The 2017 Korean action-comedy entertainer Midnight Runners is a coming-of-age story of two young male police trainee officers who, driven by a sense of responsibility and empathy, try to save a kidnapped girl and in the process, unearth a medical racket. Saakini Daakini, starring Regina Cassandra and Nivetha Thomas, adapts this story in Telugu with a gender swap and succeeds in making it a sufficiently entertaining and thrilling ride.
One of the highlights of the film is a stunt sequence in a small restaurant in the Old City of Hyderabad. Shalini (Nivetha Thomas) and Damini (Regina Cassandra) are on the trail of a gang that traffics women and facilitates the illegal sale of oocytes. The two have to punch way beyond their weight to take on the imposing men. The stunt choreography, music, cinematography, editing and sound design all make this sequence a treat to watch, and believable. Shalini and Damini make use of things available in the restaurant to overpower the men. There are somersaults, mid-air slow-motion shots as well as quick moves to show their agility. You root for them when they are amid the daunting task. It is this firm connection with the lead characters that makes this underdog film worthwhile.
The two-hour film is crisply narrated and doesn’t waste time in building the milieu of the police academy trainees. Shalini and Damini are a study in contrast. One loves to eat and hide food packets in her cupboard while the other is extra finicky about cleanliness. One doesn’t know why she joined the academy while the other has a point to prove to her parents. At one point when Damini asks Shalini if she always shared a close bond with her family and Shalini responds with, “Is there another option?”, it contrasts the worlds of the two girls.
Cast: Regina Cassandra, Nivetha Thomas
Direction: Sudheer Varma
Music: Mikey McCleary
The first hour has brief appearances by several actors known for their comedy roles, taking key positions in the academy as friends and tutors. Some jokes work while others look forced. But this is the time we warm up to the two protagonists and look at them as young women, beyond their star image.
A night out at a pub becomes a turning point in the lives of the duo, who realise the cruel irony of not being able to put the academic theoretical training into practice due to rigid protocols. With the cops busy with a high-profile case, Shalini and Damini take things into their own hands.
There is a scene in which Damini breaks down when she realises the gravity of the medical racket that exploits girls for their oocytes for the fertility clinics. The realisation gives the two trainees a greater sense of purpose and that is when the girls turn into women. This scene shows why the gender swap makes the adaptation more empathetic.
A bunch of comic scenes involving Shalini’s love for food in the initial portions get a deeper meaning when she uses her sense of taste to find clues. The chutney-hopping scene is fun to watch and it also doesn’t take away the urgency of their mission.
Saakini Daakini’s biggest strengths are its two female leads. Nivetha Thomas is endearing as a fun-loving girl who discovers that she is also made of sterner stuff. She plays Shalini like a child-woman with a lot of verve. Regina plays the more serious part between the two and skillfully moves from presenting her steely persona to an assured and empathetic young officer in the making.
How often do you get a racy fun film with two female leads? Saakini Daakini stands out from the crowd.