The Saaho review

Recent studies say a human being’s attention span is now less than a goldfish’s. But Sujeeth’s Saaho challenges that theory by bringing it down even lower in its senseless pursuit of God-knows-what.

After nearly three excruciating hours of clueless chaos and random action between cops pretending to be crooks and crooks pretending to be cops, my spirit is clobbered and crippled.  

I still have no idea what I just saw. 

Saaho keeps throwing one moronic scenario after another in such a haphazard manner for the sake of hollow spectacle and bizarre vendetta, the experience is akin to having your head banged against a dozen screens, one playing Batman, another Avengers, still another Mad Max.  

On paper, Saaho, which releases in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and Malayalam, has all the ingredients of a masala feast.

A hero whose last release has made him invincible in public perception, an assortment of sleek villains embracing wicked with relish and relentless action choreographed by Hollywood technicians. But there’s no head or tails to anything that happens in Saaho.

Absurdity is every masala movie’s prerogative but in absence of imagination, it has zero impact. An entertained audience doesn’t care about loopholes but a bored one sees right into it. And at 174 minutes, 30 seconds, Saaho is a slog.   

It would be unfitting to write a traditional review for such erratic filmmaking in whose vaporous brilliance men with resources and capital so blindly invest.

Instead, I’ll share some perplexing things I noticed in the film.

1. A good deal of Saaho is set in a fictional region called Waaji City, along the lines of Gotham abounding with crazy criminals and compromised cops.

Prabhas drives a black customised vehicle and gazes into the skyline from the top of a high rise like a certain Caped Crusader.

But the screenplay’s frequent traveller tendencies and fickle mood makes it impossible to know who’s hoodwinking whom or track down when the action has shifted from Waaji to Mumbai and Austria to Abu Dhabi. 

2. Robberies are conducted by sending out weapons and notes to random people in exchange of money and discontinuing trashy TV serials. Not one person objects or bungles up. Clearly, Saaho is a big believer in Abbas-Mustan’s maxim from Ajnabee: ‘Everything is planned’.  

3. Prabhas makes his entry in this curious chawl-like complex inhabited by pythons and panthers, people dressed up in national costumes cooking khichdi, doing laundry, running butcher shops and wrestling akhadas. Amidst them is a Lord of the Rings fanboy hanging upside down sporting Gimli’s beard. 

4. At a time when women’s safety at workplace is such a big concern, Shraddha Kapoor’s character is constantly hit on by her colleague, Prabhas. She reacts by selling her car to buy him a ring. That’s highway robbery. I mean it’s platinum, not vibranium.

She plays a serious cop and a really incompetent one at that.

What makes it worse is Saaho cannot decide whether it wants to humiliate her for the same or force her into the scenario to distract the hero.

It doesn’t matter if they’re in a stuffy underground basement but a special breeze blows just around her every time Prabhas decides to check her out. 

Dressed in silk shirts and super skinny jeans at work and sexy cocktail dresses during undercover missions, where she’s too happy shaking a leg with the hero to a Punjabi club song to realise the thief’s gotten away, Shraddha is perpetually at the receiving end of Saaho’s relentless misogyny and mansplaining.  

Shraddha’s blank expressions don’t make it any easy. 

5. Prabhas says his own lines. Not only is his Hindi awkward, it’s sleep inducing. His threats sound like lullabies. The man could dub for a sloth. 

6. Speaking of dialogues, brace yourself for gems like: 

‘Akele gayab ho jaaye toh kidnap lagta hai. Poore family gayab ho jaaye toh vacation lagta hai.’ 

A text message pops on Shraddha’s phone while she’s singing love duet with Prabhas against Austrian Alps asking, ‘Are you still police?’ 

A man starts using language ‘Eagle down’ but mid way decides to say it like it is, ‘Ashok is also down.’  

Saaho is the height of lazy writing.

7. Director Sujeeth is aiming for a comic book kitsch-meets-slick Hollywood action vibe.

But it’s more comical than crazy.

His hero is smug-faced paper card poster boy storming in and out of danger without any sense of jeopardy. Clumsy VFX magnify his phony heroics. And yet, everyone else around him is a moron who just lets him be and walk away. 

