Vakeel Saab Movie Review: A criminal disservice to the original
The Pawan Kalyan-vehicle is a tolerable drama bruised by saviour complex.
The opening credits of Vakeel Saab paint a clear picture of how filmmaker Sriram Venu has approached this adaptation of Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink. In the 2016-original, Taapsee Pannu’s name appears first on a black screen with no sound. Her name is followed by Kriti Kulhari, Andrea Tariang, and then, Amitabh Bachchan. On the other hand, Vakeel Saab begins with a dedicated text animation coupled with a thumping background score to reveal Pawan Kalyan's name. Understandably, the makers wanted to give fans a moment to rejoice over the actor’s return to the marquee after a three-year sabbatical. In Pink’s Tamil remake, Nerkonda Paarvai, too, Ajith Kumar’s name appears first. However, despite the addition of a brief flashback and a lengthy action sequence, the Tamil remake remained sincere to the original. This is where Vakeel Saab flounders, and it’s indefensible.
Sriram Venu's attempt to make a film like Pink accessible to a wider audience is harmless in itself. The problem is the way this turns the conflict into a mere accessory to glorify Pawan Kalyan’s Sathya Dev, a human rights lawyer. The screenplay makes Sathya Dev the major stakeholder of the proceedings while Pallavi (Nivetha Thomas), Zareena (Anjali), and Divya (Ananya Nagalla) are sidelined. This is only one of several missteps which collectively contribute to kicking the point of Pink out of the script.
Director: Sriram Venu
Cast: Pawan Kalyan, Nivetha Thomas, Anjali, Ananya Nagalla, Prakash Raj, Shruthi Haasan
For instance, Taapsee’s Minal was a dancer in the original, but Nivetha Thomas plays a software engineer. Likewise, Kriti Kulhari’s Falak was in a relationship with a much-older married man, which later becomes a crucial point during the legal battle. Sriram Venu eliminates the age gap and replaces this complicated, socially forbidden relationship with a much shallower angle. Moreover, the three women in Pink casually attend the party, which, in an ugly turn of events, pushes them into mental distress and legal turmoil. However, Vakeel Saab puts them in a situation where they have to resort to joining the men who end up sexually abusing them. It shows the filmmaker’s intention to play it safe. But these choices tone down the impact and fail to get across the message. Elsewhere, Shruthi Haasan's character claims to have followed Sathya for years without his knowledge. Gender reversal in stalking?
Comparisons with previous versions aside, does Vakeel Saab succeed as a massy star-vehicle? Only to an extent. “Balaheenulandhari ummadi gonthuga poratame thana karthavyam (Being the voice of the weak, fighting for them is his duty),” goes a line in the song Satyameva Jayate, and it summarises the film’s vantage point. For Satya - someone who rescues slum-dwellers from politicians, helps laborers receive a hike in their daily wages, and leads a student protest - defending these wrongly-accused women feels purely incidental. His invincibility towers above the stakes. He is compared to Ram and Karna in two different instances. The only flaw in his god-like personality, alcoholism, is barely explored. In Pink, Amitabh’s Deepak Sehgal questions Minal about her virginity and leads the argument towards the difference between consensual sex and rape. In Vakeel Saab the same question is put forth by Nanda Gopal (Prakash Raj) because Sathya, being the ideal man he is, is way too modest to ask such a personal question.
The film devotes quite a bit of time to establish Sathya’s backstory and we get to witness a tragedy that propels Sathya to study law. Yet we don’t comprehend his competence as a lawyer in the first half, although every second dialogue and character exist to remind us about the messiah he is. This is where the film differs from Nerkonda Paarvai, which, despite having a mainstream star at its center, steers clear of hero-glorification once the action moves into the courtroom. For instance, when Nanda Gopal asks derogatory questions, the shot immediately intercuts to a fuming Sathya, not the women who are being subjected to character assassination.
With Pawan Kalyan’s stardom blurring the line between his on-screen self and real image, every dialogue feels like a nudge to his political career. At a point, his famous fist emblem makes an appearance, and it’s bound to leave his admirers elated. But tarnishing a focused narrative like Pink to fit political statements feels like a betrayal. With half a dozen action sequences fit into the screenplay, you start wondering why Sathya continues to fight the offenders in court, when he can resolve it out of court in a snap. And it’s not a good sign when you don’t feel invested in legal proceedings in a courtroom drama.
Filmmakers have to realise that when they 'mass-ify' a commentary-heavy film like Pink, it’s not just about making it crowd-pleasing but also ensuring that the social criticism in the story is retained. This is where Vakeel Saab goes for a toss. Under the background score, long monologues, the slow-motion walks, the discussion about a woman’s consent gets lost. But then again, the film is titled Vakeel Saab.