Prabhas and Shraddha Kapoor in ‘Saaho’. Image Credit: Supplied

Once upon a decade there comes a rare film that finds itself in the envious position to throw out the rule book on moviemaking and chart its own path towards box office gold.

With ‘Saaho’ (Bravo in Telugu), director Sujeeth Reddy, producers UV Creations and distributors Phars Films, have undertaken this very journey, riding on the success of its lead star Prabhas, coupled with action sequences that could rival Hollywood’s slickest productions.

‘Saaho’ releases simultaneously on August 30 in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam languages, much like Prabhas’ biggest blockbuster ‘Baahubali’ that unified fans from India’s various film industries.

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Prabhas in 'Saaho'.

The promotional blitzkrieg of ‘Saaho’ has been just as aggressive with the stars of the film making their way to Dubai on August 29 in that final push ahead of its release. With a lot riding on the success of ‘Saaho’, Gulf News tabloid! goes behind the scenes into the makings of this action-thriller.

What is ‘Saaho’ about

While the film’s trailer leaves plenty under wraps, we can tell you that Prabhas plays super spy Ashok Chakravarthy who’s earned a reputation as the resident rule-breaker within India’s RAW agency.

Hollywood’s Kenny Bates is filming key action sequences in the film. The action scenes will set a benchmark in Indian cinema.

- SUJEETH REDDY | Director

A daring Rs2 billion (Dh7.34 billion) heist in Mumbai gets Ashok assigned to the case where he crosses path with Amrita Nair (Kapoor), a no-nonsense cop from Mumbai crime branch. Sparks fly between the two, as they usually do, as the duo uncover a terrorist plot hatched by criminal mastermind Jai (Neil Nitin Mukesh) to annihilate the city.

Jai himself is searching for an elusive black box that is entrenched deep inside the fictitious Waaji City — a place governed by the local resident evil, played by Jackie Shroff, Chunky Pandey, Mahesh Manjrekar and Mandira Bedi.

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Somewhere amid the action, Prabhas and Kapoor find each other at odds and must overcome their differences to stop a global catastrophe.

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saaho hd posters

There has been some speculation in the media that Prabhas could be playing a double role in the film, with a sci-fi element, but the makers have been mum on the subject thus far.

More expensive than ‘Baahubali’

According to box office numbers, ‘Saaho’ is the second most expensive film made in India, produced at a budget of Rs3.25 billion; for those wondering, the pole position is held by Rajnikanth’s ‘2.0’.

‘Saaho’s’ production budget even outpaces that of Prabhas’ ‘Baahubali’, which was reportedly made at a budget of Rs2.5 billion. Naturally, the lead stars of the film have confessed to suffering from sleepless nights with the numbers dangling before their very eyes. Such has been the pressure that Prabhas has vowed not to work on another big budget film in future.

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Shraddha Kapoor and Prabhas.

During an interview with an Indian daily, the actor was quoted as saying: “It is stressful to act in a big-budget film that’s in production for a long time. One could do two to three films in that time. Even Shraddha had to be stuck with this movie for about two years.”

The actress has also confessed to a similar inner turmoil. “This is the first time I have worked in such a big-budget film, so I am excited but nervous as well. People have huge expectations ever since the trailer was released, so I am stressed now.”

Recognise Abu Dhabi in there?

Don’t be surprised if the glittering skyline in ‘Saaho’ appears suspiciously familiar. Director Sujeeth Reddy and UV Creations flew the action thriller’s cast and crew down to the UAE capital for a 40-day film shoot, taking advantage of twofour54’s 30 per cent rebate policy on production spend.

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According to the makers, a crew of 450 professionals were roped in for the shoot, with the action sequences alone taking up half the time to film.

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Mandira Bedi.

Interestingly, production on ‘Saaho’ started a few weeks after two other movies — ‘Mission: Impossible Fallout’, starring Tom Cruise, and ‘Race 3’, starring Salman Khan — wrapped in the emirate last year.

In a press statement at the time, Prabhas spoke about his eagerness to return to Abu Dhabi. “What an incredible time we have had in Abu Dhabi. I have many friends in the industry who have shot here and told me all about the Emirate, however, it has surpassed even their high praise. I truly believe Abu Dhabi is one of the world’s best film locations and I can’t wait to come back.”

Prabhas lost 10 kg for the role

Who says portraying a super spy is easy? For Prabhas, slipping into the role required him to lose 10kg in a bid to look lanky, yet ripped.

His trainer Laxman Reddy revealed Prabhas’ routine during an interview with Indian daily ‘Mid-Day’, talking about his midnight training and hour long cardio sessions.

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“Since he had to lose 10 kg for ‘Saaho’, the hourlong cardio sessions would be either swimming, cycling or playing volleyball.”

