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Critics Review
Senapathi review: A nailbiting crime drama where Rajendra Prasad, Naresh Agastya hit it out of the park

This is crime drama at its very best with an engrossing premise that comes alive with focused writing, terrific filmmaking and fine performances

Srivathsan Nadadhur
Dec 30, 2021
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Krishna (Naresh Agastya) is framed by his boss for the murder of his wife and spends most of his early years in juvenile prison. A middle-aged jailer motivates the boy to turn into a cop and not let his bitterness consume him. Determined to start life on a new slate, Krishna becomes an SI and is simultaneously preparing for UPSC exams. He has to work under a corrupt superior Purushotham (Satya Prakash), who constantly puts him in an awkward spot. While having to deal with a new case, Krishna loses his service pistol at a market. Where does the pistol land and how many lives will it consume?


The digital medium has consistently proved how underutilised our actors are and how willing are they to break shackles, provided they land the right opportunity. There is no burden to bow down to an image or cater to an audience on OTT and it liberates performers on a different level. Senapathi is exactly that game-changer for Rajendra Prasad, who grabs the opportunity with both hands, almost performing with a vengeance. He is the lifeline of this nail-biting crime drama helmed by director Pavan Sadineni, which brings together a fine melange of experience and young talent.

Above anything else, the primary focus of Senapathi remains to tell a darn good story. Despite a running time close to two-and-a-half hours, the writing is dense, packed with riveting detail, edgy sequences and has a strong emotional foundation. The frenetic pace of the storytelling nearly leaves you gasping for breath. Very rarely does a remake deserves to be labelled an adaptation in Telugu cinema. Senapathi is certainly one, borrowing its core from the Tamil film 8 Thottakal, but still has an identity and a soul of its own, firmly rooted in its setting.

The film essentially revolves around two men with identical names (and even character trajectories) - Krishnamurthy, an elderly man in his 50s and Krishna, an earnest cop whose professional life has just begun. One may wonder why there's so much fuss just about a lost pistol? It would augur us well to know that the pistol is just a hook to uncover the intriguing journeys of its pivotal characters. For Krishna, finding the pistol would help him earn his job back, while for Krishnamurthy, it's a tool to take him one step closer to his motive.

Apart from the forced, hurried romantic track between a cop and a journalist in the first hour, nothing is left to chance in Senapathi. On a certain level, the film is a social commentary of sorts on the brutal ways of society and its systemic rut, where everyone is not privileged enough to choose their path. You get to see life through the lens of the cop initially and the focus shifts to Krishnamurthy later, in whose hands the pistol finally reaches. The motives of the latter's accomplices - a small-time henchman Hussain and a car driver Raju - are conveyed in crisp, effective sequences.

You don't look at Krishnamurthy in an empathetic light at all and also pass him off as an antagonist - until an unexpected conversation between him and the cop Krishna forces you to think twice. A convincing backstory for Krishnamurthy is preserved for the gritty final hour. The sharp screenplay and the slick edits keep you engrossed thoroughly. Amidst the intensity, a colourful character like Paramjyothi, a cop with a taste for Hindi retro music and wacky sarcasm, suits Harshavardhan to the tee and lends an interesting dimension to the story.

The dramatic finale presents an interesting take on karma and it's a relief to see that a life-threatening disease isn't used as an excuse to add melodrama or justify the crime. Also, there's very little in it that separates the protagonist from the (supposed) antagonist - the film just portrays their conflicting circumstances and leaves the verdict to you. Each of the characters, big or small, has a reason to exist in the plot.

The delicious prospect of seeing Rajendra Prasad in an unsparing, bitter, badass avatar is enough a reason for you to watch Senapathi. He has a blast tapping into the meaner side of the character. The near-bald avatar brings authenticity, adds realism and makes the veteran look more menacing. It's wonderful to watch actors play their age and make an effort to reinvent themselves - that Rajendra Prasad dares to do it at 67 is extremely commendable. Senapathi may only be the tip of the iceberg in his case after all.

While you watch Senapathi expecting it to be a full-on Rajendra Prasad show (which it is), it also works as a showcase of Naresh Agastya's potential as the brooding, vulnerable cop. His remarkable assurance and restraint in playing an introverted man is a delight to watch. One also witnesses the intense side of Josh Ravi, Rakendu Mouli in brief yet well-written characters. Harshavardhan has a field day in a full-length role. It's hard to imagine anyone else but Satya Prakash as the corrupt superior to Krishna.

Gnaneswari Kandregula is impressive though her role as a journalist is not as integral to the film as the other characters. Jeevan Kumar is particularly hilarious in a minor role though you expected to see more of Pavani Reddy and Keshav Deepak.

Otherwise, the crisp, situational dialogues and the technical brilliance, be it the colour tone, the visual flavour or the sharp edits, are significant reasons why Senapathi achieves what it aims to. Shravan Bharadwaj's consistency as a composer continues after films like Malli Raava, Natyam and Kalki. Director Pavan Sadineni wasn't exaggerating when he was telling that the film would be his 'visiting card' for a new generation of audiences.


Senapathi is an engrossing crime drama that capitalises on its premise effectively and is certain to be a gamechanger for both its lead actors Rajendra Prasad and Naresh Agastya. As a film, it provides scope for nearly every character to shine and present their side of the story, without reducing them to black or white shades. The film is a near-perfect combination of solid writing, quality filmmaking and supreme performances.

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