Saaho

I didn’t read any reviews before I went to see Saaho, but I’d seen comments on social media that were mostly negative. So I wasn’t expecting great things from the film, and perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it much more than I expected. Sure there are plenty of flaws, including a confusing story, poorly developed villains and far too many songs, but I loved the action, all the special effects and especially the imposing presence of Prabhas. Think standard Telegu Mass on VFX steroids, and that’s pretty much what you get with Saaho. Logic has never been high on the agenda for these kinds of films, not when directors can just blow up, beat up or shoot up everything in the hero’s path and writer/director Sujeeth follows he standard formula here. Nonsensical yes, but entertaining – definitely!

Let’s talk about the negative aspects first. The film opens with a confusing array of characters, not helped by long, complicated sentences of subtitles which vanished off the screen too quickly for me to read them. Then, the introduction scene for Prabhas is surprisingly poorly executed. Who is the man he is trying to rescue from a bad situation with a gang of thugs? There is some by-play about a whistling pressure cooker to give Prabhas a set time to carry out the rescue, but then there are no whistles – why set this up and then fail to deliver? And when this character reappears, his part in the finale is so rushed and poorly subtitled that I have no idea what exactly he was supposed to be doing. So, we’re off to a bad start, which is compounded by key events being rushed through and important characters appearing and disappearing without any clear idea of who they are and what role they play in the plot. It’s not helped by the subtitles which sometimes took me some time to work out and even with my bad Telugu I could tell that they missed a lot of information. The list of bad guys grows longer and longer, on top of which their alliances change, there are numerous double crosses and their relationships to each other are poorly described, so after a while the best idea is to stop trying to figure it out and just enjoy all the mayhem!

And the mayhem is what works very well here. This is where all the money was spent, and the result is slick and fast paced action with excellent fight scenes and lots of explosions. There are fast cars, motorbikes, even chase scenes with heavily armoured trucks and excavators but perhaps the most ridiculous involve men wearing mechanical flying suits and Prabhas carrying out some do-si-doing with a helicopter. At one point, at the end of a song, for no apparent reason there is a tank that drives over a couple of cars. It’s like they had a few thousands of dollars left and decided that adding a tank would complete the line-up of transport options! Throughout it all Prabhas is a tower of strength and stays true to the Telugu hero ‘code of conduct’ by endeavouring to single handedly take down all his enemies, be impervious to bullets, indestructible regardless of whether there are crashes, explosions or he leaps off a cliff without a parachute (more on that later), and of course still find time to romance the girl, talk tough and always, always look ultra-cool!

After the initial confusion the film settles down with Prabhas as an undercover cop who has been seconded to an investigation team after a series of burglaries in Mumbai. Amritha (Shraddha Kapoor) is the nominal female detective who is continually shunted aside by her boss Shinde (Prakash Belavadi), while tech specialist David (Murali Sharma) and Goswami (Vennela Kishore) round out the team. The police think they spot the thief (Neil Nitin Mukesh) on CCT and the team then devise a super complicated plan to bring him in. This involves convincing him to steal a ‘black box’ which is vital to open a vault full of money and gold in the gangster city of Waaji.

Waaji is a super high-tech city run by the Roy corporation headed by Narantak Roy (Jackie Shroff). After his assassination, Devraj (Chunky Pandey) is poised to take over the cartel when Roy’s previously hidden son, Vishwank (Arun Vijay) appears and thwarts his plans. The various cartel members are each trying to take over the top spot, but key lieutenant Kalki (Mandira Bedi) supports Vishwank, although his position is far from secure and he needs the black box to be able to pay off the various cartel members. The action moves to Waaji in the second half after the black box is stolen and Saaho (Prabhas) becomes involved in the power plays by Devraj and Vishwank.

