Devil Review: This Haphazard Espionage Film Has Enough Spirit But Not Enough Surprises

The effort is on display in this period actioner but the lack of stakes deter it from being the edge-of-the-seat thriller it hopes it be
Devil Review
Devil Review

Cast: Nandamuri Kalyan Ram, Samyuktha Menon, Malavika Nair and Vasishta N Simha

Director: Abhishek Nama

Writer: Srikanth Vissa

Duration: 146 minutes

Available in: Theatres

“My next move is a surprise,” says Agent Devil (Kalyan Ram), at one point in his investigation of a murder in Rasapadu, a fictitious town in pre-independent India. Unfortunately, if you have seen enough films, you'd know exactly what his next move is, and there’s zero surprise. As the title suggests, Devil is a British secret service agent sent to probe the murder of the young daughter of a Zamindar. Why do you need a British secret agent to investigate a crime, Devil wonders, and rightly so. But there’s so much more to the plot. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, his INA, and the freedom struggle slowly begin to take the forefront as the plot thickens, and we quickly realise that the murder investigation is only a tiny aspect of a much larger conspiracy. On paper, Devil has it all, ambition, scale, patriotism, carefully placed red herrings, twists, and more importantly, stakes. In the film too, they are all present but somehow, they don’t always create the rousing impact they are intended to, even though it soars in a couple of instances.

A still from Devil
A still from Devil

Devil is one of those films where it is hard to pinpoint what is holding the film back from reaching its full potential because everything appears functional. It is by, no means, a lazy effort. There are moments of genuine intensity, especially in the second half, where the drama and the conspiracy get thicker. The biggest twist in the film, which is revealed in a British prison/torture chamber, halfway through the second half and is followed by a bloody action sequence, is the film’s strongest stretch and you wish the film had more such moments to offer. 

Novel Exteriors, Cliched Interiors 

Is it the casting that’s deterring us from fully believing in the film’s world? It’s the same stock actors that we see in every film. We have Satya play second fiddle to the hero, serving as the recipient for all the exposition so our doubts about the narrative are cleared. It’s the same Srikanth Iyengar playing yet another eccentric and rhetorical character. It’s the same Ajay, playing yet another cunning character that we have seen him play a dozen times before. The British villains (whose English dialogues overlap with Telugu translation, with a fake English accent) sound just like every bad guy in every Telugu movie. The popular 'Koti college' that we see in every movie is also here, doubling up as the British Secret Service office. I might sound like I’m nitpicking, but the truth is, that these elements keep us reminded of the fact that we are watching yet another Telugu movie that’s just pretending to look different, using the period setting as a facade, but at the core, it is the same Telugu film we see every week. This is why even when the bad guys brutally torture men, women and even kids, the impact is barely felt. Devil is a reminder that little things make or break a word. Likewise, visual choices like stylised drone shots and using lights within the frame behind the characters to beautify the shot come across as anachronisms.

A still from Devil
A still from Devil

Lack Of Stakes, The Biggest Deterrent

We are often reminded that Devil is a timebound mission-driven film, but the rush is barely felt in the screenplay. And the direction and staging of the scenes share the blame for the lack of stakes. For instance, Devil saves Nyshadha (Samyuktha Menon) in the second half after what’s supposed be to a big action sequence in the night, and it’s only in the next scene, do we see the neatly dressed leads, peacefully sitting on a dining table, discussing the state and progression of their plans, the next morning. This is a result of a film being written and directed in blocks, without considering the overarching stakes, since they would mandate the characters to behave in a different way; to express some urgency. And yes, "Who is Devil?" Nyshadha asks a character towards the end. If his real name is never revealed to us, what was she calling him all the while? The lack of urgency brings the overall mood of the film down. Sure, the screenplay never deviates from the core plot, but neither do we feel the danger. The best I can say about the screenplay is that it keeps progressing. 

It’s much superior to Spy, which cheaply exploited Subhash Chandra Bose’s legacy, and doesn’t resort to such tactics. Devil is genuinely committed to weaving a tale of espionage, adventure, and revolution from that era but only shines sporadically.

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