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Movie Review: Saroja (2008) Back to Movie
Rate movie A movie review by Balaji Balasubramaniam
Fans Rating: 80%%80%% 80% (30 votes)
Movie Still After making us sit up and take notice with the original and fun Chennai 600028, director Venkat Prabhu changes tracks to serve up a thriller with Saroja. The good news is that he has sidestepped the dreaded sophomore jinx successfully. Visually attractive and refreshingly down-to-earth, Saroja is a solid, engaging thriller that manages to be both believable and exciting - not an easy combination to achieve. Wish it had offered a few more thrills though.

Jagapathi Babu(S.P.Charan), his brother Ram Babu(Vaibhav), Ganesh(Premji) and their newly-engaged friend Ajay(Shiva) decide to drive to Hyderabad to watch a cricket match between India and Pakistan. Caught in a traffic jam as the result of an accident, they decide to take a detour. The same day, Saroja(Vega), the daughter of a rich businessman(Prakashraj) is kidnapped and held for ransom and the four friends become unwittingly caught up in the kidnap drama.

A prerequisite for a good thriller is a protagonist who is a common man - one of us, so to say - caught in situations beyond his control. That's how he earns our sympathy and gets us to root for him to escape unscathed, paving the way for us to get involved in the film. The number of protagonists may vary but the rules remain the same and Venkat Prabhu has understood this well. In a day when our heroes are portrayed as superheroes, Saroja's 4 protagonists are refreshingly down-to-earth. Their initial camaraderie is pleasant and unforced and when they get into trouble, their thoughts and actions are credible. This realism and credibility take a small hit when they make silly jokes while running for their lives but for the most part, this is what keeps the movie going.

Saroja has a pretty simple story but Venkat enhances it with a screenplay that makes it seem like it is more than what it is. Like the focus on the truck - and its ominous skull-and-crossbones logo - that kicks off the movie. The truck is simply the obstacle that drives the foursome to take the detour and simply showing an accident - any accident - would've worked just as well. But by focusing on the truck, Venkat draws us in right away, making us think about what's coming. Same with the parallel story tracks and those timestamps that show us the timelines of the different tracks. They make us think about fate and coincidence, getting us more involved that would've been the case if the same story had been presented in a straightforward narration. These are gimmicks no doubt but they make the movie interesting and that's what matters at the end.

The film sets things up almost perfectly. It presents characters that we care for, puts them in harm's way in a believable manner and then raises the stakes(first they are worried about losing the way but then they are worried about losing their lives!) slowly but steadily. Though we know how the two tracks are going to be linked, there is some suspense about some of the happenings.

But a screenplay can only take you so far and that becomes clear once the story has unspooled. As the friends go on the run, the movie begins to spin its wheels and the story barely moves forward. And with the action limited to one location, there's not much variety in the chase itself either. Venkat Prabhu does extract a lot out of the setting as the friends evade the people chasing them with a combination of smarts and luck but the proceedings do make us wish that something different would happen. Another factor that contributes to this feeling of the movie being stuck during these portions is the fact that there are no surprises whatsoever. The plot proceeds in a straightforward manner with none of those twists or surprises that we expect from a thriller. This is somewhat made up for towards the end but some twists and turns would have provided the adrenaline shot that the movie is in need of.

As in Chennai 600028, Venkat is able to extract good performances from his entire cast. Vaibhav catches the eye as the more impatient and short-tempered member of the group. S.P.Charan and Shiva are adequate. Premji's body language and dialog delivery already seem repetitive. He does earn a few laughs initially but many of his jokes later fall flat because of being ill-timed. Prakashraj and Jayaram are solid as always. Yuvan Shankar Raja disappoints with a rather weak soundtrack but Venkat's visual touches, whether the rock concert-like atmosphere in Cheeky Cheeky..., the cameos by numerous TV serial artistes in Maappillaikku Nichayadhaartham... or the fast edits and quick cuts in Dosth Bada Dosth..., make the song sequences watchable. Nimirndhu Nil... is the best number and is picturized in a suitably invigorating manner.

Rate movie A movie review by Balaji Balasubramaniam