It is easier to believe that Parineeti Chopra goes to sleep hugging a scrapbook titled ‘My Life, My Lyra’ about her leggings than accept that the makers of Saaho wanted an actual woman, and not a rag doll in their film. Because a flesh-and-blood woman would rather get trampled at rush-hour Dadar station than put up with the hero played by Prabhas. Actually, the former would probably be less painful than Prabhas staring at her like he’s going to pass out any time, while muttering nonsense that sounds like all of Splitsvilla’s seasons put together. Trust me, ‘Vicky ka Pinky ke saath connection ban raha hai’ from Splitsvilla is actually Rumi compared with Prabhas saying ‘itni sundar ladki police force main kya kar rahi hai’ to a blank Shraddha Kapoor.
The titular character of Sujeeth’s Saaho, written for Prabhas, almost puts the ‘khambe jaisi khadi hai’ glory of Bollywood misogyny to shame. Unlike the days of sexism yore, when a man had to at least spot a woman at a college, or a bus stop, or a party to then drive her up the wall, this man sees a mugshot of Kapoor in a police department file. Immediately, his face lights up like he’s landed a Zomato discount coupon.
When Kapoor, who plays police officer Amritha Nair, is introduced, she is shown investigating a murder scene. As the camera crawls over her eyes and then her flyaways, the background music is sweet and sappy like in those ads where young girls get boys only after curing pimples. I half expected Shraddha Kapoor to get up and say, ‘sir, victim Clean & Clear use karta tha, ek bhi pimple nahin hai’.
Anyway, Saaho lands at the murder scene and hovers around Amritha like he is a mosquito and his whole existence depends on how close he is to the human’s nose. And like any poor human with a mosquito situation, Amritha cannot seem to swat him away.
Now, why Amritha is a cop, Saaho cannot fathom. Since his actions till now have ranged from ogling to gawking to shouting and then back to gawking, we are not sure he has more emotional range than a crow, so it’s understandable that he is confused. He circles around Amritha, as she stares hard at her desk, mansplaining her own life to her. Since she is a cop, doesn’t have too many friends and doesn’t smile much, Amritha must have a sob story.
After all, a woman’s life is either a toothpaste commercial or a Nirupa Roy retrospective, there can’t be anything in between. Amritha stares hard at a desk — I wondered if she was going to bang her head on it, thanks to this ordeal — and then gets all teary-eyed confirming, indeed, she has a sob story.
Through the rest of the film, Amritha bungles again and again and gets berated by her seniors for messing up cases. Saaho, meanwhile, keeps mansplaining the job to Amritha in a deadpan ‘enter-your-PIN number’ ATM prompt voice. Amritha misjudges situations and almost messes up important missions, cannot follow the instructions given to her and generally functions as a petri dish for Saaho to test all his macho-ness.
In one ‘mission’, which translates into the song ‘Psycho Saiyan’, Amritha turns up at a pub to nab a criminal, only to get sloshed and then pass out in Saaho’s arms. Now, thanks to my Bengali ears, I had assumed the lyrics went: ‘I don’t wanna saiyan psycho’.
The grammar may be off, I thought, but at least the brain is in the right place. Imagine my shock when I discovered the song actually had the woman prancing around singing ‘aya mora saiyan psycho’, as if the said psychopath is not a threat to life, but biryani whose arrival should be cherished.
Said saiyan, of course, lives up to his moniker, singing ‘jo pakdun kalaiyan chhod na/ leke aaja tere bhai ko bhai ko’. I hope the lyrics means the unfortunate bhai has been invited to take photos of the couple, drive them home or buy them Pudin Hara, else it is pretty much endorsing harassment — a punishable offence.
The person they were to catch, of course, flees amidst this kahani har bar ki, and Amritha gets shouted at again. Meanwhile, Saaho does one of the three expressions he gets to choose from — brooding, smirking, looking bored.
Kapoor gets a consolation chase nearing the end of the film, which is mostly meaningless in the scheme of the plot.
There are other women, like Mandira Bedi, who keeps inhaling from a nebulizer. Considering she had to exist in the same frame as Chunkey Pandey and Mahesh Manjrekar dressed like Peaky Blinders: the Punjabi Bagh wedding version, her frequent use of the nebulizer is understandable.
While Shraddha Kapoor bats her eyelids, looks miffed and keeps flying into Prabhas’ arms like she is a towel left out to dry in the nor’westers, one cannot help but wonder how she didn’t throw the script into the bin. For someone who starred in a pleasantly feminist film like Stree just a year ago, Saaho’s script should have read like a slap on the face. Honestly, if all Saaho’s writers wanted was the man to have something to toss around, occasionally cuddle up to and look cute with, they could have just given him a pillow. Not cast a woman.
Every week, the writer will examine how women are treated in a work of popular culture.