8. The villains — a blink and miss Jackie Shroff, a scowling Mahesh Manjrekar, a growling Chunky Pandey, a grimacing Arun Vijay and a confused Neil Nitin Mukesh cut a menacing picture in all that Colaba Causeway street jewellery.

There’s Mandira Bedi too in her hand-woven saris and silver bling.

But between pedicures and escaping gunfire in bulletproof cars, their idiosyncrasies go largely unrealised as the supposedly ruthless faces of an international crime syndicate. 

9. For some inexplicable reason, Saaho is hell-bent on staying witless.

In a premise practically screaming for cheesy humour, jokes are strictly off limits. Any time a character dares to titter, he’s instantly gunned down or strangulated.  

10. The only thing Saaho is committed to is mindless destruction. An army of Mad Max 3-reminiscent punks emerge from a giant dust cloud to do their bit of pounding in its idiotic climax.

A battle tank appears out of nowhere and crushes two harmless cars at the end of a Jacqueline Fernandez item number for no rhyme or reason.   

At one point, there’s a scene of Prabhas and Shraddha Kapoor posing against a pair of statues with their brains set on fire.

That, my fellow Saaho sufferer are of you and I.   

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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The poetry and purity of Khayyam’s compositions

In sweet music is such art
Killing care and grief of heart.

Few embody William Shakespeare’s golden words like Mohammad Zayur Khayyam Hashmi.

An unmistakable serenity enveloped his songs that transported the listener to an alternate universe where dreams and desires found sanctuary. His spellbinding melodies gave wings to poetry and enriched the history of Hindi film music. But the man behind such awe-inspiring music started out wanting to be in front of the camera. 

Born on February 18, 1927, near a small town outside Jalandhar, Khayyam had no interest in studies. He wanted to become a hero.

Back then, film schools were unheard of, so he traveled to Lahore’s Ghulam Ahmed Chishti aka Baba Chishti, requesting the Pakistani veteran composer to take him under his wing and teach him music. By the time he had gained some experience, an acting career no longer looked feasible and he took to composing instead. 

Initially, he teamed up with Rehman Verma under the pseudonym, Sharmaji-Vermaji, with Heer Ranjha marking their first ever collaboration.

Following Verma’s decision to stay in Pakistan after Partition, Khayyam reverted to his own name for the Dilip Kumar-Meena Kumar starrer, Footpath. And then there was no looking back. 

But the recipient of honours like Padma Bhushan, Sangeet Natak Akademi and the National Award never turned his skills into a sweatshop.  

Ever a believer in quality over quantity, Khayyam stuck to his principles and resisted even a hint of compromise. It’s what makes his music so radiant and refined. 

At the age of 92, Khayyam has passed into the ages but his legacy will mesmerise generations for years to come.

Saluting the legend and celebrates some of the finest soundtracks of his career.

Footpath (1953) 
After a stint as Sharmaji, a Hindu name he took on fearing the communal tension gripping Partition-time India, Khayyam was sort of reborn with Zia Sarhadi’s Footpath.

There’s much to relish about Kaisa jadoo daala re‘s playful musings and So ja mere pyaare’s affecting lullaby but Talat Mehmood’s moody rendition of Shaam-e-gham ki kasam steals the show. 

Phir Subah Hogi (1958)
Though Raj Kapoor regulars Shankar-Jaikishen were the original choice to score Phir Subah Hogi‘s soundtrack, Khayyam’s familiarity with Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, on which it is based, made him perfect to score its tunes.

And the virtuoso doesn’t disappoint one bit.

Be it the poignant title track, the no holds barred cynicism of Cheen o Arab humara or the wry humour of Aasman pe hai khuda, which resurfaced to provide heft to a tragic sequence of Aamir Khan’s PK.

Shola Aur Shabnam (1961)
If there’s something like a director’s actor, Khayyam proved himself to be a poet’s composer.

His ability to bring out the soul of a song, its weighty words while assigning a singer, who’d make it accessible, contributed to his brilliance.

One can sample it richly in his treatment of Kaifi Azmi’s penmanship in songs like Jaane kya dhoondti rehti and Jeet hi lenge baazi.   

Shagoon (1964)
Shagoon is best remembered for pairing Waheeda Rehman opposite her future husband Kamaljeet and Khayyam and Sahir Ludhianvi’s mellifluous creations.