Most of the Southern Indian actors play their usual kind of roles well here. Tinnu Anand is good as Devraj’s disabled father and Arun Vijay does well as Vishwank despite the dodgy writing while Supreeth and the cast of support thugs are suitably OTT. Mahesh Manjrekar has a reasonable role as one of the cartel members, but Madira Bedi is probably the best realised of these characters and I love her smooth operator approach to playing a gang member. The rest of the Hindi actors are a bit hit and miss. This might be more due to the language problem as they were better when speaking in English. Jackie Shroff is probably the best of the lot, possibly because he has only has a small role to play and little dialogue. Neil Nitin Mukesh seems uncomfortable throughout and Chunky Pandey desperately overacts every time he appears. To be fair, Shraddha Kapoor is pretty good in a more action-based role and she does have reasonable chemistry with Prabhas in their romance scenes. The problem is the songs, which don’t fit well into the narrative and don’t add anything to the story. This is an all action film, and the songs act as speed breakers, taking the audience out of the story. Probably the best is the Jacqueline Fernandez item number, which is just ridiculous enough to fit the plot, with the previously mentioned tank, machine guns, and lots of scantily glad women in a swimming pool.

Sujeeth however is equal opportunity in objectifying his stars, and Prabhas gets to jump off a cliff wearing nothing but ripped jeans, but only after he throws his parachute off the edge first. It’s that kind of film. Shraddha Kapoor actually comes off pretty well in the costume stakes, wearing generally sensible clothes, apart from in the songs. Prabhas looks uber-cool wearing cropped pants and trendy loafers once he gives up the denim and leather look of the first half.

Saaho is a fairly typical Telugu action hero film. The story doesn’t make a lot of sense and the cast of thousands list of characters is confusing, but there are some good ideas in there that would have worked better if they’d been kept simpler. Having lots of special effects doesn’t hide the limitations of the story, but it does make it fun to watch. I saw the Telugu version at a fairly full theatre in Melbourne, and most of the audience seemed to be enjoying the film as much as I was. We did all laugh at scenes that I think were supposed to be dramatic and tense, but there was plenty of applauding and cheering whenever Prabhas got to obliterate (literally!) the bad guys. All up, Saaho is simply entertaining and a fun piece of visual theatre. One for fans of Prabhas, mayhem and OTT mass action.

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Kaththi

Kaththi

AR Murugadoss and Vijay last got together for the excellent action adventure Thuppakki, but although Kaththi has a good storyline and Vijay is at his best, it doesn’t quite manage to re-create the same magic. This time Vijay appears in a double role that allows him to explore a more restrained character as well as his more usual action hero, and he manages both with aplomb. However the film suffers from variable pacing and odd song placement, while the inclusion of a poorly developed romance adds to the general unevenness.  Still, double the amount of Vijay, the absolutely brilliant older men who make up the support cast and the inclusion of some of the best conceived fight sequences I’ve seen so far this year all ensure Kaththi is definitely well worth a look.

Vijay plays Kathiresan, a thief on the run after engineering a clever escape from jail. Kathiresan’s path crosses that of his lookalike Jeevanandham (also Vijay) when an attempt is made on Jeevanandham’s life. Jeevanandham is an activist, fighting against a multinational company for the water rights of his small drought-stricken village, although his fight is one being waged through the courts rather than anything more physical. Despite being forced off the road and shot several times, amazingly Jeevanandham survives, and Kathiresan makes the most of their identical appearances by switching identities with his unconscious double. This ensures Jeevanandham is sent back to jail, while Kathiresan is free to make good his escape before the authorities find out the truth. You’d have thought that perhaps changing identities with a man who obviously had problems of his own might have been a bit risky, but Kathiresan doesn’t seem in the least bit worried as he happily takes on Jeevanandham’s identity.

