Director: Pavel Navageethan
Cast: Ram Arun Castro, Vishnupriya Pillai, Gayathri Raja, Lijeesh
The protagonist of V1 is the subconscious. It is enveloped on all sides by Agni (Ram Arun Castro) who, near the beginning of the film, enters a room filled with his own yellowing thoughts. You hear music that sounds like it might have been composed by Shostakovich, had he taken a fancy to atmospheric music (background score by Ronny Raphael). With a quiet piano for rhythm, a low violin loops a pattern made up of straight notes; not a single quiver. You feel claustrophobic around your eardrum.
Agni enters a room that you think is a sanatorium for dying candles. A little girl in white, who might as well be Alice for all we know at this point in the film, takes him down a rabbit hole into another room. A lady with a violin surrounded by not-so-blood-red candles is playing the same pattern you’ve heard before, only this time a couple of octaves higher, just as Agni has come a couple of flights down the stairs. There is a split second in which you see red lights, fire. And he wakes out of his mandatory hypnosis session… we should back up now, just as the film does too.
Agni is a Hercule-Poirot-meets-Sigmund-Freud kind of an investigator. He has nyctophobia, which, in his case, means that as it gets darker he gets closer to passing out. He has gotten out of fieldwork and teaches forensics instead. Because he needs to fight his demons and find his inner light; also, fieldwork involves getting into dark spaces. His subconscious is the key to fixing his issues, suggests his shrink. He should confront what scares him the most. She suggests regular hypnosis to declutter his head.
But Agni detests the sessions with his shrink. He thinks he should be using his mind instead of just looking back into it; he should be thinking. When she tells him to find his inner light, he is busy figuring out and turning on a torch, and it promptly throws light on his face.
The film opens with the murder of Narmadha (Gayathri Raja). We suspect the husband Inba (Lijeesh). So does Luna (Vishnupriya Pillai), who is in charge of the investigation. She wants to rope Agni into the case but he resists; he is servicing his subconscious and building healthy relationships with his coworkers. During the first interrogation with Inba, Agni is non-committal (he devotedly finishes an entire pack of ’50-50′ biscuits). He is unmoved when Narmadha’s parents beseech him over tears to take up the case. But, in an event that is somewhat stagey when not taking place during a hypnosis session, he opens a video on his phone: the phone’s memory shows him things that his own repressed memory won’t, and he begins to feel that there is a reason why the case has found its way to him. Contravening Socrates and his own shrink, he decides to know the case better instead of knowing himself.
As the investigation moves out of Agni’s subconscious and into the interrogation room, we encounter several suspects: a debauchee, a pedophile, a delinquent. They are all eliminated by the evidence, though. The driving logic in this sequence seems to be the symbolism of each of the suspects, and not narrative satisfaction. For instance, when Agni is investigating the delinquent, the latter’s father barges in and demands that his son be released. Agni — then and there — plants a gold chain on the delinquent’s clothes. He asks the father to check his son’s pockets; the gullible father walks away defeated. That was more unbelievable than an unexplained lady at the bottom of a rabbit hole playing a violin surrounded by not-so-blood-red candles.
Near the end, the film shifts from gently nudging the viewer to spelling things out explicitly. This helps clear things up, but also makes this part tonally different. The conversation between Agni and the killer about caste is pertinent, but it also makes all the puzzle-solving with the subconscious that Agni has been doing until now seem like mere stylistic conceits, something personal that he has been going through. It does not add to the overall ‘meaning’ of the film. The circumstances in which Agni overcomes his nyctophobia are also textbook, suggesting that he was, perhaps, written to be nyctophobic, primarily for what that symbolises.
Yet, the connection between the subconscious and caste, though not fleshed out as clearly as promised by the film’s opening, still must exist somewhere in it. For instance, Agni and Luna are at their superior’s office, where instead of the standard portrait of Gandhi, you find standard portraits of Periyar and Ambedkar. That is still within the limits of expectation; but what’s surprising is that in a subsequent scene we see a wall in the office bearing a portrait of Freud smoking a cigar: the subconscious now sticks out like a sore thumb, and that seems to be the point. Ambedkar, Periyar, and Freud are all hung up in the same room along with Bhagat Singh, but they speak among themselves in whispers that we cannot hear. But even if they are only speaking in our imagination, we aren’t committing a sin that Agni doesn’t: in order to get the truth out about one of the suspects (the pedophile) he reads out imaginary but provocative entries out of an unwritten diary to the suspect’s neighbour; and it works.
At its core, V1 is perhaps a film about confronting the most fearful, darkest parts of our minds. This ambitious core is buried in a murder mystery, perhaps, because it too can be, in a sense, a matter of life or death; only the killer is not really a who but a what. The who is just a vehicle for the what; Agni is a vehicle for his subconscious.