The romance of Tum chali jaogi parchaiyaan reh jayengi and Parbaton ke pedon par lingers on as does Khayyam’s wife Jagjit Kaur’s marvelous rendition of two of its most exuberant ditties — Tum apna ranj-o-gham apni pareshani mujhe de do and Gori sasural chali. 

Aakhri Khat (1966)
Khayyam colours Rajesh Khanna’s debut Aakhri Khat and Kaifi Azmi’s words in hues of charm (Baharon mere jeevan bhi sawaaro), sensuality (Aur kuch der  thehar), sentimentality (Mere chanda mere nanhe) and idyllic vibes (Rut jawan jawan) in Chetan Anand’s offbeat Aakhri Khat.

Kabhi Kabhie (1976)
Who better than a man who values poetry and meter to compose the tunes of a film centred on a pal do pal ka shayar? Yash Chopra’s faith in Khayyam wasn’t unfounded.

Once again the resounding success of the Khayyam-Sahir Ludhianvi combination across evergreen chartbusters like Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal, Main pal do pal ka shayar, Tere chehre se or the ingenious medley Chahe chale churiyan proved to be stuff of pop culture legend.

Shankar Hussain (1977)
Often good music suffers the same fate as the movie. Shankar Hussain, which stars a young, gawky Kanwaljeet Singh, may have sunk without trace but boasts of superlative songs.

Khayyam’s appreciation for his lyricists — Kaif Bhopali, Kamal Amrohi and Jan Nisar Akhtar — results in lilting numbers like the Lata Mangeshkar beauty, Aap yoon faasle se and Apne aap raaton mein, the mushy Rafi ditty, Kahin ek masoom nazuk si ladki or the high-pitched qawaali, Acha unhe dekha hai. 

Noorie (1979)
Khayyam captures the fresh air and pristine texture of the Himachal hills and landscapes in Lata Mangeshkar’s haunting rendition of Aaja re o mere dilbar aaja laced in Nitin Mukesh’s cries of Noorie alongside the starry-eyed Chori chori koi aaye for Farookh Shaikh-Poonam Dhillon’s star-crossed romance.

Even after 40 years, the title song is solid enough to inspire a key plot point of Ritesh Batra’s critically acclaimed Photograph. 

Trishul (1978)
Khayyam’s versatility shows in how sportingly he jumps from the fascinating jugalbandi of Team Mohabbat bade kaam ki cheez versus Team Yeh bekar bedaam ki cheez hai to the gibberish teenybopper zeal of Gapuchi gapuchi gam gam.

Equally enjoyable is the elegance and easy-going air of Aapki mehki hui zulfeinand Jaaneman tum kamaal karti ho.

But it’s the stoic emotionality of Tum mera saath rahega that leaves a lump in the throat. 

Thodisi Bewafai (1980)
A long-winded melodrama, headlined by Rajesh Khanna and Shabana Azmi, or its tacky picturisation of dazzling songs cannot lessen the might of Khayyam’s harmonious tunes or Gulzar’s insightful wordplay.

And hands down, Aankhon mein humne aapke sapne, Hazaron rahen mud ke dekhi and Aaj bichhde hain are the album’s piece de resistance. 

Umrao Jaan (1981)
Umrao Jaan owes a great deal to Khayyam’s artistry, Shahryar’s shayari and Asha Bhosle’s expression.

Muzzafar Ali’s opulence and Rekha’s glamour would not shine the same in its absence.

Hailed as the magnum opus of Khayyam’s career, every single composition — Dil cheez kya hai, In aankhon ki masti, Yeh kya jagah hai doston, Justuju jiski thi — is a timeless gem, a classical tour de force.  

Bazaar (1982) 
Khayyam once told Rediff.com, ‘The songs of Bazaar is one of the reasons why the film was successful.’

The agony of Dekh lo aaj humein jee bhar ke performed by his wife Jagjit Kaur, the fragrant courtship of Phir chhidi raat, the melancholy in Karoge yaad toh har baat yaad aayegi support this claim ardently.

Ruling the roost is, of course, Lata Mangeshkar’s magical recital of Mir Taqi Mir’s Dikhayi diye yun ke bekhud kiya. 

