Vakeel Saab(Amazon, Telugu)
Starring: Pawan Kalyan, Nivetha Thomas, Anjali, Ananya Nagalla, Prakash Raj, and Shruthi Haasan.
Directed by Venu Sriram
Closer in spirit to the Tamil version Nerkonda Paarvai than the original Hindi film Pink, Vakeel Saab has its heart in the right place, even as it takes huge uncalled-for liberties with the original script, liberties that add nothing to to the story of three city-girls and their fight for justice after being attacked one night by a privileged spoilt brat(Vamsi Krishna, well played) and his parasitical friends and protected by the perverse politics of patriarchy .
While the basic plot remains the same in Telugu what has changed radically is the positioning of the hero. With Pawan Kalyan on board as a lawyer fighting to get justice for the trio of damnified girls, the washed-out bipolar lawyer with a paralyzed bedridden wife from the original transforms into a students leader and a champion of the downtrodden with Shruti Haasan literally stalking him until he relents.
A question for the writer-director Venu Sriram: is it okay to celebrate stalking(albeit gender-reversed) in a film that is so deeply concerned with women’s safety? That whole flashback with Haasan should be immediately removed surgically from what is otherwise a reasonably well-intended courtroom drama with Nivetha Thomas , Anjali and Ananya Nagalla doing their own thing with roles that Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tariang owned in the original. Nivetha as Pallavi, the prime accused is specially effective in conveying her anguish through silences.
As for Pawan Kalyan’s legal eagle act, I have to confess I like the way he argues in court, not through an exaggerated show of anguish and concern, but in a tone that is remarkably cynical of the legal procedure.And after every argument questioning patriarchal rules of feminine behavior, Pawan’s hands are stretched out quizzically in front of the judge in a grandiloquent WTF gesture. I loved that gesture.
Pawan Kalyan knows he has a formidable adversary in the courtroom in Prakash Raj. They work well together , far more so than Mr Bachchan and Mr Piyush Mishra in the original.
Which is not to say that this Telugu version of Pink is a better film than the original. It is not. Vakeel Saab doesn’t aspire to be better,just good enough. It wants to put forward the No-means-No argument in a more commercial language. In that endeavour, it succeeds swimmingly sliding in and out of chauvinistic arguments will well-oiled drama that never goes overboard.
Also, I’d like to point out that the moral bandwidth for the three girl’s moral evaluation has been considerably changed. Here their supposed transgressions as seen through the unforgiving male gaze, looks far less glaring. These are girls who just want to stay on the right side of the moral boundaries because one has a family to support, another has loans to pay, etc etc.
At the end of it all, I came away from Vakeel Saab unoffended. No harm done to the supposedly sacrosanct original. Even the two fights that have been added at the beginning and towards the end to amplify Pawan Kalayan’s star power, make sense.If we are going to change the way women are judged by their clothes and drinking habits then we need super-heroes ,preferably those who can stretch their arms out in court to show our incredulity and distrust at a system that allows a potential rapist to say in court under oath(I swear!) that girls from decent families don’t wear short dresses and drink at parties.