Tuesday, September 23, 2008


After making us sit up and take notice with the original and fun Chennai 600028 , director Venkat Prabhu changes tracks to serve up a thriller with Saroja. The good news is that he has sidestepped the dreaded sophomore jinx successfully. Visually attractive and refreshingly down-to-earth, Saroja is a solid, engaging thriller that manages to be both believable and exciting - not an easy combination to achieve. Wish it had offered a few more thrills though.

Jagapathi Babu(S.P.Charan), his brother Ram Babu(Vaibhav), Ganesh(Premji) and their newly-engaged friend Ajay(Shiva) are driving to Hyderabad to watch a cricket match between India and Pakistan. Caught in a traffic jam as the result of an accident, they decide to take a detour. The same day, Saroja(Vega), the daughter of a rich businessman(Prakashraj) is kidnapped and held for ransom and the four friends become unwittingly caught up in the kidnap drama.

A prerequisite for a good thriller is a protagonist who is a common man - one of us, so to say - caught in situations beyond his control. That's how he earns our sympathy and gets us to root for him to escape unscathed, paving the way for us to get involved in the film. The number of protagonists may vary but the rules remain the same and Venkat Prabhu has understood this well. In a day when our heroes are portrayed as superheroes, Saroja's 4 protagonists are refreshingly down-to-earth. Their initial camaraderie is pleasant and unforced and when they get into trouble, their thoughts and actions are credible. This realism and credibility take a small hit when they make silly jokes while running for their lives but for the most part, this is what keeps the movie going.

Saroja has a pretty simple story but Venkat enhances it with a screenplay that makes it seem like it is more than what it is. Like the focus on the truck - and its ominous skull-and-crossbones logo - that kicks off the movie. The truck is simply the obstacle that drives the foursome to take the detour and simply showing an accident - any accident - would've worked just as well. But by focusing on the truck, Venkat draws us in right away, making us think about what's coming. Same with the parallel story tracks and those timestamps that show us the timelines of the different tracks. They make us think about fate and coincidence, getting us more involved that would've been the case if the same story had been presented in a straightforward narration. These are gimmicks no doubt but they make the movie interesting and that's what matters at the end.

The film sets things up almost perfectly. It presents characters that we care for, puts them in harm's way in a believable manner and then raises the stakes(first they are worried about losing the way but then they are worried about losing their lives!) slowly but steadily. Though we know how the two tracks are going to be linked, there is some suspense about some of the happenings.

But a screenplay can only take you so far and that becomes clear once the story has unspooled. As the friends go on the run, the movie begins to spin its wheels and the story barely moves forward. And with the action limited to one location, there's not much variety in the chase itself either. Venkat Prabhu does extract a lot out of the setting as the friends evade the people chasing them with a combination of smarts and luck but the proceedings do make us wish that something different would happen. Another factor that contributes to this feeling of the movie being stuck during these portions is the fact that there are no surprises whatsoever. The plot proceeds in a straightforward manner with none of those twists or surprises that we expect from a thriller. This is somewhat made up for towards the end but some twists and turns would have provided the adrenaline shot that the movie is in need of.

As in Chennai 600028, Venkat is able to extract good performances from his entire cast. Vaibhav catches the eye as the more impatient and short-tempered member of the group. S.P.Charan and Shiva are adequate. Premji's body language and dialog delivery already seem repetitive. He does earn a few laughs initially but many of his jokes later fall flat because of being ill-timed. Prakashraj and Jayaram are solid as always. Chennai 600028's main cast members show up in some interesting cameos too. Yuvan Shankar Raja disappoints with a rather weak soundtrack but Venkat's visual touches, whether the rock concert-like atmosphere in Cheeky Cheeky..., the cameos by numerous TV serial artistes in Maappillaikku Nichayadhaartham... or the fast edits and quick cuts in Dosth Bada Dosth..., make the song sequences watchable. Nimirndhu Nil... is the best number and is picturized in a suitably invigorating manner.


At 12:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saroja is not so original. Check out: Judgnement Night - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107286

Venkat Prabhu changed few things but the plot is strikingly similiar.

At 1:58 AM, Blogger KayKay said...

Yup..the 4 friends making a detour into unfamiliar territory is a lift from Judgement Night although the kidnap plot is the additional extra. A sadly under-rated thriller (saw it ages ago when I was in Australia) it featured a good performances from Emilio Extevez and Dennis Leary.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger Bart said...

I enjoyed the movie too. There are a few points I disagree with you
a)The music is absolutely good. Maybe, it grew on repeated hearing :)
b)Premji's comedy worked pretty well.. Though it was repetitive. Even in those tension filled chase scenes towards the end where comical touches are unexpected usually (I can only think of "Sadhu Mirandaa" where comedy was interlaced in a thriller).
I felt the screenplay was pretty refreshing as you mentioned with all those parallel backdrops in various timepoints. (This movie is more relevant to "Butterfly effect" than what Dasa tried).
The lighting was a bit too dark throughout for my liking.
Few things were worth highlighting - no duets or love songs with heroine, twist at the end and a crisp explanation for the villain's motive and backdrop, villain's love track, camera and special effect work in "Dosth bada dosthu", sprinkling of humor throughout with good mix of telugu in a tamil movie.. These are signs of an intelligent filmmaker irrespective of what his inspirations were ...

