WTF ASIA 202: Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya (2018)

Did you know that FBI originally stood for Fatima Bureau of Investigations? No? Good, because that is not true.

Watch Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya | Prime Video

Available in AustraliaCanadathe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 145 minutes.





oooo…Okay. What could that mean?


Athreya is in his apartment when a neighbor tells him that there is a call for him on the communal phone. It is Athreya’s uncle, telling him that he needs to come home. Of course, he is staying in Sagar in…central Northern India and will have to travel fairly far south to Nellore, but no problem. Anyways, what happened? Well, something bad.

Athreya takes an hours-long journey back home to find a darkened house. He turns on a light to…

THREE YEARS LATER? Jeez, what is with the lively jazz music?


Athreya is…a detective? He has been making his new assistant, Sneha, watch mystery and crime movies from Hollywood. This time, the movie is The Usual Suspects. Uh…okay. And…not even looking at the movie, he spoils it for her. And I guess for any Indian viewer who had not seen The Usual Suspects before, I guess. Sneha seems more astonished than annoyed at him, though, so whatever. Athreya claims that he was surprised when he watched it the first time, but could work it out almost immediately the second time…which is not that impressive.

And so begins Sneha’s lesson in observing suspects…through Hollywood movies. Athreya also has Sneha watching The Departed. And then Catch Me If You Can He picks up that Sneha has a crush on Leonardo DiCaprio and asks if she would marry him. She says that she would if she could. Well…ahem… oh, Athreya tells her that that was a trick question, since detectives do not have personal lives. Wait, what? Yes, their entire focus must be on solving crimes. He asks her again if she likes DiCaprio. DiCaprio? Who is that?

Athreya gets a phone call. Oh, now he has a cell phone…with the James Bond theme on it. Because…he is an agent? Anyways, the caller is someone named Sirish. Someone died near Nellore Gandhi Statue. It is unclear whether it was suicide or murder. Great news. Athreya does a little dance, stopping only when Sneha gives him a bit of a look. Anyways, he gets ready…what the hell is he wearing? Anyways, Sneha goes to turn off everything and close the shutters before they leave, but Athreya says that they should all stay as they are after a call like that.

What a tool.

After a walk through a marketplace, the two get to Athreya’s car. And he had apparently not told Sneha that she would be the driver. She is…not too happy about that, but she drives the car. Athreya tells her that she needs to watch The Shawshank Redemption, Silence of the Lambs, L.A. Confidential, and Shutter Island every day for the next ten days. And then next month she will have to identify the murderer within ten minutes of the movie. What in the hell is wrong with this guy?

Sneha then asks where they are going exactly, and who died. Athreya shushes her, saying that they must never discuss crimes in the car; only casual talk until they exit the car. Jesus. So…what did she have for breakfast?

Athreya starts going on about dumplings and his uncle when they reach the destination. And he abruptly stops his story. The car is for casual discussion only and casual discussions are only for the car. Anyways, the victim’s name is Sanjana and she allegedly committed suicide last night.

Athreya walks past the police holding an FBI badge and then…cuts the yellow tape to get the room with the body. He looks all around and, taking note of several odd details, deduces that this was a murder made to look like a suicide.

The police walk in and Athreya is happy to tell them of his discovery…only for the officer to tell him that her friend had already confessed. Athreya brags that he figured it out just by looking around, so the officer starts to rag on him for cutting the tape, dressing like an undertaker, and who the hell is he anyways? FBI. Isn’t that in America? No, no. America is just a copy. This is the Fatima Bureau of Investigation, named after his Athreya’s first girlfriend. Then he takes a selfie with the officer for his Facebook.

It is at this point that officer smacks Athreya and has him thrown out of the house. Sneha follows, trying to suppress laughter. Of course, one glance at Athreya’s sulking face during the drive makes her break. When she tries to recover by asking whether the slap hurt, Athreya interrupts her by resuming the story of his uncle and the dumplings. But she cannot help giggling at his humiliation, even as they get back to the office.

Athreya resumes Catch Me If You Can and tells a still amused Sneha that even the genius detective Tom Hanks can get fooled sometimes. That comes with the job. Getting annoyed by her laughing, Athreya tells her that she needs to get a different outfit tomorrow, and lose the glasses. And then he goes into some nonsense about Facebook accounts that I will just skip over. And then they close up for the night.

Athreya and Sneha return to the office the next morning. Sneha asks what the program is for the day. Athreya says that a startup will not get major cases every day. Well, plenty of time to watch 9 hours-worth of movies every day, I guess. In the meantime, Athreya says that they will have to make money off of minor cases.