Razia Sultan (1983)
Kamal Amrohi’s Razia Sultan was an expensive misfire but its music is the epic the movie aspired to be.

Both grand and gentle, Khayyam’s lavish arrangement and intricate tunes recreate a bygone era’s authenticity and anxiety in sumptuous treats like Khwab bankar koi aayega, Aayi zanjeer ki jhankar, Jalta hai badan and Lata Mangeshkar’s personal favourite Aye dil-e-nadaan.

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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The Charming Faces of Vidya Sinha

Born into a film family, Vidya Sinha maintained a safe distance from Bollywood’s razzle-dazzle. But when a win at the Miss Bombay beauty pageant led to modelling offers, she did not shy away.  

Filmmaker Basu Chatterjee noticed her in one of the ads and found the leading lady for his award-winning 1974 drama, Rajnigandha.

Her unfussy, middle-class working girl, commuting in public transport, wearing printed saris and carrying a faithful handbag struck a chord with the audience, especially in Basuda’s movies.

More than four decades have passed but that image remains imprinted in public memory.

On August 15, the actress succumbed to illness and passed away at the age of 71.  

Remembering the charming star in some of her significant movies.

Rajnigandha (1974)
Basu Chatterjee’s adaptation of Manu Bhandari’s short story Yehi Sach Hai revolves around a young woman ambivalent between her rekindled feelings for her ex and her commitment to her current beau.

Vidya Sinha’s grace and restraint in conveying her character’s deep-rooted desires and disappointment make for an impressive debut. 

Chhoti Si Baat (1976) 
As the vivacious, office-going girl Amol Palekar’s crushing on but too tongue-tied to profess anything, Vidya Sinha is a mix of sweet and sympathetic.

Though conscious of his feelings, she neither denies nor confirms her interest — it’s this sort of transparent spontaneity that endeared the actress to the audience for good.  

Pati Patni Aur Woh (1978) 
A comedy about a man with a roving eye, his sceptical wife and a pretty young secretary works on the strength of dedicated performances by Sanjeev Kumar, Vidya Sinha and Ranjeeta.

Sinha’s excellent chemistry with her co-star of several movies and willingness to give as good as she gets add to the fun.

Inkaar (1977)
A rehash of Akira Kurosawa’s High And Low, Inkaar’s thrilling police procedural doesn’t leave much room for Vidya Sinha except romance Vinod Khanna like a quintessential Bollywood heroine.

Nevertheless, it’s a well-made movie and Sinha is reliably solid. 

Karm (1977)
Long before live-in relationships became acceptable in Indian society, Vidya Sinha and Rajesh Khanna portrayed one in B R Chopra’s Karm.

Owing to some ominous prediction made by a family astrologer, the duo cannot marry. They live together anyway, causing much hue and cry.  

Much melodrama ensues but Sinha shows she’s equally adept in mainstream rona-dhona as she’s in middle-of-the-road cinema. 

Mukti (1977) 
Within three years of her debut, Vidya Sinha, who was in her late 20s when she made her first film, was already playing a mother to Bindiya Goswami.

Bollywood’s discriminating attitude towards its leading ladies aside, Sinha does an able job as a woman single-handedly raising her child after her husband (Shashi Kapoor) is falsely put behind bars. 

Tumhare Liye (1978)
Vidya Sinha reunites with Basuda and Sanjeev Kumar in the reincarnation romance, Tumhare Liye.

It’s a meaty role and Sinha relishes every bit of it, be it as the ravishing Rajasthani girl who meets a tragic fate in her previous birth or the enigmatic modern-day woman possessed by her past.   

Meera (1979)
It’s not a lengthy part but Vidya Sinha is scene-stealing in the role of Hema Malini’s sacrificing elder sister in Gulzar’s exquisite Meera.

Her confused but courageous response to her Rajput father’s terrible request of consuming poison for the sake of honour will haunt the viewer for days. 

Swayamvar (1980)
In this desi fairy-tale, Vidya Sinha gamely plays the mistreated Cinderella forced to do all the household chores while her spoilt stepsister, played by Moushumi Chatterjee, behaves like a shrew.

Sanjeev Kumar and Shashi Kapoor play their suitors and, after a lot of crazy antics and commotion, they all live happily after. 

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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