Director: Venu Sriram
Cast: Pawan Kalyan, Nivetha Thomas, Anjali, Ananya Nagalla
Vakeel Saab opens with the grand visuals of "Maguva Maguva," a song that introduces you to three women, namely Pallavi (Nivetha Thomas), Zarina (Anjali), and Divya (Ananya Nagalla). It gives you a glimpse of their day-jobs and their family backgrounds. They are middle-class women who don't own swanky cars, or live in an apartment that smells of luxury.
This Telugu remake of the Hindi courtroom drama Pink (2016) doesn't shift its voice too much with regard to the story it tells about women. But when you take Pawan Kalyan into account, you don't get the equivalent of Pink. You get Pink, Blue, Yellow, and Red. And that's just an off-the-mark remark since the masala potboiler has been strictly made to be savored by the masses. In fact, Kalyan's entry scene has him throwing punches at the men who try to evict the poor.
The sheer unoriginality of that sequence put me off. There's a similar scene in Srikanth Addala's Brahmotsavam (2016) in which the hero, played by Mahesh Babu, saves his aunt from being kicked out of her house. Here, though, that thread is stretched further, as Satyadev (Kalyan) fights for the rights of the Dalits. It's really an interesting angle, but it doesn't fit into the atmosphere of this movie. People, young and old, fall at his feet and cry their hearts out. And, nonchalantly, he says that he'll solve their problems.
Is Satyadev an advocate, or a politician? Is Kalyan reaching out to his fans via his monologues that are laced with political meanings? The entire flashback episode is carefully built from scratch to show Satyadev's angry demeanor. He's chronically disappointed with the government's lack of concern when it comes to the fates of students. He doesn't mind beating up some cops and spending a night or two in jail either. After becoming an advocate, however, he gathers crowds regularly to tell them what they need to do in order to get justice.
This set-up categorically takes the central focus away from the story of Pink, as it provides Satyadev with a halo and an invisible badge on his chest. There's no doubt about this film going to the nooks and corners of the Telugu states. After all, Kalyan's last on-screen outing was Agnyaathavaasi (2018). As a result, his devotees will be too happy to catch his comeback release in the midst of a pandemic, but is that enough?
Vakeel Saab isn't a bad film. Actually, it's far from that. The arguments that take place within the four walls of the court, featuring Satyadev and Nanda (Prakash Raj), are hotter than the original. You get a feeling that you're watching a stage play with two fantastic actors. While Nanda verbally attacks Pallavi by asking uncomfortable questions, Satyadev accuses him of employing his acting skills to win the case.
You may have seen these two men earlier in Badri (2000). But that's not important. It's merely an in-joke that'll make you smile for a moment. The court proceedings, nevertheless, continue to get thicker and heavier with each passing tick of the clock. If you have missed the spectacle around Pink and its Tamil remake, Nerkonda Paarvai (2019), here's a little summary – a woman gets arrested for assaulting a man and the court has to decide whether that act falls under self-defense or not.
It's nice to see Kalyan shout and deliver lines about the joys of freedom that are denied to women. In Jalsa (2008), he made a rape joke. A decade ago, such poorly written gags were common. But, now, we don't tolerate them. This kind of positive change has been happening across Indian film industries, albeit in small numbers. Vijay, in his Tamil action drama Sivakasi (2005), berated a woman for wearing shorts and a sleeveless top. And, in Master, which hit theatres in January this year, he struts around a room and tells a group of women and men that the clothes don't matter. (This scene has been deleted from the film, though.)
Actors are always performing for the camera – and the audience. But we, as viewers, look beyond their characters. Hence, when people, who have massive followers, talk about consent, it cements the fact into the minds of the listeners permanently. There's still a problem here. Will this movie open up debates around the idea of consent, or will it be understood as an action movie where the hero saves the women?
The purpose of making Vakeel Saab with Kalyan in the lead may be many, but will it truly achieve the goal of creating an ecosystem where men will stop themselves and their folk from harassing women?