At 10:49 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

senthil/kaykay, hadn't heard of the movie but the first part looks suspiciously similar :)

bart, i didnt like those comedy touches towards the end. a few made me laugh but they took away from the realism and diluted the suspense.
but no arguments there on the "intelligent filmmaker" moniker for venkat prabhu :)

At 8:48 PM, Blogger Naren's said...

"intelligent filmmaker"...sigh that's where i cringe.really balaji if saraoja/venkat prabhu can be moniker for intelligent cinema god save tamil cinema..it is such a silly time pass movie (and one that is heavily copied too). Don't even tell abt the parallel stories of prakash raj or all fo those miniscule gangster turned policemen's story.No one cares about them. All one cared was how the four of them will come out of the trouble they ve got into and in being repetitive and pointless at times even that part of the movie ain't interesting. Yuvan disappointed big time...js chk the BGM when the caravan is turning upside down...cringe. am not taking another venkat prabhu's movie without a warning.

At 2:20 AM, Blogger Meera said...

i have to agree with naren on the BGM of the caravan topplin, was silly.
I enjoyed the movie, esp after watching kuruvi and kuselan this was a fresh breath of air.

Jokes were good and it was an old story in a new package and lil realistic.

At 2:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ All those who say that it is copied,

Right you are abt Judgement night, but its not an outright copy and Venkat Prabhu has managed to infuse new elements into the movie. Balaji, I liked the comic touches a lot (though it got tiresome some times) like the scene where they mock the age old cliche of shouting before going to attack a villain. The next scene is an added bonus :D

At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I respect your opinion (especially given its your blog!), I disagree on a few counts.
1. The music and BGM were very good.

2. I think the movie worked on the premise that goof-balls will remain goof-balls. So its not wrong that premji behaves the way he does. What I think a number of people have a problem with is the non-subtlety of the humor, not the humor itself. A simple exhibition of body-language would have sufficed but it was a little more elaborate with the voice-over.

I also thought it was funny that one of the henchmen is amused by the fact that Shiva is a mega-serial actor and is smiling when these guys plot to kill them! It shows a different shade of henchmen who (apart from the fact that they carry guns and run around killing ppl!) are everyday people too.

As for the BGM when the van topples, I think it depends on how people take it. I liked it. It does go with the tone of the movie though.

Apart from that, technically, the movie was very very competent.

At 4:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I posted the previous "anon" comment. Forgot to mention one thing. I am a little disappointed that the movie was copied from an english movie. Vishnu Vardhan is guilty of the same. Only he seems to pick up South Korean movies for inspiration. The new crop of directors, in the name of producing "fresh" movies, take to plagiarizing and that is a extremely unhealthy practice. I am not saying directors like Maniratam and Gautham Menon do not copy. Mani has openly stated that Nayagan was his adaptation of Godfather. He has copied story telling techniques but has always been pretty open about it. Gautham has also stated that Pachai Kili... was his adaptation of Disclosure (the book) and Varanam is in a way inspired by Forrest Gump. So whats so embarrasing for this new crop to be so secretive about their "work"? Hopefully this will change.

BTW, the wiki page of Judgement Night does mention that Saroja is adapted from this movie!!!

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

naren, wouldn't call 'saroja' intelligent cinema but i think venkat prabhu is an intelligent filmmaker. the fact that the film is copied dulls that a li'l bit but quite a few moments in even 'saroja' made me think that :)

meera, that caravan toppling bgm reminded me of some other music but i thot it was pretty clever :)

ganesh, yes that was a good scene and some of the comic touches did work. it was premji's character and jokes that got to me :)

anon, yeah goof-balls will remain goof-balls. just that the character didn't work for me in this movie. i felt it drained the suspense and that irritated me. but that henchman's track did work for me :)

At 7:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Balaji, I agree with your review overall.

Venkat didnt know where to draw the line as far as mixing in comedy with suspense. The thriller elements of the film were pretty routine and I would say several ideas were ripped off from other movies too. Van design probably inspired from Little Miss sunshine, the scrambled voice of the kidnapper reminding us of Ransom and the money exchange going haywire reminds of the same movie and also Man on Fire. Venkat Prabhu sure watches a lot of Hollywood just like his friends Gautam Menon and Vishnuvardhan. I wish we had more original screenwriters. I didnt care for the MTV style song too.BGM was noisy.

For all his mocking of cliches and Barathiraja films in both Chennai 28 and Saroja Parabhu himself is guilty of falling prey to the cliches. Needless item numbers, villian with a sensuous sidekick just for the dance number like in old 80s movies where disco shanthi or silk smitha would do the same and so on.

The Nimirndhu nil song was also unnecessary and felt atrocious to me. This was not some group of villagers overcoming the British in Lagaan for national pride. The song was ridiculously placed, the comedy overdone and there were atleast 2 needless songs just like in Chennai 28.

Bottomline - It was an above average timepass movie. Far from being intelligent cinema.


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