Saroja: From Class to Crass...

Riding on the huge success of Chennai 600028 and on huge expectations from the young crowd, Venkat Prabhu has set out on his new flick Saroja. Much has been spoken about the closely knit team and the boundless enthusiasm that they share. That is a good thing for with a good team comes a great working atmosphere. Unfortunately, Saroja seems to be caught between the choices of being so fascinatingly funny as in Chennai 600028 and the “need” to be different from its predecessor.

The plot spans one day in the lives of four laymen visibly heading towards their thirties, Ajay (Shiva), Ganesh (Premji) and the Babu Brothers (Charan and Vaibhav), who have planned to see a cricket match in Hyderabad. They set out on their bizarre vehicle on to the Hyderabad highway carrying along with them booze in hand and songs on lips. All is fresh and fun at this point and one can be hasty to label it the Indian reply to Easy Rider (1969) or more recently Little Miss Sunshine (2006). The group comes to a scene of accident and is forced to go through a different route. Thanks to the chutzpah of the lead, they take a wrong turn and so does the story.

There is also a parallel thread involving troubled businessman Viswanathan (Prakashraj) whose daughter, the nocturnal titular character, gets kidnapped and solicits the help of police officer Ravichandran (Jayaram) to save her. As events go from bad to worse, the four try to save their skin and return home, in the process meeting the hostage Saroja (Vega), at a pirate factory run by the hoodlum Sampath (Sampath). Additionally, there is a sub-plot involving Sampath and his lover Kalyani (Nikita) using which the filmmakers perhaps intended to portray the character’s depth. And that don’t work man! He is nothing but a textbook stereotype and a photocopy of himself from Polladhavan (2008) and Velli Thirai (2008).

After this point the film goes on. And goes on. And goes on. And goes on…And by the time the supposed-to-be all important scene nears, nobody cares. If you repeat a bad joke over and over, it eventually becomes hilarious. And if you repeat a good one over and over, it becomes sickening. Premji’s typically Kodambakkam attitude and surreal visions are amusing to begin with but as the film meanders, his lines are totally out of place and one feels that he should have had a “I’m just the token jackass required for comic relief” T-shirt on. The Dil Chahta Hai-esque magic that the friends shared in the first half hour is completely lost and one craves for those moments again.

I get the idea that a hand held camera enhances the restlessness and the thrill of a scene, but come on. Almost whole of the hour long showdown is presented in the headache inducing format and the clichéd rapid cuts are nothing but nauseating. And the editor’s scissors seem to be jammed at the most important places. On the positives, everything that takes place in daylight seems so close to heart and has the power to charm any audience. Only the end credits offer any consolation for the unwarranted kidnapping of those moments.

It is saddening to see a film that sets out as a fresh concept and ends up in the gutter of the bandwagon. In some ways, I am reminded of Chimbudevan’s decline after his charming debut in Pulikesi (2007). Venkat Prabhu looked consistent with his couple of films before this one and has ended up, fortunately, marginally better than the former. Let’s hope his penchant for depicting effortless ease among friends remains unmitigated and we get to see a real stunner next time around.


I usually tune into the channels that play the new movie trailers. Invariably, I would think – “Hey, hold-on. This one looks like a rip off from <Hollywood movie name>. Upon the movie’s release, I would have confirmed that. Johnny Gaddaar didn’t look like an exception. The trailer started off like a heist movie and looked and felt so hollywoodish. I just couldn’t spot the original. After a long time, yesterday, I sat down to watch a Bollywood flick. The next two and a half hours was a power ride I didn’t expect.

Newbie Sriram Raghavan sure looks like he knows his world cinema. He draws a lot of inspiration in the technical aspects from a lot of directors. From Jean Luc Godard’s jump cuts to Stanley Kubrick’s match cuts, from Quentin Tarantino’s use of room space to Soderbergh’s style, from David Lynch’s editing to Alejandro Inarittu’s lighting, the film reminds you of everything. But Raghavan has got his basics right: ” Get the content right, form follows”. With this in mind, he has made such gripping a script, that it makes you wonder if this is the best Bollywood thriller of recent times.

The movie stars off like a regular gang-heist-gone-awry flick with much (intentional) predictability. What follows is told in such a riveting fashion that it feels like something that Bollywood has never tasted before. All the leads have done justice to their roles with no overplay. This proves one thing to Bollywood – you don’t need stars when you have such taut characterization. Sriram Raghavan says NO to all essential Bollywood elements- the item number, revenge, duet songs in exotic locations that come out of thin air and a dozen others. Carefully avoiding sentimentality that plagues even what-could-have-been-great Bollywood thrillers like Humraaz, Raghavan handles emotions without cloying us. I wonder why he chose Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy for the music. He could have used less expensive music directors.

Raghavan pays homage to all the stalwarts of the thriller genre throughout the movie. From James Hadley Chase’s books to Bachchan’s Parwana and Dev Anand’s Johnny Mera Naam. There are numerous references to other directors as well. With a few more scripts like this and a style of his own, Sriram Raghavan can proudly call himself a leading member of the “Indian New Wave”.

In summary, Johnny Gaddaar is a one-man film that is a huge relief from the regular ‘thriller’ films that are made on the constraints of market sales and star values. It has set a new standard for other aspiring directors. Let’s hope it is broken soon !