There was a time in the 80s when viewers lapped up stories of angst — of one man having the courage to rise against an oppressive system, giving those around him the confidence to stand up against brute force and chart a new course. A child surviving from the shock of seeing his parents falling prey to vicious elements was a template back then.
Deva Katta’s Autonagar Surya begins in 1973, when a four-year-old Surya loses his parents to a trafficker in a speeding train. Scorned by his uncle (played by Sai Kumar), Surya finds work and shelter at a car garage. Mercifully, instead of narrating a regular tale of revenge, director Deva Katta tries to understand the mindset of a youngster with a troubled childhood. Does he grow up a cynic? Does he have the courage to dream big? Does he have the resolve to back his dreams?
In the mid 80s, a teenaged Surya (Naga Chaitanya) and his friends design a diesel car, much before the big automobile companies rolled out diesel vehicles. But he is up against Indira (Jayaprakash Reddy) and his gang who have Autonagar firmly in his grip. In a bid to save himself from hoodlums, he ends up with blood on his hands. Behind bars, Surya gets the help of a benevolent prison officer (Tanikella Bharani) who understands his passion for mechanics and channelises his energy into studies. Five years later — we gather it’s 1990 from the several references made to the then new release, Nagarjuna’s Shiva — when Surya returns to Autonagar, Indira’s gang rules like a mafia.
Unlike many heroes of the 80s, Deva Katta doesn’t portray Surya as someone who relies only on muscle power. Surya continues to dream big and wants to build cars that run on batteries. In this fictitious town, no one survives without paying their dues to Indira. Some of the best portions of the film unfold in this segment, when we see Surya matching his wits with the menacing Indira and his brother (played by Ajay).
Art director Ravindra’s massive set representing a mini automobile factory, Srikanth Naroj’s cinematography and background score by Anoop Rubens add to the intensity.
One rarely gets to see Naga Chaitanya smiling in this film. He woos his childhood sweetheart Siri (a gorgeous Samantha who does her small part with ease) and shakes a leg with Brahmanandam, but these moments are very few. Chaitanya brings in the right amount of grit and intensity required for his role and shows that he can carry a film on his shoulders with the help of an able director.
There are chinks in the armour, which nearly threaten to undo a story narrated well till half way. A few songs look sorely out of place. When Surya tries to use tact and score over the mafia, instead of smart thinking, a few incidents meant to elicit laughter reduce the intimidating goons to a bunch of jokers and we end up wondering why it’s so difficult to beat them. A good half hour is lost before the film gets back on track.
Sharp dialogues and apt performances by Sai Kumar and other supporting actors strengthen the film.
Autonagar Surya makes for a reasonably good watch and yet, we can’t help feeling that Deva Katta is capable of delivering a more hard-hitting film, going by his previous work, Prasthanam.
Bottom line: A story well told, but not as remarkable as Prasthanam.
Cast: Naga Chaitanya, Samantha and Sai Kumar
Direction: Deva Katta
Music: Anoop Rubens
Story line: One man’s fight against mafia