V1 movie review: A decent whodunit pulled down by its indulgence
A well-conceived whodunit that is intelligent in intent but meets a number of speed bumps in execution.
While for most genres, the lack of established names, or a big budget backing the film can be bad news, an investigative thriller actually thrives in this space. Vada Chennai actor Pavel Navageethan’s debut directorial, V1, is a film benefits from having inconspicuous cast members. It prevents guesswork about the identity of the killer.
Director: Pavel Navageethan
Cast: Ram Arun Castro, Vishnupriya Pillai
V1 begins in a dark night with a woman walking home with a sense of trepidation, thanks to the darkness and approaching footsteps. There is a flustered man in another setting. There is a masked youngster prowling the dark streets. There are glimpses of what could be the murder weapon. And then there’s a stabbing, and blood splattered everywhere. The stage is set for the investigation, and we are drawn in hook, line, and sinker. We are soon introduced to the investigative officers Luna (Vishnupriya Pillai) and Agni (Ram Arun Castro). While Luna is a straight arrow, Agni has skeletons in the closet. Unfortunately, these skeletons are one too many and after his first couple of attempts at redemption, we aren’t really invested in how he overcomes his inner demons. This proves to be a major deterrent as the many subplots written into the film by Navageethan fails to hold our interest for too long. While these subplots may help in character building, they have little impact on the investigation.
That said, as independent entities, these skeletons in Agni's closet are interesting. It is notable that this protagonist who suffers from nyctophobia (fear of the dark) is named Agni. The respectability in the relationship between colleagues, Agni and Luna, was refreshing. But there is very little investigation that Luna does apart from being a sounding board of sorts to Agni. We accept Agni channeling his inner Patrick Jane (from The Mentalist) or Cal Lightman (from Lie to Me) to solve the case with his body language-reading ability because the research by Navageethan and co is impressive. But the presence of obvious red herrings takes away the sheen. While the final reveal isn’t exactly predictable, the preachiness that creeps in at inopportune moments prove to be a dampener.
The film is rife with such issues that don’t allow V1 to be the slow burner it could have been. Be it the acting, the staging, the dialogues, and even the casting, there is a sense of duality that pulls back V1 from its true potential. It's good, and it's not. It is especially unsettling when a film has both smartly written lines and unnecessarily expository ones. I loved the ingenuity in a dialogue uttered by Luna, after hearing Agni call someone a bastard: "Ivan panna thappukku, en avanga ammava thittare?" This kind of cheekiness goes missing when most needed in random segues to an inconsequential flashback. Even the pedophilia aspect touched upon in the trailer feels out of place.
Despite all this being against V1, the central case and its investigation manage to keep us invested, albeit barely. It helps that the runtime is just 111 minutes and there are no songs. The music of Ronnie Raphael keeps up with the film’s pacing but at times, it tries to force-feed an emotion that isn’t delivered, visually.
V1 could have been so much more but stops short, way short. Personally, while watching a murder mystery, all I want to know is the identity of the murderer with a simple answer about the 'why'. Though the reason in V1 does have its shock value, it suffers from miserable staging. Heaven knows we do not need a misplaced sermon about social ills in such films. We get them enough anyway.