city called Waaji, a picturesque region where skyscrapers and deserts co-exist within a reachable distance. The man who is supposed to solve all this is Ashok Chakravarty, an undercover cop, who assembles a team of able men and a woman—Shraddha Kapoor’s Amrita Nair—to figure the mess out. At least, this is how the film begins.
As a character says in the film, ‘Nothing here is as it seems.’ And, after a point, you wish something were the way it seems. Twists are good and vital for a film that calls itself a thriller, but there also needs to be restraint. If you keep flipping the story on its feet every few scenes, the viewer stops trusting the screenplay and starts writing their own. They stop seeing the film as it is, and see it as a guessing game that they want to win. That said, the interval twist works—we know it a little before the characters do, but the disbelief on their faces reminds us of our own—and the way the screenplay chooses to reveal it is structured well. But the twist that comes at the film’s end is highly predictable—in fact, the scene that comes immediately post-interval says it all–and doesn’t create the emotional impact it wants to.
Any action thriller needs to have a focused and coherent script that makes the action seem inevitable. Sujeeth’s script does the exact opposite. It seems like a story is written around the high-tech machinery—jet-men are cool to watch—and VFX that the film can afford, thanks to the budget, and as such the story doesn’t fit. If you are hanging your whole film on a single relationship, then that relationship needs more exposure than a single, generic phone call. Even though the dialogues try to convince us otherwise, the schemes and plans aren’t particularly sharp either. They are reckless and they don’t account for the lives of innocent people that might die in the process. A huge locker is made to fall from a high-rise building, and no one relevant to the story dies, but someone must have. Same goes with the two “transformer” trucks that move ahead, squishing everything in their way, and the demolition of a huge building that the police aren’t aware of. The plot points come off as inhumane rather than smart. And despite everything—the machine guns, the money, the bad men, the stakes never seem high.
Sabu Cyril’s hard work shows, but it’s all icing on a cake that’s stuck between a world it wants to emulate and a world it comes from. There is a sequence pertaining to a robbery at the film’s beginning that’s charmingly homegrown. We see a building—filled with bodybuilders, mutton choppers, a delivery service named ‘Fast and Ferocious’, pythons, and panthers—being used much like the levels in a video game, where the player needs to cross them all to save his princess. Ostriches roam around the roads and it’s surreal, but the setting is grounded enough to be believable—anything is possible in Mumbai. And the fact that the princess happens to be a shady man who has the information our hero needs is subversion enough to be amusing. But this is the only “desi twist” and it comes at the beginning promising an interesting journey. Promises are made to be broken, I guess.
In a film, that is more interested in twists and stylish action sequences, it’s inevitable for the characters to suffer. No single character feels real and relatable. They are all echoes of someone we have already seen in numerous movies and are tired of. Prabhas’ Ashok is an inconsistent man, whose motives are as shallow as his feelings. He doesn’t win fights with his brains, no. He wins by pretending to be invincible—he gets drenched in bullets, but not one seems to hit him. Amrita–Shraddha is decent enough–is a cop who is inconsequential to the plot and the film, and she says as much herself. She is there to provide our hero with opportunities to showcase his gallantry and to create jobs for music directors. Everyone else—Chunky Pandey, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Arun Vijay, Mandira Bedi, Kishore, Murali Sharma, Mahesh Manjrekar, and so on—are good with what they are given, but that doesn’t matter. They are only there to create an illusion: the story is better and deeper than it actually is.
Madhie’s cinematography ranges from decent to innovative—the introduction shot of Neil Nitin is well-shot and so are a few chases. Sreekar Prasad’s editing is a job well done too. The shots close to the ending are beautifully cut. The mediocre and rumbling music by various artists doesn’t help with giving the film a direction either. Songs in stylish, exotic locales are unnecessary in any action film, but in a film with an imperfect screenplay, they are roadblocks that kill the film’s already feeble momentum. Gibran’s BGM, although effective and unique at places, is loud and dilutes the overall effect a scene is trying to convey—even the one in the trailer where Prabhas flexes his muscles to a ‘dhud’ sound, it’s not as effective on-screen.
Saaho begins—with a story of a family that informs the ending—and ends well—even though it threatens us with the possibility of a sequel. Everything that happens in-between feels underwhelming. The film chooses to populate itself with too many characters and fails to give almost all of them solid arcs and motives. This should’ve been okay if the leads of the film aren’t among them. No matter the genre, the ideas you create must connect with the viewer, in one way or the other. As frivolous as this may sound, the only thing I could relate to in the movie is a bag Mandira’s character uses, ‘I own the same one’. Then again, the film’s only official claim is being ‘India’s Biggest Action Thriller’, and, surely, it is big. The question is, ‘Is that enough?’