Saindhav review : Venkatesh’s slow-burn action drama is stylish but lacks punch, writes Srivathsan Nadadhur
In a fictitious port city – Chandraprastha – Saindhav is a crane operator, who leads a peaceful life with his school-going daughter Gayathri. He shares a warm rapport with a neighbour Manu, a divorcee who works in the municipality. When Gayathri is diagnosed with a rare medical condition – spinal muscular atrophy – Saindhav is forced to return to his violent ways.
For someone of Venkatesh’s calibre, who’s ‘been there done that’, played safe and gone through the grind in Telugu cinema for four decades, the actor is in the middle of a challenging phase. While it’s convenient for him to rest on his laurels and image, the time is ripe to take a few creative risks. His latest film Saindhav banks on his stardom and also has him exploring a rare slowburn action drama.
The film is set in Chandraprastha, where the administration is falling apart, coinciding with the rise of an underworld don Vikas Malik, who crosses paths with a crane operator Saindhav. Saindhav needs Rs 17 crore to rescue his daughter and returning to crime is his last resort. The tone is subdued, the heroics and emotions are deliberately underplayed.
Saindhav is focused in its narrative, the subplots are minimal, alternating between the father-daughter drama and the stylised violence centring on the power game within the underworld. If the rootedness, taut screenplay were director Sailesh Kolanu’s strengths in his crime-thriller franchise Hit, the stakes are raised in Saindhav, though, at the cost of the finesse in the writing.
There’s a lovely visual style in establishing the dystopian, eerie ambience of the sedate drama; the aesthetics ensure authenticity in the depiction of a city where there’s little hope. The dialogues are refreshingly minimal, a zesty background score tries to uplift the aura of a restrained protagonist with a violent past. The narrative control in the first hour is impressive, even if the plot is wafer thin.
There’s little to complain about Saindhav’s life and his heroics, but the subplots around the underworld are underdeveloped. The only exception is Vikas Malik, he has all the attributes of an intriguing opponent. He relies on Hindi, speaks broken Telugu, is bitter about the humiliation during his ascent to the top and desperate to woo his girlfriend Jasmine. You sense his quest for power.
Both Saindhav and Vikas have peculiar catch phrases they get back to. The former keeps uttering ‘Lekka maruddhi naa kodaka’ and Vikas uses the ‘Ben Stokes’ excuse to foulmouth his opponents. There are a handful of cameos, few subplots around Mano’s abusive past, a customs officer, a pharmaceutical company and an NGO to add more juice to the drama.
When you look past Saindhav’s canvas, efforts with the sound design, cinematography and the music score, you realise how the film mistakes heavy ammunition and slow motion-heroics for tension. Interestingly, the director does away with a flashback and only showcases flashes of Saindhav’s tryst with crime – ‘I’ve done nothing much to boast of,’ he detachedly says.
Once the emotional conflict in established, Saindhav takes a viewer for granted. The Bujjokondave song needlessly reiterates what’s quite obvious. The restrained family man suddenly becomes a messiah, fighting for the larger good. The action choreography is rather lazy in the second hour and there’s little meat in the writing or the drama to hold the fort.
Venkatesh embraces his greys with elegance, switching roles as a doting father and a merciless killer and makes a commendable effort to rediscover himself as a performer. While Shraddha Srinath’s capabilities as a performer don’t need any introduction, it’s disappointing to see her in a role that restricts her to be vulnerable and be an emotional anchor of the family. It barely tests her mettle.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, despite having explored many dimensions of villainy in his prolific career, is lively bringing Vikas Malik to life, along with his eccentricities. While he’s a quintessential baddie, he has an identity of his own too. The cameos of Ruhani Sharma, Arya, Andrea Jeremiah, Jaya Prakash, Jisshu Sengupta bring about a few occasional bursts of enthusiasm into the screenplay. Mukesh Rishi, Getup Srinu, Chaitanya Sagiraju make a mark in their brief screen time.
Manikandan’s cinematography contributes richly the film’s ambience, while Santhosh Narayanan’s background score (and songs like Sarada Saradaga, Wrong Usage) impresses in parts. Though the director may claim to be a fan of Denzel Washington’s The Equaliser, the film appears to be inspired by a closer cousin – Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Vikram.
There’s an earnest effort from the team of Saindhav to place a middle-aged protagonist in a slow-burn action drama. While the visual style, music and action segments work in parts, the writing is largely disappointing and lacks meat. Venkatesh and Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s assured performances bring respectability to the film.