Now to the meaty parts of this multi-layered dish. It is the story of a middle class income father Sugreeva (Shivraj Kumar) who takes a bunch of people in the emergency ward of a hospital hostage since he doesn't have the money to finance his only son's heart transplant operation. While the concept by itself may seem new to some, one has to realize that this just happens to be, sadly, a remake of another mediocre movie called 'John Q' starring Denzel Washington which was released in 2002. Whats worse is that movie was then remade into Hindi starring Sanjay Dutt in 2006 as 'Thataastu' which sank into oblivion without so much as a whimper. Why this Kannada team would hence choose to remake a mediocre original and a flop Hindi counterpart is beyond me. But nevertheless, they did and the outcome unfortunately isn't anything spectacularly different either.
What does help the cause is Shivraj Kumar. Given his age and the fact that the schedule was a jam packed 18 hours, it wouldn't have been easy to make the swift transition from set to set, place to place and the roller coaster of emotional quotients. It is his energetic presence which actually makes this otherwise mediocre fare seem somewhat bearable. Had it not been for his consistent conviction, this movie would have been an absolute disaster to view. For that, one needs to congratulate the veteran for still being in high spirits when it comes to physical and mental contribution to such a project. Right from being the doting father to the ambitious dancer to the desperate hijacker, Shivraj Kumar brings a lot of commitment to the stage which just about manages to keep this movie engaging enough to watch till the end credits roll. Yagna Shetty sort of repeats her role from 'Eddelu Manjunatha' as the helpless middle class wife stuck in desperate situations. I look forward to seeing more of her given her immense potential to be onscreen level of comfort but I also hope she doesn't get typecast in the same role each time! The supporting cast chips in as appropriate with the slight exception of the ill tempered cop who, for some unknown reason, takes the whole event rather personally and wants to shoot the hijacker dead without proper introspection of the causes and consequences of the event. Cinematic liberty, perhaps.
Given its limited time frame, 'Sugreeva' doesn't feel entirely like a haphazard attempt. It certainly is inconsistent at times with some portions being action heavy and other being extremely melodramatic but still feels like a regular movie. How the presence of 10 directors and the 10 cinematographers really aided in enhancing the quality of the story is something that alluded me. What's sad is had this been an original thriller, it would have probably gone on to be an iconic milestone in all of Indian cinema in fact. But it seems the focus was more on making that 18 hour shooting record rather than spending a few more hours thinking of an original script. This semantic ends up harming the film profusely with some needlessly forced comedy scenes and an extended version of a reality dance show with a mandatory dance by Shivraj Kumar which doesn't gel well with the narrative.
Many years ago 'Idu Sadhya' had suffered the same problem. The plot was so cliché and predictable despite being a murder mystery that the entire marketing gimmick of it being shot in 24 or 48 hours (I think!) was absolutely meaningless. Producers tend to forget that the time taken to shoot a movie has nothing to do with its eventual quality. If that had been the case then the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy should have been a gigantic disaster at the box office. Nevertheless, 'Sugreeva' is certainly a one-time watch.