‘Saindhav’ movie review: The emotional drama is fine, if only the thriller had been smarter

Saindhav, directed by Sailesh Kolanu and headlined by Venkatesh Daggubati, is earnest in its world building and emotional family drama but sorely lacks the smartness required for a gritty thriller  

January 13, 2024 03:06 pm | Updated 03:27 pm IST

Shraddha Srinath, Venkatesh Daggubati and Ssara Palekar in director Sailesh Kolanu’s Telugu film ‘Saindhav’

Shraddha Srinath, Venkatesh Daggubati and Ssara Palekar in director Sailesh Kolanu’s Telugu film ‘Saindhav’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

‘SaiKo is back’, different characters keep stating with fear in their eyes, in the first hour of the Telugu film Saindhav, written and directed by Sailesh Kolanu. SaiKo refers to the protagonist Saindhav Koneru, portrayed by Venkatesh Daggubati. Sailesh is in no rush to explain the myth behind SaiKo and what makes him a terror. He trusts the audience to believe in the myth and wait with patience, partially because this is the 75th film of the star playing the part and his persona has enough aura required for the character. A part of the reason is also because the director does not want the backstory to distract the narrative that has a sense of urgency. SaiKo has an uphill task and time is running out. The challenge then is to present a riveting drama that will keep us hooked to the extent that when the reveal about SaiKo happens, it will be worth the wait. Does it work? The answer is not a resounding yes.

Saindhav (Telugu)
Director: Sailesh Kolanu
Cast: Venkatesh Daggubati, Shraddha Srinath, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Storyline: The protagonist, with a past, has to cross paths with the underworld if he has to save his daughter from a health crisis and time is running out.

First, the brighter aspects of the film and its characters. Saindhav is leading a normal life, doing nothing out of the ordinary. A crane operator at the port, he lives in a middle class locality with his daughter Gayathri (Ssara Palekar). The film does not take it for granted that the audience will accept a senior actor as a father of a child who could be six or seven years old. Saindhav makes a statement about his age to his neighbour Manognya (Shraddha Srinath), who dotes on his daughter and holds a torch for him. The remark that acknowledges the age difference is a welcome move. By and by, facets of Manognya’s life are revealed — her past, how she ekes out a living and where her sense of agency comes from.

A sense of restlessness and foreboding pervades the narrative even when it focuses on Saindhav and his family, given the sinister happenings in the port city — ammunitions, trading of drugs and power play. Saindhav’s personal mission to save his daughter, who is diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy and requires an injection that costs ₹17 crore, gets intertwined with the happenings in the drug cartel. On her part, the daughter believes that her dad is a superhero and will always have her back. On paper, this is an interesting premise to bring a fiery hero who is on a hiatus to do the impossible to save his daughter.

On screen though, the narrative wobbles between trying to put forth a riveting action and emotional drama and at the same time trying to do star appeasement. The ‘SaiKo is back’ statement overstays its welcome and there is an overdose of slow motion swagger to build the protagonist’s aura. When the power games between members of the cartel — Viswamitra (Mukesh Rishi), Vikas Malik (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), Jasmine (Andrea Jeremiah) and Michael (Jisshu Sengupta) — begin and Saindhav enters the arena, there is plenty of spoonfeeding, especially as every move of Saindhav is explained in detail. In his debut film HIT: The First Case, Sailesh trusted the audience to be in step with the proceedings and decipher things. Saindhav would have benefitted from that smart approach.

Thankfully, the film gets back on track when the battlelines are drawn and we learn how Vikas might be a more formidable nemesis than Saindhav expected. Some of the cat-and-mouse games and action sequences hold interest as does the interesting narrative choice to reveal just enough details about Saindhav’s past, without indulging in a flashback. After the first hour, there are a few delightful payoffs later like the instance of an episode involving a snazzy car.

Saindhav belongs to Venkatesh who shoulders the film through all its highs and weaker portions. The fact that he would score in the emotional portions is a given; he is also convincing in the action sequences as a menacing veteran who shows that he stills means business. It is hard to not notice the John Wick influences and the nod to Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Vikram; Sailesh also doffs his hat to Kamal Haasan through a passing shot of Hey Ram.

Sailesh also gives Nawazuddin’s character a vulnerability so that his thirst for supremacy makes his menacing acts more authentic. Making the actor speak in a mix of Dakhni and Telugu also works well. In his first Telugu film, Nawazuddin is in his element. Ruhani Sharma in a brief part as a doctor, Shraddha Srinath and Andrea Jeremiah are effective and add credibility to their parts. Arya looks the part assigned to him but is relegated to a brief appearance that doesn’t require him to showcase his acting chops.

Considerable effort has gone into presenting the fictional port city of Chandraprastha with its circuit of flyovers and upscale constructions, to make it befitting of a city where an underworld operates. Manikandan’s cinematography contributes to the grittiness of the narrative.

Despite all this, Saindhav does not soar. It falls short of being a riveting emotional action drama. A few stretches are impressive but on the whole, there was scope to be way smarter and absorbing. If they go on to make part two, they have their task cut out.

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