Saaho Movie Review: Lavish filmmaking can’t rescue convoluted writing

Sudhir Srinivasan

Spoilers ahead...

I think it’s safe to conclude from Saaho that director Sujeeth is a big fan of twists. You may have seen films with one or two major twists, but this is a film whose every major character seems to have one. Perhaps because other characters have at least one twist, Prabhas’ Saaho, the hero, gets two. As it is, it is a bit of a struggle to get your head around who’s hurting who and for what reason exactly, but just as you somehow pieces motives together, uh oh, here comes another twist. Mandira Bedi plays a character called Kalki—and yes, she has a twist too, but we digress. Kalki, when learning of a character’s secret identity, is short of breath and dramatically falls down—somewhat like Sivaji Ganesan does in Padayappa. It’s a reaction that pretty much summarises my response to this film.

Director: Sujeeth

Cast: Prabhas, Shraddha Kapoor, Arun Vijay, Dia Mirza

Saaho is a film that tries to be clever but isn’t willing to put in the grunt work necessary to make twists work. Like its protagonist, Saaho, whose fingers twitch in anticipation of a fight, this film is overzealous about showing off its budget, and what better way than through action sequences—by a Hollywood stunt choreographer—never mind their purpose. The film’s many sequences feel like echoes of Hollywood films you have seen over the years. An opening robbery scene in which a mastermind uses unwitting accomplices reminds you of The Dark Knight. As bullets rain around them, Amritha (Shraddha Kapoor) and Saaho writhing in romantic pleasure reminds you of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a film I’d rather not be reminded of. The extended chase sequence on an open stretch that involves some crazy vehicles running into and over each other, is, I suppose, Mad Max: Fury Road. At one point, I even got reminded of Superman, when Saaho realises his winged jet suit isn’t working, but nevertheless aligns himself in mid-air before coolly gliding down like some sort of mutated avian human. For a film that betrays Hollywood aspirations, it is regional—and not in a good way at all—in how it sneaks in underwhelming songs. One song, Baby Won’t You Tell Me—that seems straight out of a cheesy boyband album—seems carefully placed so as to incite maximum frustration.

I suspect I’ll remember this film in bits and pieces. A Batman-esque shot as he bears down a fictional city of colourful skyscrapers. The overused idea of a fancy car sliding under a truck in a chase sequence. A Gatling gun that sends a stream of bullets that Saaho and girlfriend comfortably jog around. A black panther and a python that are shown for no ostensible reason. A vast conference room themed in black in which smug, self-important people in suits sit in grave silence. A man who meets Saaho’s fist and bounces off the ground into a supposedly expensive car. A huge sphere crashing through the floors of a skyscraper. A heroine named Amritha Nair who seems to do little that’s useful in the film. Occasionally, when she almost seems on the verge of achieving something purposeful, she slides back into trouble and is need of rescuing from you know who.

The dialogues drip with more cheese than a four cheese pizza. Saaho and Amritha discuss their romance by talking about day and night, and the former ends the strange conversation with, “Every night has its day.” At the beginning, some strange guy says he’s Jon Snow because he knows nothing. Any Game of Thrones fan can tell you that reminders of the series are not appreciated any more, not after the last season. Saaho keeps telling Amritha that if he died, it would be in her arms. Somewhere in the beginning, he says that she may lose her shadow, but he will forever be around her. When yet another character—a woman—gets a twist, she says women are more powerful than men because they birth men. I don’t know if these felt like powerful lines on paper; they feel manufactured and reeking of fake emotion in the film. It’s like the makers figured that they could get by on expensive stunt scenes and slo-mo shots of an imposing Prabhas. You can see the temptation though; the actor looks like an absolute unit. His eyes, however, don’t sparkle with the same life they did in Baahubali.

And his last film, Baahubali, is a great place to learn how to mount epic action sequences on a bed of emotion. The expensive action set pieces of Baahubali worked not only because of the production values and the visual appeal, but because they served as extensions of relatable emotion. They comprised characters you were slowly familiarised with, characters you were made to feel something for. In a sense, both Saaho and Baahubali have the same one-liner: A son looks to wrest back his rightful kingdom. Where Baahubali is mounted on a core of simple, powerful emotions—love, loyalty, betrayal—Saaho gets into knots trying to be clever. Everyone’s a double-crosser, everyone’s in disguise—which isn’t a bad idea at all, but it isn’t simple enough for you to float by with commercial compromises.

Perhaps worried that we may not be able to recognise it ourselves, Saaho, the character, keeps indicating every now and then that “it’s showtime!” They say there’s a F.R.I.E.N.D.S reference for everything in life (okay, nobody said that; I do). While watching Saaho, I kept thinking of a poem that features in the series, one called The Empty Vase. It goes, “My vessel so empty with nothing inside; now that I’ve touched you, you seem emptier still.” In the series, it’s a misogynistic poem and hateful. But after Saaho, the poem seems like a fitting description. Saaho is the empty vase.

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