Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya is a textbook crime drama, where every thread almost ties in perfectly for a great part of the movie. There is the perfect crime, and the perfect cover-up. At the heart of it is a mega-scam, and the layers keep unravelling through the movie. It keeps the audience riveted and involved, making us guess and see things from the eyes of an amateur detective, Athreya (Naveen Polishetty), who is looking for his one big case.
And he finds it; except, it is not entirely a coincidence that he does.
After a slow start to the narrative, things get interesting when Athreya, along with his assistant (Shruti), stumbles on to the case of unidentified dead bodies which are discovered near railway tracks. The mysterious connections are not at once revealed to the audience. Subsequent murders make things dicier.
Athreya chases one tiny clue after another, and at one point, it feels like the case has been solved, that it is too easy, that it was all expected. And then, things turn topsy-turvy and the wild goose chase starts all over again.
Director Swaroop bases his crime drama's theme on the superstitions of people and how these could be used against them. His underdog detective Athreya, impecunious but passionate, is obsessed with solving crime, and shows his penchant for observations, repeatedly in the movie. In a pace-setting scene early in the story, when mocked whether he is a crime agent or an LIC agent, Athreya narrates to a man the latter's complete itinerary - giving viewers a taste of the same investigative drama that sends Sherlock fans into a tizzy.
The make-believe ability of this detective settled, the movie gently nudges us forward into the big case - loose threads, dead bodies, suspicious cops, and conspiracies woven right in front of our eyes. In the end, when the case is solved, you realise it was a good story after all, despite the fact that it was textbook - all the tropes perfectly there, and yet, not robbing the seasoned crime drama audience of the surprising twists.
Naveen is spontaneous, barely hamming it in any scene, carrying himself well through a script that is a dream for anyone trying to make it big in the film industry. He is let down at times by the dubbing mismatches, but overall this is an actor who can play some fine character roles in times to come (hopefully, he wouldn't chase the song-dance-fight routine). While Shruti does her best, it is a little disappointing that in the second half her role is drastically undermined.
The plot finds fun from within - effectively avoiding digressing through the use of extraneous elements, a common annoying plot in many contemporary movies. Sunny Kurrapati's cinematography is extremely impressive, the frames creating the right suspense, the lighting stewing the right amount of drama in every scene, and giving the audience the right setting to explore a harrowing mystery in the town of Nellore.
The inefficient editing towards the fag end of the movie (the length is shortened down for some reason, compared to the original timing mentioned) makes things happen very fast. Where the story should have taken a brief pause before plunging headlong into the final lap, the screenplay continues to sprint, disorienting viewers a little bit at the end. The pauses and drama needed for a detective to make deductions are removed to make things quicker at the climax. If not for this flaw, the movie would have been one of the finest crime drama thrillers in recent times.
Despite the rushed treatment, let's not take away too much from a movie, that cannot be called predictable at all, while weaving in an impactful theme about human superstitions as an undertone. With a little more budget (probably the item song budget of a big star movie), and a slightly better treatment, it could have been a memorable outing. As it stands, it isn't so bad either.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.