Director: Manoj Beedha
Cast: Santhanam, Riya Suman, Pugazh, Redin Kingsley, Munishkanth, Bhargav Polara
Bigger budgets and the involvement of more established technicians have surely made the Tamil remake of Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya (2019) a very different film. If the original overflowed with an indie spirit (director Manoj Beedha’s Vanjagar Ulagam (2018) was loaded with it) that urged its viewers to pick the film’s side, Agent Kannayiram arrives with more sophistication and polish. It’s not the kind of frame-to-frame remake you might expect when the original is as much a plot-heavy thriller as it was a comedy. To accommodate Santhanam’s comedic style and a set of supporting characters that suit this brand, the film further modifies itself, pushing it away from the charms of the original.
In terms of the making, you feel the effort the film takes (it’s shot by Theni Eashwar and Saravanan Ramasamy) to double down on its heavily stylised, quirky tone. There’s an obsession with keeping frames asymmetric with an equal amount of devotion to angles tilted to one side. Agent Kannayiram’s (Santhanam) own anachronistic universe provides a lot of material to further push the quirkiness. He lives in a trailer, he drives an old Fiat and his clothes are meant to resemble the wardrobe of old detective movies from across the world. The setting, including the Venetian blinds in his dilapidated trailer, contributes to the film’s pseudo-noir tonality. When you add Yuvan’s jazzy score to this world, the film is amusing and peculiar at least for the first half hour or so. There seems to be a direction the film wants to take for an audience that hasn’t seen the original. But there’s only so much these decisions can do once the plot kicks in.
For one, there’s always a conflict between the kind of comedy the film is going for and the brand of sarcastic humour Santhanam brings in every few scenes. When it is organic to the film’s tone, these jokes are subtle and enjoyable. But when the film stretches to create LOL moments, especially with the actors rather than the writing, you feel the dissonance between the film and these scenes. This is also the case with some of the changes made to the original script. The film opens with a long flashback to establish a strong bond between Kannayiram and his mother and the family circumstances that led him to his first investigation. A film that has so much going for it in terms of world-building oddly begins with a generic flashback that could be fit into any film with any story. Which gives us the feeling that we’re being rushed into a new kind of movie almost immediately afterwards. This kind of tonal inconsistency is felt right through the first half when it tries to balance the emotional heft of a son not being able to see his mother one last time with an ultra-quirky comedy inhabited by a series of likeable fools.
It is only when the film transforms entirely into an investigation does it find a more consistent tone. The jokes recede to the background and the plot takes care of the rest to make the stylised touches serve the screenplay and not the other way around like at the start. Eventually, so much time is spent to arrive at a mid ground that you’re only left with a strong sense of indifference. It’s like a mix of several great ideas that were forced to become something even greater. In that effort, you get a just-about-watchable comedy thriller that you start forgetting as you’re watching it.