The routine even continued during overseas shoots. “We’d carry dumbbells, weights and resistance bands. If we didn’t find a gym, we’d train in rooms. With a pair of dumbbells, you can pull off a large number of variations. Without accessories, we would execute about 100 free squats and walking lunges over hourlong training sessions,” Reddy revealed. “Even if he’d wrap up filming at 12 at night, and regardless of how intense his action sequences of the day were, we would still train later.”

Did Prabhas earn 14 times more than Kapoor?

The buzz in the trade circles has been that Prabhas reportedly charged a whopping Rs1 billion as his starry salary for ‘Saaho’, compared to the, ahem, measly sum of Rs70 million charged by lead actress Kapoor.

However, both claims have been refuted in the lead up to the release —- one by Prabhas himself. In an interview with Indian daily Mumbai Mirror, the actor in fact admitted to taking a salary cut so the makers of the film wouldn’t go over budget.

“‘Baahubali’ has set the bar high, but ‘Saaho’ was a [Rs2.5 billion] film so I knew I couldn’t charge my usual remuneration. I started out with a 20 per cent cut. Then, the film went slightly over and though my friends were ready to pay up, I couldn’t take their money knowing they were putting in so much without thinking of what they would earn.”

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As for Kapoor’s remuneration, well, sources within the industry dismissed it as a PR stunt. In a ‘Deccan Chronicle’ report, a source close to the development responded to the rumours, saying: “This is only her publicity machinery at work. An impression is being created that she has been paid a certain amount in Tollywood to increase her fee in Bollywood. But the truth is that she has been paid a far less amount.”

Hollywood bigwigs driving the action

No Indian film has perhaps created such frenzy over its action sequences in recent times than ‘Saaho’. It helps that not one but two Hollywood stunt directors are in the seat to drive the action in the film, namely Kenny Bates (‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’, ‘The Italian Job’) and Peng Zhang (‘Rush Hour’).

During a media interaction with UAE press last year, Prabhas gave many of us a sneak peek into what ‘Saaho’ would bring to the big screen.

“We crashed 28 cars and five trucks… It was amazing to watch because he [Bates] wanted everything real, not CG. ‘Saaho’ was shot in a real manner and it’s something new in a long time… I even rode a bike super fast” said Prabhas at the time.

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Elsewhere, Zhang was busy directing an eight-minute action spectacle for the film’s climax in a 10-acre plot in the Liwa desert, where Prabhas will battle 100 international fighters.

“Kenny is filming two to three key action sequences in the film. The scenes will appear at a key moment in the film and will involve Prabhas and Shraddha Kapoor,” director Sujeeth told ‘Times of India’, adding: “The action scenes in ‘Saaho’ will set a new benchmark in Indian cinema.”

IMAX Screening

Few Indian films have released in the Imax format, with names such as ‘Dhoom 3’, ’Gold’ and ‘2.0’ are the only few that come to mind.

However, with Telugu superstar Prabhas spearheading the lead, it was but a natural choice to cash in on the action sequences and the actor’s fame to give the film an Imax push across the globe.

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“We are thrilled to partner with UV-Creations and T-Series on the release of Saaho, a pulse-pounding, non-stop action epic that deserves to be experienced in Imax,” Megan Colligan, President of Imax Entertainment and Executive Vice President, Imax Corp told IANS.

Inside Jacqueline Fernandez’s ‘Bad Girl’ act

If you’ve been keeping up with the ‘Saaho’ updates then you’re sure to have caught Bollywood star Jacqueline Fernandez groove to a special song in the film that has been composed, written, and performed by Badshah and also features Neeti Mohan.

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‘Bad Boy’, as the track is called, throws up some picturesque locales that were largely filmed in the Croatian city of Pula.

Fernandez documented her visit to Pula on her YouTube Channel, complete with moments of drama after her suitcase carrying her costumes couldn’t be opened after the key went missing.

According to Fernandez, she had zero time to rehearse for the track considering she was busy shooting for her Netflix drama, ‘Mrs Serial Killer’. But in those 2.5 days to shoot the track, the actress and Prabhas successfully pull off some killer moves.

Alia Bhatt, Sonam Kapoor were in the running

If the Bollywood buzz is to be believed, Alia Bhatt and Sonam Kapoor were initially in the running to play the female lead before Shraddha Kapoor swooped in for the kill.

According to rumours, Bhatt was the first to be approached on reference by mentor and film produced Karan Johar, who, incidentally, distributed the Hindi version of ‘Baahubali’. However, unsatisfied with her screen time, Bhatt reportedly turned down the film.

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Later, Sonam Kapoor was approached but things never panned out. According to a report in DNA, a source was quoted as saying, “The filmmakers gave Sonam a brief idea of the film, and she agreed to meet them. But neither did the meeting happen nor did the makers return with a bound script.”

Don’t miss it!

‘Saaho’ is out in the UAE on August 30.