It is important to understand that Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, Naveen Polishetty's entry ticket into the big league, was written by him. The film played to his strengths, and what we saw was essentially a showreel of sorts. It had subtle comedy. It had mother sentiment scenes. The role was something of a mix of a persistent sleuth meeting a bumbling detective.
When remaking this film for someone who is already an established star with a lasting legacy in comedy, it is indeed a tightrope walk. Filmmaker Manoj Beedha, who made his directorial debut with the compelling and visually rich Vanjagar Ulagam, takes up the responsibility of remaking this film in Tamil as Agent Kannayiram.
If Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya was structured as a hero elevation film, Agent Kannayiram is Santhanam downplaying his brand of comedy to fit into the world created by Naveen Polishetty and Swaroop RSJ. The conglomeration of these worlds might not be a wonderful melange but Agent Kannayiram is far from a farrago.
The film begins in the past, and we see Kannayiram as a precocious teen living with his doting mom and showcasing promising sleuthing skills. We soon see him as a small-time detective in a town that is too small for him. This world is not ready for the Sherlock Holmes of RS Puram, and he is relegated to doing menial cases like finding a lost cat.
These portions, although perfect for Santhanam to go all out with his brand of comedy, are treated with a lot more maturity. Of course, there is a oneliner drooped here, and a counter comedy delivered there, but this is quite a reined-in performance by Santhanam. In fact, his recent films are showing Santhanam's proclivity to move away from being just a comedy hero, and we see him push the envelope of his acting potential. Even here, in the scenes where he ruminates about the loss of his mother, Santhanam showcases his serious side.
Audience unaware of Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya might be blindsided by the pall of gloom that is forever prevalent in Agent Kannayiram. In many ways, the film is a tragedy of sorts, with sudden spurts of thrill and comedy.
The central case in Agent Kannayiram is one that involves death and multiple dead bodies, and the makers mostly never underplay the seriousness of it all. As long as the film stays on the investigative trail, Agent Kannayiram works as a rather interesting unravelling of a solid whodunit. However, the forced comedy in these portions acts as a downer, and Pugazh's presence, albeit a far stretch better than his recent works, doesn't really work with the tonality of the film.
On the other hand, Riya Suman's Aathirai is written well into the film, and the lack of a romance angle is such a refreshing take. She gets to do a lot in the film and does it well too.
While Agent Kannayiram is definitely technically strong considering the names involved in the project like Yuvan Shankar Raja, Theni Eswar, the writers (Manoj and Ramesh Marabu) deviate quite a bit from the original. While certain choices like making Aathirai a documentary filmmaker work in favour of the film, some others like doing away with an entire pivotal plot point don't really work.
It is mainly because, in an otherwise slow burn of a film, the ending feels a bit rushed. But points to the makers and the overall consistent performances for keeping us engaged, especially in the investigative portions. However, there is a definite lack of engagement when the world is being built because the distractions are one too many in a film that needed a lot more focus.
Agent Kannayiram is a hyper-stylised version of Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya but misses out on hitting the same highs as the original simply because the world of a star is different from the world of an aspiring star.
Cast: Santhanam, Riya Suman, Pugazh, Munishkanth
Director: Manoj Beedha