Dasaganu (Srikanth), a devotee of Shirdi Saibaba, wants to tour nearby towns and villages and popularise Saibaba’s philosophy through Harikatha and seeks Baba’s permission. Saibaba (Nagarjuna) blesses him and as Dasaganu turns and walks away, Saibaba beckons him and says, “I just wished to see you one more time.” This is one of the scenes where you are engrossed in the characters that you look beyond actors Nagarjuna and Srikanth. Shirdi Sai, as a film, draws its strength from a talented set of actors who try to do justice to mythological roles.
K. Raghavendra Rao has travelled this path before, re-telling mythological stories in his own way. Shirdi Sai is a film targeted at devotees of Baba and is sure to please them. The origin and early life of Saibaba is shrouded in mystery and the filmmaker goes by one of the popularly accepted beliefs that Saibaba is the sixth incarnation of Lord Dattatreya. Out of nowhere, a teenaged Saibaba is found meditating under a tree in a village and Gangabai (Rohini Hattangady) and the priest Mahalsapathi (Sarath Babu) are the first to spot him and sense something unique about the boy. The village moneylender Bhatia (Shayaji Shinde) cannot tolerate the boy wonder stealing the limelight and threatens him to leave the hamlet. The boy disappears mysteriously and returns after many years, as Saibaba.
The film takes a while to grow on those who are not tuned into mythological stories and do not believe in miracles. Neem leaves tasting sweet, water turning into oil for diyas and Baba’s touch curing people of diseases are among those miracles that find a mention. Raghavendra Rao strikes a balance between popular miracles and the core of Saibaba’s philosophy that cuts across religious lines. The viewer is introduced to a gamut of characters — Baayijabai, her son Taatya, Lakshmi Bai, Nanavali (Saikumar) and Radhakrishnamai (Kamalinee Mukherjee), each one playing a definite part in the story of Saibaba.
If you are willing to scratch the surface, there are simple philosophical nuggets told without getting preachy. For instance, Saibaba explaining the importance of ‘anna daanam’, the meaning of Dwaraka and why religious divisions don’t make sense. The widely-believed story about Saibaba’s only existing photograph and how he attained ‘mahasamadi’ are all told with conviction.
In fact, the film works better in the second half with performances being the highlight. Nagarjuna leads from the front, putting up a performance marked with maturity and restraint. In the last one hour of the film, you tend to forget you are watching an actor rooted in mainstream cinema. Bent with age and bereft of his usual mannerisms, the actor comes up with a commendable performance.
The supporting cast that includes Srikanth, Sarath Babu, Rohini Hattangady, Shayaji Shinde, Saikumar and others come up with credible performances. A few laughs come through Shayaji Shinde and his assistants.
Can a Nagarjuna film be complete without Brahmanandam? The actor plays a small part as Sandeham, an assistant to Srihari who plays British officer Wales. Instead of being slapped by Nagarjuna, as we’ve seen in many films, here he is at the receiving end of Srihari.
M.M. Keeravani’s music is an asset to the film.
Is Shirdi Sai worth your time and money? It surely is for Saibaba devotees or if you want to watch Nagarjuna revel in his role of Saibaba.
Cast: Nagarjuna, Srikanth, Saikumar, Sarath Babu, Kamalinee Mukherjee and others.
Direction: K. Raghavendra Rao
Music: M.M. Keeravani
Plot: The film re-constructs the story of Shirdi Saibaba, highlighting his philosophy of looking beyond religious lines.
Bottomline: Nagarjuna comes up with a mature, restrained performance. The film is worth a watch for Saibaba devotees.