Director: Mohana Krishna Indraganti
I briefly wondered if Mohana Krishna Indraganti's V might turn out to be good. It is filled with high-minded references, from Shakespeare to Emily Brontë. The film opens with a card containing Prospero's declaration in The Tempest: "At this hour / Lie at my mercy all mine enemies." At a much-later point, we see the protagonist, DCP Aditya (Sudheer Babu), unwinding with a copy of Wuthering Heights. We get ruminations on the evil within us all, even if it's just the pleasure we get from watching people die in ultra-violent Korean movies. We get thoughts on systemic corruption in the forces intended to uphold justice, like the army and the police. But when we get down to it, V is just another revenge saga, with a templated second-half flashback that says the victims had it coming. In other words, this cat-and-mouse thriller is a tempest in a teacup. Or if you prefer, much ado about nothing. As you like it: Hamlet, Anthony and Cleopatra. What was that? That last line made little sense? Wait till we get talking about this movie!
The first scene is that of a riot. I mean, there is an act of mob violence, to be sure. But had this movie been released in theatres, the riot would have been witnessed amongst super-charged fans of Sudheer Babu. He quells the violence almost entirely in slow-motion. He even rips his shirt off. I briefly wondered if, like in the Austin Powers instalments, his nipples were going to turn out to be lethal, bullet-spewing weapons, but mercifully, no! Afterwards, we learn that he gives TED talks, walks the ramp, graces the cover of Men's Health. "OTT" is no longer the platform. It's the tone of this hero-intro stretch, and possibly the heroine-intro stretch, too.
Apoorva (poor Nivetha Thomas, in a "we need songs, so we need a heroine" role) is a psychology graduate who wants to write a crime novel. She walks up to Aditya in a bar, introduces herself, flirts with him, and within five minutes, she's burning up the dance floor with a song that goes: Wanna touch you, now, now, now, now, now / Baby kiss me, now, now, now, now, now. The woman doesn't seem capable of stringing together a decent pop song. I briefly wondered if I should be warning prospective readers about buying that crime novel that's brewing in her head, now, now, now, now, now.
And now, now, now, now, now, it's time for the villain-intro scene. The cryptically named V (Nani) — I briefly wondered if his siblings were named U and W — is carrying out murder after grisly murder. And in the most inventive ways. He's probably the most well-equipped serial killer in movie history. He has a canister of shave foam. He has Post-It notes. He has a "Fragile, Handle with Care" sticker. He has quips about Raghavendra Rao films. He has a contraption that can melt gold. He has marijuana cigarettes. And he's got a ton of orange lozenges. Forget killing. I briefly wondered if the man should be in the luggage business. If he can fit all this into a duffel bag, he'll make a very different kind of killing.
So the cat-and-mouse thing begins when V challenges Aditya to catch him, leaving behind a series of clues. Meanwhile, Aditya is torn between chasing V and enacting "cute" scenes with Apoorva and her family (they are all seen with cutting implements, but none, alas, that can be of use on the editing table, for this 2-hour-20-minute saga). I briefly wondered if the director would have been more comfortable just pursuing this romantic zone: after all, his last outing, the Notting Hill-inspired Sammohanam, was quite a charmer. Here, the mood is all over the place. It's like watching a Scream mask on a kitten. It's like watching Vennela Kishore as a crack cop. No wait, Vennela Kishore does actually play a crack cop!
At one point, Nani and the man he's about to kill begin to sing Man dole mera tan dole, from Nagin (1954), starring Pradeep Kumar and Vyjayanthimala. Strictly, speaking, I didn't have to write down the year of that film's release, or the names of its stars. But then, they didn't have to write many of the scenes here, either: say, the one where we are introduced to a senior cop who hates Aditya and promises to be a thorn in the flesh and provide an extra layer of complication. The man makes his appearance and then disappears, and when he returns late in the film, I briefly wondered if we were watching a brand-new character, like the handicraft-store employee played by Aditi Rao Hydari.
She softens the Nani character, but then, that was a given, right? This extremely likeable star was never going to play an all-out psychopath, right? I briefly wondered if he might make an exception for a landmark movie — this is his 25th — but alas, the hope dies like V's victims. This super-predictable film, like V's cigarettes, is a hash. It's a movie about murders that's impossible to take seriously. It's a comedy of terrors.