Standard rule: If the top-billed star of a commercial entertainer plays a killer, the script will furnish ready justification for his murderous spree. Telugu top gun Nani makes an antihero splash with his new film, and the script makes it obvious within 10 minutes that his brutal killings which will define the thriller quotient of the narrative is rooted in cinematic justice for the star.Despite never moving away from formulaic mainstream drama Nani's 25th should be fun for the fans, and not just because their star is in great form. There's Sudheer Babu too, as the six-pack supercop pitted against Nani's wily killer. That's vintage hero-antihero thriller being repackaged with cutting edge tech-specs to accommodate a cat-and-mouse suspense drama which is utterly predictable, but written and executed by Mohana Krishna Indraganti with relish.The story starts Sudheer Babu's entry as dashing DCP Adithya, busting a dozen-odd goons with gusto amid a Muharram riot. It's all in a day's work for the hunk in uniform, who is as much a hero among the masses as he is a darling of the media. Sudheer Babu does a Salman Khan within five minutes of his entry actually -- ripping out of his policeman's shirt to flaunt perfectly sculpted beef. Of course, the baddies will be trounced and harmony maintained. What's more, our cop hero will find time to hit the disc in the evening, too. That's where he will meet Apoorva (Nivetha Thomas) who exists in this plot for no other rationale beyond the fact that traditional hero in a commercial flick needs a heroine for the mandatory two songs and a couple of romantic scenes (read, two pecks on the cheeks -- in two separate scenes).The plot takes off when a police officer is grotesquely killed. Apart from an obvious idea of forensics, the killer evidently has a sense of humour. He leaves a message cocking a snook at Adithya's success. Catch me if you can, challenges the killer, or chuck all your medals in the bin.If killer in question is Nani there is no scope the film will be a whodunit, so we are shown his face even before he has committed the first murder. What's more, his stock of challenges for Adithya include a promise that more killings are on way.Qualitatively, V divides itself into contrasting halves. The first half is fastpaced and enjoyable, as Sudheer Babu's Adithya goes about chasing clues and Nani's ruthless killer invariably dodges him but keeps the kills coming. It is the second half that falls short, when the screenplay sets out to reveal the reason why the killer is on a rampage. The motive -- no prizes for guessing -- is revenge, and the justification for the revenge is hardly one that engages.After a point in the second half, as the film speeds towards its climax mixing stylized violence with a very basic quota of thrills, the only mystery left to solve is when and how will it all end. Without giving away spoilers, here's a hint: Both Nani and Sudheer Babu are mainstream draws, so writer-director Indraganti has devised a climax that should keep fans of both stars happy.For a film that works out its own set of hero/villain and good/evil cliches, it is amusing to see how Indraganti takes a few jibes at classic commercial cinema stereotypes. A sidekick cop tells Adithya after interrogating a witness they both realise has lied: "He is overacting like a new comedian who got a break in a big budget film," underlining the tendency of funnymen in commercials films across India till not long ago to ham in a bid to create some low-level impact. In another scene, Nani is on the phone with Adithya, who tries embarking on a bit of the old-fashioned dialoguebaazi. "You sound like those lawyers spewing unwanted dialogues in old Telugu melodramas," Nani drawls.The film should keep Nani and Sudheer Babu fans happy, which would seem more than sufficient in hardcore mainstream Telugu filmdom, where the success of a male star's performance still equates to success of the film in question. Just before the grand final killing, Nani tells his victim: "How do we finish this? No one should say it didn't meet expectations."Fans of the actor will not be saying anything of that sort, be sure. Their star has given them just what they would log in to watch.
(Vinayak Chakravorty can be reached at [email protected])