V is a Telugu film, and if a top star is portrayed as an anti-hero, he cannot be a diabolical person at any cost.

Language: Telugu

Indraganti Mohana Krishna’s V, starring Nani and Sudheer Babu, begins with a quote from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “At this hour lie at my mercy all mine enemies.” But the film is not really based on the play or the characters. So what is the significance of the quote then? The answer lies in the lead up to the many brutal deaths of villains in the story by a mysterious killer.

The killer (Nani) relishes the act of killing so much that he finds creative ways to kill his subjects, but most of them have to do with finding the right technique to ensure a quick death. He loves puzzles and challenging those in power because he wants to make a point. And the responsibility to stop this killer falls in the hands of a tough cop, DCP Aditya, who struggles to find a motive behind the killing spree. Aditya knows that time is fast running out and no matter how hard he tries, the killer is always a step ahead of him.

The entire drama revolves around the battle of egos between these two characters, played by Nani and Sudheer Babu, and who is going to emerge as the winner. So far, so good. But then, the biggest villain of the film is the world and the characters that inhabit it.

The story itself feels like a watered down version of an FBI manhunt operation, where you are expected to empathise with the killer. Why? Because it is a Telugu film, and if a top star is portrayed as an anti-hero, he cannot be a diabolical person at any cost.

Then there must be a purpose behind it. This, in turn, affects the way we perceive the story. We empathise with both the hero and the anti-hero. We root for both of them, and want both of them to win. As a result, the clash of egos simply feels like a never-ending wait for the big reveal — a flashback — that you can sense coming from a mile away. All this makes the drama quite predictable.

Then there is the whole aspect of how the story is narrated. In a nutshell, V struggles to find its rhythm or create dramatic moments which will take you by surprise. There is barely an element of tension even when the investigation is underway.

If Aditya is hellbent on catching the killer, should the focus be on his personal life and how he flirts with a crime novelist, Apoorva (Nivetha Thomas), whom he has just met a couple of days ago? Their fleeting romance punctates the drama like an unnecessary comma in a sentence. He suspects her at one point, but it does not lead to anything that you would find interesting. Her passion for crime literature does help Aditya in one aspect, and the lead up to that moment feels like a banal exercise. Could they have not met at his office, pouring over the files and other data? Or how about a different puzzle which actually requires them to short circuit their grey cells because it is so hard to crack? The more you think about V, the more you realise what a shaky ground it is built on.

The only time the drama comes alive is when Nani appears on screen. In the first act, at least, he does come across as an unpredictable character, whose ability to get into the head of people around him sets him apart. He scares them out with his jokes, and he stays calm no matter what. Nani pulls this off well, and his occasional conversations with Babu, who is earnest in his role, are reasonably well written. But such moments are often short-lived. Among other actors, Aditi Rao Hydari, who plays a key role, has limited screen time. However, she is the emotional core of the story. It all seems good on paper, but the effect does not translate well on screen.

Thaman’s background score lacks punch. On the bright side, the film is well-shot and PG Vinda creates the right ambience and mood with his lighting.

When you think about how the entire film unfolds, it feels like Krishna, the writer and director, has three stories to tell — one is the clash between the cop and the killer; the second is a revenge drama, with a big canvas but low stakes; the third is a commentary on the many social evils in the society. Only one of these stories is remotely interesting on screen. Perhaps, by the end of the film, you will figure out what that is. But when you do, you will feel like you have solved the puzzle without having to try too hard. That is the catch-22 situation that V finds itself in. It sets out to be a puzzle, but is also fairly easy to crack.

V is streaming on Amazon Prime Video India.

Rating: **1/2

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