Cast: Prabhas, Shraddha Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Chunky Pandey, Mandira Bedi, Murali Sharma, Jackie Shroff, Prakash Belawadi, Evelyn Sharma, Mahesh Manjrekar, Tinnu Anand
Saaho is a big film. But its bigness is all bulk, not heft. Writer-director Sujeeth’s film is peripatetic, lurching from one geographic location and terrain to another. And though it’s ambitious in wanting to sound, seem and pose like it’s a significant something, it is slow and heavy-footed in demeanour, and puerile of mind. Worse, it has no soul.
Saaho, which cost around Rs 350 crore, is long — six minutes short of three hours. And yet the film’s plot (its story and screenplay have been written by Sujeeth) is a needlessly convoluted labyrinth in which too many people of no consequence waffle around, and the few people of some consequence amount to nothing.
Saaho has too many gratuitous characters who weigh down the film. The film devotes some time to each one in meaningless, inane tangents, short-changing better characters and actors who may have brought some sparkle to the film.
There is little energy or speed to the plot, especially because lots of money has been thrown at long song sequences and longer chases in which trucks and cars crash, buildings get smashed. Together they slow down the film, instead of adding a bounce to its step.
The film, in the beginning, insinuates energy and high-jinks not through its writing, acting or plot play, but through quick editing and a very loud background score.
Saaho’s hankering for fame and fortune rests almost entirely on the fact that it stars Prabhas, the first South Indian actor whose wax statue lurks at Madame Tussauds (because, I imagine, he is the hero of the only Indian movie to ever gross over Rs 1,000 crore — Baahubali 2).
And the film gives its all to Prabhas. It surrounds him with several popular actors and all manners of mean villains from South India and Mumbai, apart from legions of extras who seem to have drifted to the sets of Saaho after picking up their last pay checks from the sets of Game of Thrones, Lord of The Rings and Mad Max Fury Road.
He gets to romance one Bollywood beauty, and shake his bootie with another. Jacquelin Fernandes makes a sudden appearance to gyrate around his torso while mouthing lines of such elegance:
Tu hai fire, main hoon gasoline boy
Take me higher, you know what I mean boy
Main bhi bilkul tere jaisi mad girl
I know you’re the bad boy
I can be your bad girl…
And yet, sparks don’t fly.
Prabhas is a big star, and he is, at times, charming. But a good actor he is not. Not in Saaho, at least. He can barely hold a scene, and he can’t, like, say Salman, Ajay Devgan or Rajini Sir, project anger, threat. All the departments of the film must come together to conjure a simple emotion for him. This happens not just because Saaho is badly written, but also because the star it loves so much doesn’t seem to be into it much.
Saaho opens to what can only be described as the general body meeting of the shareholders of the Roy Evil Enterprise in some foreign land. What they do is not clear. But seated around a very long table are men and women who could pose for a group photo and title it, "UN General Assembly meet on Universal Health Coverage". Only the man at the head of the table, Roy (Jackie Shroff), strikes a discordant, criminal-chic note. So he is bumped off, in Mumbai, where, incidentally, the top cop (Prakash Belawadi) is fuming because a chor has been outsmarting the police. So a new officer is appointed to catch the chor — Ashok Chakravorty (Prabhas).
But Ashok doesn’t just appear. The film organises a welcome party of sorts for him. First it rains, and then there is a peculiar set-up for him to waltz into: In what looks like a very tall chawl, a rather bulky man, Alex, has a noose around his neck and is precariously balanced on a plank jutting out from the top floor.
Many men wearing many gold chains want him to hang. Who these men are and why they don’t like Alex, or for that matter who is Alex, isn’t something the film is interested in telling us. All it is interested in is this set-up for Ashok to burst into, so that he can show off his chops, climb this, scale that, encounter a python, a panther and a lady he can flirt with.
Finally, when Ashok has Alex in his custody and car, brace yourself for the scintillating dialogue:
"Maut ke moonh se mujh ko bachcha ke laye ho. Mujhse kya chahiye, bhai?"
