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.

Advertisements

Idi Katha Kaadu (1979)

K Balachander’s 1979 movie is a remake of his own film, Avargal. Jayasudha and Kamal Hassan star and Chiranjeevi plays an important supporting role. It’s a sensitive and even handed look at relationships and standing up for yourself. The film is on YouTube without subtitles so bear with me as I have done my best to interpret what was going on.

Suhasini (Jayasudha) and Bharani (Sarath Babu) fall in love through a montage of the arts – he plays flute and she dances. They have a nice bond, he is laid back and she is very playful. But Bharani leaves town for work and he never replies to her letters. Sugunakar Rao (Chiranjeevi) moves in on Suhasini. He is superficially charming but once they are married he is controlling and abusive. In due course she leaves him and gets a divorce. He is clearly bitter but she leaves town to start her new life with their child. She finds an office job and makes new friends. Her coworker Janardhan/Johnny (Kamal Hassan) is particularly kind and considerate. He’s a ventriloquist so that set some alarm bells off because…just because. But Bharani is still on her mind. And now, he is just across the way as the apartment Johnny helps her find is right near his place. There is definite interest on both sides but she is more cautious and has a child now, and he lacks any sense of urgency and he has his friend Gayatri (Saritha) to consider too. And then Sugunakar Rao is back in the picture as Suhasini’s boss. He wants to reconcile and seems to have reformed. Suhasini has to decide what to do with her life.

I really enjoyed watching Jayasudha’s performance and Suhasini as a character. And on a very shallow note, her print sarees are wonderful too. She’s a lively young woman with a passion for dance and music, but she’s quite happy to get married sensibly because that’s what you do. When Sugunakar turns out to be a total arsehole, she does her best to tolerate him. But when he pushes her too far, she pushes back. In one scene she fantasises about stabbing him in the groin with his darts, and she does tell him to his face what she thinks of his behaviour. When she moves back to Chennai she seems to be accepted and liked in her new circles. Having a child isn’t a barrier to her getting a job and she makes the most of her new start. I got the impression Suhasini is not completely open about her situation but she certainly isn’t hanging on to her past. People, especially women, help each other in both big and small ways. Suhasini acquires a mysterious new maid (Leelavathi), actually her mother-in-law who had never met her.

Chiranjeevi is impressive as the horrible Sugunakar Rao. I think Chiru got on the bad side of the wardrobe team because those pants…He is charming but only as long as he gets his own way. He criticises Suhasini constantly and threatens her, smiling as he throws darts at her head or snarling as he tells her to give up dancing. One thing I always appreciate in these negative roles that Chiru took in his early career is that he doesn’t hold back on showing the full range of emotions, no matter how unlikeable or ugly. He is a fine dramatic actor under all the Megastar trappings. His mother (Leelavathi) finds out from a servant that the marriage was over and that Suhasini and their son were in another city. I couldn’t work out how he managed to keep everyone in the dark but I think he might have told her Suhasini was dead. Anyway, despite the filmi tradition that demands a Ma must support her boy, she is firmly in Team Suhasini and keeps working secretly for her daughter-in-law. That is how bad Sugunakar Rao is. He recognises mild and indecisive Bharani as a threat so he plants a seed that Bharani and Gayatri should marry. He belittles Johnny as he doesn’t compute the nice poor guy could be a rival. When he tries to ingratiate himself with Suhasini again he is almost believable as he clucks over her health and sends her fresh fruits. Almost.

Johnny (Kamal Hassan) has taken a shine to Suhasini too, although she only seems to have eyes for Bharani. Personally I’d pick the one who didn’t have a ventriloqusist dummy as his housemate. But Johnny is sweet and does things to make Suhasini happy without expecting any repayment – he finds her a flat, gets her movie tickets to a house full show, helps with work. He can’t articulate his feelings so he uses Junior to talk about his love. Of course, Suhasini treats it as a joke rather than a heartfelt confession. He’s well liked at work but a lonely soul underneath it all. Kamal Hassan isn’t challenged by the character except that the ventriloquism shtick calls on his physicality and control as he manipulates the doll while appearing to be oblivious to Junior’s shenanigans.

That weird clown song is completely unnecessary but when you have Kamal Hassan I suppose you’d be mad not to. And it lets him work off some energy that might have lead to overacting. His farewell scene with Suhasini was also unintentionally funny as he ran beside her train faster and for much longer than seemed possible, speechifying all the while.

Leelavathi and Sarath Babu are both good in their roles. But Bharani is so mild and understanding to the point of not seeming to care that he doesn’t give Suhasini any confidence and he kind of fades compared to Chiru and Kamal Hassan. Leelavathi’s Ma is an interesting woman who is prepared to believe evidence rather than continue to idolise her son. She makes decisions that are about how she wants to live her life and what she thinks is important. She’s a crier, but she gets things done. And she is the one to finally free Suhasini from her connection to her son.

Balachander uses some camera gimmicks and the ping pong analogy, and some shots are a little too composed to be natural, but generally the style of storytelling is low key and credible. Even the final comeuppance. Although I wish I understood the symbolism of the lion mask and the Mona Lisa. Oh well.

See this for some early career Megastar, a pared back and heartfelt performance from Kamal Hassan and a lovely role for Jayasudha. 4 stars!

