Director: Swaroop Rsj
Stars: Naveen Polishetty, Sharma Shruti, Darbha Appaji Ambarisha
Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya (ASSA) starts off quite conventionally for a comedy thriller. Athreya (Naveen Polishetty), who likes to fashion himself in trench coats and hats, is inspired by numerous fictional detectives (mainly Sherlock Holmes). He introduces his assistant, Sneha (Shruti Sharma), to his ways of working humorously. He drops the names of Hollywood classics, like The Shawshank Redemption, Shutter Island, The Silence of the Lambs, and L.A. Confidential to let Sneha know that he's watched all the thrillers. Sometime later in the film, he borrows the ideas used by Drushyam's Rambabu (played by Venkatesh) to tell a prisoner that he can be out on bail if his lawyer helps him get fake bills from another city.
His brain is bubbling with creative thoughts. For all his boasting, you would think that his office is in a high rise with a sea-facing view. But that's where the film uses comedy well. He operates out of a small office in a vegetable market. He's the only person in Nellore to drink coffee from a Starbucks cup. And he's a detective who doesn't drive, or chase after criminals himself. In fact, he lets Sneha tail a bearded suspect that looks too dangerous. Athreya's smooth-talking and quick-thinking, but can't defend himself when he finds himself at the other end of a knife. He needs Sneha in a scene where he's about to get killed. Men aren't saved by women usually; unless it involves romance and toxic masculinity. But, here, it's totally different.
Naveen, like Sandeep Raj and Suhas, who also star in the film, earned fame on YouTube before they trained their eyes on the silver screen. Though Naveen entered the industry with Sekhar Kammula's 2012 comedy drama, Life is Beautiful, he's better known for playing a frustrated engineer in AIB's sketches. That way, these actors have tested the waters and are sure about their expressions and gestures. Naveen, especially, knows to what extent a scene can be stretched (he's credited for the screenplay). His screen-ego, Athreya, shows no sign of defeat. Even when the odds are stacked against him, he shows confidence and resilience. The only thing that brings tears to his tired eyes is not being able to perform his mother's last rites.
He's a detective who doesn't drive, or chase after criminals himself. In fact, he lets Sneha tail a bearded suspect that looks too dangerous. Athreya's smooth-talking and quick-thinking, but can't defend himself when he finds himself at the other end of a knife.
That sentimental yearning is planted early in the film and it neatly connects the dots in the end. When Athreya is sent out of a crime scene with a slap by a cop in the opening scenes, you know that these little crumbs are set up for something bigger. I didn't mind the casual pace of the first half hour, for Naveen's easy exuberance is charming and gallantly effective. Sneha isn't exactly the Watson to his Sherlock. She's rather a stand-in for all the questions the viewers might have about the main case that the movie deals with – an unidentified body shows up on a railway platform and Athreya, while scanning the area for clues, gets arrested. While behind bars, he gets a chance to use his intelligence to nab the culprits that are responsible for a young woman's murder.
The genre, in which this film is tightly placed, provides a playground for jokes to be made on the idea of a homegrown detective. In this year's Kannada thriller, Bell Bottom, somebody says, "defective," instead of, "detective." And in ASSA, only a handful of cops respect the work that Athreya does. Others simply ignore him, or mock him for his outlandishness. These scenes aren't what one might call the core of the film, but they define the genre excellently, and cushion some of the darker themes. Consider the superstitious beliefs that ASSA highlights in the third act. Every organized religion wants to prove that it's better than the rest, but one is just as worse as the others when it comes to blind faith.
The 2005 twisty thriller from the house of Chandra Sekhar Yeleti, Anukokunda Oka Roju, also covered similar subjects. Both these films raised their voices against the regressive practices followed by a majority of theists. As long as there are people who think they can reach greater heights in life, or attain moksha, by running after invisible plans that are scripted by myths, there'll be schemers and criminals.
If director Swaroop RSJ turns ASSA into a franchise, it'll give some serious competition to the Goodachari series (headlined by Adivi Sesh). And if these detectives join hands to solve more crimes, I'd be all the more happy. Just saying!