Sai Srinivasa Athreya (Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya)

Created by Swaroop RSJ, Krishna Naroju & Naveen Polishetty

India gets its very own wannabe private eye in Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, a 2019 comedy thriller starring Naveen Polishetty as SAI SRINIVASA ATHREYA, an amiable doofus who’s seen way too many detective movies.

So naturally he sets up his own detective agency, The Fatima Bureau of Investigation (FBI, for short) in a small, suitably shabby office in the market area of Nellore, a small city on the banks of Penna River in India. The office itself is a dump–fluorescent lighting bolted to the high ceiling, a desk and a small computer, surrounded by unfinished concrete walls sporting several splotches of peeling paint and dubious stains, maps of the area, a dartboard and a poster of Sherlock Holmes.

He claims Holmes as his hero, but it’s obvious–judging by his fedora and his fondness for overcoats (it’s India, fercryingoutloud!) that more than a few hard-boiled private dicks have factored in as well. Oh, and he insists on being called “Agent.”

He’s even somehow convinced a young woman to be his assistant and trainee: the often-bemused Sneha, whose “training” seems to consist of watching a slew of detective and crime films, and listening to her boss prattling on about famous literary detectives. He also dispenses some invaluable advice to Sneha, like

  • always carry a take-away coffee cup (actual coffee is optional)
  • dress with style and panache
  • always suspect the most innocent person
  • people sometimes don’t tell the truth

The film unfolds slowly, as Agent and Snehu work a number of alluded-to small cases (a small robbery at a temple, tracing milk packet thieves, etc.), while Agent bides his time, waiting for the big case that will make him famous. It finally kicks in about 45 minutes in, but there’s no real client. Instead, a case is dumped into Athreya’s lap–when he’s tossed in jail and a fellow inmate bemoans the rape and possible murder of his missing daughter, although it turns out to be not so much a case as a series of perplexing, confusing Kafkaesque incidents, involving dead bodies and an assortment of dead end scenes which didn’t seem to have much to do with anything, except to feed into Agent’s paranoia and delusional fantasies.

I’ll admit I tried, but I just couldn’t buy into it. It can’t seem to decide if it’s a parody of the genre, a tribute or an addition, and it just dragged and dragged, with far too much of the film concerned with establishing the characters, and too little concerning with storytelling. And not being Indian myself, I’m sure I missed a lot of the in-jokes. The film received a generous amount of flag-waving and generally favorable reviews in India.

Naveen Polishetty, who co-wrote the screenplay, is certainly an affable enough gumshoe, bringing a certain roguish, Jake Doyle-type charm to the proceedings, even as he keeps tripping over his own enthusiasm, and Shruti Sharma, as Sneha, is the perfect foil–a clear-eyed but long-suffering innocent bystander caught up in the ongoing wreckage her boss leaves in his wake. I’d love to see them return in something with more of a story.

Your mileage may vary.

UNDER OATH

  • Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya is not the kind of film that will mesmerise you or hold you in awe, but it is a far more accomplished film than the average Tollywood offering. And though it isn’t completely satisfying, it gives us the pleasure of watching a clean movie that can be viewed with anyone, from kids to older people, on a rainy weekend.”
    –Murali Krishna (June 2019, Cinema Xpress)

  • “Naveen has arrived into Telugu cinema with a bang. His acting as Agent is impeccable. He is humorous and serious as demanded by the role. The heroine Shruthi got a decent role and did good. The supporting cast which comprises of mostly new faces did pretty good job too. Director who co-wrote the screenplay with Naveen stuck to the script which they believed in and it should work wonders for them. Movie’s only drawback is the dip in pace in last 30 minutes. Overall, this movie is like a breath of fresh air into Telugu cinema and its entertaining too. Go watch it.”
    — Connoisseur (June 2019, nelloreodimaata)

FILMS

  • AGENT SAI SRINIVASA ATHREYA Watch it now!
    (2019,
    Swadharm Entertainment)
    148 minutes
    Premiere: May 31, 2019
    Language: Telugu
    Story by Swaroop RSJ & Krishna Naroju
    Screenplay by Swaroop RSJ & Naveen Polishetty
    Dialogue by Swaroop RSJ
    Additional dialogue by GR Divya Narayanan)
    Directed by Swarooj RSJ
    Starring Naveen Polishetty asATHREYA
    With Shruti Sharma as Sneha
    Also starring 
    Krishneswara Rao, Suhas, Sandeep Raj, Ramdutt, Shredha Rajagopalan, Viswanath, Prashant, Darbha Appaji Ambarisha, Vinu Varma, Lavanya, Mahija
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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