Cast: Mahesh Babu, S J Surya and Rakul Preet Singh
Director: A R Murugadoss
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
There is nothing like a perfect spy thriller. But SPYder comes close. It is svelte, swanky and slick in a way that Telugu cinema is lately learning to be. Most important of all, the leading man, none other than Mahesh Babu, arguably Andhra Pradesh's No. 1 star, plays it so cool, he is almost the antithesis of Prabhas' sweaty over-exertive performance in the Baahubali series. An intrinsic aptness is applied to this film about intelligence and espionage. Though there are wide passages of unbelievable visual spectacle and plot twists that coil and recoil through a maze of unrepentant incredulity, there is nonetheless at the core of SPYder a yarn that induces an adrenaline rush in the audience while it rushes to go where angels fear to tread.
SPYder, for all its overweening ambitions to keep the proceedings as real as possible, never quite manages to avoid the outrageous. There is a creeping tension enveloping the lengthy narrative. Though the film is two and half hours long, the length never sits uneasily on the narrative. Though the language is Telugu, I watched it without subtitles and I found no difficulty in following the plot.
Some passages in the screenplay are sheer ingenuity masquerading as masala fare. The post-intermission episode where Mahesh Babu playing a government surveillance agent, takes the help of television-addicted housewives to nab the terrorist, is a work of sheer genius. And the way the hero saves his mother and kid-brother from the sadistic villain has to be seen to be believed.
Innovative writing in Indian cinema is hard to come by. One that synthesises thrills with a certain sobriety so effectively is rare. Murugadoss' writing is always ahead of his (considerable) skills as a director. And that's a good thing. While he lets Mahesh Babu's star power do all the talking (even while the actor himself remains distractingly quiet through most of the mayhem), the director leaves nothing to chance.
There is no point of randomness in the plot. Every episode is written with a precise intent and pulverising purpose.
Consequently the storytelling let loose a cannon that blows the screen apart.
The plot's construct is controlled, measured and kinetic. The narrative takes time to build itself up into a frenzy of excitement. We are introduced to Mahesh Babu's Shiva almost as a boring whitecollar government officer determined to save distressed lives.
"I am no Superman or Spiderman," Shiva tells his friend and then proceeds with intense irony to peak the pique, as Shiva takes on a psychopath who has a back story that tells us with disturbing directness that the psychopath loves to kill for the fun of it.
The climax in a collapsing multi-storeyed hospital is shot with an eye for cataclysmic kicks.
But I wish the song breaks had been done away with. They are distracting in a medieval show of musical freedom. Also, Rakul Preet Singh playing the female lead is used almost like a comic sidekick to the hero, the way Sonakshi Sinha was used by Murugadoss in Holiday: A Soldier Is Never Off Duty. Either he makes the heroine the hero of the film, as he did in Akira or he just uses her as a prop. Is there no middle ground for a more balanced gender equation?
The crux and the crisis of the plot converge on Mahesh Babu and the antagonist played by S J Surya. One is understated almost to the point of showing no emotion. The other lets it all hang out. They make quite a pair, the yin and yang whose action speaks far louder than their words.
Oh yes, there is a delectable tongue-in-cheek homage to Murugadoss's Ghajini, which is shown being screened in a theatre while Mahesh Babu searches for a character who helps piece the villain's life together.
The more we explore the anatomy of violence in cinema the more it appears to the same.
Murugadoss takes a familiar bad-guy-good-guy plot and converts it into a compelling cat-and-mouse game shot in colours and favours that suggest life in times of impending death.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)