If a horror film has to work, it has to either rely on either science or paranormal to explain the supernatural happenings that the audience sees during its course. However, it is strange when a film which is touted as a psychological thriller tries to blame one as the definitive reason for the other. And that, probably, is the reason why Saithan (Bhethaludu in Telugu) fails to grip the audience.
Drawn from the pages of Tamil novel Aaah by Sujatha Rangarajan, Saithan’s narrative builds up momentum in the beginning but falters midway and ends up as a sketchy mess. The film starts with a hypnotherapist examining his patient, Dinesh (Vijay Antony), who reveals he hears voices and sees “stuff”. Get ready to be spooked by brilliant horror accentuated by the well-rendered background music. But soon, the first impact wears off and the horror factor goes down tremendously.
The fact that the ‘voices’ that Dinesh encounters are shown in the done-to-death ‘Ring’ format of a scary ghost with its hands sticking out of TV is also a stretch. Though the format is cliched, Vijay puts up a good show as he is practically driven mad by the voices and hallucinations in the beginning.
There is a major plot twist at the interval, which explains the voices and adds another layer to the plot. So far so good as the suspense comes to an end and there is something new that we can chew in during the second half. But where the film fails is to give the narrative coherence and join the two plots together. The narrative goes haywire as the concept jumps from past life crisis to a corrupt doctor carrying out illegal drug trials on humans. Dinesh is reduced to nothing more than a lab rat who loses touch with reality.
The director’s inability to mould the first half artfully so that post-interval the film seems like a natural progression is my one big grouse with the film. The shift in the narrative throws cold water on the entire film. Also, with the lack of any substantial supporting roles, the onus of driving the plot remains entirely on Vijay’s shoulders. Despite the actor’s efforts, the film falters and just refuses to move thanks to a feckless script.
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SAITHAN SYNOPSIS: A software engineer starts hearing a voice inside his head that tells him to go in search of a woman named Jayalakshmi and murder her!
SAITHAN REVIEW: If his Pichaikkaran was an old-fashioned masala movie, Vijay Antony’s new film, Saithan feels like a new-age masala movie. The film unfolds as a mystery thriller, but like the recent Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada, it is only in the end that we realise that it is actually a mass hero movie masquerading as something else.
The film begins with Dinesh (Vijay Antony), a software engineer with a promising future and newlywed wife, Aishwarya (Arundhathi Nair), consulting a psychiatrist Shanmugam (Kitty) because he has been hearing a voice in his head that tells him to go and murder a mystery woman named Jayalakshmi. Jayalakshmi, the voice tells him, has murdered him in his previous birth — when he was Sharma, a school teacher in Tanjore — and urges him to avenge that crime. Dinesh tries to come to terms with these eerie occurrences by going to Tanjore and finding out more on Sharma and Jayalakshmi, but he is in a shock when he realises that Jayalkashmi looks exactly like Aishwarya! Does he do the voice’s bidding? Is there more to his predicament than meets the eye?
Conceptually, Saithan is quite similar to Anegan, which also involved past life regression, mind-altering drugs and revenge; even the heroes’ professional background is similar. And both owe the pulpiness in their premise to writers — the latter involved writer-duo Suba, while this one is loosely inspired by Sujatha’s Aaaah. But this film has a tone that is very different from that one (which was unabashedly over-the-top). For almost two thirds of its run time, Pradeep Krishnamoorthy treats it more like a psychological horror film. He is also more interested in mood-building, narrating his tale with a minimal set-up and solid production values. By casting veteran actors like Y Gee Mahendra, Charuhasan and Kitty, he sidesteps the need to establish their characters.
It is only when he gives us the answer to the mystery surrounding Dinesh that Saithan starts to feel like a lesser film, with caricaturish antagonists (a comic bit between Dinesh and the villain almost ruins the climax), over-the-top stunts (which feel like the result of Vijay Antony’s rising star power) and rushed-through revelations. The shift in tone is jarring, but thankfully, it doesn’t derail the film.
Vijay Antony is one actor from the current generation willing to explore new frontiers in commercial cinema. He has this knack of choosing scripts which are slightly off-beat, even though they’re not devoid of ‘masala’ elements. His latest film — Saithan, directed by debutant Pradeep Krishnamoorthy — has a spellbinding first half and moves like a psychological thriller, before turning into a mass hero film.
Vijay Antony in a still from ‘Saithan’Vijay Antony in a still from ‘Saithan’
Straightaway, you are hooked to the story of Dinesh (Antony) an IT professional who lives a normal life with his mother (Meera Krishna). Suddenly, after his marriage through a matrimonial site to Aishwarya (Arundhati Nair), he starts hearing strange voices asking him to either commit suicide or go in search of a ‘Jayalakshmi’ and kill her! His sympathetic boss (YG Mahendran) takes him to a psychiatrist (Kitty), who finds out that in his previous birth, he was a school teacher in Tanjore who was murdered by his wife. Dinesh goes to Tanjore to unravel his past, which leads to some startling discoveries.
At the beginning of the film, the director acknowledges in the credits that he has been inspired by the late Sujatha’s novel Aah . The first half of the film moves like a bullet, leaving you no time to think. And in the second half, due to some smart packaging, the hero turns into a one-man army who takes on the baddies. The last 20 minute have Antony as the avenging hero, shades of Vikram in Shankar’s Aniyaan, playing to the gallery.
What works is the engaging first half and the new and improved Vijay Antony, who is terrific throughout the film, and carries it with ease. He is far more relaxed and convincing than in his earlier films as a mass hero. Arundathi Nair does a neat job as a homely wife and a deadly killer. The supporting cast of YG Mahendran, Kitty, Charuhasan are aptly cast. The BGM done by Vijay Antony creates the right eerie mood.
Writer and director Pradeep Krishnamoorthy has made a thrilling edge-of-the-seat first half before diluting it in second half with a contrived climax. Probably Antony wanted to boost his Tamil mass hero image, which works in B and C markets.
On the whole, Saithan is a racy (run time: 2 hours and 4 minutes) thriller that keeps you hooked for a large part of the proceedings.