Spyder (Telugu)

By Meena Yeggina
Starring: Maheshbabu, Rakul Preet Singh, SJ Surya
Direction: Murugadas
Music: Harris Jayaraj

Glorification of snooping on unassuming common man is the essence of Spyder

Coming from one of the calm and seemingly trend-setting heroes of Indian cinema today, Maheshbabu's Spyder is a movie I had some expectations of, no not of style and slickness which come in abundance, but of some shining social values, negligent stereotyping and gender discrimination.

Why you ask? Two reasons.
One: Amidst over-whelming praise from well-known directors for the trash movie of the century called Arjun Reddy, Maheshbabu stood out opposing the drug and booze glorification and said he would never do so. As a mother of two, I was thankful that at least one well-known face had the guts to criticize a bad movie for what it is - hence the expectation of higher moral standards from his latest venture Spyder that appeared affable and slick. Maybe Maheshbabu matured as a father and moved on from movies like Business Man.

Two: Mahesh is definitely an eye candy and a pleasure to watch on the screen a la Prabhas.

To some extent he does comes through, at least, to start with: I don't remember any scenes of substance abuse in Spyder. This in itself is an important achievement considering the fact that movies are almost like religion to Indian youth who follow their idols blindly. The biggest blessing to me, however, came in disguise: NO ITEM SONGS. Too good to be true? Sadly yes, it was.

As if to make up for all the missing item songs, we are presented with a bimbette doctor heroine who after watching hours of porn, gets all hot and is on a prowl for a friend with "benefits," meaning no-strings-attached sex. Maheshbabu, snooping officially on her private telephone conversations, as is his normal routine, swoops in, stalks her and takes advantage of this comfy set up. Yes a real cool spy this man is!

Disturbingly, most movie reviewers from top-notch newspapers termed the heroine Rakul Preet Singh a good 'diversion, relief,' from an otherwise dark plot. Is that what a woman is supposed to be in a film? A mere relief to all MCPs? Sick coming from reviewers even. The absolute ignorance, sidelining and normalization of using women as props in Indian movies is too bizarre to miss. It's as if a private conversation is going on between the males in the movie and their counterparts in the audience. Women are just peripheral disturbances like food or water, to quench a temporary but necessary thirst. No wonder women don't go to the theatres anymore and leave the patriotic, caste, and misogynistic super stud movies to men and find entertainment in other interesting things in life.

However, a bigger blow to my hopes of watching a balanced movie is yet to come from another unexpected quarter that nobody seem to notice or care: The vigilante heroism celebrated in the name of humanity.

While sexist misogyny is common in all Indian and Bollywood movies and more so predominantly in south Indian movies (see my review of Arjun Reddy) but what is shell shocking is the casual and exalted treatment of vigilantism in Spyder. It is glorified to such an extent of adoration and admiration that it becomes extremely scary. Used to a society that is already bowing down to poverty, caste intolerance, corruption and sex discrimination viewers tend to accept it as common and okay for another person to snoop in on their private lives.

Activists in India are vigorously fighting against several potential dangers of Aadhar card data (what a name by the patriarchal BJP! Imagine Social Security cards being called Dependency Cards!) being misused and individual privacy abused if leaked, this movie takes personal data exploitation to a different level altogether in the name of "protecting" people. What a horror it is if somebody is constantly listening in on you and has all your information from your bank accounts to your social security!

Mahesh Babu is a gentleman and has good intentions and supposedly does no harm to anyone with private information in hand but what if such information and personal data falls into the hands of a bad guy within IB? A blackmailer? A rapist? A terrorist in disguise? What then?

The hero (a good vigilant) makes it his living to be an official peeping Tom into the private lives of unassuming people and "saves" any who in accordance to his mind needs saving. He is an army in himself like gaurakhshaks, anti-Romeo-squads, or any other moral police. He randomly listens in on any calls that have words like fear, scare, etc, and checks if they are ok. All callers are at his mercy and nothing is left private. He is given this freedom (with a caveat "don't cheat") to a certain extent by the Government's IB (whatever that stands for) and he takes undue advantage and assumes full control of his edgy power in the name of saving his people.

Both the protagonist and antagonist of Spyder have strange obsessions: Shiva wants to save people from distress that goes far beyond fair/unfair, right/wrong; Bhairava wants to kill and revel in the sorrow of the grieving closed ones.

While the hero's obsession is aided, abetted and glorified by the director using hero's good looks, good intentions, suave (?) computer graphics, and a government job that encourages his sly snooping on clueless commoners, the villain's obsession is marred by poverty, low-caste deprivation, and lack of psychiatric treatment. Both if you ask me, fit best in an asylum.

