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Varalaxmi Sarathkumar’s performance is the only silver lining in this damp squib, writes Srivathsan Nadadhur 

Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, coasting on a dream run in Telugu cinema, now tests her fortunes with a psychological thriller Sabari, helmed by debutant Anil Katz. The story centres on a single mother leaving no stone unturned to protect her daughter, conquering inner and external demons that threaten to distance them. Is she successful in her pursuit?

Sabari, for a major part of the first hour, succeeds in keeping you on your toes. Sanjana hasn’t had an easy childhood, losing her mother early in life. When she meets Aravind in college and romance is in the air, her parents aren’t comfortable with their marriage proposal. After giving birth to a daughter, her marriage too falls apart. In addition, a notorious goon is after her child.

With a wide array of subplots putting the spotlight on the travails of a tomboyish modern-day woman, Sabari starts well. Even if the screenplay isn’t exactly sharp, you root for Sanjana, thanks to Varalaxmi’s conviction in her performance. The narrative keeps taking new twists and turns and you trust the director to connect the dots eventually. And that’s just when Sabari falls apart.

The film appears to be inspired by Mahesh Babu’s 1 Nenokkadine, where the protagonist struggles to make sense of his hallucinations and reality. The world keeps trying to suggest Sanjana to come to her senses. When all hell breaks loose, she has none to rely on, but herself. The core revelation in the film is too simplistic to make any sense and you realise you’ve been fooled all along.

The antagonist is on a killing spree for trivial reasons. From Ala Vaikunthapurramulo to Anni Manchi Sakunamule to Sabari, it’s hard to understand the industry’s fixation with baby swapping. Post intermission, the chases between Sanjana and Surya turn unintentionally funny. Whenever the director falls short of ideas, he relies on a chase sequence to create tension. 

The film chooses to be realistic and takes cinematic liberties as per the director’s convenience. Sabari’s ideas about single parents, divorce and the custody of a child are way too primitive and outdated to strike a chord. Trivial conflicts are exaggerated beyond proportion, derailing the film’s brief, initial momentum. The occasional attempts to lighten up the atmosphere with the presence of Sunayana and Bhadram are forgettable, to put it mildly.

None of the other characters beyond Varalaxmi are etched out with care. If there’s someone who manages to rise above their role’s limitations, it’s Shashank as the likeable, supportive lawyer. The director makes a mess of Mime Gopi’s presence, as he aimlessly keeps chasing Sanjana, holding a hammer in his hand. Ganesh Venkatraman is hardly convincing as the egoistic husband. Archana Ananth and Bindu Chandramouli’s roles don’t integrate well with the narrative.

The background score is infuriatingly repetitive, making even the 126-minute runtime seem tedious. The aerial shots ably capture the surreal beauty of the lush green landscapes in Ooty though they can’t salvage the film from its mediocrity. Sabari is the kind of film that makes you think – What was the fuss all about?

Rating: 2/5

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