Spyder: A terrific SJ Suryah can’t salvage the film by himself

The loud groans in the theatre each time a badly placed song began playing in Spyder say a lot. The poor placement of these songs — or perhaps their existence itself in the first place —mean that even Murugadoss’ half-hearted efforts at showing the occasional montage fail to redeem them. The hero, Shiva (Mahesh Babu, whose Tamil comes with a mild Telugu flavour), has just lost a friend to a gory death. But then, the heroine, Charlie (Rakul Preet Singh), comes around asking for a fling. So, you get a song. In another scene, Shiva is recovering from a serious injury. He’s driven nuts by the knowledge that the villain is on the prowl. But then, Charlie walks in and lies down by his side. So, you get a you-know-what. Charlie’s general presence is a sign that the story will be on pause for a bit.

The love angle itself, just like the songs, feels out of place. The hero stalks her as always, but unlike in your usual masala films, here, he has the sanction of the government. You see, Shiva works for the Intelligence Bureau and is authorised to tap phones for ‘national security’. At the beginning, the film seems to show mild interest in getting into the right and wrong of it, but then, it’s got more important things to take care of… like duets.

Spyder
Director: AR Murugadoss
Cast: Mahesh Babu, Rakul Preet Singh
Rating: 2.5/5

Shiva, without the knowledge of his boss, uses his phone-tapping skills to try and stop crimes before they happen (something like Minority Report if you will), but soon enough, he stumbles on a call in which Charlie is talking to her friend about watching porn and wanting a fling. Now, you may be the type to hang up immediately, but Shiva is the sort to first check her photo out, and then stalk her for days using his monitoring authority. He eventually tells her about the details of a conversation she had with her friend over the phone. She isn’t alarmed though, and perhaps in deference to the hero of the film, simply giggles in response.

But I imagine he’s an appropriate protagonist in these times of increasing government surveillance and Bigg Boss. Shiva’s friend (RJ Balaji in a blink and miss role) even mimics the opening music of Bigg Boss in one scene. There’s a never-ending sequence in the latter half of the film about a regional soap and a bunch of housewives, who diligently follow Shiva’s orders. Director Murugadoss could have probably gotten away if he’d established that they were fans of Bigg Boss, not of Saravanan Meenatchi as is the case in the film.

In any case, why’s a lowly phone tapper solving crimes, you may ask. It’s fair when you take into account the general incompetence of the police department in Spyder. Right at the beginning, Shiva says that the police has nabbed a couple of innocent people to solve a spate of crimes. That’s just the beginning. Much like in old films, the policemen walk in right after Shiva has done all the work. The CBI isn’t any better. After apprehending Shiva for misusing his profile, a CBI officer strangely lets him continue to do what he was being questioned for in the first place. Because ‘avan edhavadhu idea vechirupaan’. A new DGP eventually steps in to solve the murders, but he’s, again, only in the periphery. The police department is a big joke in the film, and in a chat with his boss and the CBI officer at the end, it’s no wonder that Shiva treats them for the jokers they are.

While on jokers, the villain, Sodalai (SJ Suryah, who is joyously mental in the film and its main attraction), seems inspired by The Joker. He’s constantly cackling, and the relish with which he observes people who wail is an idea for the ages. In one scene, blood forms at the edges of his mouth as he screams and laughs, making him look very much like our own Joker. His flashback is, for me, the best part of Spyder. A backstory that establishes his enjoyment of watching mourners (which, of course, is an exaggeration of our own morbid curiosity when we stop to observe the aftermath of road accidents) is wonderfully conceived. Murugadoss perhaps even lets his own morbid fascination slip into the film, when he shows you Sodalai toying with a man sitting on a mountain’s edge. The scene is shot as a joke almost.

Murugadoss is also known for not backing off when shooting gore and for coming up with novel, enterprising ideas for portraying murder (remember that chilling scene in Ghajini that shows a hammer crashing into the heroine’s skull?). In Spyder, given the psychopath he has for a villain, he’s freed to think of more novel ways. There are people who get killed and stored inside pillars of a flyover. A man having a seizure gets a nail hammered into his head. Two women get chopped into pieces and their limbs get mixed up, so the police have a hard time identifying the victims.

The CG of the film, especially some of the action set-pieces, look really well-done. There’s one on a roller coaster, and another that occurs in a crumbling building. But it’s hard to take them seriously, given what transpires in the name of fighting. Shiva, even as the rollercoaster is soaring at a great height, nonchalantly jumps from one seat to another. In another sequence, he’s punching through slabs of stones as though they were cheese. Later, he’s holding up a ladder singlehandedly as dozens of people slowly crawl out of danger. The composer, Harris Jayaraj, seems to have had a tough time taking them seriously too. Out of nowhere, as Shiva, the rescuer, holds the ladder, the background music changes to an almost sarcastically composed melodramatic male chorus. That’s when you join him and put your hands up in resignation too.

This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

 

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