Indeed, it doesn’t take long before Jeevanandham’s troubles come calling on Kathiresan. After leaving Jeevanandham in hospital, Kathiresan spends some time as his alter identity and ends up staying at the old people’s home run by Jeevanandham. As a result, he gradually gets drawn into Jeevanandham’s fight against the company trying to force the villagers off their land. Nasty company owner Cedric (Neil Nitin Mukesh) tries a little blackmail, and when that fails to work, resorts to basic intimidation tactics. Of course the thugs are expecting the more passive Jeevanandham rather than escaped convict Kathiresan and his friend Dhanu (Satish), so things don’t work out quite as Cedric plans.  In addition to foiling the attempts on his life, Kathiresan and Dhanu concoct various schemes to help the villagers win the pending court case, or at least bring their plight to the attention of the media. It’s not all fighting and mayhem and there are some clever plans and ideas that make Kathiresan a more three dimensional and interesting character. Of course when it is fighting and mayhem Vijay is in his element and the inventively staged fight sequences work well to keep things moving along. There are some very clever ideas and just the right amount of comedy here, and it’s frustrating that less attention to detail has been given to other important aspects of the film.

Part of the problem I have with the film is with the character of Cedric and his multinational company.  Cedric is very one-dimensional and his company is painted as unethical and completely evil without any redeeming features or basic humanity. While that is perhaps plausible twenty odd years ago or so, I cannot see such a company surviving long without coming up against an activist group somewhere – this is supposed to be a multinational company after all. There is the same old-fashioned and redundant feel to Cedric (I kept thinking of old black and white silent movies with men in long black cloaks twirling their moustaches and laughing while tying hapless women to train tracks – he’s that kind of villain) and this only serves to make  his threats appear cartoonish and completely unrealistic. Neil Nitin Mukesh doesn’t get the chance to do anything other than sneer and attempt to look menacing which doesn’t really convince with his floppy hair and oversized sunglasses, so he’s relatively ineffectual as a villain.

Also on the minus side is the really quite pointless romance between Kathiresan and Ankitha (Samantha) which never really gets going although the couple initially do look good together.  Samantha appears to be added in to the cast solely as a ‘reason’ for the songs, but even there she is relegated to wandering around and posing, while Vijay dances up a storm in the background. It’s such a waste of a good actress, and frustrating since the romance just makes a long film longer without actually adding anything worthwhile to the story. At least the songs from Anirudh Ravichander are enjoyable and the choreography suits Vijay’s energy and style even if their placement often feels random.

One other issue I have with the film is the manner in which A.R. Murugadoss uses the serious social issues of farmer displacement, difficulties with land ownership and water rights and industry encroachment on farming areas for the purpose of light-hearted entertainment. It’s hard to define exactly why this made me uneasy but it’s the main reason why I didn’t enjoy this film quite as much as expected.  I am sure that A.R. Murugadoss had the best motives in wanting to shine a light on the problems faced by farmers in India, but the treatment of their plight here is rather too heavy handed to be entirely comfortable.  The farmers’ problems are somewhat overshadowed by the exploits of the hero as he deals with the corporate villain in typical masala style, which seems to reduce the real life day to day difficulties of surviving drought, debt and corrupt officials down to a well-choreographed fight scene and some snazzy special effects. It could be argued that anything that raises awareness of the problem is beneficial, but I feel that the treatment of their plight here is rather too simplistic. These are heavy and very real issues and I doubt that such an easy and fast resolution is possible in the real world. However, there is a good rousing speech by Kathiresan which highlights the social injustices faced by the farming community – not just in India but the world over – and perhaps that is enough of a start in the right direction.

Despite the issues I have with the film, it’s still an entertaining watch. The story is well thought out and I like that Kathiresan has to use his brains and not just hammer his fists through any opposition. It’s clever and there is some good comedy incorporated into the story with nary a comedy uncle in sight.  The support cast of old men who make up the displaced villagers are uniformly excellent and Satish is good as Vijay’s side-kick. Vijay is of course the main reason to watch the film and his milder but still passionate performance as Jeevanandham highlights just how good an actor he is when given the opportunity. Perhaps Kaththi doesn’t quite hit the highs of Thuppakki but it’s almost there and hopefully means we will see another A.R. Murugadoss and Vijay collaboration soon.