Spoilers ahead
This story is not a personal revenge drama as is the case in the most of the hero driven roles, but about a man, Shiva (Maheshbabu), obsessed with saving people in both real and imagined dangers. He is a man in power, and has all the facilities in his hands to snoop, thanks to Aadhar information, and uses it to tap cell phones, whatsapp, and emails to save those in trouble. In the process he encounters a highly dangerous and a psychopathic serial killer, Bhairava (SJ Surya) who enjoys death and its aftermath grief of the family. He is born and brought up in a graveyard. Soul-wrenching wailing at any death becomes his lullaby. If none come to graveyard with a dead body, he proceeds to kill people himself to enjoy his lullaby of wails.

The rest of the movie is about the Shiva playing cat and mouse with Bhairava, waiting for his chance to trap him.

The hero is not only an investigative officer, but apparently also a sharp sniper who can shoot the villain with such accuracy as not to kill him but just to injure him when he himself is suffering from a heavy iron rod stuck through his stomach and in a semi-conscious state. I didn't know government officers are so multi-talented. In addition, he is also an amazing human being, son and lover (as the heroine keeps calling him with offers of good sex).

With its superb seemingly modern technology, extraordinary office buildings and equipment (very unrealistic in Indian scenario), a handsome upper caste hero chasing an obviously poor, low caste villain born and brought up in a graveyard, Spyder has its patriarchal, misogynistic values intact. In addition, this 40 something hero is paired with a beautiful 18 something 'doctor' heroine who is lusting for him, a twisted treat to most of the men out there. These days heroes want nothing less than doctors, engineers, lawyers as their pining heroines who lust after them. Salman Khan had a psychiatrist and a wrestler as his heroines in a couple of his movies. But this professional status does not increase the intelligence of the lady in the movie. She is still portrayed as a brainless bimbette.

Story is pretty much linear and we can kind of guess what will happen next. No surprises. The rolling boulder on the road (though unnecessary and unreal) was well shot and so is the blasting and devastation of the hospital building. The fight on the giant wheel doesn't impress.

In one interesting scene Shiva uses several homemakers to apprehend the killer by aiding and abetting them to climb roofs and jump walls. (This part is confusing in its theory but lets not go into logic) After all the work done by these brave ladies, its strange that the director doesn't have a moment to stop and bestow them the praise they deserved, which would have made the women in the audience happy. But Murugadas doesn't pause to give that joy to his lady audience. He's fully aware it would be a waste of time, as he knows most of his viewers would be male. Once manipulated for the hero's purpose, these women are discarded and forgotten. Instead the hero gets all the praise and adoration for the idea (of capitalizing on these ladies).

In another scene, hero patronizingly describes a woman's intelligence thus: "Women are very smart; without turning behind they can tell exactly where the eyes of men are lingering on their bodies. By just looking at their husbands face they can guess the message from Whatsapp," etc, reducing a woman's intelligence to investigating husbands' affairs and studying eve teasers' intentions! I mean, really?

Compared to this trash, Bahubali is miles ahead in its thinking. I expected too much from this Murugadas and Maheshbabu flick I guess. I should have known better.

But yes Spyder is better than Arjun Reddy, which is a sick, sick movie by the way. Stay miles away from this one.

Does Spyder capture your imagination? To a certain extent, yes it does. The first half has some surprises and minor twists and Bhairava keeps you tense and scared, but the second half turns monotonous, insular and linear. By then I was itching to get out. Music is all right with a couple of catchy numbers. Choreography grabs your attention and I did enjoy the dance numbers. Nothing much for the heroine (Rakul Preet Singh) to do except sing and dance. She looks stunning though.

For the good part: Surya as Bhairava is brilliant. Even the child Bhairava is very convincing, more so actually. Mahesh looks good and has a boyish charm, dances well, delivers controlled acting. For the most part, at least in the first half you will actually enjoy the film that comes across as sharp and bright though its just snooping in high tech looking buildings. The back-story of the villain engages your interest and the dance numbers have your foot tapping.

The second half lets you down as it becomes slow and monotonous. It ends with a free moral message from the hero: Helping people without them asking and not expecting anything in return is real humanity. However contradicting himself, our hero snoops and saves (not really free for the common man who loses his privacy) and in return gets a beautiful woman as his playmate (so he does get something in return).

This is not a spy movie at all, but a SNOOPY one. A Snooper would have been a better title. My rating: 2.5/5.

After watching this, I don't have the energy, bravery and goodwill left in me to watch the Junior NTR movie (I forgot the name, is it Raavan?). No more Telugu reviews for me for a while, where women are treated so ignominiously. Doing some background research takes a lot of my time and it's not worth the pain.

I enjoyed Fida very much by the way, though felt the second half a bit much too prolonged.