Dear Comrade

The opening scenes of Dear Comrade hark back to Vijay Deverakonda’s previous film, Arjun Reddy, but as events unfold it turns out that this is a completely different kind of film. Dear Comrade is a romantic drama that starts off with a love story, but ends up tackling sexual harassment, aiming to shed some light on why women may decide against reporting the crime. While this may make the film sound like heavy going, it’s actually quite the opposite as writer/director Bharath Kamma adds plenty of light-hearted moments along with the sad, while Justin Prabhakaran provides an excellent soundtrack that even means we get to see Vijay Deverakonda dance. There is a lot going on in this film and it’s inevitable that it doesn’t all work, but there is still plenty here to both entertain and hopefully to spark some discussion, even if the message is sometimes obscured behind rather more standard Telugu action fare.

The film starts with a drunk and seemingly demented Bobby (Vijay Deverakonda) desperately trying to get in touch with his ex, Lilly (Rashmika Mandanna). It’s a role Vijay has played many times in the past, but before he becomes too much of a caricature, the film moves into flashback to explain Bobby’s history. Moving back to his student days, Bobby is seen as an impulsive and reactive student union leader who firmly believes that you have to fight to get what you want in life. He’s impetuous and hot-headed with a tendency to argue with his fists just as much as with rhetoric, a stance that makes him unpopular with his college principal and the police but a good friend to have on your side. These revolutionary tendencies are apparently due to his grandfather (Charuhasan) who teaches Bobby what it means to be a comrade. Sure, Bobby fights for what he believes is right, but also mainly because it seems to be something he enjoys doing.

Bobby meets Lilly when her family visit the house next door for her cousin Jaya’s (Shruti Ramachandran) wedding. A nice touch comes from Bobby previously having a crush on Jaya when the two were children, which gives a camaraderie between the two that continues through and has an impact in the second half. This time though it’s Lilly that Bobby starts to develop feelings for, and I love how the tables are turned and it’s Bobby who stares wistfully out of a window while Lilly is (almost) completely oblivious to his presence. The romance is slow to develop, but once it does, there is magic in every moment the two spend together, helped by Justin Prabhakaran’s evocative music. It’s not all smooth sailing though as Lilly has reasons for being wary of someone who gets into as many fights as Bobby, while Bobby can’t figure out if Lilly really likes him or just has her own agenda.

There are some very satisfying moments in this first half, such as the way Bobby finds out that Lilly is a State level cricket player and how his group of friends change their attitude from patronising to respectful once they discover she really can play. It’s nicely done to point out the prejudice without ever feeling spiteful or overly feminist. Lilly’s attitude to Bobby is refreshingly honest and the two have wonderful chemistry together that ensures their romance feels plausibly real. When the breakdown occurs between the two characters it develops organically as Lilly finds she cannot cope with someone so angry and violent, while Bobby can’t understand why she won’t stand up and believe in him as much as he believes in her. Vijay Deverakonda and Rashmika Mandanna were excellent in Geetha Govindam, and they work just as well together here, although in the second half the attention moves more to Rashmika as her character has to face some major challenges in her career.

Everything changes after the interval when Bobby heads off to find himself and hopefully lose his memories of Lilly while doing so. As in all Indian films, a journey of discovery means a motorbike and a trip to Ladakh, but that does mean awesome scenery so I’m not going to complain. But while Bobby has been off recording nature and trying to control his impulsive side, Lilly has had major problems in her life. Unfortunately, the film only shows these briefly once Bobby comes back into her life and Bobby’s actions as he literally kidnaps Lilly from the hospital where she has been recovering don’t seem plausible at all. But just when it seems that Bobby may be the cure Lilly needed to recover, the film takes another turn and we learn the reason behind Lilly’s departure from her promising cricket career.

What does work well here is the portrayal of Lilly’s reluctance to pursue any action against the cricket selector Ramesh Rao (Raj Arjun) who sexually, physically and mentally harassed her. The pressures of family, embarrassment and shame are all clearly portrayed as is the inevitable media reaction and appalling treatment received by Lilly and her family as they try to avoid the storm Bobby creates when he learns the truth. Bharath Kamma completely changes the direction of the film and suddenly the focus is on Lilly and her reluctance to bring any of the harassment out into the open. Bobby’s lack of understanding about why Lilly won’t fight and his frustration and anger is perfectly shown here and this is what makes Dear Comrade such an interesting film. There are few Telugu films that show the consequences of reporting harassment so clearly, and even if Lilly’s experience isn’t quite as bad as what can actually happen in real life, it does at least give some idea of the sort of courage that is needed to go ahead with any accusation of this nature.

For me this is Rashmika Mandanna’s film through and through and she is excellent in a role that requires her to be non-confrontational and frightened. Her reactions are mostly what would be expected of anyone from a similar background put into the same situation, and although I really wanted her to fight back, I could totally understand why she wouldn’t even try. She really gets into the heart and soul of the character and I love how she doesn’t see bobby as her salvation, but instead as the person who just makes her miserable with his demands. In a film industry where the hero isn’t allowed to ever be anything other than the perfect partner, it’s so refreshing to see Vijay Deverakonda take backstage and be exactly what Lilly doesn’t need instead.

On one hand this is a film that deals with relationships and the consequences when one partner thrives on violent confrontations while the other tries as hard as possible to avoid conflicts of any kind. On the other hand, Dear Comrade deals with sexual harassment and the routine abuse that women have to deal with day in and day out. It is a rather male slanted view, but perhaps that’s what is needed to reach the people who need to understand the fear and powerlessness that comes with this type of abuse. At least with the presence of Vijay Deverakonda, well-staged fight scenes and a sizzling romance, there is a good chance that more people will be watching. This was so much better than I expected and despite a few mis-steps and missed opportunities, this is one of my favourite Telugu films this year. Highly recommended.