In Pavel Navageethan’s V1 – Murder Case, a young woman is murdered in the dead of night. She’s walking home. She senses something suspicious and quickens her step, but it’s too late. She is pierced by a sharp object. There’s blood all over. She dies. And the film begins to unfold as a whodunit. Could it be this girl’s live-in boyfriend, who seems to think he’s the killer? Could it be the tattooed cartoon-figure who thinks he’s a stud? Or – long stretch, here – could it be the detective himself, who has nyctophobia, which is a fear of the darkness?
V1 – Murder Case did not work for me at all. The writing is clumsy (something especially fatal in this genre). The acting is amateurish all over. The making, too – and this made me wonder about how forgiving we should be about badly made but well-intentioned first attempts. After all, it’s so easy to get your hands on a camera now. Is it too much to expect a first-timer to stage his/her film “on camera” – before the actual shoot – to see if what he/she has imagined is actually being expressed through the visuals?
But this is not a review, so I will just focus on the film’s final stretch, where the killer is unmasked after a painful series of red herrings. The motive becomes the reason for a message, a long message. It’s an important message, no doubt – the very long frames showcasing a school named “Jai Bhim” might have already alerted some viewers. So in a purely (and solely) historical sense, V1 – Murder Case is an important movie. It’s the first genre-based message movie about caste in the post-Pa Ranjith era.
Even in world cinema, where genre films have always been used to smuggle “ideas” across, there has been a glut of message-oriented movies. In Parasite, we see a “con movie” that also talks about privilege and haves/have-nots, and how even the have-nots should be thanking their stars because there are those whose lives are even more wretched. In Knives Out, we get a “murder mystery” that also talks about how suspicious white people are of non-white immigrants (legal or illegal) who might take away what is rightfully theirs. Indeed, the entire premise is predicated on this issue.
Best of all, we have the two Jordan Peele masterpieces: Get Out and Us. They make us think hard about the black experience in America, not unlike the films Pa Ranjith wants to make and the experiences he wants us to have. But here’s where all these movies differ from V1 – Murder Case. The message in these films is implicit. If you want to see it, this layer is there. If you don’t, you still get a damn good genre thriller.
Now, this is how I’d want our genre films to be. Respect the genre first. Then, tell us whatever you want to. But I also understand that I am in the minority here – for the general Tamil audience seems to love explicit messaging. In fact, films get rated as “good” merely because… “they have a good message”. I can even live with this explicitness in the closing frames, like in Vetri Maaran’s Asuran, where a father advises his son about the importance of education. Ideally, I would have loved this line to have come somewhere earlier, perhaps during a casual stretch of conversation between father and son, where it wouldn’t have stood out so much as a “message”. (It would have been folded into a longer conversation.) But still, it’s just the one line. You can live with it.
But when the whole film is nothing but a lead-up to a message, you feel let down. Okay, I feel let down. Why do I have to watch all of V1 – Murder Case just to get to this well-intentioned five-minute passage? It is so disconnected from whatever came earlier that it becomes the equivalent of a “comedy scene” that’s uploaded on YouTube, where it can be watched and enjoyed even without watching the film. Again, I don’t want to be too harsh on a first-timer, but this is a larger malaise in our cinema. (It probably needs its own message movie.)
Of course, there are those who will say that ours is still a society that can be changed through explicit messaging. I have my doubts – but each to their own. All I’m saying is don’t make a movie in order to deliver a message. Make the message – even if it is explicit – an organic part of your movie. You may argue that our audiences are not as “sophisticated” as the ones that watch Parasite and Knives Out and Us and Get Out, and that the messages need to be spelt out. Okay, granted. All I’m asking is that you do justice not just to the message but to the medium as well – your chosen medium of cinema.