White Guy Watches Bollywood

A random white guy engages with contemporary Indian cinema... one movie at a time

Telugu Movie Review: Devil is a watchable, but entirely unoriginal British-Indian spy thriller

Nandamuri Kalyan Ram stars in "Devil," the new Telugu British-Indian spy movie, here reviewed by White Guy Watches Bollywood.

Devil is such a transparent hybridization of James Bond and RRR that I’d be stunned if there wasn’t a point (or more likely, many points) in the project’s development where it was pitched exactly as such. If screenwriter Srikanth Vissa was even remotely trying to hide these “influences” in the script, his efforts were entirely destroyed by producer/director Abhishek Nama, who seems to seize every opportunity he can to remind the viewer of them. (Nama reportedly took over directing duties from Naveen Medaram after 105 days of shooting over “creative differences,” and one must wonder if this was part of the issue.) The nonstop nods begin with the opening titles, which are such a shameless, poor man’s rip-off of a Bond introduction, it verges on adorable. I practically expected to hear a Telugu language version of Adele’s “Skyfall.” That’s the thing about Devil: for as completely lacking in originality as the film is, it’s endearing in the same way that many ’90s straight-to-video imposters once were.

Like James Bond, our hero – codename Devil – is a secret agent working for the British government. He’s Indian by nationality, but this is 1945, and Devil has sworn to protect the British Raj. We don’t know too much more about him or his background, beyond the fact that he is clearly capable of singlehandedly taking down other men by the dozen, as we watch him go about comfortably in an early action set-piece aboard a ship being raided by pirates. Lead actor Nandamuri Kalyan Ram’s performance seems to thrive upon the expository deficit when it comes to Devil’s character; he’s content to play him as rather generically suave and smooth when he isn’t showing off an investigative attention-to-detail that rivals those of Poirot and Benoit Blanc.

After briefly showcasing his pirate ass-kicking skills, Devil is assigned by his handlers to investigate an unsolved murder in the fictional region of Rasapadu. The daughter of a zamindar (somewhat confusingly translated as simply “landlord” in the English subtitles for the international release) was stabbed overnight, and the local police’s main suspect appears to be innocent. The assignment doesn’t make any sense on its face: why would an international superspy be needed to investigate a small-town murder? Devil verbally acknowledges this glaring logical question-mark, which I suppose is preferable to the movie refusing to cop to its own implausibility. Even as our protagonist seems to make progress in getting to the bottom of the young woman’s death (and another that emerges unexpectedly), we know that there’s a lot more to this story than first meets the eye.

The film openly tips the audience off that the story’s larger revelations will concern the struggle for Indian Independence by framing its timeline around an upcoming secret visit from Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian Nationalist icon. But it leaves the biggest surprises for after Intermission, and because its zany version of history is decidedly fictionalized, these don’t exactly need to adhere to any factual rules. That said, they’re not exactly shocking; you could probably guess what’s coming if you think hard enough about it, but why would you spoil the fun? Playing a key role in much of the second-half drama is Nyshadha (played by Samyuktha), the cousin of the deceased and a clear supporter of the Indian Independence Movement. Samyuktha is the standout of the cast, making the mysteries surrounding her character and her interactions with Devil wholly compelling.

Filmmaker Nama does a decent job of mimicking the most entertaining qualities of Agatha Christie-style paperback murder mysteries in the first half, as well as the double-cross heavy historical fiction of RRR in the second half. There’s no mistaking Devil for a unique movie, but it manages to be a passable copycat attempt of these clear inspirations. It has considerably less success with the James Bond element. Not only is Devil lacking any of the cleverness or gadgetry of Bond as a secret agent, the film’s direct homages to the venerable franchise are complete non-starters. In addition to the aforementioned opening credits sequence, Devil attempts to have its own “Bond Girl” in the form of Lady Rosy, played by Elnaaz Norouzi. She’s a cabaret performer and she gets the film’s showcase musical number in “This is Lady Rosy,” which is embarrassingly slapped-together without much effort from anyone but Norouzi. It’s the perfect encapsulation of every one of the movie’s attempts to emulate 007: unearned and distracting.

With the exception of the uninspired soundtrack and musical score for the film, the craftsmanship of the various technical components is solid. The cinematography is handsomely lensed (in widescreen) throughout. The staging of the action sequences is visually exciting and smooth. The period detail in the costuming and makeup is convincing. The editing is mostly crisp, though I did feel that the first half of the movie dragged in places; the interval feels like it’s well past the actual halfway mark.

Modest accomplishments aside, there’s just nothing new enough about Devil to make it stand out, and Kalyan Ram’s lead performance is so by-the-numbers that it doesn’t help build viewer attachment in spite of the stale story. And when the film reaches its ultimate climax, the excitement level is severely hindered by the customarily lackluster performances from the Anglo supporting cast (playing Devil’s British handlers), in painfully dubbed Telugu. Devil may not be a movie that will inspire active resentment in many audience members – it’s too innocuous for that – but it’s also unlikely to be positively remembered long after the credits roll. One would frankly be better served by rewatching one’s favorite James Bond movie, followed by RRR, than embarking upon this strictly adequate amalgamation attempt.

Rating: ★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Scroll to top