Saaho, the Baahubali of action films: With a Rs 350 crore budget, there's a lot at stake for this Prabhas-starrer
For Prabhas, Saaho is a crucial film in his post-Baahubali career, and its success could firm his position as a pan-Indian star
Four years ago, SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali: The Beginning made everyone gasp when it was revealed that the budget of the film had surpassed Rs 200 crores. A Telugu film aiming for pan-Indian acceptance was in itself an ambitious attempt, let alone the prospect of it raking in big moolah to justify the film’s budget.
But then, like life itself, showbiz is full of miracles. Not only did the Baahubali films break box office records in India, but it also paved the way for making a pan-Indian film, which cuts across regional and cultural barriers.
With Prabhas, Shraddha Kapoor starrer Saaho vying for box-office glory, there is, once again, an air of excitement in Telugu film industry, which is postulating the idea that to make pan-Indian films, the best route to take is making big budget spectacles in the form of either action films or period dramas. While Baahubali series proved it with the latter genre, all eyes are on Saaho to see if action films too will have a similar effect.
Right from the film’s budget to its scale, everything has been grand, so far, about Saaho. With a budget of Rs 350 crores, Saaho is being deemed as a risky proposition and anything less than a blockbuster wouldn’t be good enough.
Talking about the pressure that he’s under, Prabhas says, “Initially, it was supposed to be a Rs 100-150 crores film; however, after Baahubali’s success, Saaho too became a much bigger film. Even after Baahubali: The Beginning became a big success, we were a little nervous about Baahubali: The Conclusion. Now, I can’t take things for granted because there’s a big responsibility on my shoulders with Saaho. I’ve had many sleepless nights in the past couple of years over the amount of money we have spent on the production, and I hope that people like what we have done.”
Admittedly, the team didn’t want to compromise on any aspect of the storytelling and at the same time set a new standard among contemporary action dramas. Sujeeth, the director of the film, says, “I’m barely one film old, but that wasn’t a roadblock for Prabhas and the producers to accept the film. The first time I met Prabhas, he told me that he liked the screenplay in some of the short films I had done, and when I pitched the story of Saaho, he was completely engrossed. The whole idea was to push the envelope in terms of presenting a contemporary action drama with the best possible technology, technicians, and other resources that we could get access to.”
The makers got Sabu Cyril on board as the production designer, Madhie as the cinematographer, and Kamalakannan as the VFX supervisor. A key segment of the film was shot in Abu Dhabi, and the team had to scout for locations and customise a lot of trucks and cars for a bulk of the action sequences. Numerous action directors including Kenny Bates, Peng Zhang, Dhilip Subbarayan, Stunt Silva, Stefan, Bob Brown, and Ram-Lakshman, were roped in to choreograph some of the most spectacular action sequences ever seen in an action film of this scale in India.
“The stunt team had their own set of specialised equipment which had to be shipped from Prague and other cities. We also had a few editors, who worked on several Hollywood films, to work on only the action sequences. The amount of prep that went into ensuring the safety of cast and crew, before and during the stunt sequences, blew my mind. It was a big learning experience for us because we were doing a lot of things for the first time,” Prabhas added.
Saaho follows the story of an undercover cop, Ashok Chakravarthi, who must infiltrate a powerful ring of gangsters to solve a major case. While Prabhas, Shraddha Kapoor will be seen as cops, the film has a slew of Bollywood actors including Jackie Shroff, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Arun Vijay, Mandira Bedi among others who have played key roles in the film.
Right from the beginning, the film’s scale was so huge that Sabu Cyril had to conceptualise and design an entire new city, Waaji, which is the citadel of the gangsters who inhabit the world of Saaho. Waaji might be equivalent to Gotham city in the Batman series, but, on a more fundamental level, it gave Sujeeth and his team the license to showcase a different world altogether.
Sabu Cyril opines, “After doing a series of period dramas, Saaho gave me a chance to work on something more contemporary. We are calling Waaji as a city of powerful gangsters and it’ll be very insensitive on our part to stereotype any city in our world like this. Moreover, if we had based this story in a real city, right from the language people speak to the signboards, the characters would have had to adhere to the existing norms. I saw it more like a sort of James Bond like character going on a mission to a metropolis. I’m a huge fan of the old James Bond films, and I had the complete freedom to do something which I hadn’t done in my previous films.”
To give a gist of why creating the city and the larger-than-life landscape of Saaho, Sabu Cyril created as many as 98 set pieces, and recreated sections of Abu Dhabi in Ramoji Film City. “Shooting in extreme climatic conditions where the temperatures are close to 50 degree celsius is extremely tough. Moreover, Saaho was a big challenge for us in terms of logistics because we had a huge crew, and a lot of things had to be shipped from the US and Europe for our shoot in Abu Dhabi. Recreating some of the scenes in an indoor environment gave us a better control over what we wanted to achieve. My job is to make you believe that everything is real,” Sabu Cyril adds.
For Prabhas, Saaho is a crucial film in his post-Baahubali career, and its success could firm his position as a pan-Indian star who can shoulder films which are gigantic, both in terms of their scale and market. “We hope the film works in every language and the casting too has been done keeping the film’s pan-Indian market in mind. There is a possibility of turning Saaho into a franchise, but everything depends on how well this film does,” he adds.
In the past two decades, the Dhoom franchise has been the most successful action series in Bollywood. And then, the likes of Tiger Shroff, Vidyut Jamwal, and John Abraham have taken up the mantle to continue doing a series of action-packed films. This year, with Hrithik Roshan, Tiger Shroff, and Vaani Kapoor starrer War slated for release in multiple languages, action films have made a strong case that they are a great bet for a pan-Indian film.
Will Saaho set a new benchmark and end up being the Baahubali among action films in India? Maybe we’ll know when Prabhas says in Saaho, “It’s showtime!”
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