Saar! Saar! Ava peru enna, saar?

I enjoyed Saroja until the point when our young heroes become trapped in those factory ruins. And that takes up nearly half of the rest of the movie. But even here there are bits that are refreshingly different. I’ll come to that later, but first I’d like to list (as many as I can recall) all the scenes in Saroja that come before this that writer-director Venkat Prabhu handles with a freshness so far unseen in contemporary Tamil movies. Many have written glowingly about Saroja – pointing out how different it is – but few have actually looked at what makes Saroja entertainingly offbeat. The movie is singularly hip and cool. The basic attitude in Saroja that separates it from other Tamil movies is its irreverence to family, romance, stars, and formulaic cinema. Treatment has been everything in the movie.

For the record, I’d like to list what works in the movie and what doesn’t:

The opening credit sequence done in split screen with aerial shots is cinematically exciting.

The breakfast scene unfolding in silence –refreshingly rare in our loud cinema and very welcome.

Saroja spends the night out, but it’s cool with her liberal parents- even at the end there is no typical scene with dad preaching to daughter about the dangers of sneaking out and keeping late nights.

Parodying television serials with its overwrought family melodrama, narrated with shock reactions and mock slow motion: Prabhu cuts to this scene without letting us know it’s a shoot, and the pleasure for the audience is in spotting that midway. What is delightful is that when it cuts without warning to the serial shoot, you know there’s something wrong with the tone of the movie suddenly – it is not subtle and hip anymore, but loud and overwrought. You can feel the pleasure Venkat Prabhu takes in writing these things into the script.

Premji’s Tamil movie fantasies (the dancing girls) isn’t new, but what is new is how they talk back to him: in the movie’s most daring, funny moment the dancing girls materialize around the gagged, blindfolded and bound Saroja! For a moment the audience is shocked that his mind works the way it does…and when he shoos the girls, and they sulk away, you realize how close it comes to saying something about the mind of a fantasy-driven adolescent. And if men are truthful, they’ll admit that the erotic erupts at the most reverent, unlikely moments in life.

Premji’s ironic use of Vijay’s line from Azhagiya Tamil Maghan (“Evlovo panrom idha panna mattama”). It’s a nice movie in-joke from the director (continuing Premji’s Chandramukhi in -joke from Chennai 28, “enna koduma saar ithu”)

Saroja is different for how self referential it is: another nice bit of skewering is the romance flashback done in quotation marks. This is the scene with the guy off to reveal his love with a bouquet of roses and finding out she loves his friend. How many such scenes we’ve witnessed before, and they are all done the same way: the awkward opening salvo when the boy and girl speak at the same time and then giggle; the typical dialogue (“my mind has been restless”, “he is 100 percent best choice, “200 percent best choice” “you shouldn’t declare your love late”) the brave front he dons after discovering she loves his best friend, and the girl thanking him for making it all happen. You know the scene is in quotation marks because of the formulaic way it is shot and lit.

Saar! Saar! Saaaar! Ava peru enna, saar? The Saroja gang calling each other saar and not machi could well be Venkat’s contribution to injecting new slang into colloquial Tamil speech – a new way for buddies to call each other. I’ll wager that friends are already calling each other saar after seeing Saroja.

The Dosth bada dost song is inventively shot and edited. It’s inspiration is that road song from Dil Chaata Hai, but the roadie song in Saroja is more fun; don’t miss that moment when the two guys at the back are singing along and one of them turns off the radio/CD. That’s really cool – like something out of a smart Hollywood movie.

The easy, convincing banter between the four friends, and the black and white cut-aways to how each of them is seen by the wife, is new.

For a mid-budget film, the road accident is spectacularly and convincingly staged.

The movie derails once they arrive at the gangster’s hideout. It’s not just the characters who are trapped but Venkat Prabhu himself is trapped within the limits the plot imposes. When they were on the road, he had plenty of room to play around, to skewer, be ironic, and stage formulaic scenes in new ways. A lot of the cool, hip experimentation that had been going on freezes once the plot pins these characters down in that factory. And it goes on for too long.

But, in spite of this handicap, Venkat manages a few surprises. The one most worth commenting on are the scenes showing a bunch of ordinary men fight thugs. No Tamil hero machismo here. In one witty scene they imagine themselves in the place of a Vijay or an Ajith and charge at the bad guys. Cut to: they are on the floor as prisoners with the bad guys laughing around them.

The yellow clock ticking away doesn’t work, just as the ‘day before yesterday’, ‘yesterday’ and ‘today’ chapter cues don’t work. And the reason? They don’t contribute anything to the plot. These time warp devises are there in cinema to complicate a plot that is time-driven, to increase the tension. If only Venkat Prabhu could have found a way to make the ticking clock count. As used now in Saroja, it is an empty gimmick.

Sampath is a memorable presence in the movie – and that his character is really in love and cares for his mistress is a nice touch.

What –or rather who - is a great, unforgettable presence in Saroja is Nikitha. Has there been anyone – vamp, heroine, second heroine – recently who sizzles the way she does? Kondana Kodi has to be the sexiest number out there. Having her in that gorgeous saree highlighted in flaming orange while the rest of the frame is in sepia is brilliant. Nikitha as Kalyani in Soroja is another example of how Venkat Prabhu re-imagines and re-invents things familiar to us. Nikitha, as seen here, feels like the discovery of the year.

Saar! Saar! Ava peru enna, saar?
Ava peru, saar, is Saroja!

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