Abhishek Nama’s Devil is the kind of film that takes the uninspiring yet glossy route to tell a story that seems interesting on paper. This Nandamuri Kalyan and Samyuktha-starrer starts off as a murder mystery before it veers into a patriotic film that picks up and sheds characters as need be. By the end of it all, you aren’t surprised by anything that unfolds on-screen, even if the makers want to believe otherwise. (Also Read: Devil director Naveen Medaram addresses his name getting dropped from credits: ‘I am deeply disheartened’)
The year is 1945. The setting is a zamindar’s house in Rasapadu. The interiors are decked with silks and finery and the women, in gold. But one day the zamindar’s daughter is found dead. In a narrative style reminiscent of Knives Out or any Hercule Poirot mystery, we are quickly introduced to the numerous suspects, which include the neighbours Patwari and Rosy (Ajay, Elnaaz Norouzi), the cousin Nyshada (Samyuktha), the lover Bhuma (Amit Sharma) and a few others.
But even before you feel fully invested in this dead girl and the motley of characters surrounding her, British agent Devil (Kalyanram) is here to uncover secrets about the murdered girl, morse codes, an infiltrator in the INA (Indian National Army), the truth behind a politician (Malvika Nair) – the list goes on. The film veers off track and begins to seem like a mix of RRR and Spy because the twists that come your way aren’t the most novel.
To give credit where it is due, Devil has a story that’s interesting. It might not be the most novel story out there, but there’s merit in backing the idea of a murder mystery that unravels something much bigger. The opulent sets are a delight, holding your attention while the plot tries to find its footing. The film starts off fine, you are intrigued enough to know who killed the zamindar’s daughter but the songs and the love story seem unnecessary.
The real issue arises when the makers get into the thick of things. Two ‘strong female characters’ are set up, just for them to be relegated to being damsel-in-distresses who fawn at the hero and look at him wide-eyed in awe. In fact, the makers even create situations and throw red herrings just to prop these women up and set them to fall. The ‘big reveal’ the film banks on is as cliche as they come. Devil has these ‘aha!’ moments peppered throughout that don’t really pull the rug from under you.
The cast and crew
The makers prop Kalyanram’s character Devil as someone whose motives can’t be guessed. And despite what this Sherlock’s version of Watson, Sastry (Satya), would like to think, if you’ve seen Indian commercial cinema, you know how all this will play out. None-the-less, both Kalyanram and Samyuktha deliver good performances for the most part. Srikanth Iyengar, Ajay, Shafi, Elnaaz, Satya, Amit and a motley of characters feel wasted, but the biggest injustice has to be to Malvika Nair’s character. All the British actors, especially Mark Bennington and Edward Sonnenblick, suffer from badly worded and dubbed Tenglish (a mix of Telugu and English).
Apart from Gandhi’s art direction, the cinematography by Sounder Rajan is quite good but the music by Harshavardhan Rameshwar is plain okay, so is the editing by Tammiraju. Writer Srikanth Vissa and Abhishek Nama, who claims to have taken over direction from Naveen Medaram, could’ve and should’ve done better to make the film flow better. Because at the end of it all, Devil turns out to be yet another Telugu film that tries way too hard to seem cool while pulling off a tale of espionage.
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