Writer and director: Sailesh Kolanu
Duration: 140 minutes
Available in: Theatres
Who doesn’t love Venky? Even though he has had his share of action roles like Bobbili Raja (to which there is a reference here), Jayam Manadhera (2000), Gharshana (2004) and Tulasi (2007), the actor is synonymous with the adorable everyman who never minds taking a joke and projecting his vulnerabilities. In Saindhav too, despite it being an action thriller in which he essays a retired assassin compelled to embrace his violent ways, we see his vulnerabilities. When he learns that his daughter Gayathri is suffering from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a rare genetic disorder, he cries. Every time he finds himself in the position of a helpless father, even though he is capable of breaking bones effortlessly, he breaks down. At one point in the film, when his daughter reminds him that he forgot her birthday, he struggles to control his tears in front of his daughter. The Venky we love humanises Saindhav Koneru aka SaiKo, a killing machine. In other words, the character strikes the balance between human and superhero but the film, unfortunately, struggles to balance its drama and action.
The hero’s want is pretty clear here. To save his daughter from the disease, he needs to procure an injection that costs a whopping 17 crores. And to get there, he needs to cross several impediments and Vikas Malik (a delightful Nawazuddin Siddiqui). He is a fitting villain who doesn’t respect the hero at all. We are used to seeing even villains lionise the hero, but Vikas is a refreshing change. He pokes fun at SaiKo, insults, keeps ridiculing him constantly and it feels good that Venkatesh accepted it. But things get clumsy when too many characters get drawn into it. Be it Mitra (Mukesh Rishi) or his son who enters the picture at a time you even forgot he exists in the narrative or Jasmine (Andrea Jeremiah), Vikas’ partner-and-crime and crush, and Manas (played by Arya in a glorified cameo), who is less of a character and more of a utility to the screenplay, these characters barely leave any mark despite having prominence in driving the story.
Speaking of balance between the drama and action, while one doesn’t necessarily come in the way of the other or disturb the flow, you feel an inconsistency in the tone of the film every time it shifts gears. Saindhav wants to be new-age in terms of action but is bogged down by excessive sentimentality. Now, I understand that the grave situation demands a level of sentimentality, but here, there’s a sense of artificiality to the father-daughter bond (established earlier in a song filled with clichéd montages). And this problem persists even in the second half when all is lost for the hero and the film goes into a sob mode, accompanied by a sad song and you suddenly wonder if these portions belong to the same film. And you see the collision of new-age and old-school sensibilities in terms of action too. SaiKo, for instance, has never hit a woman, he asserts. So when he has to take down Jasmine, he has to do it in a way that doesn’t hit her directly. In the middle of one long fight, SaiKo is attacked by a bunch of young adults, and after taking some of them down, he advises them to get educated.
It’s also hard not to be reminded of John Wick in numerous instances. One can argue we have our own Baashha for a John Wick/Nobody, but the world of organised crime in Saindhav feels reminiscent of the John Wick universe. And Santosh Narayanan’s music doesn’t help either. At times, it even sounds like John Wick’s theme, and the rest of the time, it just doesn’t match the film’s energy. Be it the way the news of SaiKo’s return spreads across the city of Chandraprasthana or how Mitra warns his son about the city’s Baba Yaga, it’s hard to shake off that feeling.
But where Saindhav shines is its action sequences. They are violent, built up very well and the force is felt. If only Santhosh Narayanan’s music complemented them, these would have been much more impactful. I particularly liked the interval shot that captures the dead bodies of the men taken down by Saindhav lying on the ground and suddenly pans to show SaiKo also resting in a similar position, like a dead man.
Despite all the familiarity, Saindhav does make a pretty bold choice in its final act. On one level, this makes you question the purpose of the entire finale showdown but on another, it made me wonder how the director convinced the star and the makers to go with it because it goes against the norms of such films. So to say that Saindhav doesn’t take any risks would be dismissive but you only wish it was more impactful.