The start of the viewer could be from multiple points: a compare from different hues of the Hindi film Pink; from the viewpoint of the Pavan Kalyan fan; from the view of the uninitiated.
Let’s start from the last: To those who came in late, Vakeel Saab tells the story of three girls – all from lower middle-class families who get to the city for their career. They share a flat owned by Sudhakar. The girls: Pallavi (Nivetha Thomas), Zarina (Anjali) and Ananya (Ananya) are out for a fun filled evening that ends in a disaster. They land up in a mess and a guy Vamshi (Vamshi) with political clout is supported by MP Rajendar (Mukesh Rishi). Living in a middle-class backdrop, the lives of the girls is shattered by lewd aggressors, mocking neighbourhood, till an alcoholic lawyer Satya Dev (Pavan Kalyan) takes on the challenge. However, this protagonist steals script space and the narrative moves from the trauma of the threesome to the idealist past of Satya Dev.
At halftime we are heading to the canteen and then the court for the film announces: Arguments begin – charged for offences under Article 307 read with 324 of the IPC – we have Satya Dev defending and an affluent arrogant successful stereotype lawyer Nanda (Prakash Raj) prosecuting Pallavi along with Zarina and Ananya. Another angular vision is from the perspective of the PK fan: surely, he has the most meaty role of his career, he has the punch filled dialogues punctuated with all the political hues that suit his contemporary twin avatar.
His fans are sure going to be satiated. Since the central character in the film is Vakeel Saab, the credibility depends on his delivery – more importantly how his audience accept him in a role different from everything hitherto in display. He sure energises the whistle filling opportunities in the script. Contextually he is up in compare with Prakash Raj who too is in a toned-down outing. The three girls – Nivetha Thomas, Anjali and Ananya are adequate. The fact that they are different from the typical Tollywood “heroine mould” is good enough.
Now comes the acid test: The Pink Compare. All comparisons are bound to be inaccurate. That notwithstanding they are bound to be made. Surely Venu Sriram knew it was coming. Substantially similar to the Tapsee – Amitabh Bachchan starrer, this film makes ‘changes’ – changes targeting the PK fans. Every time the film moves away from Pink, it fails. The needless long drawn tale about Satya Dev is not only tedious but distracting from the mainstay. The needless melodrama in the court scenes, angry showdowns and scream slugfest completely robs the otherwise well-structured and researched court scenes of credibility and authenticity.
There is a scene in the film when Satya Dev trims his beard, dusts the books, removes the cover before the plunge. Unfortunately, Venu Sriram does none of them. Viewed singularly from the limited keyhole of Telugu Cinema, this is a genuine attempt and at best decent. In compare, it surely fails to stand. It ends up more in contrast than in compare.
To the cineaste and at the cost of the fury of the fans one lurking question in the mind of the critic surely is whether Venu Sriram compromised a tad too much and did he begin with the cast. Somewhere along, Pavan Kalyan declares that whatever he does, it is alag. Conceded but that could well be the major undoing. It could yet again reflect as how an entire industry is willing to place the star above the actor, gloss over content, commerce over art.
Vakeel Saab: the verdict is a mixed one. Good at the box office. Good for the star, the producer and a section of the audience. This is more than you can ask for. Any greater expectations is foolhardy to begin with even if similar to the indulgence of the filmmaker. This court room drama has punch but a great opportunity to make a masterpiece goes abegging.