Speaking of minor cases, here comes a cop with two men. There was a robbery at a temple yesterday evening. One of the two men is most likely the culprit. Athreya writes something down on a piece of paper and then through…methods, works out which one did it. He takes a selfie with the cop and the culprit. He then asks for $15 as a reward for cracking the case. The cop tells him that less that $7 was stolen. All of that for under $7?? Well, the cop gives him $1.56 and says that they will settle this later. He leaves with the thief.

Athreya has Sneha look at the paper, where he had written down who did it. So, he knew from the start just be looking at their eyes. He says that 90% of criminals are morons and easy to read as long as one knows what to look for.

Sometime passes and Sirish arrives at the office. A crime reporter, he is usually very busy, but has sort of taken time off to take Athreya and Sneha out for coffee nearby. They are about to have a conversation when another associate of Sirish walks up. Sirish introduces him to Athreya. When the man laughs at the notion of him being a detective, Athreya reveals that he has noticed that man coming by this coffee stand many times from his office. He deduces that the man works in construction, is engaged in some form of corruption, and is cheating on his wife? And the guy barely protests.

With that out of the way, Sirish brings up what he wanted to talk to Athreya about: unidentified bodies. Five bodies have been showing up every day just in Nellore district, and it is unclear whether they were murders or suicide. There are no missing persons reports to match up with these unidentified bodies, and the police don’t even bother. They are kept in an unclaimed bodies section for a week and then those that do not get claimed during that time get cremated in mass. Sirish tells Athreya that he wants to solve these cases, but does not have the time. He asks if Athreya is interested. Athreya sort of says yes. But, this movie still has about two hours to go, so this will have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, he gets a call for another murder. So, he and Sneha walk to their car. Sirish points out that they left all of their stuff on in their office. Yes; yes, they did. How many crimes will they have to solve just to pay their electricity bill?

Well…it will have to be more than what they are getting. He starts trying to advertise his agency, but it does not go so well. And…yeah, that is a fake revolver.

After a long day of…whatever…Athreya goes home and goes to sleep…and flashes back to I guess the start of the movie. He encounters his uncle sitting in the only lit part of a dark house and asks for his mother. As, Athreya is sobbing, his uncle says that he made all the arrangements for the cremation that afternoon. He tells Athreya that he had to rush it to avoid doing it on the day of the Panchak Kaal, which would be a bad omen for the family and village. Athreya is not having that, he is furious that his uncle cremated her before he could even see her. His uncle says that he had no choice, and asks for forgiveness, but Athreya doesn’t care about what he considers some stupid custom preventing him from seeing his mother one last time. Apparently, it was another custom, in which people at a festival get hit on the head with coconuts, which eventually put her in a coma and ultimately killed her. Athreya then flashes further back to his childhood with his mother and then dreams of her getting that fatal hit.

Then he wakes up. And good thing too, as Sirish is calling him about a body near a railway bridge on the outskirts of Nellore.

Athreya takes a motorcycle to a place near the bridge and walks the rest of the way. He sees a car just casually parked nearby and then walks through an open gate to the train tracks. And the body is right there. Athreya looks at it. He looks around. He looks at it some more.

Apparently, Athreya was so focused on the body that he did not notice the pair of cops approaching from behind him.  The Chief Inspector suspects Athreya of killing the man and orders his arrest.

So, Athreya is locked up. Eventually, Sneha and Sirish arrive. For some reason, Athreya refers to Sirish as “Sirish Watson” and starts talking in bizarrely formal English in a British accent. Is that supposed to be his Sherlock Holmes impression? Anyways, Sirish tells the Chief Inspector that he gave Athreya the tip about the dead body, but the Chief Inspector argues that Athreya being at the crime scene before the cops arrived makes him a suspect and, thus, not subject to release without bail money. But since today is a court holiday, Sirish cannot get bail until morning. So Athreya will have to stay overnight. He is not concerned; Detectives getting arrested is a good omen and this will bring drama to his biopic. The Chief Inspector tells Sirish and Sneha to leave.

Time passes and Athreya is still in the cell, with a bunch of other guys similarly locked up. One is meeting with his lawyer and accuses him of just taking his money. After the lawyer leaves, Athreya asks the man what happened. There was a theft in his village and the police arrested him, even though he didn’t do it. Athreya tells the man to get the lawyer to concoct a fake paper trail to show that he had gone south to the city of Chennai for a Sai Baba spiritual meeting during the time that the theft took place. He also suggests that the lawyer stop reading and start watching movies. Jeez. Well, that gets the other guys to gather around Athreya to request assistance as well. And during the night, he ends up getting chummy with these guys who need bail. Meanwhile…can the Chief Inspector hear all of this?

