Spyder review: AR Murugadoss's film is a very Indian Batman meets Minority Report

Release Date: 27 Sep 2017 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 25min

Cinestaan Rating

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Shriram Iyengar

Murugadoss's spy thriller is a complete Mahesh Babu entertainer, but it fails to make an impact with its predictable ending.

As a debate about the nature and extent of privacy rages across the country, AR Murugadoss's Spyder delivers a completely commercial entertainer built around a premise that justifies snooping into private records. Starring Mahesh Babu, SJ Surya, and Rakul Preet Singh, the film is a whirlwind chase with some interesting twists and turns that keep you entertained.

The film begins, quite aptly, by following Shiva (Mahesh Babu), who works in the digital surveillance wing of the Intelligence Bureau in Hyderabad. Shiva is a legally employed Batman (without the fibreglass costume), who snoops into calls, e-mails, and WhatsApp messages to prevent a crime before it happens. As the Batman meets Minority Report vigilante, he skirts every possible law present to protect the privacy of a citizen with the sole justification of 'preventing crime and ensuring national security'. Not even the police commissioner of Hyderabad is exempt from this surveillance.

To be fair, Shiva's HoD does mention that the snooping is 'illegal, but necessary'. This does not prevent Shiva, who creates an app that monitors conversations to flag words like 'danger', 'help', 'bomb' to alert him about threats. To add, he does not share this information with his seniors, but functions as a secret vigilante hunting criminals and preventing crime on his own.

It is during one such random alert that he sends a friendly cop to check on a scared girl in an empty house. The cop and the girl end up being chopped to pieces. This puts Shiva on the hunt of a serial killer, and forms the crux of the film. As Shiva sets out in search, he encounters the grisly story of Sudalai (SJ Surya) and his brother (Bharath), whose murderous streak extends to 10 years. His investigation soon leads him to Sudalai's brother. 

But before he can bring him to justice, Sudalai sends out a Heath Ledger-as-Joker-influenced video announcing that he has hidden 23 bodies in the pillars of the under-construction metro in Hyderabad, and if his brother is harmed, there will be more murders across the city. Shiva shoots Sudalai's brother in full view of the public, marking the intermission, and the beginning of a thrilling cat-and mouse drama between Shiva and Sudalai. 

AR Murugadoss's film begins quite slowly, with a couple of deviations from the main plot (one being Rakul Preet Singh's character) but picks up pace after the intermission. Packed with some interesting twists and turns, scintillating action, and a despicable villain, the film has enough ammunition to create some spark at the box office. The film also pays homage to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008) with its sadistic, misanthropic villain who plans on wrecking a city, murdering people with some innovative thinking.

The influence is strongest in the scene of Sudalai's interrogation, where he sends the police (and Shiva, of course) to stop another catastrophe while he makes a stylish, murderous escape. The climax, set in a hospital, also has strong reminders of a sequence from The Dark Knight. In fact, in the climactic battle, Sudalai's laugh offers a full tribute to Ledger's Joker complete with a blood-streaked smile.

The thrilling cat-and-mouse game between the hero and his antagonist makes for an interesting watch. At every step, the villain finds himself thwarted, only to allow himself to be captured and turn the tables on the hero. Then comes the hero's turn to try and prevent the catastrophes from happening with his omniscient thinking and courage.

In all this, the cops remain the last people on the spot everytime. If only they had access to the information Shiva is sitting on.

SJ Surya as Sudalai is good, but sometimes plays the character over the top. Murugadoss does well in offering no explanations to his sadistic behaviour. The character embodies Nolan's explanation of the Joker with Alfred's line, 'Some people just want to watch the world burn'. With his eeriely calm expression and rasping voice, the actor delivers a commendable performance. 

The flaws, if any, lie in the limited expressions of Mahesh Babu. Apart from his clenched and later relaxed jaw, the actor meets sorrow and ecstasy with the similitude that would have made Rudyard Kipling proud.

Rakul Preet Singh has little to do, other than looking pretty and fawning over Mahesh Babu. The actress has the pitiful task of having to play a heroine who is neither a damsel-in-distress nor a pillar of support to her hero. Further, it bothered your reviewer that Murugadoss arranges the introduction of his lead pair through stalking.

Shiva overhears a private conversation about porn between Charlie (Singh) and her friend in the middle of the night. He doubles up by, to put it politely, following the girl all the way to her college, theatres, and in railway stations. Most girls would have turned to the cops after this, even if the 'stalker' looks like Mahesh Babu. But that would be fictional.

Murugadoss garnishes his film well with touches of technology, but not enough to justify the very stylish-looking trailer. Fans looking for the robotic spider will be disappointed by its absence, apart from being a desk toy. The director does plot the film well, but the capture, escape, and eventual death of the villain seem a little too abrupt and difficult to process.

The luring of housewives, using a television serial, no less, to scan the neighbourhood and find the hidden serial killer is scarcely believable. It allowed the producer to plug in products like Pothy's sarees and even a teleserial, Saravanan Meenatchi, though. The death of Sudalai feels incomplete, as he goes down with little resistance in the climax. For Murugadoss, who holds a track record of films like Ghajini (2008), Thuppaki (2012) and Gabbar Is Back (2015), this feels a little disappointing. 

Then, of course, there is the question of justifying such snooping. This is done by an emotional lecture, delivered by Mahesh Babu at the end of the film, calling on people to look up from their cell phones and computers and help the people around them. Rediscover humanity, he tells them, and prevent the creation of more Sudalais. But how would the Intelligence Bureau prevent crime from happening without people using cell phones, internet, and WhatsApp to spread their private information?

While Spyder is entertaining, and has enough action for Mahesh Babu fans, it fails with a fairly predictable ending.