Sujeeth's Saaho, made on a lavish budget of Rs 350 crore, is a big dumb action movie that strains to fulfill every adjective describing the genre. Big? Check. Dumb? VERY. Action? You can see where the money went (not on the writing, no).
Sabu Cyril, who built the kingdom of Mahishmati for Amarendra Baahubali, has built the futuristic Waaji for Saaho – a city that serves as a den for the world's most dreadful gangsters, who all look like slightly cleaned up extras from the sets of Pirates of the Caribbean.
There's a battle of succession among the gangster groups of Waaji with Rs 2 lakh crore at stake, and it's a bunch of Indian cops based in Mumbai who are on their track. Prabhas, who is introduced as undercover cop Ashok Chakravarthy, makes a flashy entrance, swigging a bottle of Old Monk and immediately diving into an elaborate action sequence which also features ostriches, a black panther, and a python. For the record, the scene is not set at the San Diego zoo. If you still feel he isn't undercover enough, he also drives a specially designed car that supposedly cost the makers over Rs 5 crore. Who wouldn't buy this subtlety?
But the fans don't care, obviously. They haven't seen their star set the screen on fire for two whole years and we can forgive the director this indulgence. Prabhas is all swag in this over-the-top introduction, which is about as realistic as a Tom and Jerry cartoon. But hey, he makes it work.
Unfortunately though, the film is too dependent on its action sequences – breathtaking as some of them might be – to see it through, and never really rises above being a wannabe Hollywood action flick (or several of them cut and pasted together).
The casting directors of Saaho probably camped at gyms across the world and picked up whoever looked sufficiently bulky. Excess muscled persons of every skin tone and race – who all magically understand Telugu – walk, run, crash, and die out of the screenplay at regular intervals, making little impact or sense. Ashok is on an important mission, but he has the time for a juvenile romance with Amritha Nair (Shraddha Kapoor), a fellow police officer in his team. Perhaps because not everyone in India might know that 'Nair' is a Malayali caste name, we also have the background score going "thithhithara thitthi thai" every time Ashok throws a longing glance at her, and her hair helpfully flutters. I suppose one must be grateful that a few Kathakali dancers weren't permanently posted at her desk.
What passes for romance in the film is quite embarrassing. For instance, Ashok, who can deduce a crime just by a glance, takes a look at Amritha and asks, "Why would someone so beautiful like you join the police force?" Far from being offended, Amritha is momentarily stunned by his "insight". Their colleagues David (Murali Sharma) and Goswami (Vennela Kishore) behave like college kids trying to egg on the campus hunk to go get the girl. There's a mandatory club scene – like in Hollywood films with female agents – where Amritha appears in a shimmery little dress and knocks the socks off Ashok. But for some reason, she doesn't remember that she's supposed to be working and downs one shot after the other. Shraddha looks like Police Barbie and the chemistry just doesn't work. In Baahubali, when Amarendra and Devasena fire arrows at their enemies in unison, there's so much poetry to the scene; Saaho has a similar action sequence where Shraddha and Prabhas are shooting goons and you can all but twiddle your thumbs.
Sujeeth throws one twist after the other into the plot to liven up the proceedings, but with so many poorly defined characters who all speak in a growly voice and are trigger happy (including Arun Vijay who looks like he just walked off the sets of Chekka Chivantha Vaanam and played the same role here), you just don't care about what's happening on screen after a point.
The stunningly shot songs, the crazy chase sequences, Prabhas diving off cliffs and buildings like an undercover member of the Avengers, high-rise buildings collapsing like a pack of cards – all of that hard work and VFX is undermined by the weak storyline and badly written dialogues.
Picture this: Amritha and her colleagues are stuck in what is obviously a traffic jam. But they wait for the agent sitting in the backseat to say, "OH, it's a traffic jam!” and then they react with an "Oh no!" A shoot-out happens right in front of their eyes and a few seconds later, someone says, "Something big is happening!" to make the cops comprehend what they have already seen. Mandira Bedi as Kalki is perhaps the one character who shows some promise but she has too little screen time to make an impact.
Saaho is an ambitious film that has tried its best to appeal to a pan-Indian audience, with actors from across industries. But this motley cast creates a sense of dissonance all through, with most of them hamming it up. The film is also unnecessarily long at a runtime of 170 minutes, and would have been better off with half the number of twists.
As it stands, Saaho may please die-hard Prabhas fans or gym junkies but for the rest of the audience, it comes as a Baahubali-sized disappointment.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.