Late at night, an older man gets put in the cell. He is not joining the group, silently sitting on his own. Eventually, when everyone else is asleep, Athreya approaches him and says that he can solve all of his problems. So, does he want bail? The guy remains silent an Athreya is about to turn away when he brings up his daughter, Divya. She had gone up to the city of Ongole and called him that night about some people who were bothering her, but her phone got disconnected. He went with a friend to Ongole Station, only to find her dead. The inspector said that she had committed suicide, though that was obviously not the case. After some more bad encounters with the inspector, he got chased away. And when he came back, he was accused of scamming people…so here he is.

The man had written down three numbers from his daughter’s phone and had managed to keep it even after the arrest. He also has kept a photo of her. He gives both to Athreya. Athreya hands back the photograph, and promises to find out what happened.

The next day, Athreya is out of lockup and back in his office. But he is still gloomy. Sneha asks why, and he tells her about the old man. However, he starts to turn around. This is a big case. This is the big case. He shows her the three phone numbers and speculates that the police may be protecting the people behind those numbers. So, the first step is to find out who these people are.




This is another one of those movies where I had no idea what to expect going in. After a kind of oddly gloomy introduction, it went full speed into comedy with the quintessential know-it-all whom no one respects. Athreya may scoff at traditions and customs, yet he has so many superstitions regarding detective work that come solely from detective stories cribbing from each other, and on one understands his reasoning. Sneha does seem impressed by Athreya for a little bit, but she soon realizes that he is in his own little world of detective clichés and Hollywood fantasies. That latter takes a backseat as the main story takes over, but it does come back in what could be considered a payoff.  

Of course, while Athreya may have irritating quirks, he is often very observant when he can focus on something…sure, that something may be him proving how smart he is, but it can come in quite handy for solving mysteries. Additionally, his insistence that all of this is fodder for the inevitable movie about him (heh) makes it easier for him to endure setbacks and all else that comes at him in the moment, while giving him the drive to keep going. And, yes, as things get more serious, he sort of tones down his quirks at times. It could be because he gets more focused on the case or he subconsciously realizes that this case is too serious to be caught up in his own stuff. Or maybe the movie figured that the goofiness would not work with the story as well. There is still some of it, but he is hardly Cumberbatchy about it.

Sneha was probably hired to be an assistant as well as the Watson to Athreya’s Holmes. Indeed, Athreya does have the name Sherlock Holmes in multiple places around his office, along with other pop culture stuff. I guess that he figured that it was worth the financial risk to take on someone. Sneha does hold her own to an extent, though her role is primarily as a helper and sounding board. Eh…she does contribute quite a bit, though, so whatever. I did notice that the movie did not turn her into a love interest, though perhaps the movie was long enough. 

So, the mystery has not really truly unfolded when I ended my summary, though there are strands here and there long before that. I will not go into the specifics of it, but it definitely has twists that I did not expect and goes in a direction that very much did not anticipate. Perhaps it is because the mystery is tied into something that, while not necessarily uniquely Indian, is probably more common in India than where I am in North America. On the other hand, with this being an Indian movie that caters to various language groups, it does fall into that somewhat unfortunate pit of having the movie awkwardly slow down to an interminable crawl just to make sure that absolutely everyone can follow along with the reveal. And like other Indian movies that I have seen that relies on big reveals, this kind of sucks the air out of the climax.

And even then, I am not sure that it totally adds up. Like why did the culprit risk exposure by revealing one specific bit of information when doing so was probably unnecessary at best. And there was one particularly huge gambit that Athreya does that I cannot believe the culprits did not immediately suspect, as well as a 5-minute sequence of our protagonists tailing suspects where they were not particularly slick about avoiding notice. Still, as I said, the actual story that unfolded did very much surprise me and in a good way. And even with this being about a brutal murder, it was somehow even more disturbing than I expected. So even if the landing is less smooth than I would have liked, the journey there is enjoyable, as is the coda. 

So, yeah. This is a good one.




WTF ASIA 203: The Pool (Thailand: 2018, approx. 90 minutes)


Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.


WTF ASIA 204: Youth of the Beast (Japan: 1963, approx. 92 minutes)


Available in Canadathe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.