The entirety of Saaho is made up of either such stupefying banality or dialogue that are expository, painfully articulating what we have just watched on the screen.
As Ashok takes charge to find the smart chor, he recruits a lady cop, Amritha (Shraddha Kapoor), because he, well, fancies her. Meanwhile, in the Roy Evil Empire, one Oxford-Harvard educated, cotton-saree clad Kalki (Mandira Bedi) is taking long drags of her asthma puff because, it seems, Roy had kept some crucial thing about his life hidden from her, despite the fact that she seems critical to the running of the evil enterprise.
The film takes its own sweet time to tell us that Ms Amritha is not a prop but a substantial female character. Thus, she is a good cop who often faces sexism at work. She’s smart, but Ashok is smarter, of course. And since he is also soft on her, he kinda helps her deal with sexist seniors. Awwww.
Ashok has unconventional ways. He likes to have beer in office, and when asked a question by a colleague, he smashes a bottle. The bright sparks that they are, his juniors immediately get what he is trying to say. Ashok flirts, but Amritha remains focused on work and soon the smart chor is identified.
Meanwhile, Roy's secret son arrives to head the evil enterprise. But one Devraj (Chunky Pandey) gets his knickers in a twist over this and suddenly everyone and their uncle is after the Black Box which holds the key to Roy’s big vault, despite being totally clueless about what they will find inside — A boiled egg, a three-headed dragon, or clues to who Siddhanta Nanda Saaho is?
Saaho tries to be glib. In most of its office spaces there are glass screens and tables from which buildings and texts in hologram rise and get moved around with the flick of a finger.
But given the film’s tortuous, tangled plot involving compromised cops, many fake identities, umpteen car chases and dreary duels involving burly goondas of various ethnicities from East Europe and Africa, what stays with you is a sense of exhaustion, like after a long, wasted day.
Saaho has many fight scenes set in various parts of the world — the film was shot in Hyderabad, Mumbai, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Romania, Austria. And often, hulks in leather and chains arrive carrying rather primitive weapons. At one point someone even wields Thor’s hammer at Ashok, and the film tries to stake its claim to having a bigger opening than Avengers: Endgame.
In another fight scene a large number of cushions and sofas get shot, making the stuffing fly about to create a guns ’n roses affect for our hero and heroine to do a deathly tango.
Saaho has any number of worthy baddies, from Mahesh Manjrekar to Neil Nitin Mukesh, Jackie Shroff to Tinnu Anand, Murali Sharma to Prakash Belawadi, and yet it entrusts the main baddie’s role to Chunky Pandey. He tries to be menacing by wringing an old man’s neck and muttering some half-baked story about a village he set fire to. I was more bored and confused than stirred.
Shraddha Kapoor is cute, but she is a non-actor. She can’t act, at all. She also can’t walk. Ms Kapoor only prances about, making her hair bounce and do more emoting than she can ever manage. And when she speaks, she does so with sudden jerks and petulance.
She reminded me of those annoying goody-two-shoes toppers in school and the way they would behave every time a teacher told them to hold the class for five minutes while they went to pee. Shraddha Kapoor has the spirit and demeanour of the teacher’s precocious pet. Annoying.
Saaho gives Prabhas everything that a superstar may want in a film. He gets to browbeat actors better than him. He gets to fight not just local, but imported extras. And in a scene where his fancy big wings malfunction, he takes one look at it and decides, to hell with it, and just wills himself to fly.
He even gets a climatic fight scene in a dystopian, sepia landscape with flying dust and ruins, as if the setting for Hugh Jackman’s ageing Logan had been cleared for him. So sad then that the superstar didn’t seem much into it. And worse, he is so out of shape.
Given the amount of time devoted to action sequences in Saaho, Prabhas’ moves have no smoothness or finesse. As he lumbers, his thighs thunder. And when he’s not fighting, he looks pasty, his body is droopy and language languid.
Much like I was at the end of Saaho.